Since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, two things have become commonplace: a spike in excess deaths, particularly of the elderly or those with already compromised health, and the term ‘new normal’, used in relation to everything from lockdown laws to physical contact changes.
But what about when these intersect? What happens when COVID-19 changes the way we grieve?
Funeral changes during lockdown
Under the current state of lockdown, the South African government has introduced stringent measures which change the nature of funerals, particularly for those with cultures in which large funerals are the norm.
The regulations governing who may attend a funeral under the COVID-19 enforced lockdown, which has been put in place by the Department of Cooperative Governance and Traditional Affairs (COGTA), can be found here. Some of the measures include a maximum of 50 people in attendance, limited to the deceased’s spouse or partner, child (adoptive, stepchildren and children-in-law included), parents (adoptive and stepparents included), siblings and grandparents.
As lockdown restricts movement between provinces, permits are required by family members wishing to attend funerals, memorials or readings of the will in different parts of the country. However, the process of obtaining permits can take time, creating problems for circumstances in which funerals must happen quickly. For example, within the Islamic faith, a person must be buried within 24 hours. Other religions may also experience difficulty during lockdown. For example, night vigils, common in the Catholic faith, are not allowed currently.
A silver lining?
Every culture and way of life has forms of grief and mourning meaningful to them. The rites and rituals, mourners and extensive preparations are a form of comfort and closure – often a very costly one. It is for this reason that, in a chronically underinsured population like South Africa, funeral plans and cover is taken out by so many people.
However, COVID-19 and the lockdown that came with it has changed the way we do funerals – maybe forever. There are now less mourners and less time – the deceased must be buried quicker than before, as hospitals and morgues receive an influx of patients. The mortal remains are treated differently, clinically.
Yet perhaps there exists a silver lining for bereaved families in such an unusual time. By reducing the number of people allowed to attend and cutting back the time and need for length preparations, could COVID-19 have made funerals cheaper? And has this ushered in a new normal that could help families cut back on costs associated with grieving a loved one?
“We have seen a shift away from elaborate funerals in this time,” confirmed Craig Baker, CEO of MiWayLife insurance, which automatically provides funeral cover for its life insurance policyholders. “Big funerals tend to come with high costs that are often shouldered by the grieving family. Often that funeral will be for a breadwinner, matriarch or patriarch who supported the family and, so, in a time when the family has less income to go around, they have more burdens in the way of onerous burial expenses. But lockdown may have revealed that the future of funerals could change.”
Being financially prepared for funerals
The Coronavirus has caused some to question these traditions that have become so costly over time.
One thing that has remained constant is that having a funeral policy in place can be life-saving when it comes to covering funeral expenses, and giving your loved one's space to grieve without having to stress on the financial aspect of a funeral. However, settling for the first policy without checking the features that come with it such as the cover amount and the pay-out time, could lead you to be short changed in a time of need.
Funerals aside, what happens to those who are financially dependent on you once you have passed on? Protecting the financial future of those that matter to you is equally important and will be needed in years to come. Life insurance takes care of your loved ones in this vulnerable time and many policies cover funeral costs as well.
So, will the ‘new normal’ under COVID-19 change the way South Africans grieve for good? Will already embattled families find some financial respite in changes to familial and cultural expectations requiring elaborate funerals and memorials? Or will it be back to the old normal once lockdown is over? Only time will tell. Hopefully, however, COVID-19 has given some bereaved families food for thought in the financial sense it makes to host less costly methods of mourning loved ones’ passing.