The Commonness of Untimely Death

Loved ones, I hope you don’t mind me processing this repast with you. Not being deep into the culture and process of funerals (I’ve only attended a few), I did not know what a repast is before my comrades asked me to help set up. My 20-year-old daughter, Yolanda, has been to two in the last year — her boyfriend was shot in the head in a Burger King parking lot last year…. She explained to me that the logic is folk are celebrating the past life of their loved one.

So, (texting me from her job) Yolanda helped explain the scene to me: It was like a (subdued) party atmosphere. First of all, my comrades come from manifest extended family in Boston’s African America. The place was 200 deep, and ‘eryone was “blood” of some sort or another.

Rap was booming and folk were dancing (mostly Sisters doing the dancing, nothing “over-the-top”). I was overwhelmed with sadness. The Brother was “in the life,” 30-years old, snuffed out behind some “beef…”

Ronnie (my dear Sister) is “Sister/Mother of the clan,” and she presided, took the mic, blessed the crowd and the food. She continually introduces me to “her relations…” She has numerous relations, and blood has nothing to do with who is more her family than the others. Her children are beautiful.

Trece (my comrade who lost her son last Friday) is smiling and hugging people. She has had the same demeanor all week (? I’ve been next to her since his death). I think she’s still in shock or numb. She comes over to me and proudly tells me that the rap music blaring (in the foreground) is her son.

I am concerned. I ask Ronnie as much — “Is she in shock?” Ronnie, “No, she’s fine. It’s been a week. Life goes on…”

Ronnie is one of those community leaders who do not live on the daily news. In other words, she’s a genuine people’s leader. Our real leaders are not mediated through or determined by acceptance in the enemy’s communications industry.

I left the repast sad and confused and told my loved ones my experience. In addition to my daughter, Yolanda’s explanation, it came to pass from my friends that the issue was largely my lack of experience: The repast is a cultural reflex with a centuries-long history. My Comrade David explained to me:

“We are a people who bury our dead with music, and a second line if it’s New Orleans. We talk in terms of transition not death. We pour libations. We weep. We remember and we laugh. Some find solace in the Bible or in the Koran. Our ancestors laid it all out in the Book of Coming Forth by Day, the so-called Egyptian Book of the Dead. So, if the young folks had ‘a party atmosphere’ it’s ok. They were present. It’s Ok.”

Having not experienced this before, I thought it might be some kind of Hip-Hop ritual. Wrong. The repast is an element of the mourning process of African Americans; it is a ritual element of our spiritual traditions. Sister Curdina further explained:

“Yes, the concept of ‘repast’ is an African-American tradition at funerals. It is the family inviting the community to come together to tell stories, to grieve, to celebrate and honor their loved one after the funeral service. Grieving and Celebrating the loss of a loved one is a community process and a ritual that supports the family and others in the person’s home-going.”

Thank you, all.

With this much clear, I am still left wondering how many of these funerals I will need to attend in order for me to become inured to the commonness of untimely death…. in our communities,… of our peoples,… at the hands of a decaying social order.

Tell me




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