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People should take their time to involve everyone closely affected by the demise of their loved one and not behave as if the body of a loved one is such a burden which needs immediate disposal

THERE have been a lot of murmurs among some Zimbabweans in the Diaspora on the issue of travelling to Zimbabwe for a funeral of a very close family member and still find that burial has already taken place.

There have also been cases where if one is consulted, there is a lot of arguments with the travelling relative begging their family to tarry a few more days while they make their way.

In a lot of cases, this is an argument the Diasporan has lost.

Of course, this challenge has not been experienced by Diasporans only.

There are cases where someone has travelled from Chinhoyi and found their father has already been buried in Chivi.

Now, one has only one father and one mother. If your people cannot wait for you to participate in the interment of such an important person in one’s life, surely what else can be considered more inconsiderate than that?

This has denied a lot of people the closure they needed and traumatised them for years to come.

This week, this column is not going to be about policies or politics. It is going to centre on the solemn subject of the last respects for the dead and closure for the remaining family.

Grief is pain that is inaccessible to ordinary treatment. When someone you love was in a lot of pain and they succumb to their illness, there is a dichotomy between grief and relief.

It’s a roller-coaster of emotions but at the end of the day, because of the finality of death, grief always wins the contest for dominance.

When one gets bereavement counselling it just changes the form of the grief but it doesn’t take it away.

The sorrows and the woes of having lost a loved one can just be buried in the deep sad psyche but it remains bald agony that causes despair. It has been known that closure brings in some remission of the grief.

But closure comes when one finds a comforting way of dealing with the grief. That normally comes in the form of either participating in the burial of the loved one or their ceremonial interment and one utters that silent epitaph that nobody else but the mutterer hears or as they participate in group wailing and lamentations.

That is what gives closure.

Everybody needs it. Everybody deserves it.

Traditionally the main cultures in Zimbabwe have a custom of burying the dearly departed quite fast.

If someone passes on in the rural areas, to preserve their dignity even unto death, they are almost immediately buried bar for the one night they have to spend in their house or hut.

In a way this preserves the dignity of the deceased even in death as letting them endure partial decomposition and smell would be indecent.

In some of those cases, a quick burial is understandable but not really always excusable. There is always a good argument for transporting them to a private mortuary and wait for everyone to gather before burying (funds permitting of course).

Unfortunately, even those that die in hospitals are now collected fast and the burial still happens the following day. This is followed by the dispersal of a lot of people, except the very nearest and dearest.

By the time the person flying in from the UK, Australia, Canada or wheresoever they are based arrives there is just a few immediate family members. Everyone else is gone, including the extended family.

This invokes a very deep sense of despair.

One ends up having to ask themselves whether it was really necessary to drop everything and make hasty arrangements to get a ticket back home, whether it was necessary to hurriedly make those work and child care arrangements to fly in only to be shown a mound of soil and be told that is where your loved one is buried.

If one was to come in a year’s time, that pile of soil would still be there.

So if the person is buried and the people have dispersed, really isn’t there a case for a more planned and elaborate visit here? Or alternatively isn’t there a case for a more elaborate and planned funerary practice?

Zimbabweans have already shown a penchant for mutable customary practices. Some progressive, some disrespectful and some downright disgusting.

A well circulated video of a prostitute funeral in Mbare comes to mind. This one has ” working women” mourning their departed colleague by gyrating and performing sexual simulations too obscene to describe in a decent family paper.

This performance is done around an open grave site.

Another example which comes to mind as well is the funeral of one notorious criminal whose colleagues allegedly commandeered his casket and embarked in a gangster hearse with some burning rubber reckless outrage until detectives chased after them resulting in the casket falling from the top of the Nissan Elgrand and grotesquely spilling its contents, traumatising children and significant others.

The excuse used for this not so traditional funerary practice is that culture is dynamic and they were just mimicking the lifestyle of the deceased.

Well, if this type of cultural dynamism is accepted in the very solemnity of human inevitability, then there is also room to learn some bits from the practice of others.

There is a curious cultural practice in West Africa, especially among the Nigerians and Ghanaians, whereby the deceased is kept in the morgue for months while the family is preparing for the funeral.

One loses a father today, and tomorrow they are back at work raising money for an indulging funeral splurge. When the funeral does happen some months later, it is a sending off.

An extravagant celebration of life where no expense is spared. Fine wine is imbibed, exotic food devoured, ostentatious clothing and jewellery from as far afield as Dubai or Italy is adorned.

Music and dance is part of the repertoire in this fancy display of grandeur. In some cases a splendid grand house is built to bury the deceased in while the corpse is still in the mortuary. Basically the funeral is a festival.

As expected in this type of show-boating there is an unspoken disdain for those who have modest funeral wakes.

This piece is not aocating this level of commercialised exhibitionist vulgarity. A simple group therapeutic expression of grief where members of a family help each other make sense of it all is sufficient.

People should take their time to involve everyone closely affected by the demise of the loved one and not behave as if the body of a loved one is such a burden which needs immediate disposal.

Even Harare City Council does not get rid of rubbish as quickly as some of our people are keen to get rid of the dearly departed.

Every close family member, whether they live in the Diaspora or in the remote ends of the country, should be allowed a moment to wail when everyone else is also wailing.

Communication is easier nowadays with mobile phones. Let everyone get an opportunity to express in an open way what one is feeling inside in a genuinely empathetic crowd. Funerals need not be hurried affairs unless there are religious reasons for it.

Granted in hard times it is difficult to feed and cater for the attendees who come to pay their condolences from the moment of the announcement of death unto the burial.

However, cultural norms established a good social order where mutual support is a tradition and no one should go for a funeral empty-handed without a token of condolences (chema). In cases maize meal, bread and milk are some of the basic necessities people have to bring.

The Diasporan, who in a lot cases has means, can alleviate a lot of difficulties by helping mitigate the cost of the burial delay by meeting some of these costs. It doesn’t seem like a lot to ask.

While there is no need to spend stupendous amounts of money in an outlandish display of love for the deceased, there should be a recognition that the Diaspora is a dispersal of people that continue to love and cherish each other.

It is not an abdication of love for family, community or country.

If it were so there wouldn’t have been the level of Diaspora remittances which in many cases include the money for the hurried funeral which the Diasporans themselves are excluded from.

The moment the Western Union cashier hands over the money the source of the money does not need to be irrelevant.

There are psychological benefits derived from participating in the interment of the deceased whom one so loved. It sets in motion a pace of adjustment and closure.

Death is final. A more elaborate but reasonable time should be allowed to give someone a decent send-off with all relevant stakeholders having been accorded the opportunity to get the well sought-after closure.

Nick Mangwana is chairman of Zanu-PF UK Branch.

Source : The Herald