Are ‘decent’ funerals straining scarce resources?


In recent years, many Basotho families have come to dread the loss of a loved one especially because of the financial drain it leaves in its wake as families push themselves beyond affordable limits to provide a “decent” send-off to their loved ones. Public Eye’s ’Masentle Makara spoke to psycho-therapist and director general from Excellent Dynamix (PTY) Ltd, Professor Peete Oa Lesiamo, over the matter to gain informed insight on this phenomenon in the hope of opening avenues for Basotho to have a conversation about this matter.


PE: Why do Basotho funerals leave family members poor? Are the expensive funerals in the name of providing a “decent send-off” necessary?


PL: They are necessary to those who can afford them especially if their affordability is accompanied by reasonable purpose for spending so much money. However, this should be discouraged for those who cannot afford it and it should be discouraged for a nation like ours that still dreams of making an impact on the national and global village’s socio-economic platform.

This boils down to how people describe “decent”. Decency simply means; conformity with moral standards, behaviour or an attitude that conforms to the commonly accepted standards of what is right and acceptable (Encarta Dictionary). The above definition seriously departs from the idea of expensive funerals which include buying expensive caskets and good food in the name of putting up ‘decent funerals’ as already pointed out above.

As already stated, if the bereaved can afford an expensive funeral and they are comfortable with this, so be it.

However, as societal helpers, some of us would so much like to encourage a culture where everybody can benefit or be helped in spite of our diverse economic abilities and attainments hence our call for affordable and simple funerals which will ultimately help every Mosotho to develop the mind-set of simplicity especially on issues which are regarded as pillars of our livelihood.

Basotho simply fail to accept funerals as moments of loss and therefore accept funerals as such. They have adopted foreign perceptions that funerals are moments to prove a family’s socio-economic prowess and ability to shoulder anything thrown their way by the dilemma called death.

People do not live within their means of survival.

Basotho chose to go all out and try to prove that they can when in actual fact they can’t.

Basotho copy other nations’ norms and try to implement them in situations within our country where they simply cannot be implemented. Our nation has long departed from the manners and norms that reflected us as a unique nation, especially on issues like death and loss.

Most Basotho are hopelessly lured to other options from all over the global village and they actually attempt to put these into practice during moments of bereavement and, ultimately, they are left empty-handed.


PE: But is there no other way overspending on funerals could be seen as helpful to the bereft?


PL: There is simply no reason that overspending in any area of life, let alone on funerals, can be justified. Overspending is what it is, OVERSPENDING, nothing more and nothing less.

Suffice to say families tend to overspend on funerals for various reasons and they feel fulfilled when they do so.

People often think how much they spend on funerals is a demonstration of how much they love the deceased.

So, spending is often used as a way to make up for perceived omissions during the deceased lifetime.

In other cases, many people feel so devastated and overwhelmed at a time of death that they assume they should leave all funeral planning to the relatives who ultimately fall into the trap of overspending.

The truth is when you lose a loved one you simply cave in and need serious support and being actively involved in funeral planning can be very therapeutic and in the heat of that moment you don’t feel you would be grieving over the bill later.

Often there are times when those who remain have to deal with the social status of the deceased.

If the late happens to be a person of some social or communal, national or international standing then those who remain are obligated to arrange the calibre of a funeral that will accommodate just more than the immediate family or local community.

This then calls for spending beyond what can be referred to as expected.

However, there are cases where those who remain just want to show off and prove to whoever they have in mind that they too have what it takes to be what they think they are.

Instead of concentrating on burying their loved one they choose to prove a point that they are capable and they measure up to some social scale.

This is how the unnecessary overspending comes into play.

The truth is, there are various reasons why people overspend on funerals which we cannot exhaust in this particular interview.

However, in the final analysis overspending during a funeral has never, does not and will never be beneficial to anybody who has lost the loved one.


PE: Explain impact of grief and trauma from a pyschologist’s viewpoint.


PL: Grief and trauma are two separate yet related phenomena.

They however accompany the whole process of bereavement associated with funerals.

Even though grief is a normal – even healthy – response to loss, it is also terribly painful and confusing.

Grief brings out a wide range of expected emotions, including sadness, anger, numbness, isolation – and eventually acceptance. Individuals also experience physical symptoms related to grief.

Loss of appetite, a change in sleeping patterns, vivid dreams, and disorganised thoughts are all within the range of normal grieving patterns.

Every culture has norms associated with grieving and ways of dealing with — and expectations of — the bereaved.

In the past, and still today, in many cultures the bereaved or grieving person was comforted through his or her family or religious system.

Over the past years, significant psychological research and debate has focused on understanding the grieving process to guide those going through a loss.

