Saturday, January 22, 2011


Margaret, or Julia-Margaret, as she was known at church 

Today we went to our first funeral in Diepsloot, and my first African burial.  It was for our friend and former church member, Julia Margaret.

As I made the keepsake handout I realized I didn't know her birth date, or even the year she was born.  I didn't know what she was sick with, and eventually what she died from.   Walking beside people you call friends, the details of what you don't know about them are eclipsed by what you do know of them.

What I did know is that this woman had a hard life.  She was married to a man she was sure never really loved her.  He had left her for another woman and seemed to shamelessly flaunt the relationship in front of her.  She struggled emotionally to find peace, financially to find stability.  She worried about the future, especially for her children.  All last year she prepared herself (and those around her) for the days of her death...ominously prophetic.

Margaret (what I called her) also knew Jesus in a deep and wonderful way.  Her face changed once she thought about Him, and the way He changed her life.  She called Him "My Strength", and He was.  The Margaret I knew in church would share miseries and woes before church, then dance and sing with abandon during the service.  He was the only thing in her life worthy of worship.  She was also the first to volunteer for anything that needed a woman's touch.  She was very feminine (I never saw her in pants) and delicate (maybe 100 pounds soaking wet).  She once saw me crying after church (I was missing my children) and came over to me saying "Please don't cry, Janey," (what she called me). "If you cry, who will I have to comfort me?"   She was a good woman, a tender reed in a stormy world.

Today's service began in Diepsloot extension 6, as we met at Margaret's house to host a service for the neighborhood.  Underneath the makeshift shelter of church canopies, neighbors and friends sang dirges and worship songs alike to usher in the Gospel, shared by our Diepsloot church leaders: Mario, Dumisani, Mabuti, and Erasmus.  There was also sharing by neighbors and friends...some of whom went to other churches...and my heart was in my throat when I listened to them, hoping the true Gospel would not be perverted.  It wasn't.

Amidst the mourners were Margaret's children.  The eldest couldn't be there, in prison and unable to get a bereavement liberty.  The second oldest, Tabiso, (sleepy from the service the night before and possibly drunk) sat next to me as I stood at the back.  Themba, the third son, made a decision publically to live his life for Jesus - something Margaret had prayed for till the day she died.  Priscilla, the only daughter (14) and the one I know the best, cried openly.  Finally, the youngest, Sipho sat blank-faced and stared stright ahead, knowing little about the service and its direction, being only 10.  The two youngest knew mostly that their mom was gone, she was dead.

After the service, we went to the burial ground.  Past the Lion Park on the 511, it was a large plot with tall grasses everywhere, save the newly mowed parts with telling mounds of dirt one after another.  It was here that an orange canopy was erected under which the would be seated.  There was more singing in strong African voices, then prayer for the family.  It was then that the children were ushered to the grave for a final goodbye, after Margaret's body had been placed there.  Such an emotional outpour came from their hearts!  While the crying was drowned out with singing, it was gut-wrenching to watch.

I always think that the burials of my family members have been orderly and beautiful, with the tears soft and contained for the sake of dignity.  The display of too much emotion in my culture is almost frowned upon, and usually encouraged to be done in privacy.  Here, in contrast, the emotional display is not only expected, but understood.  There was no one stopping the howling and flailing, only Aunties leading the children back to their seats when it was time to cover the body with the mound of awaiting dirt.

The next scene will never leave my memory: all of the men took turns shoveling the dirt onto the grave.  As the women continued to belt out songs of worship and freedom, the men shoveled.   In suits and ties, the young and old all took part in burying our sister.  Tears filled my eyes, as I watched Mario, still in pain from recent surgery, shovel alongside of Dumisani.  When the grave was complete, a wreath was placed on top and there was another prayer.

It was then that a woman began to sing a strong song: "I'm going home, to die no more" were the words to the chorus, which was sung over and over.  It said everything.

As we left, we went back to the home of Margaret where a large feast had been prepared to feed all of the mourners.  Mario (now in need of a pain pill) went inside the house to apologize for his leaving without eating, and was graciously excused.  I said goodbye as well, thanking all of the family and promising to see them tomorrow at church.  Before leaving, we gave Priscilla and Sipho school supplies to be used this week as they went back to school after a long absence.

On our way to the car, we saw Richman, our friend and Margaret's neighbor, who had been instrumental in planning the whole funeral.  He was waiting for us, and had poured us cokes ( a real treat).  We thanked him, and toasted Julia-Margaret together and reflected on the events of the day.  We all agreed that it went well, and that the day would be well remembered.  We thanked him, and Mario went home in his car, with Petrus to drop off on the way; I went home in my car, dropping off Portia on the way.

The way home I thought of the world I was leaving: a township family that had lost the beautiful mother and leader of the home.  The kids would be given help, but always be missing the presence of their mother here on this earth.

Please pray for them as you think of them.

I once did a blog about the kids of our friends in the township (Brazen Princess August 12, 2010, "township")  and Julia Margaret's son, Sipho was one of the kids in it. Click here if you want to see it

Julia-Margaret's Keepsake for the funeral   

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