Five years ago, the Nation Transition pages were the laughing stock of readers. The family-written death and funeral announcements were supposed to be dignified and solemn information to the world about the deaths of their loved ones, but many of them were slovenly written with laughable spelling errors and obvious mistakes.
Readers raised concerns, which I tried to reflect in my article, “How to write a funeral announcement that upholds the dignity of a loved one” (Daily Nation, September 10, 2015). Words that were commonly mangled included angels that was rendered as “angles”, corteges as “cottages”, father-in-law as “father in low”, grisly road accidents as “grizzly road accidents”, and so on.
The writers also invented names for hospitals and mortuaries — including Matter Hospital, Kenya University Mortuary and Gertrude’s Garden Hospital. They did not seem to know which words to capitalise and when to use a comma, semi-colon and other punctuation marks. They failed to match dates with the correct days of the week or distinguish between “his” and “her”.
It was reader Githuku Mungai who posed the question: Does NMG have a policy of “not correcting” errors in death and funeral announcements?” The question was consequential. It led to the Transition pages being transformed. Today, the silly and stupid mistakes have, on the whole, disappeared. The notices are more readable and respectful of the dead.
This week, I asked Letty K’Okul of the Nation Ad Centre how this has come about. First, she said, they stopped accepting handwritten announcements, thus eliminating the possibility of introducing errors while preparing the notices for print.
Most of the announcements now come in as soft copy, which they go through with representatives of members of the bereaved families and correct any errors. The process can take anything from 10 minutes to virtually the whole day, she said. There can be a lot of back and forth consultations as most announcements are written under the authority of funeral committees. But, with patience, the system works.
Obvious errors are now routinely eliminated, though a few still slip through, for no system is perfect. One of the most common errors that have now been largely eliminated is the use of expressions “wife to”, “brother to” and “sister to”.
(Please note “brother to” or “sister to” is not always ungrammatical; it depends on whether you are describing a familial or transactional relationship. A recent announcement, correctly, said: Violet Wairimu Mungatana was “sister of Peninah Chege Mugambi”. But, going by what was said at the burial — which I attended — it would also have been correct to say that Violet was a good sister to Penny).
The death announcements are now generally clean and readable. However, most of them lack originality and creativity; they read like they’ve been written by the same writer who overuses the words “loving” and “beloved” and has a limited stock of hackneyed Bible verses that includes “[you have] fought the good fight and won the race” and its variants.
In addition, too many of the announcements have long crowded paragraphs written in small print (to accommodate long lists of family members and relatives), which make them difficult to read. The large slabs of names of family members and relatives will probably never become shorter. In Kenya, funerals are for the living, not the dead.
In my article last Friday, “Calling back and responding to messages isn’t what we do best”, I referred to a story on a church business published in the Sunday Nation of March 24, suggesting that the reporter failed to contact “a well-informed reader” who thought the article was misleading or a second source of information the reader had suggested.
The reporter did actually contact the second source, but found it unnecessary to contact the “well-informed reader”.
My apologies to the reporter for insinuating, wrongly, that he does not respond to queries, or that his story was necessarily misleading.