Jobseeker’s Diary: When speaking ill of the dead is inappropriate

Growing up, we were cautioned not to speak ill of the dead, and many people not just here but all over the world refrain from doing so.

Growing up, we were cautioned not to speak ill of the dead, and many people not just here but all over the world refrain from doing so.

Death has a way of ‘quieting’ us, perhaps because it reminds us that sooner or later, we too will die. And so you rarely hear terrible things at funerals, even in cases where the deceased’s actions were deplorable. 

For that day or two when we gather at a friend or relative’s home, we desist from saying what we really think of the person who just passed away. It’s the right to do. 

There’s almost always a funeral service, attended by family and friends but also strangers. Again, it has a lot to do with the fact that we realize that it could have been us lying in that casket. What usually follows are glowing eulogies. “He was so generous and helpful …” and “Her door was always open…” are tributes you hear at almost every funeral. 

There’re exceptions of course. In Uganda for instance, most people are buried at their ancestral homes. Now some of these people would have led lavish lives in big cities but once they die, they’re transported back to the villages they left decades earlier. 

Their childhood friends and neighbours who stayed behind take this moment to exact their ‘revenge’, chiding the dead for ‘eating ’ alone and not caring to give back to the community that raised them. This tends to happen after the naughty villagers have downed some local brew. I guess they have a point. 

One particular story told is of a government official who died some years back. He was a powerful man and had built several mansions in Kampala. His kids studied abroad, he drove the most luxurious cars and had many others things rich people love and yet he failed to put up even a modest structure in his hometown. 

As MPs, ministers and other highly placed officials made the long journey for their colleague’s burial, they were shocked that, that was indeed where he came from. As influential as he’d been, he hadn’t even lobbied government to work on the poor roads, get water, electricity and similar services he enjoyed to the small town. 

What shocked them even more was the mud house his mother lived in. I guess we have him to thank for the change in attitude. 

These days, we see more people giving back to their communities; from MPs helping to start income-generating projects for youths and women to established businessmen donating cement and bricks to help with the construction of the local primary school. 

Overall though, few people openly castigate the dead. Which is why I feel bad for Margaret Thatcher’s family. Some terrible things have been said from the moment news of her death was relayed. Regardless of what she did or didn’t do, I don’t think popping champagne and belting anti-Thatcher songs was appropriate. 

“Oh you don’t know the things that woman did. You think she was called the Iron Lady for nothing?” was one of the responses I got after I posted a comment urging people to let her rest in peace. 

The £10 million funeral didn’t help of course. That’s where the Muslims beat us. Bury the dead within a day because this business of keeping the body for days or weeks is just too costly. 

On a more sombre note, I hate death because you die and people go on with their lives, but more than that, I’m scared to death that one day or night, I will be gone and there’s nothing I can do to change that. I wish we knew our death date the way we know our birth date. That way, we would make informed choices, say not go through the trouble of saving for a future we won’t see or have children we won’t see grow up. Sad!

To be continued…


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