Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Botswana learns virtual grieving

Most Batswana’s dying wish for a “respectable” send-off are being denied. The country’s ancient and cultural proclivity to physically gather in times of death has now run up against social-distancing protocols. 

The COVID-19 global pandemic is forcing a re-evaluation of the way we work, socialise, travel, and mourn our loved ones.

Rorisang Bagopi, Marketing Admin at FSG (Lynn’s Funeral Parlour) in Gaborone says, “The company as a whole is big, we have tombstones, policies, parlours all of which have been adversely affected by the Covid 19 pandemic. We have seen a decrease in all of these services. Even the manufacturing of coffins is proving to be a struggle since we get our coffins in SA. In terms of the parlour and funeral proceedings, a number of things have certainly changed. Since the number of people attending funerals has been governed, we are having more funerals scheduled for during the week as opposed to weekends as is the norm.

This is because grieving families don’t have to wait for relatives to come from far and wide for the funeral anymore. 

Traditionally, there are families that spend on our expensive fleet and pricier coffins, we don’t see that happening anymore.

People don’t feel the need to spend on lavish funeral props because funeral no longer attract huge crowds. The number of people who come to view the corpse/deceased in the chapel has been scaled back for decongestion purposes in line with the Covid 19 regulations.”

The disruption of the traditional funeral, burial and mourning rites has been disorientating. To grieve and mourn when you haven’t been to the grave enhances the feeling of it being somewhat unreal. The events of recent months have been so fast-moving that it can sometimes be difficult to take in the immensity of the personal trauma so many people have gone through — losses that could leave scars that last for years. But one of the hardest wounds to heal will be those caused by death and the way that the natural order of saying goodbye to loved ones has been upended by the special conditions imposed by an infectious disease pandemic. A funeral with no mourners, or rather a significant number is the new reality of burying our loved ones– and not for a lack of relatives and friends. Many people are unable to attend funerals because of coronavirus restrictions. They are among increasing numbers of grieving people who are being denied the opportunity to say a final goodbye to their loved ones, leaving priests and funeral directors to stand in as “designated mourners”.

Dr Sethunya Mosime, senior Sociology lecturer at the University of Botswana says, “mourning in a time of Covid 19 is somewhat surreal. Theoretically, it sounds alright that only a few people can attend funerals until it actually happens. I recently had a funeral in the family and it felt like the deceased just went/passed without being fully recognized. Funerals are communion and food is the oldest way that people come together and even that is not possible anymore. The coronavirus makes grieving, which is already a lonely process, even lonelier because we don’t have access to the type of physical contact and support which we rely on to get through times of loss. Not having access to people stepping in and taking care of one another is devastating. It adds several extra layers to the stress that already accompanies loss. People have now gotten creative and I have seen memorials online where people open Facebook pages for their deceased members and have people send in their comforting messages and make playlists for hymns just as a way of coming together during a tough and painful time.”

This kind of grief hit home when a family loses someone they love. It’s grief upon grief especially when they are unable to attend the funeral. Families want to give their relatives the best possible celebration of their life, surrounded by people who knew them. The comfort of hugs and handshakes is hugely important but sadly not allowed. The life rituals people go through are shared acts of community, ones which want and need people there to mark these significant moments. For most Batswana, funerals combine traditional African and Christian elements. When a family is bereaved, people will travel long distances to attend both the funeral and the days of ritual in the run-up. These include repeatedly visiting the family at home to pay respects and to lend a helping hand with the preparations. All of this has come to a halt because of the virus. 

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