As already stated above, grieving is a normal process involving a number of emotional and physical reactions.

Ignoring or bottling up these reactions can lead to a number of serious physical and mental health after effects.

Understanding the possible stages and symptoms of grieving is helpful, but it does not take away the pain of the loss.

When it comes to trauma, on any given day, our brains store or “encode” only some of the things we experience.

What we pay attention to is what’s more likely to get encoded. A region of our brains called the hippocampus plays an important role in this process.

The hippocampus certainly plays a role in taking things into short-term memory and then transferring them and consolidating them into long-term memories.

If an event elicits an emotional reaction in us, then it’s more likely to make it into our memory.

Things that have more emotional significance tend to get more encoded. And when something elicits an intense negative emotion, like a trauma, it’s even more likely to be encoded in the brain.

The stress hormones, Cortisol and Norepinephrine, that are released during a terrifying trauma like losing a loved one tend to render the experience vivid and memorable, especially the central aspect, the most meaningful aspects of the experience for the bereaved.

That’s because a high-stress state “alters the function of the hippocampus and puts it into a super-encoding mode, especially early on during an event or loss of the loved one. And “the central details of the particular event get burned into their memory and they may never forget them.

People who have experienced trauma tend to remember the most essential and frightening elements of the events in vivid detail for the rest of their life.

However, this doesn’t mean that these memories include every detail of the event of loss. The brain holds on to the most important stuff at the expense of the peripheral details.

In simple terms trauma is a nightmare to the bereaved until and unless proper professional help is sought.



PE: Would turning a funeral into a celebration of the departed’s life be helpful in healing grief?


PL: As already stated above grief and trauma are two forces which need more than just a celebration.

They get deeply encoded into the psychological make-up of the bereaved and this means it will take more than a celebration to get rid of these two forces. Actually, celebration denotes and connotes a way of jubilation and joyous ceremony which painful funerals cannot afford us.


PE: I hear in past generations Basotho used to bury the dead under the kraal at night, to avoid ‘scaring children and spending too much. Was that good if so, how and why?


PL: During those past seasons there was much more into the social fibre which knitted and brought Basotho together as a people. There was a lot then that could be employed to aid and assist the community to navigate their way out of any given situation.

So, the choice of burying the dead underneath kraals as a way of “scaring children” and ensure “spending too much” as you stated earlier would not be such an issue.

Basotho then had more reasons for whatever practice they upheld and in almost all cases it was for the benefit of everybody because the moral fibre was intact; human kindness was the order of the day wherever people were.

If they felt and agreed that certain practices of society were not to be exposed to children then they had a way of communal harmony and agreement that would keep children away from what they were not supposed to experience or witness.

So, I think this was very good because it protected the future generation from possible pollution by the current generation.



PE: They say villagers would help the mourners with whatever they had “Ho lla mosoang.” How is that unity playing out in this era?


PL: Obviously our people today have long departed from the norms of the original Basotho traditions. This is due to a diversity of reasons including being invaded by borrowed and foreign norms, cultures and traditions, especially through socio-economic dependence on the foreign countries, the foreign social and general media, inter-marriages, being completely surrounded by South Africa and a whole lot of other reasons.

In the midst of all this mayhem the virtue of “…Ho lla mosoang…” was lost. It did not just disappear but got gradually eroded with the transience of time and multicultural amalgamation.

During those golden years, people would bring help to the bereaved family. Be it food, wood, cereals, handiwork, just being present for the sake of comforting the bereaved. Beasts were slaughtered and those who lost their beloved did not feel the toll of heaviness because the community would lift them up in their moment of utter despair.


PE: In Western societies, people are invited to the funerals, in Lesotho relatives, villagers, friends and even people who do not know the deceased personally attend the funeral. All these people don’t even contribute anything but they expect to be fed. Is this not a burden on mourners who deserve all the assistance at such a time?


PL: Basotho are naturally, culturally and traditionally communal and that has been our identity from the genesis of this unique nation. Being communal means we do not have to be invited, we invite ourselves to any social event because we deem it our responsibility to contribute positively to such.

Being communal means we regard your challenge as our challenge, your grief our grief, your celebration our celebration, and so forth.

Unfortunately, this very noble virtue of this great nation has over the changing times and years been carried out with selfish motives from self-centred individuals who use the platform of communal excellence for their selfish, individual benefits.

This very diabolical culture of selfishness has overtime overtaken the original purpose of people sacrificing their all for the common good and changed people’s mindset into being negatively self-centred.

As a result, during funerals, those who have lost the loved ones find themselves having to cater for the selfish mourners who bring to the funeral nothing but their empty bellies awaiting to be filled at the funeral place.

What a mess!



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