Money can’t buy happiness? But, it covers a lot for a funeral

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Always look on the bright side of life. So sings Eric Idle in The Life of Brian:

So, the birds are coming home to roost, in the week after my father’s funeral, or the bills are landing hard and fast.

Today, the average North American traditional funeral costs between $7,000 and $10,000. This price range includes the services at the funeral home, burial in a cemetery, and the installation of a headstone,’ reports a blog named Parting. That’s in line with figures cited by SmartAsset, when discussing possible insurance coverage.

My Daddy’s funeral was relatively straight forward, and save for a headstone, the actual direct burial costs have come to less than US$7000, so far.

But, in Jamaica or other places where people like to celebrate deaths, we know there’s much more to account for.

Now, it was a great 9 night, as I noted last week; my cousin did us proud again, as she’d done for my mother, her aunt, in 2004. This wake event is a given in Jamaica, and I said to those I’d asked to arrange it that cost wasn’t my concern and I didn’t need to know the details other than date and time; just make it happen.

My St. Elizabeth cousin who prepared the food told me she catered for 100+, after being asked to cover 60. She and two helpers cooked mannish water, fried chicken and fish, curried goat, rice and peas. Everyone ate heartily on the Saturday before the funeral. But, left overs also helped feed several over the weekend and mannish water was saved to add to the family lunch planned for after the burial. Drinks from the wake left plenty of leftovers for that lunch and still plenty remains to help make a merry Christmas. That’s a good return for J$115k for food and J$77k for liquor and sodas; that’s about US$920 and $620, respectively. But, you can’t put a price on happiness.

The repast after the burial was held at the church hall, and the caterers prepared for 100 people. A rough head count at the church and gravesite indicated around 120-150 people. All who wanted to have a meal could, including family and friends for whom a special lunch was available at home. But, a good number of family and friends couldn’t resist a cup of mannish water right after the burial and then the curried goat, BBQ chicken, fried fish and other food smelt really and was right there…😂🤔Even after serving so many, left overs were there to supplement the lunch. The repast caterer charges came to J$100k, including some tables and chairs. Happiness! The greatest gift that I possess.

But, the church hall has been paid for, and my father was a parishioner so we got it half-price. Oh, the organist needs to be paid.

The family lunch was donated by a close friend who owns a restaurant chain. I’m so touched by that gesture that makes the much-loved Jamaican phrase ‘good friends are better than pocket money’ real. 🇯🇲😍 I’d estimated 35 for that lunch but asked for 50 to be covered, and appetites were hearty.

Some of our Caribbean neighbours gear up some aspects of funerals just like weddings. Imagine matching outfits for the family and you’re right on track. We know that professional mourners are also popular with some people. Neither of these things took my fancy.

You decide if your pocket can stretch to the Bahamian offering, which I’m told could be part of a typical US$20,000 funeral bill.

Money makes the world go around? Believe it!

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Taking the sting out of death and memories of my father

My father died peacefully at home on November 27, 2018 and was buried on December 11, 2018. His funeral was a lovely event at Mandeville Parish Church.

I wrote the Remembrance for him, which was delivered by one of my cousins.

For most of his life, my father’s birthday was celebrated on April 13, but a few years ago I learned that he’d been born on March 24, 1929. This mixup is not uncommon in Jamaica, as I’ve noted before. His grandmother mixed up his date of birth with that of another child she was registering. So it was that my father could celebrate two birthdays later in life. Though he was officially 89 at his death, I now wonder if he imagined that he was perhaps 99.

An aunt who knows the date of birth story intimately, said to me as soon as she greeted me at the graveyard “You know your Daddy’s birthday was in March, right?” I assured her I did but had to respect the official records lest he drop into another bureaucratic abyss. She smiled.

We know that deaths and their related events are often the time when skeletons, aptly, come out of closets. As the days passed, I joked about meeting at the funeral siblings I’d never heard of: “Guess you don’t know me; I’m your older brother, Falcao.” So far, those surprises haven’t surfaced. My father’s will is simple, so let’s hope that nothing awkward surfaces before it goes to probate.

