Please, Mr President save Ghanaians from funeral appetite
More than two decades ago, when I was in active service as a minister of the gospel, an incident happened that gave me a grim view of the vanity we accord the dead. As had been my assignment almost every weekend in those days, I joined one of our congregations to officiate the burial and memorial service of one of our members.
It turned out to be a grand affair that left me somewhat angry and disappointed. After the memorial service, we moved to the graveside where my service was needed to bid the last farewell to the departed electrician. Deep in the weedy cemetery was a tiled grave with T&G and lights that would be the envy of discotheques today. The only thing left short of turning this place into a bedroom was its size and an air conditioner. The justification for this opulence was that the dead man was a well-to-do electrician.
The grave and the corpse, which would be attacked by termites and all kinds of destructive insects, was decorated in a manner that would push a homeless person to commit suicide. It was an obnoxious extravagance on display. I stunned the family and the congregation when I said I would not officiate the burial.
That incident came flooding my mind when this covid-19 pandemic entered Ghana, compelling the government to issue social gathering restrictions aimed at taming the infection. When President Nana Addo Dankwa Akufo-Addo first announced the requirements for private burials, I was excited. It meant for once, our people would begin to see reason and cut down the outrageous time and resource we spend on bidding the dead goodbye while the living suffers.
More than two months after those safety protocols were rolled out, requiring only 25 people at private burials, our morgues are reportedly overflowing with dead bodies, a few people have taken advantage of it to bury their dead.
But the conservative ‘big- crowd and talk- of town funerals for family members’ group are waiting for the restrictions to be eased so they could mount big canopies, block our roads and take over parks for their funerals.
The President must not let this happen particularly as our COVID-19 cases spike. While the 1992 Constitution guarantees freedom of worship and association, the same law enjoins the President to promote public health and safety. The collective good here is better than the individual right to be wasteful, while endangering the lives of others, irrespective of which hygiene protocols are in place.
I recommend that the President legislate and keep to the 25 people required for burials. While this may sound radical, the benefit will be enormous and reduce the pressure that the poor have to endure to give a so-called befitting burial to their relatives and loved ones.
For some people, the counter argument will be that it is a matter of choice. My observation while wearing the clerical colour for decades shows that choices put a strain on the poor, especially to meet demands they can’t afford. But where there are regulations, people abide, at least mostly. When the Presbyterian church for instance banned night vigils, some years back, its members had no choice but to abide. Someone may ask why can’t churches issues the same caveat, the answer is that it won’t happen because funerals are beyond the control of the church, especially the after funeral parties, popularly known as ‘green’ parties.
I suggest that a new law empowers funeral homes to organise everything from the service to the burial to cut out all the drama and excessive spending associated with funerals today.
Monies saved from the ostentatious lifestyles can go into supporting the education of young people left behind. The sun has set on the dead person life, what are we seeking to brighten with the glamour associated with funerals? Why not take care of the living? No matter the flamboyant funeral we have for the dead, it will never bring them back to life.
Ironically, in some homes where people spend so much on funerals, including buying new clothes, a lot of young people from such homes are struggling to earn a living on the streets.
It is not just funerals, the way some people pay so much attention to weddings, anniversaries and parties in this country at the expense of even the future of their children is just unimaginable. Some people just go to such events, eat and even demand take away in addition, leaving behind debts. This is not helping anybody.
If we have so much to spare and willing to spend it on flashy lifestyle, why not donate it to the poor and vulnerable who struggle every day to come up with one square meal. We must not love the dead more than the living.
As our COVID-19 cases spike, there is no reason to continue this deadly funeral gatherings and rituals that only compromises the lives of our people.
Let the dead go in peace, but the let the living live.
The author is a former Chairman of the Christian Council of Ghana and the founder of the Wisconsin University College, Ghana.