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Funerals: counting the costs

Funerals: counting the costs

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Just before the close of yet another of his marathon press conferences on Tuesday this week, Prime Minister Hon. Dr. Ralph Gonsalves made some interesting comments on what has become a topical issue in St. Vincent and the Grenadines – funerals.

Replying to a question by one of the journalists on the difference, from a governmental level, between a state and official funeral, PM Gonsalves berated the cost of funerals these days among other related issues. It must be pointed out that these escalating costs are not confined to the operators of funeral homes only, for in an open society like ours, most entrepreneurs, from birth to death, seek to maximise their profits. Whether it is baptism, weddings, or even the new importations like Valentine’s Day and Thanksgiving, we are not only importing lifestyles, but burdening ourselves financially in the process.

This is no excuse for the aggressive and sometimes even vicious competition among funeral homes for patronage. Calypsonian Sulle sang eloquently about this development this year. Though it does provides some space for bargaining power, bereaved families hardly have the energy or will to haggle about funeral expenses.

So the comments of the Prime Minister were well in order since there is genuine concern about this trend, which for some reason we seem powerless to be able to arrest, even though it is well within our ability to do so. Some of his comments may seem a bit romantic, harping on the “good old days” and how we approached funerals then. Clearly those days are not going to return, but that is no reason why we should not adopt a pragmatic and financially-affordable approach to funerals. We are burdening ourselves financially for no good reason, in burying our dead.

We all complain about the high costs of funerals, but when it comes to our turn at it, we seem powerless to buck the trend. Social pressures are forcing us to incur all sorts of unnecessary expenses to ensure that our beloved get a “good funeral”. That ceremony itself has become a showpiece, quickly seized upon by funeral operators, so we not only “dress to impress”, as the saying goes, we pay for it too. At every stage, we add to the costs, which we end up regretting when it is time to pay. A funeral is today a grand affair, no matter how paltry our financial base might be, and to add to it, there are the after-funeral expenses, including the “bashment”, or repast as it is called in the USA. Some families even rent halls and pay for caterers to ensure this after-burial send-off.

There is another disturbing trend that has crept into our funerals. In moving away from the traditional mournful atmosphere to one of celebrating the life of the deceased we are fast making our funerals into mini-Carnivals, replete with the excessive consumption of alcohol. Outside churches and cemeteries bars are set up as if that is the reason for the funeral. Is this showing respect for our loved ones?

Should we simply place the blame on the funeral homes or should we look ourselves in the mirror? Do we need to incur all this unnecessary expense, and often post-funeral family disputes, just to bury our dead? Are we as helpless to do something about it as we appear to be?

A good start is to begin the discussion publicly. The problem is rooted in our own attitudes towards growing consumerism, burdening ourselves with unnecessary debt as part of the social pressures to which we are succumbing. The solution therefore is well within our grasp. We can find solutions if there is the will to do so. Is there such a will?

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