Funerals: Thoughts on Body Viewing and New Pastors

Funerals are one of the saddest events that we have to go through; having to say your final goodbyes to a loved one is very hard. However, many events happen at funerals which makes it all very interesting. I am not trying to be sinister, but sometimes the comedy there puts a smile on grievers’ faces momentarily.

Attending funerals also means meeting relatives that you met when you were barely a year old expecting to still be remembered. It is seeing uncles and aunts sneak into hidden rooms to share a bottle of adults’ happy juice. Generally, there is always so much happening that I thought to share. While writing this, it hit me that the movie “Death at a Funeral” was a perfect depiction of a lot of things that happen.

Recently, I attended the funeral of a great-aunt and there were a few things that took place that had me intrigued. I married this to other events that happened at other funerals and thought to write this thought piece.

Events at Funerals

eagles at funerals

The Concept of Body Viewing

One of the major events during funerals is the body viewing. I know this has been done for centuries, and it is a form of paying the last respects to the deceased. But there is something about it that also does not sit right with me, as usual, these are mainly my views. This means you are free to dispute them (respectfully) in the comment section below.

Why do children view faces?

When my stepdad died, I was a wee 10-year-old, and I remember my older sister taking my hand for the body viewing. To this day, that picture of my dad still haunts me, and sometimes, it is the face I see when I think of him. Somehow, I wish they had never taken me to see him in that state.

In the two funerals I have been to, I noticed that kids younger (less than 10) were pushed forward to do the same. While I understand that this notion helps with closure, I have always thought that this is traumatizing for kids. To me, this is the same as allowing kids to watch horror movies, because the picture of someone lying cold in a wooden box is not the prettiest thing to expose their fragile souls.

Sometimes parents do it because there is no one to leave the kids with as they enter the house for the body viewing, but maybe the most ideal thing would be to forgo doing it to keep their innocence. However, it could be my trauma speaking.

Body viewing for the public

I once overheard women encouraging each other to go view the body just to know what the deceased looked like. Something I thought was very disrespectful.

A flaw I find in our culture is how funerals are not intimate events for families. Now, I am not saying that other people should not be allowed to attend, but some somethings would have been kept specially for their families only and not opened to the general public. Body viewing is the first.

To view or not to?

At another funeral, my cousin and I got to speak about whether to go body viewing or not. In our discourse, she made a point that changed my perspective on the whole matter entirely. Before she had pointed it out, I could not explain my thoughts properly.

She pointed out that the reason why she never went for body viewing was because it disrupted her memories of the deceased. She preferred the memories she kept of the person were them being happy while they were still breathing instead of cold and calm with their eyes closed never to be opened again.

This resonated with me because, given a chance, that’s what I would have loved with my stepdad. For me to remember him while he was happy, or even the memories of him being sick were much more bearable than seeing his face without life. But again, I am sure that it is my unprocessed trauma.

Money! Money! Money!

I have always marveled at the amount of money used during funerals. I often sympathize with grievers because not only do they mourn the departed one, but the whole event puts a huge hole in their pockets that takes time to recover. To make it worse, the expenses do not seem to end until a couple of weeks pass.

It does not help when you have to feed a village during the time you are grieving. I have always found it unfair that we often take away the immediate family of the deceased to complain about food being done, all anything else. We have less thought of their grief and the hard times they go through for the betterment of the public.

In areas like where I stay (Machinjiri), the number of people that show up at the funeral widely depends on your wealth. The more money you might exhibit to have guaranteed a reasonable (not so) amount of people, with some taking their whole family there to maximize on the free food.

Then some will hoard the kitchen area, and have food missing miraculously. They will place their kids in strategic areas and secretly give them containers of food to take back home while the public scrambles for food.

New Trend for New Pastors

I am truly intrigued by pastors from new churches and their conduct at funerals. I cannot even share my thoughts, please allow me to paint a picture of what happened recently.

Imagine this, we are seated under the scorching sun waiting for the pastor to preach so we can leave for the burial site. The pastor is called, but before he goes for the mic, he greets the elders of his church whom he had already greeted when he had arrived at the funeral home. He then gets the mic and makes a couple of jokes in Chichewa as he flips through his bible.

Then from nowhere, he switches from speaking vernac to English which gets a bad response from the audience. At this point, talks break out as to why we need an English sermon with Chichewa subtitles when we are all Malawians who understand the language. The pastor is not moved though, he continues while his sidekick goes about interpreting without a mic. Meaning the popular language is silenced.

Throughout the sermon, the interpreter makes some wild interpretations which makes some of the audience laugh. At another point, we could all feel the power struggle between the two men of God. The vernac speaker was adding words to what was being said in English, and was moving the crowd. The English one was trying so hard to take charge, but the odds were against him.

All this was happening as the heavens had started piling up heavy dark clouds. Just as everyone thought we were done, the English pastor went ahead and asked the crowd that whoever felt moved should raise their hands for a special prayer. Another annoying grunt erupts from the crowd, a bunch of sinners, but others still raise their hands. At that point, the MC took the mic and said that that could be done at another time as time was not on our side.

Throughout the whole ordeal, I kept wondering if all this was necessary. But I might have just been too tired and hungry.

Remember to share your thoughts in the comment section below.

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