When John Moyo (not his real name) relocated to the United Kingdom, his decision was met with mixed feelings.
In the eyes of his family, John was doing well as a teacher in Zimbabwe.
He had risen to be a headmaster.
When he kissed Zimbabwe goodbye, nobody believed that John might not come back.
While in the UK, John retrained and became a nurse. The new profession brought so many opportunities in the UK.
It brought immigration status and job security. His family was now leading a modest life and besides the UK family, John became the bread winner in the extended family back in Zimbabwe.
John died recently after testing positive for Covid-19.
The news of his death was devastating and hard to believe for the family.
His traumatised son Tinevimbo shared the following story:
No one realises how hard it is to plan a funeral, especially when it is for someone you saw and talked to yesterday. Someone of your blood. Someone you truly love.
The weight of the loss alone was already enough to fill my entire body with stress, taking me down like I am carrying a tonne of bricks.
Little did I know that was just the beginning of it.
I am going to tell you about my worst experience at a funeral home, and I ask that you read this with compassion and an open heart. This narrative is meant to shake you in your chair and ask you to make sure you don’t know anyone who’s doing business this way at their funeral home.
A man, who ushered me into the office at the parlour was already angry. I understood him because Covid-19 alone was claiming over a thousand people a day. I was told my dad was to be cremated. I said hello? My father is a Zimbabwean of the Mbire tribe. The Mbires cannot be cremated! I wondered as I tried to understand the message. I was beside myself. I wanted to understand what cremation is.
Cremation is a process that transforms the remains of a person who has died into “ashes” using intense heat. These ashes are in fact tiny fragments of bone. Once the cremation is complete, the ashes are returned to the family of the person who has died.
The machine used to cremate bodies is called a cremator. A building in which cremations take place is called a crematorium.
In short, cremation is reducing a beloved one into ashes. If you want to repatriate the remains of your beloved one, cremation is the only way out in this era of Covid-19.
This was the most painful news for my grandparents. It has never been done in our tribe that a Mumbire can be cremated.
There are a lot of rituals which needed to be followed, but these can never be followed when a Mumbire has been reduced to ashes. The cremation service is the most painful thing for a loved one.
At one time you see the lifeless body of your beloved in an expensive coffin and in a twinkle of an eye, everything is reduced to a tiny box of ashes. God have mercy.
The World Health Organisation had given advice against repatriation. So the only way to repatriate John’s body was to cremate him. This is unZimbabwean and contrary to what we stand for and to who we are.
If you have not attended a funeral with a cremation before, you might be wondering what to expect: how long a cremation service takes, and what you need to know.
John’s coffin was taken to the location for the service and placed on a raised platform. The funeral service was held in a special dedicated room in the crematorium itself, this is because all Covid-19 victims are sealed in plastics then put in coffins. Only five people are allowed.
The room and social distancing is strictly enforced.
You can imagine the pain of seeing your mother in anguish, but you cannot hug her or get closer to comfort her.
It’s important to arrive on time, as cremation services are usually held to a tight schedule.
My father’s service took only twenty minutes.
Families can book more time (usually for an additional fee) in normal circumstances, but these were not normal circumstances. There is no order of service, which normally tells you what will happen at the cremation service, as well as the details of any songs, prayers and readings.
The committal began before it started and ended before it began.
At the end of the service, the coffin was taken out of the room to begin the process of cremation.
Curtains were quickly moved around the coffin, and out of our view. Within seconds the funeral director showed guests the way out.
There was no opportunity at this point to see the flowers that had been donated, and to give condolences to the family.
It was fast-tracked. It ended as quickly as it had begun. Under normal circumstances, I would have been taken aside to be briefed by the funeral director and the casket with the remains would have been kept in a cool, temperature-controlled room in the funeral home until the service can take place.
Ahead of the funeral, the person who has died will be washed and dressed in clothing chosen by the family. But this was not to be in this case.
No one was allowed to touch my father’s body. We realised that before cremation, shoes with rubber soles and soft toys were not allowed, as well as items like bottles, which explode.
Items with a battery in, like mobile phones, are also taken out of the coffin before cremation. Before cremation takes place, the cremation chamber is heated to around 870-980 ºC.
The coffin is then placed in the chamber, where a column of flame ignites it.
Cremation took up to three hours, after which only bone fragments were left.
Next, a powerful magnet was used to pull metal fragments out of the ashes. I was told a kind of grinder called a cremulator was used to turn the bone fragments into a fine, grey-white powder.
The ashes were then placed in a container called an urn and given to me and my mother.
It was then left for the family to transport the ashes to Zimbabwe.
So many questions remain in the minds of the bereaved.
Are the ashes we are burying solely ashes of the dead. Are we not carrying ashes of others. How do you know that you have transported the ashes of the beloved one to Zimbabwe.
Now there is no flight taking anybody home. The only flight available is expensive.
It also feels bad to keep the remains of one’s father trapped in a small container in the house.
We are waiting for the next affordable flight home.