Of course, dealing with the death necessitates unearthing things of historical relevance. As I tried to piece together recollections of my father, I knew that memories of those who’d known him as a boy and before I could recall were either fading or gone for good. I am blessed, however, that the live-in caregiver, who’d been with him and my mother for about 17 years, had tapped my father’s memories often, partly as a means of keeping him engaged after his stroke in 2006, but also because she enjoyed the telling and retelling of the stories. Over that time, she’d found and kept at my request some essential memorabilia, most importantly for me, the boarding and other travel documents from when my father and I migrated from Jamaica in 1961. But, latterly, she’d located the certificate showing my father qualifying as a mental nurse, in 1955, the year I was born. We looked over them again this past weekend, when we had the ‘set-up’ or ‘9 night‘ for the funeral.

Funerals are also great times to reconnect and it was pleasing to see many of my father’s longtime friends in Mandeville, remembering that he only went to live there after returning to Jamaica in the mid-1980s. A lot of his generation have already died. I was also glad to meet again, after a longtime, relatives I’d not seen for a few years, especially my St. Elizabeth cousins. Sadly, those few relatives who live abroad but couldn’t travel missed out on that.

But, such gatherings also throw up some surprising connections.

Never in my wildest imagination would I think that a man whom I’ve befriended since coming back to Jamaica would turn out to be a former colleague of one of my father’s sisters, and they’d worked together at Cornwall Regional Hospital. Now, this man and I have found many parallels in our lives already: we both lived and worked in England for a long time, though he’d migrated as an adult; we’d both taken early retirement; were both golfers, though he’s much better than me; we both speak Russian, and he shares a birthday with my wife. I’m a firm believer that there are no coincidences and that you meet people for a reason.

Jamaica being what it is, I was less surprised that a Mobay cousin found a former school alumna who’s now my good friend, but was more surprised that they’d grown up in the same area. That my aunt, her mother, was featured in the preceding story was a bit mind boggling.

One of the unexpected people at the funeral was the mother of a Jamaican man I’d first met in Barbados when we lived there about a decade ago. We’d discovered later that she and my father knew each other and often sat close to each other during services at the parish church! Then, there was the Mandeville friend who discovered that, after knowing me for a decade, my father’s house was two streets away from where she’d grown up.

Honestly, I’ve never relished the prospect of having to deal with my parents’ funeral arrangements, having no siblings and understanding the social code that places this on the shoulders of the children. Thankfully, I had an uncle who seemed to love doing this and did it well. He’d taken care of things for my mother, his sister, while I was living in west Africa and just on my way back across the Atlantic. But, he died unexpectedly earlier this year.

I am motivated to write something extensive about those professionals who help steer those close to the bereaved through the necessary processes after death, but I think I’ll leave that a while. There were things that happened along the way that could have been handled better, but for a first time round, I don’t think I’m scarred by the experience.

Ultimately, though I coordinated many things, it was truly a family affair, with hands, minds and hearts working together well to keep things running smoothly.

On the day of the funeral, I got very concerned that my father’s sister who lives in St. Mary wasn’t present at the start of the service and I’d heard she and her church friends had set off in plenty of time to take the cross-country route via Brown’s Town. My relief at seeing her at the churchyard gravesite was immense. But, things like a timely journey are some of the imponderables that you just have to hope work out well. She told me in a long phone call yesterday about the saga of the journey, involving hiring a bus, then deciding to use cars, but finding that the cars had one less seat than needed. In Jamaica, where overloading vehicles is a sport? No, sah! So, back to getting a bus. Oh, boy! They made it, though, in time to hear the Remembrance.

