I was invited to the funeral of a friend’s mother. You have never seen so many roses in your life, the church was filled with them. And when we went to the wake, there was a seating arrangement, linen tablecloths and a three-course meal prepared by a catering company and delivered by waiters. I sat there and I wondered, “What is this all for?”
At the other end of the income spectrum, we all know of people who earn next to nothing and still borrow R15 000 to spend on a funeral for a loved one – R15 000 that they can ill afford.
We say that we are doing this to honour our loved ones. We justify the expense by saying it’s our culture, it shows respect or even that our religion requires it of us – when in fact none of those things are true.
This isn’t our culture! The kinds of funerals that we are aspiring to, that come with shiny caskets, beautiful flower arrangements, catered food in marquees and ornate tombstones are not an African tradition. They are an opulent display of wealth that we mostly don’t even have, inspired by the soap operas that we watch on television. And if you are religious, it certainly doesn’t say anywhere in the bible that we have to throw the biggest party in town to honour the dead.
In fact, if many people spoke to their parents today to find out what they most wanted, most parents would say that they would prefer that their children spent their money on building a future, getting an education, starting a business or buying a house or car – in fact, on anything other than throwing a massive party for a person who isn’t even there to enjoy it.
Another aspect of burial that needs to be reconsidered is our obsession with buying plots of land in a graveyard. The world is running out of space to bury people. These plots are costing more and more. And really, whether you go into the ground in a shiny coffin or get cremated, the end result is the same.
We buy new clothes, we decorate our homes and we hire live bands – all for the purpose of honouring the dead. But I don’t think that’s what we’re really doing. When we spend all that money, I think that we’re really honouring our own egos and trying to impress our communities. We don’t want our friends, neighbours and families to think less of us, to judge us for not putting on a good show for them. Is that what a funeral is really about?
It’s a hard decision, but the right oneNow, I know what I am suggesting to you is not an easy thing to hear. Throwing lavish funerals has become so much a part of what we do that we don’t even question it. Whether we are wealthy or barely managing to make ends meet, we will find a way – usually by borrowing money – to put on a funeral that we feel does justice to our loved ones who have passed along.
Here is what I suggest instead. Take out a funeral policy that covers the cost of the modest funeral each of your family members would like to have, and when the time comes, use that money and nothing more.
Then, take out life insurance, and meet with your family to discuss how you would like any life cover pay-outs to support the family. Let those pay-outs benefit the children needing an education, the entrepreneurs starting their own business, the mothers who need to spend some time at home with their new babies, or the young people who need a car to secure a good job – and let the legacy of those who passed on be that the next generation of their family was better off than they were.
Send your parents flowers while they are still alive and can smell them. Be good to your loved ones before they are gone. And then, when they pass on, be sensible with money and achieve great things in your life, in celebration of everything that they did for you.
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent or reflect the views of 1Life or its employees.