The new funeral demands that threatens history:
Managing Grief: Within African culture, regardless of location, the birth of a child or death of a loved one can be a major event. Few scholars argue that these events encompass the full transformation of life. From Angola to Zimbabwe, across the Atlantic, and the Caribbean, when a life is lost, whether from drugs, alcohol, violence, illness or natural causes, this culture always find a way to say goodbye regardless if one lives to be age 6 or 86. Managing grief, especially when a loved one has passed, a funeral could be the most therapeutic ritual if it is planned properly, as noted by psychologist.
The Funeral: Today, an average funeral costs anywhere between US$8,000 to $20,000 and only if one dies in the US and it is the final resting place. I have not done any studies on other places such as the United Kingdom and Canada, where many immigrants have called home for several decades. Discussing one’s final resting place, a “will”, or even favorite songs to be sang at a funeral can be a cultural taboo. Despite these seldom discussions, quietly, a family plot on the hill or at a local church where it started never left the immigrants’ experience.
Honoring these wishes today are becoming more of a question with ambivalence. It is not disconnected due to cultural emancipation, geographic location or a dying history. Increasingly, the alternative looks more attractive: cremation or a quick interment in a cold cemetery and seldom visit after even if the roses survive the winter looks like a better option.
Returning a loved one to his or her native land for burial is a choice and there are no legal rules to force a family. This has taken place for decades. Looking back, these solemn moments simply were not how well the deceased dressed or style of casket. Preserving a history and roots that have been archived in the minds of a new generation and closure for other families left in the community was more important.
Sadly, today it seem like a body flown in for burial attracts an abundance of unwanted financial burden. The idea of how much can be generated diminishes the conceptual preservation of history that was uprooted for a better life. It is easily being lost, such as the church on a hill where their values, respect, roots, and basic sense of community started. A casket or the vehicle transporting a body seems more important than the life once lived. Nevertheless, we cannot blame all on the funeral entrepreneurs. The region’s own poor economic condition will bury anything in its path for financial gain.
Furthermore, life in general costs more over death. The events that attract vendors are like any other businesses. They have employees and expenses. However, a mental shift is needed as one mentioned, “He has not cooked in his own home since the announcement of a dead yard.” Even the ground preparation for burial, despite workers being paid well, now requires a massive meal like a repast. The deceased’s memories should be as important as the liquor and food being served.
The Untold Life: Lost in this delicate balance, the immigrants’ experience has created improvements in their lives, harnessed a mindset like the industrial revolution that expands from Great Britain and Europe and later the United States. Their mission was simply about making lives better for those to come and now left. Despite poor living and working conditions, they created a better class, labor standards, living and working conditions, economic growth, and income, and made significant contribution to their new communities.
They were products of legislation that favors skilled workers to fill gaps in selected labor that were often not be filled by nationals. This provided some comfort in confronting the slave ghosts of their own ancestors’ history. Although slavery had been abolished when they arrived in these new towns and cities, life was not a bed of roses. Their own Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners started before noon to give enough time to leave home to arrive at work to prepare others’ meals. They survived racial barriers, constitutional divide and, yes, xenophobia.
The only difference in the blackness is the location their ancestors’ slave ships docked. These pioneers racked up several hours on public buses, wrapped in layers of clothes to avoid another frozen face and toes during brutally cold weather. This experience allowed the next generation, who would have been predestined for the same kitchen, to get access to higher education and are now leaders holding top careers.
The intention is not to rewrite an obituary. Nevertheless, I would be remiss not to highlight one of many of this woman’s characteristics. Despite the children she brought up who are so different from her, this butterfly was simply beauty, love, passion, royalty, and spirituality. Having reached the pinnacle of form and style through hard work and dedication, she did not rest in luxury, but rather turned her eye towards the next generation for the cycle to begin anew. The choices and sacrifice of this mother butterfly give rise to the happiness of the future butterflies.
Several of these butterflies also have endured a dark past in their native land, especially women who were forced into early marriages, raped, exploited, abused, and shipped away due to an early pregnancy to avoid shame. Some of these communities are still plagued with poverty, crimes, economic stagnation, political turmoil, and a more complex society. However, despite an argument to abandon their last wishes, often they are honored.
Death and Opportunity in Denial: Many scholars have recorded that the 16th century slave trade created economic power for colonial rulers. Today, individualistic dilemmas, turmoil, social and political strife have eroded the once homogenous community. It now parallels previous exploitations, except now it is in death.
Understanding what a called the “grave exploitation” is a delicate balance. Your disagreement is accepted: “That is how the system works today.” Maybe a declining economy has caused a personal connection to these communities to be diminished. Many now only find comfort in virtual space. When did it reach to a level where an anticipation of a live band to an abundance of meals to be served will decide who visits the deceased’s home?
What happens to the ones who cannot afford to feed everyone?
One cannot ignore thousands of well-wishers who gathered. They have given much needed support, and made these now massive events easier. Words of encouragement and reflections have uplifted dampened spirits. Even the food stand vendors who capitalized on the crowd are important as the bishop who conducted the funeral service. Many in attendance never met the deceased, but heard of a wonderful life lived, while others gathered for the financial opportunity to further support themselves or their families from the temporary shops. What is troubling an emerging mindset of a big funeral trails and a money operation scorecard — now on to the next
Today, it seem like funeral homes should now run advertisements promoting the best price for foreign remains, or a returning resident’s death package special. The impression of unlimited resources has to stop.
Many families who arrived on these shores will face the debt from the death upon their return.
The type of casket should not generate more conversation than the deceased’s legacy. It only further places these communities on the wrong track.
When a society has seen more charities and new funeral homes emerging, it stretches beyond capitalism. It provides an argument in a paradigm shift anticipating poverty and death than the preservation of life. In our preservation of a history quest, one of the leading funeral home owners mentioned, “Everyone can dress a dead person, but not all are morticians.”
What Next: In 2009, over 3.5 million immigrants from the Caribbean accounted for about nine percent of the foreign-born population. Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago dominated, according to The Migration Policy. Those numbers have risen since. It is more than likely few parents would like to be buried back in their native land. Will it be the preservation of history, or a good money generating funeral.
Thanks to all the supporters and businesses for this journey. Rest in Peace, Mom!
Oh! If I live to be your age, I am not sure if my kids will be able to afford my body to be buried beside yours in preserving part of our history.