My biggest fear was that, as we took the casket from the church to the grave, we would drop the body. Jamaicans know all too well duppy stories, including bodies rolling out of coffins. I didn’t want to be associated with any such stories. As we were directed to manoeuver the cast in the church, I got nervous. I’d placed myself at the head end, at the front, then we were told to rotate the coffin so we could wheel it forward, so I was still at the head end, but now at the back of the six pall bearers. I thought I should lead, but what I good thing I was at the back. The passage to the grave yard is narrow and a coffin is astonishingly heavy, so the six sometimes could all get a good grip and the weight shifted awkwardly. “Lord, please don’t let us drop him!” I thought as we negotiated graves and headstones down steps and a slope to my parents’ plot. Then, we were directed to set the coffin over the grave, stepping carefully onto planks on the side. “Lord, please don’t let any of us slip into the grave!” I now thought. But, we set the casket correctly on the runners and I, at least, breathed a huge sigh of relief. I imagine no one wants a dress rehearsal for a funeral, but maybe, there’s a way to learn these moments earlier in life. Much like having a primer on funerals much earlier in life. But, I guess, we learn by doing and through the sharing of traditions.

As I grew up, I learned that parents are supposed to be strong support for their children. Funerals are times when those roles can shift, though. My eldest had already shed many tears when I told her about her grandfather’s death: she’d spent many happy moments with my parents soon after they came back to Jamaica and she was, first a toddler and then able to walk and run. She’d been with him to pick oranges from his trees for her breakfast and I remember her surprise that, even in the heat of Jamaica, the insides of the oranges were cold. She’d spent many a mealtime on his knee and seen him in his element farming his garden or on trips up to yam hills. She’d managed to see him often as she grew up in the US, either there or here, including since I came back to Jamaica, up through this year. I tried to keep her comforted by sharing lots of memories, especially this past week after she arrived last Saturday.

My younger daughter didn’t have as close or long a relationship, though also spent many happy hours with her paternal grandfather, including when he visited us in The Bahamas, soon after my mother’s death in 2004, and again in Guinea in 2006, before he had a stroke, then in Barbados when he was in a wheelchair. Sadly, most of her memories are when my father was much less active. Since she’s had the benefit of living in Jamaica, though, she’s absorbed differently being ‘around’ her relatives, seeing and hearing feeling families more closely. She especially absorbed Jamaicans’ fascination with death and has a healthy fear of duppies. She may feel the loss more when she sees or thinks about the chickens and dogs at Daddy’s house. The girls have their separate journeys.

I haven’t yet dissolved into tears. I thought I would at the funeral, but thought my father looked so good in his casket that all I felt was joy. I know that certain hymns have my number and when the refrain of I am the bread of life is sung I’m usually swimming in tears by the second ‘And I will raise them up’. This time, I felt a little lump in my throat but my voice didn’t crack. Five full verses and I was ready to start my new career as an opera singer. When the moment comes that I feel tears ready to flow, they will fall, or if my throat becomes exceedingly dry I’ll search for a glass of water. This may happen at such an unexpected moment that no one will understand. Hopefully, he will.

Disjointed Jamaican government writ large? Living as extras in a bad road movie

Jamaican government disregard for significant blocks of citizens has been a sadly apparent theme in 2018. It’s been manifested, especially, during the spate of road improvements that are underway, mainly in the Kingston Corporate Area.

People who opine about how democracy is poorly served by those who don’t vote ignore the salient fact that elected officials do not appear to serve well the interests of many, which should be what they focus on, irrespective of who has voted. A cynic may add that some elected officials focus much goodwill mainly on those who voted for them.

But, the road improvements chaos that many experience daily shows in many forms how government seems incapable of singing from the same song sheet.

The previous PNP administration talked much about ‘joined-up government’, which was often evidently missing. The current JLP administration does not have that mantra, but has talked much about accountability, though it’s really barely discernible. Read what PM Holness said a few months ago that Public servants will be held accountable. Below, are some thoughts on aspects of poor outcomes for pedestrians during the road improvements.

https://twitter.com/dennisgjones/status/1071776188249595904

Thoughts on what it means that Jamaica never made a social contract

Just a series of thoughts about why Jamaica’s poor economic performance has its roots in the lack of commitment to provide basic social provisions for the mass of people. Click on the date/time link to see the whole thread.

 

What is the Jamaica Social Stock Exchange?

