How can we simplify our funerals?
I ABSOLUTELY agree with the cultural belief that the dead must e given a decent send-off. After all we welcome the living to this would in style through ‘outdooring’ ceremonies so why not see the dead off as well? What puzzles me, however, is why the good news of an ‘outdooring’ is downplayed and the sad news of a departure is rather glamorized with all the expenses that go with it these days.
I have come back to the topic of funerals once again because l see the whole process of separating with the dead as something we need a lot of moderation on, at every stage from the day of death till the day of the final separation. It is a huge drain on families, particularly those who do not raise enough donations to cover their coasts. I could not believe a revelation the other day that a moderate funeral today will cost nothing less than GH¢15,000.
Ordinarily, I do not like going to funerals for the simple reason that it brings back sad memories. I would rather remember the departed with the lovely smiles l used to see them wear than the still frozen and lifeless bodies lying in a casket.
Most of the time, the cold bodies are no semblance of the real person. But what can you do? Sometimes, one must go and mourn and shed a tear or two for good time sake. And so, over the last few weeks, l have made appearances at three must attend funerals, the last one only last Saturday. Interestingly, all three have very different things about them; from extravagant to moderate and than to simple farewells.
Boy, increasingly our funerals are becoming special events. The amazing thing is that it looks like families are trying to outdo each other when it comes to preparing for the funeral of their loved ones. Right from media announcements, (these days funeral announcements, are being placed on the internet as well) through to simple wall posters and giant billboards and three days of feasting and merriment, funerals are becoming debt burdens for the living. The fashion catwalk always remains a centre feather though.
Amazingly, we keep adding cost to our funerals with a bit of an add-on here or there. All of a sudden, a new mania has been introduced into our way of mourning the dead. The billboards of the dead, competing for recognized space with commercial advertising of products and services are staring us in the face, in both big and small towns. “Gone but not forgotten”. “Gone too soon”, are some of the familiar messages we read on such billboards. Yes. But can the dead see or read? A friend in the advertising industry revealed to me and a group of friends how much these billboards cost. I could not believe it.
No, bidding farewell to our departed relatives and friends is becoming complex and somehow like a competition. I have always wondered if there is a way someone somewhere can bring some form of simplicity into the way we part with the dead so there is always a common guide for everyone. Can our churches help in directing us? What about our traditional councils? Can they moderate funerals in their traditional area? Is it a call for our parliamentarians to debate and enact a law? Which body in our country today can bring about a permanent regulation that will make funerals simple and less burdensome for families? Should there be a national discourse on the one too?
I learnt with some interest the other day that in East Africa, specifically in Uganda funerals must be held within two days after a person dies; whether he is a Christian or Moslem. In Kenya, funerals are organized within one week. During that time, they do everything that needs to be done and the chapter is closed.
For us, the one week is the warming up period and a time is set for the funeral by the funeral committee. How long it takes for the funeral itself to come on depends on many factors including getting a house built or renovated for the body to laid in state.
In looking for moderation, perhaps, we can take a cue from the funeral l attended last Saturday – a funeral that is prescribed by the Jehovah Witness. I must admit this was an eye-opener for me. It was my first time ever attending the funeral of a member of that faith. The simple ceremony did impress me and it was a vast difference from all the must-attend funerals l have been going to; whether in the cities or villages.
For last Sunday’s funeral which I attended, thought the loss was a biting one; a deep lamentable loss for anyone who knew the deceased, surprisingly, within a matter of three hours, the entire funeral was over. I mean completely over. The actual Bible discourse too just 40 minutes and that included the reading of excerpts from a simple biography.
There were no tributes from the parents, the husband, the children, siblings, cousins, friends, colleagues, school year group, neighbours, church groups and the tall list of who wants to be heard by the dead which we are used to seeing. There was no room for “glowing” tributes, which sometimes are full of untruths. But hey, we do not speak evil about the dead.
It was that simple. That also meant that the family did not go to the expense of printing hundreds of elaborate funeral brochures that ushers would have dept to their bosoms and people chase after like golden souvenirs.
The notion of a funeral discourse gives no room for any fashion catwalk; the display of the latest creations in mourning clothes wh8ich usually characterizes the after-cemetery funeral proceedings. Really, any attempts at such funerals would go unnoticed. They would probably be out of place too.
This format, to me, is a case of saying to all the mourners, “we are done, thank you and please go home”. There were no long lunch buffet tables and queues, neither were there any packed snacks and freebies to take away. A bottle of water and assorted soft drinks on your way out sufficed.
There was no room and time for deafening dance-time music. To end it all, there were no funeral donations and all the fanfare that is exhibited by announcers through loud microphones. Oh, there days I hear there are professional funeral donation announcers who are hired and paid for. Why would funerals not be expensive and competitive?
Seriously speaking, I am impressed with the simplicity the Jehovah believers bring into the organization of the funerals of their departed members. The bit that also struck me most is the instruction to wear anything the mourner felt like wearing. There is no prescribed dress code.
By this, there really is no push for families to incur expenses purchasing new attires for either the funeral or the thanksgiving service on the Sunday. Those who have made it a habit to make new clothes for every funeral are not given the chance in this type of proceedings. The simple rule is to wear anything and the focus is to go and listen to the Bible exhortations while bidding the departed farewell.
The Jehovah Witness’ way of sending off their departed members convinced me that we can, as a people, regulate our funerals. We can bring simplicity in and help families to cut down on unnecessary funeral costs. Where there is a laid-down “format”, families will definitely fall in line and in no time, we will make funerals less burdensome and less expensive.
The question is who will bring the necessary “regulation” into being? Should it be the church? Is it the traditional councils or it is Parliament? There certainly must be a way out for us because the expenses involved in organizing funerals today can fix the education of some of the children in the family, pay for the National Health Insurance cover and feed the needy in the family.
Some authority should take the bull by the horns and give us some direction, particularly for the Christian communities. We need to take complexities out of our funerals and have a simple formula, less burdensome, less expensive and less stressful ones.
Daily Graphic Page: 7 Wednesday, March 2, 2011