Farewell Uncle Dennis
I woke up to the news on 1st May 2011 that “our enry” Henry Cooper had died; British, European and Commonwealth Heavy weight champion and the darling of British sport because his “ammer” floored Cassius Clay when I was a lad. This was followed quickly by the report that “Whispering Ted Lowe” – the doyen of snooker announcements for British fans of the green baize – had also gone the way of all flesh. However I was not prepared for the news that the grime reaper had knocked closer to my door that night.
Prince Dennis Agbugba had been introduced to me when I was 15 years old by my absent mother who came to visit me from Nigeria, as he was our kith and kin, and I needed to get closer to him in order to embrace my heritage. Uncle Dennis was a gentle man with a low and mellow voice. He did not waste words but when he did speak, his words were measured and they cut to the quick. He was one of life’s observers; he lived it with a smile and went with the flow.
Igbo wakes are not really solemn affairs. One hundred and twenty people crammed into a small hall in Kilburn to pay their respects to the family. Music, food and merriment were abundant, intermingled with hushed tones as well wishers recounted their experiences of and love for this mellow man, before exiting with a prayer. It was a fitting ceremony for a man who embraced life and the money raised (Igbos always celebrate occasions with money raising) was given to the family. This was augmented by the organizing committee of OSUH (Uncle Dennis’s Town Union) for whom I’m the sitting chairman, so that they can transport Uncle Dennis home to our family compound as his final resting place.
But all of this was to hide the reality that I faced on 24th May, when I went to pay my final respects and visit him in the mortuary before he travels back home on Monday 30th. I’ve buried my mother and father so I knew what to expect when I went behind the curtain, but nonetheless the mask of death always shocks me. The change in the lifeless body of humankind, the eerie stillness, the composed look, no shadow of turning reminds me all too well how brief my time is on this plane. Uncle Dennis has paid the final price required to transition to glory and join the ancestors; it is a journey we all have to take. We busy ourselves with all our stuff, like a patient in an occupational therapy wing, but the real question in life is what happens after death.
I have my own views. Some might say it’s wishful thinking, but while he was alive Uncle Dennis reminded me to live life to the full, make my peace with all on earth, leave my legacy and get ready to meet my maker – in the consciousness that I fought the good fight and ran the last race with all of my might.
Farewell Uncle Dennis and see you in a minute xx