SOME burial programmes take so long that mourners are forced to stand in the sun for too long. This is unhealthy and unsafe especially for those with special needs such as the aged or those on medication.
Sometimes these mourners end up collapsing. But everyone thinks it is due to grief!
I am fully aware that, in our African culture, talking about death is often considered to be a taboo. So, a topic like this one is likely to provoke different reactions. I encourage you to approach my article with an open mind. I respect the dead and our culture too.
We need to engage in an open conversation on the way we conduct funeral processions. This way we will identify areas of improvement. Due to limited space, my main focus in this article is the way we conduct burial. Currently, most burial programmes take a full day. In my opinion, this is too long.
A typical burial programme will state that mourners must be seated by 08:00 hours. The arrival of the body will often be late and arrive at 10:00 hrs. This will be followed by a full church service. Thereafter, you will proceed to the grave yard where another prolonged preaching will be conducted.
Preaching is followed by prolonged speeches of appreciation to the deceased. Amazingly everyone seems to have something nice to say about the departed.
Another time-consuming activity is the laying of wreaths. Flowers are given to mourners, sometimes individually, to lay on the grave. What makes this activity even more time consuming is that mourners walk super slowly.
Walking slowly is considered to be a sign of respect to the dead. The director of programmes won’t even encourage them to move moderately fast or to just walk normally. This would be considered taboo. By the time burial is concluded, it would be 15:00 hrs and returning to the funeral house by 16:00 hrs.
What is interesting is that village funerals are more efficient than town funerals. In the village when a person dies today, burial will be conducted the following day since they don’t have a mortuary.
On the day of the burial, mourners will quickly organise themselves. In the morning, one group will go to dig the grave while another group will be making a coffin. By 13:00 hrs, preparations are completed.
A short church service will be conducted at the funeral house and by 14:00 hrs, mourners will be heading to the burial site. After burying, a family representive will lay a cup, plate or spoon on the grave. That’s it. Within an average of two to three hours burial is done.
A village burial programme is short. No laying of flowers. No prolonged speeches. Nothing like we need a speech from the widow or widower, children, company representative, political party officials, church, friends or other important mourners.
Town funerals are different. We have adopted foreign practices and enshrined them into our burial programmes. We have come to believe that these foreign practices like laying of flowers are part of our culture. Some mourners even get upset when they are accidentally left out without being given a flower or space to give a speech.
Having a prolonged burial session is not a sign of showing respect to the deceased. The short burial programmes in villages does not mean people in villages respect dead people less.
A typical church service on Sunday takes an average of three hours from 09:00 hrs to 12:00 hrs. If respect is measured by duration, who deserves more respect or longer duration? God or the dead? We worship God in three hours and He doesn’t complain. Why should we be taking eight hours from 08:00 to 16:00hrs to bury the dead in the name of showing respect?
Conducting a long burial session is not done in the interest of the dead but in the interest of us, the living. The Bible tells us that the dead know nothing. So, no matter how nice the speech is or how beautiful the flowers are, the dead will not appreciate any of them.
Similarly, the deceased will not appreciate having a long burial session. In fact, if they had a way, the deceased would say “please lower the coffin. It’s been a long day. I want to rest.” But since they can’t talk, we can stay with the coffin in the sun for the entire day without receiving any complaint from them.
If we agree that most of the rituals which we do during burial are not in the interest of the dead but in the interest of the living, then we need to look at the health and safety impact they have on mourners especially prolonged burial programmes.
Safety is often compromised at funerals. At funerals, some mourners abuse alcohol. After intoxication, such mourners often cause confusions including fights.
Stealing at funerals is also common. When mourners disperse, some secretly carry various valuable items. The funeral host will only discover that things have been stolen after the funeral.
Some of the people who cook at funerals steal food, cooking oil, sugar and salt. They have no regard to the bereaved family. These unsafe behaviours cause emotional and psychological pain on the bereaved family.
When going to the graveyard, mourners are often overloaded in open vans and trucks. At the graveyard, mourners are subjected to prolonged standing in the scotching sun.
Our grave yards do not have toilets. So, mourners are forced to endure until they return to the funeral house. Very few mourners carry water at the graveyard.
Because of cultural beliefs, some mourners would refuse to drink water at the graveyard even if you gave them. To them, eating food or drinking water at the graveyard is disrespectful to the dead.
As a result, by the time burial ends, mourners are hungry, thirsty, pressed, exhausted and weak. For mourners on medication, they would have missed taking drugs. Mourners with health challenges, their situation would have worsened by the time they return from burial.
Mourners such as pregnant women who feel they can’t endure the challenges of burial process simply don’t attend despite having the desire to show respect to the deceased.
The lasting solution to safety and health challenges mourners face during funerals especially during burial is to shorten the burial programme. The programme at the graveyard must even be shorter.
Let’s do most of the things at the funeral house or at church while mourners are seated so that when we get to the graveyard, we simply bury. People given to preach or give a speech should be brief. Time to lay wreaths, mourners should walk normally not in slow motion.
Burial has been complicated. This time employees are forced to choose between reporting for work or attending burial. The two can’t be combined. You can’t say I will start with burial and report for work later or vice versa. Burial is for a full day.
It’s time to simplify the burial process. Not everything we do is part of our culture. Let’s openly talk about this topic and identify practices that should be eliminated or improved.
When the burial session is short, mourners rejoice.
Every mourner wants a short burial session. Don’t just mourn, mourn safely. Until next week, stay safe Zambia needs you alive and safe.
*The author is the CEO of SafetyFocus Suppliers, a leading safety company in Zambia. For your daily safety tips, like our Facebook page on www.facbook.com/safetyfocussuppliers.
For your comments, contact the author on cell 0955 179267 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org