Sun | Jun 13, 2021

Michael Abrahams | Funerals, memorials and gaslighting

Published:Tuesday | June 8, 2021 | 12:05 AM
Michael Abrahams
Michael Abrahams

I saw a photograph of the memorial service for Ambassador Anthony Johnson that was being shared on social media. It was taken from somewhere in the right-rear section of the room. There are at least three rows of benches, but the entire rows are not visible. In fact, you are not able to see anyone sitting in the row to the far left. I counted at least 32 people in the church. If you add the person who took the photograph, that makes 33, and if you consider that we are not seeing all the pews, it is not unreasonable to assume that even more people were present.

When the memorial service was reported on in the news, many people were upset. After all, on May 6, Prime Minister Andrew Holness announced in Parliament, “Funeral services are not permitted during the period ending June 2, 2021.” So, the question being asked was, “How come a funeral was being held?”

In response, government officials reported that the Disaster Risk Management Act (DRMA) was not breached. According to Robert Nesta Morgan, state minister in the Ministry of Education, Youth and Information, no rules were broken as the function was not a funeral, but a memorial service. He further explained that a funeral takes place with the body of the deceased present, while a memorial service takes place without the body.

But when the protocols were announced for procedures regarding the deceased, there was no mention whatsoever of memorial services. Having a memorial service was not offered as an option. The prime minister did, however, say,“The maximum number of persons who may be physically present to facilitate worship or electronic broadcast, including officiating clergy and technical support personnel, remains at 30.”


Government spokespersons are telling us that the absence of the remains of the deceased makes it a memorial service and not a funeral, and that a memorial service is like a church service. But the limit for a church service is 30, and there were definitely more than 30 people in attendance at the memorial. So, why was that allowed? The Government is behaving as if they did nothing wrong, but there is clear evidence that there was indeed a breach of protocol.

In a letter to the editor to The Gleaner published on June 3, Morgan wrote, “A funeral could not, based on numerous dictionary definitions, be confused with a memorial service, which is ‘a commemorative service of worship held for a dead person’ – Merriam-Webster Dictionary. While the same dictionary says a funeral is ‘the observances held for a dead person usually before burial or cremation’.”

But the dictionary definitions make no comment about the presence or absence of a body. So, for him to state that a funeral could not be confused with a memorial service, “based on numerous dictionary definitions”, makes no sense.

There is a word for what the Government is doing, and the word is ‘gaslighting’, which refers to a form of emotional abuse in which people are manipulated by forcing them to question their thoughts, memories, events taking place around them, and their very sanity. For example, imagine a scenario in which a man comes home and walks in on another man with his wife. The other man then looks the husband in the eye, and tells him that he is merely taking the woman’s temperature as part of a study on COVID-19 and its effects on the human body. That man would be the Government and we would be the cuckolded husband. We know what we are seeing, but they are telling us that we are seeing something else.

And we do not like it.


Even before I saw the photograph of the attendees at the memorial service, a member of the Jamaica Constabulary Force expressed their displeasure, telling me that more than the allowed number of people were gathered, and the blatant disregard of protocols bothered them. To make matters worse, a colleague’s mother was being buried on the same day, and the person was told that they would just have to take the body to the burial site with a small gathering and spend no more than 30 minutes at the venue. A memorial service was not offered as an option.

And apparently even when a memorial service has been brought up, there is at least one occasion where it was shot down. According to Rev Devon Dick, in his commentary in The Gleaner on June 2, 2021, made the following request of a government official on behalf of a grieving family: “The family is asking whether they can have the burial and after the burial, then have a memorial service the following day.” According to Rev Dick, permission was not granted, and the memorial service was not held.

Now, on June 2, the prime minister announced that funerals are still banned, but that the number of persons allowed to be gathered “to facilitate worship” has been increased to 50. So, once the body of the deceased is present, there can be no gathering to pay respects in the context of a service, but if a body is absent more than four dozen people can congregate in a room. The logic of that rule escapes me, as it does Clergy, doctors, and persons in law enforcement I have asked about it.

What we are asking of the Government is not much really. We just require honesty, integrity, transparency… and respect. The gaslighting is making us angry and resentful. We do not like to be taken for fools.

Wi a nuh big ed bud weh bawn behine cow wen wi madda did guh a markit. Cho!

Michael Abrahams is an obstetrician and gynaecologist, social commentator, and human-rights advocate. Email feedback to and, or Twitter @mikeyabrahams.