Oneil Allen is on his mobile phone making arrangements for the casket and the hearse. A gold casket- check! A majestic white hearse-check! It’s 7 a.m. and he is already at the office. He is never late. When families come in for consultation he can’t keep them waiting. “Hi, is this Mr Allen?” A woman rings the doorbell of his office and inquires. She is the oldest of a family of three who is eager to discuss funeral arrangements for a relative. Allen explains vital details to the family. His method is one of compassion coupled with care.
“Okay, please be assured that everything will be okay,” he says to them as they leave his office. One down, but many more to go as his schedule entails unique scenarios and advisories to people who are clueless as to the process post-death of a loved one. But it’s just another day at the office as a funeral director for Allen’s Funeral Home (Tunapuna), the Allen family’s business legacy.
After a few more consultations, he has some free time before lunch to catch up on his social media. An Instagram memory from his charity drive last year to raise funds for Bahamian victims of Hurricane Dorian pops up. He smiles at the contributions made by the people he engaged. He gives himself a high five as that charitable drive (of the many he has done) really hit home as he has many friends residing in the Bahamas.
Allen reminisces some more on the video he made asking people to donate and the weekend he drove from Diego Martin to Arima, to Caroni and then Princes Town picking up food supplies and donations. He feels accomplished that he could have answered the call of his Caribbean brothers. Speaking of brothers he checks in with a young football player who he coaches and mentors. He considers him like a younger brother. “So the video looks good but your strike towards goal needs more precision; practise, practise, practise!”
I ask the energetic Allen (I am an observer today as I detail a day in the Interesting Life of Oneil Allen): “So you’re a funeral director, a charity fundraiser and a football coach?” He responds with a smile and I get the feeling that there is more to the man who many know and love.
The St Mary’s College old boy then turns on the radio and the radio host comments on the shutdown of Trinidad and Tobago Carnival 2021. “Oh gosh so is really no Carnival!”- the Carnival connoisseur shouts as the news that T&T Carnival 2021 will be postponed hit home. Everyone knows that he loves Carnival; he is a party starter and the one to inject fun into any festivity. After being a concept fete planner for many years and a staple at many Carnival events it feels almost unnatural for a year without Carnival but his thoughts are interrupted soon...
“Hi, yes this is Oneil Allen…” he answers a call from one of his catering clients as he takes an order for a birthday dinner. Afterwards he tells me... “You would not have guessed that I was a caterer/chef! I used to have a nice restaurant in St Joseph!” I sigh as it isn’t even lunch time yet and I am amused by the chapters in the life of this Jack of all trades. “Oh, and I am a mechanic. I used to have a mechanic shop as well,” Allen adds lightly and I am convinced that the man of many talents must have a super tonic to keep him so active. But the real question is- how does a funeral director get his joy amidst an atmosphere of grief and sobriety?
“I don’t have a typical life. I have one job where you connect with families through a sorrowful part of their lives. Another job of mine is trying to be creative and connect with people to have them have a great time. The dichotomy of my life,” he informs. The father of two then continues- “But seriously though, I believe everyone should have a code or ‘mantra’ of some sort to live by. ‘Time is always too short for those who need it, but for those who love, it lasts forever’- that is my mantra. What helps me in this death business also is my practice of meditation for 15 to 20 minutes daily to resonate my purpose in life through introspection and searching of answers that evade me”. He smiles widely with his declaration but the call he gets next wipes the smile off his face.
One of his associates announces the cancellation of yet another Rio Carnival due to the Covid-19 pandemic. He sighs. The reality check of the new times we live in is enough for us to strike up a conversation on Covid-19. “The Covid-19 pandemic and practising social distancing has changed my entire routine to the point where my daughter had to beg me for a hug. I have to pay special attention to all safety protocols for work with regard to wearing proper PPE (personal protective equipment). In addition I have to now dress down and I take off all my clothes before I walk into my home. And of course as all schools are closed the balance to homeschool is always a challenge but this actually has been easy as I am doing my Master’s at the present point in time”. “Wait; a Master’s? Where do you get the time?” I interject as he assures. “Girl you have to make the time. My daughter and I have built a routine to study.”
We decide to take our talk to the road as it’s now 2 p.m. and Allen decides to leave the office early to run an errand. “I just have to stop off at the supermarket to get some stuff for a catering job I have,” he enlightens me as our discussion dives into divine gourmet. As posted on his social media pages, cooking is his passion and mixing drinks, his hobby. We talk about the best recipes he has cooked and the couture cocktails he can create. “I think one day I may have my very own food talk show,” he predicts as he drives along the Eastern Main Road dancing to a popular Machel Montano soca tune on the radio. Two ladies crossing the road bend their heads to catch a glimpse of him while a child in the back seat of car giggles at the man wining on the wheel. No one could imagine that the same jolly fellah who is now humming to Mr Fete was just planning funerals.
Indeed, as I leave him after he parks his car at the supermarket, I wonder what charity project, menu or business venture the interesting Oneil Allen might jump into next. Hmmmm…. I bet it will be something just as exciting as his other ventures not excluding the necessary work of funeral planning.