Whilst away some place across the big pond I received some news that a man I had worked with for many years had died. I was shocked and was thousands of miles away and wasn't due back for 2 weeks. Fortunately, the funeral was held on Friday and I managed to get my jet-lagged self to the various venues.
The deceased man and I had previously worked with a group of people who will forever be a big part of my life. Have you ever been amongst a group of people who were as different as chalk and cheese and yet somehow gelled as one big family, there for the highs and lows of life?
Here is an example of how close and loved people felt: one man had to retire from his work due to ill health. Let's call him Ahmed. He was the kind of person who would bore you to tears in meetings, the kind who wouldn't shut up and always turned a brief point into a 20 minute monologue! Ahmed was not one to take a hint that he had extended his speaking time and so verbal sledge hammers were employed to spare the ears of the meeting attendees. I had been away for many years and due to the recent death I was back in the fold again. Ahmed, I was told, even though he lived many miles away from his old workplace still found time/a reason to visit each week. He cared so much for the people, the job the warmth of these disparate people that he had to be in contact with them. I commented on it to an older Nigerian woman who was viewed with refeverence by all and she said, in a very soft voice, 'He's always welcome'. My heart melted. I understood why I was there, why I, myself, checked in with everyone now and again with the people who helped me to grow up. Who allowed me to be myself and showed real love and patience as I did so.
I recall a line manager saying to me that he cared about people there as if they were family, including me 'because we have a saying in Yoruba which means: he's a bastard, but he's our bastard'. Tolerance was mandatory. So was empathy, understanding and love. It seems very strange writing that about a workplace. Somewhere you are meant to go to check in and cash out. As a result of this experience I now find it almost impossible to be employed and prefer to work for myself. My only reason for leaving was due to luurrvve! (A long story - trust me!)
The man who died was the kind of person who always made you smile. A cheeky chappy who was married to a lovely woman and they had 2 lovely children together plus he had 2 older children who were close and loved by them both. Let's call him Andrew. He had an eye for the ladies but that was it, just an eye. He made jokes about the size of your bottom, or the swinging of hips or the cinched waist of a 'fine looking woman' in the office and never was there a murmur of 'sexual harrassment' - the women gave it right back and sometimes harder than he did! I know sexual harrassment is something that can have damaging consequences on people in the work place and I am not diminishing the pain it can cause, but in that place of work people were free to be themselves and if anyone stepped over the line a little private chat did the trick.
This in an environment which was like the United Nations - a multitude of races and cultures. Where organised lunches would see people bringing in fufu, barabrith, rice and peas and chicken, stuffed paratha, jolloffe rice, gulab jamun and pasta, amongst other dishes. Food from around the globe, made by the staff.
Andrew became ill at work and was sent to a hospital which, apparently, discharged him later that day and he fell ill again at home the same night, was returned to hospital in an ambulance and died within hours. His young wife was/is distraught. She has lost her best friend and she has pain oozing from every pore. It was difficult to even look at her at the funeral, her pain was so visible. She seemed to be permanently on the verge of collapse.
The church was packed, his work colleagues sang a song in tribute and his 10-year-old nephew sang Michael Jackson's 'You Are Not Alone' - confidently and beautifully. People broke down crying as they joined in on the chorus, myself included.
Through all the praying and calling to God I tried to put aside my atheist thoughts and focused on the fact that I was there because of my friend who had now died. The day was truly special and I was pleased that I was able to attend to offically celebrate his life and the joy that he brought into the lives of those he came into contact with.
It made me think about what would I want to happen when I die. As an atheist I previously thought that I didn't want any 'hacklings' (as my Father would say - meaning he didn't want any bother or fuss) and so if something had to be done then cremate me or chuck me in a large paper bag and let the animals eat me.
Now I think: I'll be dead! What do I care how someone chooses to dispose of my body or the ceremonies they choose to conduct because they feel the need to mark my death/life in some way? I couldn't care less. 'Whatever', as the Americans say.
I felt the need to purge my thoughts onto paper and so forgive the disjointed thoughts: just view them as a stream of conciousness, a collection of thoughts strung together after a few days of no sleep, jet lag and reflection.
For the Andrew's and Ahmed's of this world.