I was a panelist today at the Civil Society Organization’s (CSO) Conference and Closing Out Ceremony under the theme ‘Building capacity and partnership to increase CSO impact and sustainability’. Among the many interesting pieces of information that came up in the discussion was the matter of the new Jamaica Social Stock Exchange. Rather than repeat the press release I point to the link issued yesterday, What is the Jamaica Social Stock Exchange? However, the basic idea is for social enterprise projects of J$5-25 million to be listed so that funding can be procured through donations (‘investments’ or ‘share holdings’) to the exchange.

Coming months will indicate how and if social enterprises and investors are attracted to this new market.

Genealogy

Just a place holder to get back to a project I started a while ago. I’ll share a post I made on Twitter this afternoon.

I need to find ways to develop this before my father and his generation all disappear, and/or his siblings–all living–start forgetting details.

Time to enlist as many family members as possible to expand this picture. Sounds easy? Yes, but… These things have a way of raising some issues that make some people touchy-feely about their backgrounds. Let’s see.

Christmas will be a nice time to do more digging.

Sabotaging your Keto Diet: Friday drinking and Sunday dinners. – Here’s What I Think…

Sabotaging your Keto Diet: Friday drinking and Sunday dinners. – Here’s What I Think…
— Read on kellykatharin.com/2018/10/25/sabotaging-your-keto-diet-friday-drinking-sunday-dinners/

This is a reposting of some wonderful advice for those struggling with dieting.

Unwilling to heal ourselves

As I drove home yesterday afternoon (at about 4.30pm) with my teenage daughter, we chatted about the squash ‘lesson’ she’d just had with me. That I wrote ‘lesson’ is to make absolutely clear that I am not really her coach, but am always happy to impart knowledge to her.

We approached the junction of Lady Musgrave Road and Hope Road, and saw that cars on Hope Road travelling west had entered the yellow box and blocked passage north from Lady Musgrave Road. Fittingly, I had been telling my daughter how to become excellent one must first develop consistent good skills; from that one can build superior ability. I pointed out to her that this was a lesson for many things in life, including what we were now experiencing: drivers have not honed the consistency of good behaviour on the roads.

No police officers were at the junction, where they had been positioned, with much fanfare several weeks ago. I knew that the day before, when most schools had reopened, police were out in force at many key points to ensure smooth transit for the heavier volumes of rush-hour traffic. I had seen them further north, by Barbican Square, as seen in this picture.

They were part of the new 700-member Public Safety and Traffic Enforcement Branch, formed from the merger of the police’s traffic and highway patrol and motorised patrol divisions, some of whom we’d seen on our homeward trip last week (seen on their new bikes in the next picture on Knutsford Boulevard). Whether on foot or on motorbikes, they were highly visible, even if they were not actually doing any active policing at the time.

The point I made to my daughter was that when the police were previously at the Hope Road/Lady Musgrave Road junction, driver behavior was almost exemplary. However, such admirable conduct was in response to the raised probability of being sanctioned for misdeeds. The ‘experiment’ was too short to conclude that, in the absence of police at the junction, drivers would respect the need to not block the junction. So, I wondered why, with more traffic expected, the officers had been removed.

Interestingly, today’s Gleaner Editorial, Kudos To The Police, But … gave me much of the answer–we don’t have enough police officers: ‘While this formation will likely improve the police’s ability to maintain order in public spaces, General Anderson still has a sustainability issue. He just doesn’t have sufficient staff to efficiently do all the things required of the constabulary. Of an establishment of just over 14,000, the constabulary is short by more than 2,000 members.’

Whatever the show of apparent success in traffic management this week, we will struggle to see this maintained because the principal source of success–officers visibly patrolling roads–cannot be maintained. In other words, the JCF does not have the means to offer consistent service. This is not just a matter of controlling public spaces but must also affect its ability to maintain law and order, more broadly–aka ‘crime-fighting’. It’s the fundamental problem highlighted by the seeming success of the states of emergency in various parts of island: where police are heavily and disproportionately deployed, public behaviour is much improved. But, that has opened the floodgates for continued and rampant misbehaving elsewhere.

It’s an indictment of our governments and governance that we tolerate inconsistent service from any public agency.

Jamaican society has not yet reached a point where the wish of most citizens to conduct their daily lives in an atmosphere or order prevails over the desire of others to create mayhem. In that regard, we are immature–like little children who constantly have to be steered to do the right things.

