(In Memory of my Beloved Father; The Late Ex-WO 1 Paul-Laud Kofi Penu)
Reflecting on the incidence of death of my beloved father and preparations towards his funeral and burial I remember I only shed copious tears in three instances throughout the episode. I choose to write about them because they strenthen my resolve to sutain and magnify my dad’s legacy of positive impact and service to all he encountered.
First, it was when his body was being transferred unto the stretcher into the mortuary 30 minutes after the pronouncement of his death; and here, he was supposed to ‘live’ until burial. An hour ago, I remember asking the doctor attending to him to be absolutely sure what he was telling me about my father’s life. Initially, I had resisted that reality of death, apparently because he looked more asleep than dead. He looked more “at peace” than “troubled”. Then I remembered the song he was singing the night before, along with the singer of a dirge meant for the late president J.E A Mills: “When they come asking tell them I am gone home”. Coming to terms with this was easier than the task of relaying the incidence to my mum and siblings. As I write, I still think announcing the incident to my family was the most difficult moment throughout the entire episode.
Understandably; the second most tearful moment for me was when I had emanated from the vehicle that transported my dad’s body into his cold abode. I had already called someone to go see my mum, be with her until I called to tell her the sad story. I had called, told my mum and siblings my dad was no more, but it felt heavier now that I had to face them really. I had left home that fateful dawn of 3rd August 2012 with my dad, and now I was returning without him. The tears from my mum, brother and sister threw me off balance as if I had just heard the news. The tears could not be held back no matter how “manly” I tried to act. It was clear now that I had to try very hard to fit into the shoes of the ex-soldier who so gallantly lived a life of impact and service to everyone he came into contact with. The news spread like wild fire and within minutes, news of my father’s death was diffusing into the whole neighborhood. Faces that had never surfaced on our corridors made their show in the typical African fashion.
Between this time and the 29th September 2012 when my 51 year old dad was supposed to be interred, I had taken the challenge to try and fill in my dad’s shoes and occupy the vacuum that his departure had created. I was convinced that, no one could fill in better than I, the first son, and prime recipient of all the lessons of life he had imparted. It was significant that my dad had died in my arms so that at least some day I could give a first-person account of how that tragedy happened. Even though I tried hard to forget the incident, the sorrow that Ghana had been plunged into 2 weeks earlier consolidated the sorrowful atmosphere surrounding our loss. Dirges were sung hour-in, hour-out in honour of our President and that continued to blossom thoughts of my last minutes with my dad. My family of 4 (initially 5) had to mourn the dual loss of a head of state and a father. I was determined to make my family move on as quickly as possible and to sacrifice my sorrow to cushion the emotions of my younger siblings and mother. I remember telling my siblings and mum, one dawn after the incident that, nothing will make Daddy feel more comfortable in his heavenly home than to see his family compose and move on without him. Daddy had taken pains to sacrifice all laxity to prepare us for this difficult time; and we had to try not to let him down. I had encouraged my family to face life and manage the storm; but how much did I know about life myself at the age of 26? Clearly I was not as experienced as my dad but I was willing to learn, to lead and to manage the family he had left behind.
In the military custom, the medals of a fallen soldier were to be given to a surviving son. And as the first son, my brow was the exact destination for my dad’s medals he had accrued in the 27 years of service in the Ghana Air Force from which he retired honorably. Symbolically, my dad’s name and service number were mentioned in a sorrowful ceremony and when he did not respond; his medals had to be transferred to my breast. I do not know how long I wept, but I am sure that was the longest tear festival for me throughout the entire period, and arguably, throughout by entire life thus far. My mother could not be consoled and the tears in the eyes of my brother and sister as they looked on, made matters worse for me. Of course there were other members of our extended family and well wishers around to mourn with us. They made the cross bearable but I knew that; soon afterwards, this sea of mourners was going to dry up and the family of four was going to remain standing almost in solitude. I was psyching myself up for the challenge of being a 26 year old father with a wife aged 49, and two children aged 23 and 21.
I finish this note, with a firm promise to the memory of my beloved dad, The Late Ex-WO 1 Paul-Laud Kofi Penu, that his legacy would live on in us. He gave us his best and we will take consolation in the fact that he died in the Lord. You left me a father; and I am going to be a good one.