Burying our loved ones during COVID19

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The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our lives as we knew them, the rise of the pandemic has drastically changed the way we mourn and host funerals for now and in the foreseeable future. Writes Terence Molepo

Funerals are experienced as technical occasions with the restrictions imposed by the regulations set by the President to curb the spread of COVID- 19. Families and relatives from outside the province need a permit to attend the funeral and it comes with its own administrative costs since the permit has to be obtained from the magistrate office or police station. Distancing measures must be adhered to for the limitation of exposure of persons.

Families are restricted to lesser visits and on the day of the funeral only 50 people can attend the ceremony and accompany the family to the graveyard for the final send-off. A close colleague passed away in March and for a minute I had to imagine that I would not attend his funeral but luckily I made it through the list of those that could attend and bid farewell to him.

The regulations have completely change the ways in which we mourn at funerals, in black culture we have always grieved together, this means when a community member dies, we all gather to mourn that person, to celebrate that person’s life through daily prayers and constant visits to show support for the family that is grieving. As a result, my colleagues’ funeral felt so empty and distant.

Burial stokvels and societies have become helpless bystanders who cannot help the bereaved family the best way they know how. We know burial stokvels as the supportive hand for funeral preparations as they assist with groceries and also avail themselves for cooking so that families are able to grieve their loss.

Now more than ever we realise how pivotal the different sectors of the community that contribute to the family in different ways during the week of the funeral are for the families and the members themselves.

President Cyril Ramaphosa in his speech at the World Health Assembly said that the Covid-19 will be with us for some time, we will have to change the way we behave, work and live and certainly the way we bury our people.

The bigger discussion is how do we change our funerals without eroding the fabric of who we are? Over the years, there have been many arguments on how funerals have become an expensive liability to mourning families and we should collectively look at changing things.

As we deal with COVID deaths the next few months are going to be challenging as we bury our loved one we will be torn in understanding that some of our spiritual rituals to funerals would be eliminated and the ways in which we bury has completely changed. There are no more night vigils in celebration of the departed, the remains of the deceased cannot come home for the last time before being swallowed by the ground forever the next day.

No last chance to have their body, even though cold, to be amongst its living kin one last time. For now, funerals have taken an air of unfamiliar coldness, quick service of 50 at home, a drive-by of the remains, followed by an even quicker process at the graveyard. All of it devoid of ritual and ceremony and heartfelt goodbye from all those who have come to pay their last respect.

However, how do we do this without stripping away the essence of who we are and the soul of burying as black people? Funerals are not just funerals they are a ritual for many of us that help the departed transition to the next dimension with dignity and respect.

For this to happen the spirit of Ubuntu of the community is needed, stokvels were not started just to give families money but also physically support the families lay their loved ones to rest with the dignity and respect that is afforded to every member of the family.

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