I had the honour of being at the Malawian internment of the ashes of a teacher, colleague and friend, Margaret Sinclair, who passed away almost two years ago. She had been born in Malawi in 1927, where her mother, Mamie Martin, died while Margaret was a toddler. Part of Margaret’s ashes were laid to rest in Bandawe beside her mother and baby brother.
The night before, local people whose earlier generations knew the Martin’s reminisced as if it all happened yesterday, rather than 90 years ago. They had heard about the Martins and those stories feel very current and relevant. This storytelling of past relatives and their connections reminds me of how we, Irish people, deal with the past – it just merges into the present. The funeral service itself was musical (not very Irish, that) and included the whole community. After the service and speeches, the proceedings continued at the graveside. The flask was placed in the prepared hole and workmen then filled it in with bricks and concrete, mixed on the spot, and then with the displaced earth. This was a hot and dusty business but very real.
My experiences of UK funerals is that of a remoteness from the reality and a sanitisation of death. I have never thought that to be a helpful approach and always have to stop myself from going on about ‘how we do it in Ireland’. It’s more complicated than that, for sure, but those are my musings about this moving event here in Malawi.