Our funeral celebrations — is this really the way to go?

Thu, 1 Mar 2018 Source: Doreen Hammond

The certainty of death has never been in doubt and it is a path all mortals, whether royals or subjects, get to travel at a point in time.

Then comes the final journey which varies in different cultures. In most parts of Africa and Ghana in particular, the general trend has been to see off deceased relatives with pomp and circumstance irrespective of social standing.

Now it seems some ethnic groups that were not observing the one week of the death of a relative are now doing so; whatever the reason the change is, I cannot fathom.

The situation is different with the Muslim community where modest funeral ceremonies are preferred. What is mind-boggling is how not well-to-do families are able to raise funds to see off dead relatives who had lived lives of deprivation and want. Even in cases where a family is not able to procure medication for a sick relative, the situation changes as soon as he is pronounced dead.

And that is when the industry key players rake in their thousands. By this, I am talking about mortuary attendants, undertakers, shroud makers, casket makers, wreath makers, tomb makers, brochure designers and printers, cloth sellers and other service providers such as caterers, drink sellers, canopies and chair rentals, music providers and master of ceremonies.

In most cases, after all is done and all these players are smiling to the bank, the family is left with debt that may take years to settle, sometimes creating disunity and destabilising the family. Surprisingly, it is often family members who will not or cannot pay for any of such services who insist on extraneous things for the funeral.

At one of such funerals recently, I reflected on the pros and cons of our funeral industry and made some observations. I realised that the death of a person and, therefore, funerals have far more consequences and implications than meets the eye.

It also offers an opportunity for domestic tourism and makes it possible for us to see and experience, even though not elaborately, the culture of other people. It normally serves as a good break from work routine and sometimes even marriages have been contracted via such events. Similarly, business contacts are initiated at funerals.

Taking cognisance of the above, it is easy to conclude that the funeral industry is a vibrant one which if well harnessed, could add some value to the domestic economy. The downside as indicated earlier is the burden of debt usually left hanging over families long after the funeral is over.

This is very disturbing considering that some of these resources could have been channelled towards the education of brilliant students within the family or better still provide capital for some family members to grow their businesses.

Such resources could also go a long way to give some family houses a facelift as some have become death traps.

In the light of the above, it is about time we all took a second look at how to give our dead relatives a befitting burial without breaking anyone’s back.

In most communities, some by-laws have been enacted to ensure this but to no avail. What I call for is a modest but decent funeral in the spirit of a win-win situation so that the dead will be happy that they have been buried well and the family will not suffer unnecessary wranglings. It is only prudent that we cut our coat according to our cloth.

Columnist: Doreen Hammond