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Lockdown savings: virtual funerals, a thing of the future?

Finance & Money

Posted on Tuesday, October 6, 2020

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When a loved one passes away, funerals are an important part of the healing process. They commemorate the life of the deceased and offer a way for people to grieve and overcome their anguish. Getting together with members of the family and community to pay respects is important in finding closure after death.


But with the lockdown placing restrictions on how many people may gather in one place, traditional funerals are a thing of the past, at least for now. So how does a funeral during the COVID-19 pandemic compare? 


The expense of funerals


There is no denying that funerals are expensive. In South Africa, basic funeral costs R10 000. In 2018, Stats SA revealed the average funeral costs between R50 000 and R250 000. This is one of the reasons why so many South Africans have multiple funeral policies. But even with these numerous funeral plans, many still put in additional money to cover the costs of a loved one’s funeral.


With this in mind, and in typical South African style, people have found a positive side to the lockdown – funeral savings. By not holding massive services, funeral costs have been drastically reduced, especially for those without funeral cover. Many are finding themselves surprisingly less burdened after losing a loved one, having more money to put towards other aspects involved in saying farewell. They also have more time to grieve because they’re spending less time dealing with the overwhelming admin of arranging a funeral. 


Here are some of the expenses that are no longer relevant for funerals during the COVID-19 pandemic:


Food: At just about any funeral, those organising are expected to provide food for the mourners, often at the service itself, and afterwards at their home where many of the bereaved will get together. 


Transport: People may need to travel from far away to attend a funeral. Whether it’s the family paying for shuttles and busses to transport mourners, or attendees footing the bill for petrol, car hire, and air tickets themselves, this is a major expense.


Accommodation: The family might pay to put up loved ones from out of town. Or travellers will cover the cost of their own accommodation. Either way, it’s not cheap to pay for a place to sleep for a night or two (or more depending on how long relatives want to stay).


Décor: Even the simplest flower arrangements cost a lot of money, but a low-key service means low-key décor.


Funerals during COVID-19


Right now, funerals in South Africa are a much smaller affair than what most are used to; only 50 mourners may attend a funeral during the lockdown. For many cultures in our country, where all members of a community are welcome to attend, it’s not uncommon for hundreds to turn up to pay their respects.


With these restrictions, the bereaved have had to turn to other ways to arrange the funeral service and mourn the passing of their loved ones.


Families must make arrangements over the phone or via video chat with funeral homes and religious leaders, rather than the traditional route of meeting in person. Whether or not people are saving money this way depends on their circumstances; travelling to a funeral home to finalise arrangements may cost more than the airtime and data used to call and chat over the phone.


During the time of grieving, friends and extended family members would usually visit the home of the bereaved family to offer their emotional support and assist in basic home maintenance, like cleaning and helping to prepare food for the service. However, due to social distancing, this is no longer allowed. While the emotional support from having loved ones nearby is priceless, it often means the family is obliged to pay for and prepare food to host their visitors. However, under lockdown, the family doesn’t need to worry about what they will serve for lunch the next day.


Many families are opting to have a small funeral during the lockdown with the intention of holding a larger memorial in the future when things are back to normal. This saves money now and gives the family more time to save for the memorial or put towards something else, such as groceries if the deceased was a breadwinner or their tombstone.


Some grievers are turning to older practices to pay their respects, such as in the form of secret burials. This is when only those present during the passing of a person will be present to bury them. Traditionally, these are very private occasions and are perfect for COVID-19 funerals.


For those who have the means, live streaming has arguably been the best way to have all a deceased’s loved ones witness a burial or memorial without the risk of contracting or spreading the Coronavirus.


Learn more: Do I need life insurance and a funeral plan


The future of funerals


Around the world, virtual funerals are becoming more popular; Russia’s largest funeral company held more than 100 live-streamed funerals from the beginning of April to the beginning of May. In South Africa, we aren’t quite there yet, but virtual funerals are on the increase. 


These services are much more affordable than traditional ones; Sharing Goodbyes, a live-streaming funeral company, charges just R4 500 for two hours of coverage.


People from all over the world can now attend a funeral without ever having to leave their homes. Those who would not have been able to attend under normal circumstances, like if they live in another country, can now share this important time with their loved ones. Plus, they can get a recording of the funeral so they may cherish the goodbye forever. 


Founder of Sharing Goodbyes, Andre Malan, says virtual funerals have helped his company’s clients through the grieving process, giving mourners a sense of closure after attending a service. 


Because they go so much easier on budgets than traditional funerals, and they offer an easy way for loved ones across the globe to get together and support one another, it’s certain that virtual funerals are here to stay.  


Sources: BBC; Business Tech; IOL; City Press

Prices quoted are correct at the time of publishing this article. The information in this article is provided for informational purposes only and should not be construed as financial, legal, or medical advice.