Solving the #BurialChallenge

By Osondu Ahirika

The Akwa Ibom State Ministry of Health through recent public service announcements, served notice that, a mass burial of unclaimed corpses in the morgues, across the State will be effected, if relatives fail to show up and do the needful.

Folks, it will shock you to realize that, some of the unclaimed bodies, including unidentified accident victims, and even those deposited in the mortuary by relatives, have been there for over ten years in most cases.

The puzzle is, why would people abandon the corpse of their loved ones in the morgue and move on with life without losing sleep? This is very common in our society.

Truth is, the death of a father or mother, husband or wife, and sometimes close relatives, imposes enormous responsibility on the bereaved. The immediate response to bereavement, is to begin planning to accord the dead, what we call- a befitting burial. This is the beginning of sorrow for some.

I have a mortician neighbour, who is currently in court with a man(name withheld), who deposited the corpses of his elder brother and his elder brother’s wife in his privately run morgue and disappeared for 19 years now. By stroke of luck, he ran into the absconding client in his(clients) Calabar home and alerted the Police.

As things stand, the mortuary fees alone has run into millions, and in the open court, the plaintiff says he is bankrupt and can’t pay up. What is the way forward in this type of case?

It will shock you to know that, our Churches and families are part of the problem. How do I mean? Contrary to the scriptural counsel that we should bear each other’s burden, most Churches, by their actions, complicate the burden for the bereaved, by issuing demanding procedures before they attend or conduct the burial of a deceased member.

There is a consultation list to start with to inform the church leadership. Then, there is a list of what must be given to the church for the burial proper. In some cases, the list includes assorted drinks, goats, foodstuffs and money. Some churches even check their records and if the dead owed any levy, dues or pledge, they must be paid up before they accept to participate in the burial. The Church does not care, whether the bereaved family can afford all the demands or not. Sad!

Then, the extended family adds to the burden with demands. One of the reasons given by the man, who abandoned the corpses of his brother and his wife, is that, the family of the woman reeled out a list of items demanded before the burial rites can go ahead, which was far beyond his means. That list, in addition to another list issued by his immediate extended family to okay a burial for the departed.

The huge financial implications made him defer the burial, hoping to sell land and assets to raise money, to satisfy Church and families. The years have since rolled by, and in accumulated years, it is now beyond him.

Unfortunately, this happens mostly among Christians, where we have entrenched elaborate ceremonies for burial which are unscriptural. Unlike our Muslim brothers, who dispose off a corpse with dispatch the same day he/she dies, only to converge after forty days, where need arises, to acknowledge the dead, Christians lay the ground for the burden, burial of their dead, has since become.

Fact is, even in the Bible, there is no prescribed procedure for conducting burial. It differed from place to place and cultures. The only elaborate exceptions was, Joseph, who in keeping with Egyptian tradition was embalmed(Genesis 50:26).

Hebrew burials usually took place on the day of death. The haste was to avoid being unclean through touching of a corpse(Deuteronomy 21-23, Acts 5:5-10, Numbers 19:11-14). If the family was capable, they buried their dead in a tomb hewn out of a rock and rich people, who could afford it, actually designated one for themselves before their death. Poorer people buried their dead in graves.

For Christians today, we can make burial as simply as Jesus was buried. Where you don’t have money to entertain the whole village, we can ‘retool’, rethink and review our culture to follow these simple Christian burial processes, which are traced to the New Testament: (i) Wash the body (Acts 9:37), (ii) Apply spices and ointment (Luke 23:56), (iii) Wrap the corpse in linen cloth (John 11:44), professional mourners ,where possible and affordable, can be deployed (Mark 5:38) and the body carried to the grave on a bier or litter (Luke 7:12).

These simple tips can help us bury a lot of people who, are left unburied, simply because, we are waiting for when we can afford the so – called, befitting burial, which we have imposed on ourselves in the guise of culture and tradition.

Mass burial of the sort, such carelessness has compelled the State Government to undertake is the worst form of disgrace heaped upon the reputation of the deceased and their families (Isaiah 14-18-20, Jeremiah 22:18-19).

It is much better to gather as an immediate family and exclusively bury your dead without much ado or orchestrated ceremony, something Jesus even queried(Mark 5:39), than allow the deceased to be disposed off like thrash.

Can our churches, families and traditional institutions revisit our burial customs and practices, and make things easier? Will the people shun ego tripping and accept resort to quiet burials for the remains of their loved ones? Can we begin to ignore the howl, mockery and gossip of people and do what we can, when we can for the dead and get on with our lives?