That immaturity has cost us dearly over the decades and has little chance of changing while we don’t or wont put resources into changing behaviour for a long and sustained period.

Many see this as the fault of politicians, who tend to shun consistency in favour of ‘quick fixes’ that may have good PR buzz but, like most of our road repairs, dont stand up to the test of time or adverse conditions.

But, it’s not all about politics, but must be about whether we have really understood what can be described as ‘sticking to it’. That’s another way of looking at the consistency I was explaining to my daughter. We have been consistent…in our willingness to flout. As the Gleaner Editorial notes (though focusing on traffic issues), much of our lives is riddled by ‘untidy topsy-turvy…exaggerated by the seeming free-for-all…in open defiance of law enforcement’. That’s really a description of anarchy.

To my mind, the truth is that, by our individual and collective actions (and inactions), we constantly reinforce the notion that we embrace anarchy. Why else would people blithely accept a bus shelter being recently turned into a vending stand (at the junction of Barbican Road/Salisbury Avenue)? Whatever energy we expend complaining about how things won’t change for the better has to be set in the context of an unwillingness to consistently insist on orderliness. Whomever else we may wish to blame for that, we are all part of the problem.

If a picture says a 1000 words, then ‘read’ about Jamaica

It’s impossible to capture the full texture of any place by writing about it; it has to be lived. But, short of living it, it can be witnessed. So, instead of always writing about things going on in Jamaica, I often try to capture the essence of the country through what my eyes see. I’ve a huge portfolio of random pictures that I have taken as I move around the island, many of which I have shared, but recently I have decided to group them into themes. A current theme, is #JamaicaNoRiskTooGreat.

I’ve long noticed that Jamaicans perceive the riskiness of their lives in ways that often defy a certain logic, but those perceptions often revolve around the notion that what the individual does bears little significant danger to him- or herself. For that reason, and others (including sheer expediency), Jamaicans will literally put their lives on the line and believe that nothing will go wrong. While, in many countries, many agents and agencies would be doing their utmost to stop many of these behaviours, in Jamaica, it’s just ‘normal’ life. Screen Shot 2018-08-24 at 10.53.09 AMIf you want to take a look at this and other themes, you can follow me on Instagram (@dennisgjones) to check my current theme(s). Enjoy!

Elephants in the room: the labour productivity-exchange rate connectcion

Once again, some (maybe, many) Jamaicans are expressing concern about nominal depreciations in the exchange rate, and (dare I say) once again eyes are looking in the wrong direction.

First, let’s dispense with knee-jerk calls for the government to ‘do something’ about the level of the exchange rate. Whatever the government (and central bank)–‘the authorities’–can do is unlikely to have any lasting effect if the rate is being determined in a market. Sorry, the authorities can spend a good amount of hard-earned foreign exchange reserves trying to defend a rate, but we know how that can go (ask the UK about the pound in 1967, for instance).

I’ve seen a clear story about the exchange rate and it’s the counterpart to the story I’ve tried to tell about labour productivity (see, for example, Productivity problems in Jamaica—Jamaica Observer article.) Available data show that the average Jamaican worker is producing or serving less than in the past, ie productivity is declining. I did not clap when data showed employment was rising and unemployment falling. (The most recent data showed the trends of a rapid decrease in unemployment, while GDP flounders under an annual rate of 2 percent.)

Why? Because growth (GDP) was hardly rising, and, arithmetically, output per worker must be falling.

In conventional economics, labour productivity movements are directly related to the movement of the ‘real’ exchange rate (ie. the nominal rate adjusted for inflation). (See IMF Working Paper, Does Productivity Growth Lead to Appreciation of the Real Exchange Rate?) So, as I noted a couple of years ago (see What’s the exchange rate telling Jamaica?) and repeated a few weeks ago, the exchange rate is telling a very clear–albeit, complicated) set of stories. Whatever else may be weighing down the exchange rate, it’s clear that Jamaica is not competitive enough to support the exchange rate, so it must depreciate. Jamaicans are busily looking at other people for undermining their currency’s purchasing power, without understanding what role they play.