June 3, 2003 — Only a Zulu man would be so dumb as to dig his own grave, I hear you say.
I might as well grab a pickaxe and shovel, if I have nothing in hand to prepare for my funeral.
However, I choose to sweat in my living years to ensure that when my spirit is called out by the superior being, at least my body will be taken care of.
I am a wise and mature man of Zulu descent, therefore, since I neither have the time, energy, nor the necessary tools to stab at the ground, I decided to accept free funeral cover from Batho Batsho Bukopane, a black-owned funeral undertaker popularly called B3.
When the idea was initially sold to me, I was cynical, and perhaps a little offended.
Why would a funeral undertaker offer me, a person living with HIV, such a frightening privilege?
Did they perhaps have a premonition on my behalf? Do these people know something I don't? Do they believe my days are numbered?
On the other hand, would it not be equally liberating to know that my family is spared some of the expenses that inadvertently accompany the permanent departure of their loved ones?
I suppose the irony is clear: despite the preparations and cost-saving antics that we employ, we still don't look forward to that fateful day.
Somehow, we are tempted to believe, just as happens with HIV, that it will not happen to us.
I know and accept that someday, somewhere, somehow my spirit will be divorced permanently from my body.
Therefore, it would be of great benefit to me and to all of us not to pretend by referring to a spade as a big spoon.
My upbringing has contributed largely this ominous fear of death and dying. I remember my grandmother spanking me for informing her that "ubaha wase next door ufile" ("the father from next door is dead").
For the next couple of months I was forced to learn the correct and most respectful manner of conveying such terrifying news.
Every time I have to convey this kind of message, I always picture my grandmother's unforgettable angry stare.
Making an indirect referral to death and dying not only reflects the unmaskable fear thereof but is meant to ease the pain and soften the blow.
Even as children, we were obliged to kneel or squat if a funeral procession were to cross our path in the streets of the township and also to grip the hair on top of the scalp, simultaneously.
This was a surrendering posture, if you ask me. Many decades on, I still do not comprehend what this ritual is about and I am not certain whether it is still being enforced. Anyway, blame my ignorance on detribalisation.
On a more serious note, though, death is no child's play and it is absolutely nothing to be scorned.
On the contrary, I think it is imperative that we demystify the reality of death and dying.
I have been quoted in my previous writing as saying something to the effect that all of us should make an effort to befriend death in an effort to understand what it is and what it means to us and to all of our beloved.
As a person living with HIV, it was critical that I learnt to cope with the reality of death and dying because for some peculiar reason, HIV and AIDS has always been and still continues to be congruent to death and dying.
In fact, having outlined briefly the background of myths and misconceptions on this ghostly subject, I believe that many people die many times before their actual death because of fear.
In conclusion, I accepted this well-meaning gesture from B3 for the simple reason that death is imminent, for me and for you and for all of us.
The least I can do is to prepare adequately for it. You can too.
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