Funerals in Ghana are well known to be elaborate affairs with specially designed coffins

Two persons close to me died during my physical absence and so I have never been much involved in organising the kind of elaborate funerals we are used to here at home. 

From the one week celebration to the frills of the burial and thanksgiving, I joined the funerals of both relatives at the tail end because on both occasions I was out of the jurisdiction.

Cultural impositions

From what I have observed over the years however, organising funerals for loved ones take weeks and months of financial stress, physical exhaustion and mental strain. These are all so because of the cultural impositions and the subtle pressures from society.  Families would compare and benchmark an impending funeral with that of others thus sometimes sending funeral organisers to the extreme.

As until the recent protocols, our funerals have been a kind of fashion catwalk with some of the trendiest outfits in town. The crowd size depending on the family which is bereaved could sometimes overflow a football park while the funeral brochure could compare with the latest trendy magazine in town.

People could sit through hours of burial service and funeral reception as if the dead were watching and keeping a checklist of who attended. The shaking of hands and hugging to acknowledge that you were also present necessitates long queues waiting in turn to greet. People eat, drink, dance and socialise, all to celebrate the dead.

Face changing funerals

But Covid-19 seems to be changing the face of funerals, giving us a stern warning to start getting used to a new way of sending off our dead, until a vaccine and other medication are discovered. Why? Because from what our medical experts tell us, people could be walking around looking well and yet they could be carriers of the virus. These asymptomatic individuals would not show any of the symptoms of an infected person, yet, they could easily pass the disease on to those they come into close contact with.

If coronavirus is going to be in circulation for some time, how many mourners are going to sit through funeral services and receptions for hours on end? Even assuming that all the protocols of Covid-19 are observed and that includes providing soaps and running water, hand sanitisers, face masks and the likes, families are going to have to redefine funerals for their loved ones. Sympathisers, on the other hand, would begin to advise themselves if one could send funeral donations through other means.

For the last few weeks, despite the encouragement for families to organise their burials and restrict the number of mourners to just 25, some families are still bent on reserving burials to a later date to go through “proper” separation, send-off and closure. Unfortunately, some hospitals are already complaining of their mortuaries getting full and, therefore, a decongestion exercise of mass burials of unclaimed bodies is being considered. 

COVID-19 burials

In the case of COVID-19 victims who pass on, the separation with families starts with the day they are hospitalised. There are no visits at the hospital and certainly not at the mortuary. Even their burials are in isolation due to the very contagious nature of the virus.

According to the Head of the Pathology Department of the Greater Accra Regional Hospital, Dr Simon Naporo, as reported in the Daily Graphic of April 18 2020, mortuaries are not allowing the usual fanfare and protocols for Covid-19 bodies. These include the washing or cleaning of the bodies, special dressing up and the adorning with various ornaments. Families could provide coffins but that was the limit they could go with burial protocols.

New ways for our funerals are definitely going to be shaped henceforth.  The length of time whereby families keep bodies in the mortuary for months would change. Early burials are going to be the new norm. The frills with one-week celebrations and the funeral itself could see some modifications. 

But above all, the final funeral rites of long hours of receiving mourners with partying would all soon be a thing of the past. Simple funerals organised in record time with no mass gathering looks rife for the future. A new chapter on a significant cultural practice may soon unfold.

Contact the writer via email: vickywirekoandoh@yahoo.com