Planning one’s funeral before death

BY: Enoch Darfah Frimpong

Sometimes, when I am in a hurry to skim through a newspaper, some of the pages I must look at by all means are those announcing deaths.

I look at the spread for the social basket and the page with funeral announcements.  That is how real death and funerals have become a daily part of my outlook as a Ghanaian.

So, for some days, I had been looking for one particular funeral announcement on hearing of the passing away of a godfather.   I had previously been given a short brief of the funeral and so I knew the date was fast approaching but there had not been a single newspaper announcement. 

Had the family forgotten to do it?  No.  The old man had apparently left clear written funeral instructions, nine years before his death, as to how his funeral was to be conducted. No wonder just last year, as if to tease everyone, he proudly gave his last dance in front of cameras at a frail age of 90, as if to say, “capture it now, you’ll not see it in print anywhere hence.”

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Per his orders, he wanted a simple and short farewell from his loved ones so the directions he wrote down, dated and left with his wife way back in 2004 were clear and concise.  He instructed that no one was to wear black right from the day he kicked the bucket. 

He wanted his funeral to happen two weeks after he breathed his last.  He did not want to be buried in a suit.  He rather wanted to wear a particular black and white kente cloth and it was to be put on him, with no jumper underneath.

The directives went further to specify the duration of his funeral service, which was to be within an hour.  He did not want any tributes, which meant that the printing of an elaborate funeral brochure with all kinds of pictures, including his last dance, was not going to happen for him.  He was clear about no flowers, no wreaths and no decorations. 

His funeral reception was not to go beyond noon.  The mourning was to be for a day.   He did not want a memorial service the Sunday after his burial.  Well and truly, his wife ensured that every wish of the husband was kept to the letter.

So, why would a head of family, an Abusuapanyin, who had supervised so many elaborate two-day funerals for his many siblings and his deceased extended family members want to leave instructions for a simple funeral when it was his turn to go?  What lessons was he leaving behind for how we should proceed with funerals that have today gone beyond fashion catwalks and buffet dinner dances in tastefully decorated expensive halls?

As I observed the family go through the few days before the burial, and having participated in the final parting in splendid white apparel, I see a lot of good sense in simple funerals.  The so much ado about sending off for the dead in “style” is too much in excess.  Funerals of today have become farcical and have no relevance to the culture we seek to preserve. 

They are a waste of time, of resources, a dissipation of energy and a heavy toll on a mourner’s health.   Our funerals have become a big drain on families and it is time to look for a way of bringing in some decorum.  We have succeeded in fitting in the excesses as if they are part of the sacred observance in our culture without any recourse to the debt that families run into putting funerals together.  

Talk about the ridiculous cost of “renting” burial grounds in Accra, which are allegedly going for up to GH¢20,000 for a period of up to 15 years.  Then there is the cost of the coffin to contend with, undertaker’s fees, funeral brochures, funeral parties which are more than wedding parties and the Sunday buffet lunch. 

These days, the festoons from the home to the funeral grounds and church premises surpass that of a joyous occasion such as a wedding ceremony.  No wonder families are turning to the banks to seek funds to finance funerals in the hope that they would realise enough from donations to cover the expenses.

Surprisingly, since the death and final send-off of my godfather, I have met so many people, close and not too close to the family, who are full of praises for the old man for leaving such simple funeral arrangements behind.  Many are saying that he made life more tolerable, the days of mourning much simpler, less stressful and perhaps less expensive for his aged wife and children.  And it is true.  

Can anyone imagine what obnoxious and inconsequential rituals the wife, at her advanced age, would have been put through in the name of custom?  The children would have had to take out all their savings and topped them up with bank loans just to put up unnecessary showings covering days of feasting, elaborate printing of funeral brochures covering pictures from cradle to the last dance, exotic spring and summer fresh flowers from around the world, and the list goes on.  All to just impress?  Two weeks after the old man departed, everything was over and the family had comforted themselves, picked up the pieces and are ready to move on as people who have hope for their departed. 

So how can we bring some discipline into the histrionic funerals we have adopted as a people?  Admittedly, we all do not want to die but the hard fact is that at some point, we will depart this earth and the simpler we make life for those we leave behind, the better also for our preserved custom.  Just as the writing of a will or the last testament specifying how one’s properties are to be distributed on his or her demise has taken many families out of despondency, writing down one’s funeral plans would probably be the next thing that we should be pushing for.

If for nothing at all, such instructions would reduce substantially, the complications, the confusion and the burden that funerals bring to families.  Our lives as a people have not been made any simpler with the kind of funeral plans we undertake and the excesses that have been introduced over the years. 

Simple stress-free funerals are possible and they are the best we can leave behind for those we love and appreciate.  Since we all have to go through death, we can help to make life after our departure more tolerable for our families and friends left behind by directing our funeral observance even before we die.  We are part of the solution to the excessive and unwarranted funerals that have bedevilled our society.

Article by Vicky Wireko

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