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Reasons The Covid-19 Way Of Funerals Should Stay

Funerals pre-pandemic were pretty chaotic if we're going to be honest about it...

BY Naledi K

Sep 15, 2021, 12:59 PM

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The Covid-19 pandemic has successfully changed a lot of what we used to know as normal. One of the things that took the biggest hit and had to dramatically change was the way in which we Black people conducted funeral services. I’m being specific because, while our way of doing funerals have the same factors - that is the food, the attendees and the grief of bidding farewell to a loved one - we (Black people) had managed to kick it up a notch with a few “unique to us” features.

From the very first lockdown that hit SA as a result of Covid-19, funerals were targeted because everything that we do once a loved one dies poses a big threat to helping the virus spread. Now, we are over 500 days deep into lockdown - even though we’ve gone down a few levels - but the one thing that has changed the most is how we do funerals and while it still feels a bit foreign, I think the new norm should stay.

Here’s the thing, right up to 2019, funerals had changed from compulsory events necessary to say goodbye to a deceased love one to a big spectacle in the Black community. The business of funerals was booming because they had started to operate at the same level and prices as weddings and party planners.
“Even though we have funerals for the sole purpose of burying a person that has died, the actual burying had become secondary for most of us, pre-pandemic.” 
It was the flowers, the venue, the performances, the clothes we wear, the food, the ridiculously priced casket with all the trimmings made in gold and the extravagant - bordering on completely insane - tombstone that hogged most of the budget. It had to be that way because perhaps even without realising we were sucked into a culture of making a spectacle out of funerals and completely competing for first prize amongst ourselves.

Burying the person became the last item on the priority list because planning a funeral went into all the frills and the after-tears. Here are some of the things that changed and why we should consider keeping the new ways of doing it.

Costly Visits

In most Black communities, funeral-related activities begin as soon as the message is sent out that someone has died. So from that day on, the household receives not only family members - from near and far - but people from the community who show up to offer their condolences. If this person died on a Monday, that means the visits will start on Monday and end two days after the actual funerals. There’s constant movement in the house and the grieving household is expected to feed each and every guest that comes through.

Since Covid-19 hit, this practice was forced to stop. Instead of randomly showing up, people call and send SMS's and some even go as far as sending letters accompanied with money to offer their condolences. The family doesn’t have to spend money they don’t have to feed the community, which has come as a gesture to remind them that they are not alone during difficult times. I’m sure you can see why the new norm is a better arrangement?

The Decreased Crowd

The number of people allowed to attend funerals is the biggest change in how we do things. See, in Black communities, people don’t await invites for anything - not funerals or weddings. As soon as a tent is erected, people just show up. But, Covid-19 nipped this practice in the b*tt. Thanks to the strict regulations in place, the following things have been affected:

Funeral Venues

Big halls and people renting out big tents were jacking up the prices pre-pandemic because everyone wanted the biggest, most fancy hall or tent to show people that their loved one either had money or status.

This changed drastically after Covid-19. With no more than 50 or 100 people allowed to attend the funerals, there is no need to fork out thousands for a big, fancy venue. The need for show-off also becomes kind of stupid because the audience has suddenly shrunken down to the closest friends and relatives - who probably don’t care for the deceased’ status. The family can use the money they save or other more important things, like ensuring that the estate of the deceased is distributed accordingly.

Food Preparations And Servings

Along with saving money from not having to feed people the whole week, the food needed for the actual funeral service is also not as much anymore. There’s no need to kill a whole cow or have people leave with take-aways of plates filled with several coloured salads. 

The fact that people are also not supposed to sit in groups and “enjoy” the meal means, you can give them meals on the go and even a sandwich and bottle of juice works.

In this pandemic-formed new norm, the grieving family spends less money feeding people and saving that money for their family - where in some cases it is the breadwinner that has died.

“After-Tears”

The pandemic also helped end the unsavoury practice (in my opinion) of hosting after-tears events. Drinking alcohol and playing loud music outside the household that just hosted a funeral service - right after burying someone they love should have never been a thing in the first place.

Covid-19 has ensured that that behaviour decreases and hopefully it disappears in the new normal because “after-tears” are actually unAfrican…