A glimpse at my funeral
A BEFITTING funeral is an obligation to the dead. This is considered as the last respect to a person. For Christians, to bury the dead is one of the corporal works of mercy. On All Souls Day, November 2 of every year, Christians are encouraged to pray at the tomb of the departed souls. On this day, every priest is obliged to say three masses for the departed souls. In African Traditional Religion, burial is sacred hence some people spend on funerals as much as they could not spend on a living person. In Islam, a dead body is sacred hence it is buried immediately. Some people believe that they can acquire magical and spiritual powers by sleeping in the cemetery for a number of days.
Today, it is pertinent to ask some questions about the value of the human person and the dignity of death and burial. I do not know how many people in the present days of terror and kidnapping are sure of a tomb. Many people are now forgotten in the den of kidnappers. The burial of a kidnapped philanthropist or an elderly person, for example, who was never found, would certainly have attracted many well-wishers. No one ever knows whether such a person is still alive or dead. How many important people can we count whose funerals had been celebrated without their bodies? So many youths have died in the deserts and ocean while running away from their countries in search of greener pastures in Europe and America. Perhaps their graves could be located in the sands of the desert or in the belly of wild animals and fishes. Of what relevance then is the question: “Is it proper to prepare one’s tomb while still alive? What if one dies in a plane crash or shipwreck and the body is not recovered? Who will be buried in such a tomb?
How, where and when a person will die still remains a mystery that is beyond human comprehension. Is it possible to have a foretaste of our funerals before we die in whatever manner, place and time? Before the advent of terrorism and kidnapping, the ancestors of Ekperi, Edo State of Nigeria desired to witness their funerals before death. They instituted two festivals Ikpelo and Ibaki for this purpose. Ikpelo means ‘to have a glimpse and move on’ while Ibaki means ‘the complete and perfect market where the fullness of life is achieved.’
At 60, a person is convinced that he is getting close to the age when natural death could come any time. This age marks the point of looking to the future with celebration akin to the first funeral. At 70, the children celebrate their father by providing everything they would use for the final burial (itolimhi). The person tastes the food, enjoys the dances and sleeps in a well-prepared room. This celebration brings home the sons and daughters of the community. The Ekperi person is not worried about how he would be buried because he already has a glimpse of his funeral. He does not even think of making his own tomb because he is already buried in the loving heart of his children and well-wishers.
Ibaki and Ikpelo could serve as antidote to the puzzle posed in the Nigerian Movie, “Died Wretched” that was acted by Eucharia Anuobi, Tony Umez and colleagues. Human beings deserve to be celebrated while they live on earth. Before others celebrate us, we must begin the celebration by building good relationships. This includes intra-personal dialogue of asserting our personal identity. If we know our true nature and the actual purpose of human existence, we can live and be content on earth. We would not need to struggle to survive under fear and fury. We need to celebrate ourselves by being true to our natural identity. It is the beast in human beings that creates terrorists and kidnappers that rob people of their tombs.
It is not normal and ideal for human beings to be agents of dread and death. At what point did some human beings transform into lions, wolves, vipers, dragons and carnivorous animals to devour humanity? Parenting is a dynamic way of forming character but many street children have no parents to teach them wisdom and the value of life. In some cases, it is not that the parents are physically dead. They are only morally and financially dead to the children whom they abandon to survive at their own expense.
What I am on earth projects me into the future that would end in death hence I consider my celebrations on earth as rehearsals of my funeral. At my anniversaries, I am conscious of those who celebrate me given that I am alive to show them gratitude and express my appreciation. This I will not be able to do to those who will eventually attend my funeral.
I never knew that I would celebrate 25 years of my priesthood but I did in a very unique and extra-ordinary way. I was rushed to the hospital at 1.00 a.m., the night of the celebration. Although I was unconscious for some time, the sickness further assisted me to rediscover myself and the people around me. God allowed me to participate in the silver jubilee with relatives and friends who came from different places. I had said during the mass that the jubilee was a glimpse of my funeral. What matters to me most now is to move on to attain heaven and lead people to salvation. In the brochure, I had taken my time to write: “Thoughts, Tributes and Thanks” to express my appreciation to those who came to celebrate me. Once again, I thank those who celebrated the golden jubilee of my birth on January 31, 2011 and the silver jubilee of my priestly ordination on September 25, 2015. I am grateful to those who contributed to the book, “The Bridge Builder: Rev. Fr. Cornelius Afebu Omonokhua”, edited by Mrs. Angela Aimua Chikezie.
• Fr. Cornelius A. Omonokhua, (email@example.com/www.omonokhua.blogspot.com)