Every person, at some point in his or her life, has to deal with the death of a loved one, a relative, a friend, a partner or an acquaintance. For some, this can be an extremely traumatic experience, while for others, they can handle such occurrences with greater patience and strength. Undoubtedly, I believe for everyone, it is an emotional time.
In recent years, it seems that deaths of persons we know are occurring more frequently. For some, it is barely getting over one before another happens. Our nation has had to come to grips with the death of increasing numbers of persons through violent means, accidents and, by far, the result of non-communicable diseases or NCDs. Stressful lives, poor dietary habits and other environmental factors all contribute to what many consider “untimely deaths”.
We all expect death. We know that once we are born, we must die. The question is always – when will we die? The young, healthy, vibrant persons may not think too deeply on this as they will expect to live for a good set of years. For some, a disease may set in early and then death is in the forefront of their minds. Persons who expect their loved ones to die due to prolonged illness or disease are said to be able to cope better than persons whose loved ones may die suddenly.
Dealing with the death of a loved one, a person you know or even someone not so close can impact an individual in many different ways. There can be no set timelines on grief nor a single method in dealing with the emotional impact on a person. We all wish to get over it and move on but what may work for one person may not be applicable to another.
Apart from the obvious grief and expected emotions at such a time, the added burden of having to take care of the funeral arrangements, settling the estate and sorting what the deceased has left behind can be equally or even more traumatic and stressful for the immediate family, next of kin or whoever is charged with that responsibility. And they too need as much comfort, support and reassurance as the grieving others in navigating through that process.
My aunt very recently suddenly passed away. She was not married and had no children, so much of the running around to get everything sorted was left to us, the nephews and nieces. It was a lesson and an experience in understanding the different processes involved in getting a funeral planned and a deceased person’s affairs settled.
It is not something that is usually talked about at family gatherings or in social interactions especially when we don’t expect death so suddenly. But we all know that death is inevitable, and it is wise that as adults we should have such affairs properly and adequately documented so that the ones left behind are very well aware of what our wishes are.
I have worked with the Muslim Funeral Trust of Barbados for many years. For Muslims, the funeral/burial process is very simple and not very costly. It is the faith that instructs us how we should treat to the deceased and ensure that every right is accorded with minimal discomfort for the loved ones who remain behind and have to deal with the grief of the loss. Extended families and the wider community will help the immediate family of the deceased in dealing with the effects of the death especially in the first three days. This buffer helps loved ones affected by the death in overcoming immediate trauma and the emotional impacts associated with it.
The cost of funerals is a significant determinant in the coping abilities of families left behind. Many today complain of extravagant costs associated with burying loved ones. Yet despite this, many will still opt for the type of funeral that incurs significant costs. It is a culture that has been adopted where unless the family gives what many will consider “a good send-off”, people will frown upon them.
Islamic faith instructs that resources should not be wasted. So activities like funerals should not incur costs above and beyond what is mandatory to happen in ensuring a deceased is buried according to Islamic rites, whether that person is rich or poor, leader or led.
Similarly, the faith has clear guidelines on inheritance and how the assets left should be divided and distributed. These guidelines as encoded in our teachings help mitigate against any claims of bias or unfairness in the distribution of wealth which often times is extremely problematic when no will or clear guidelines are left.
Often as a society we consider such topics taboo once we are alive. No one likes to speak about their own death or the plans for when it eventually occurs. To many, that is a morbid subject. But it is an important conversation to have with our loved ones, for death may come as sudden as a thief in the night.
Leaving behind a will, putting plans in place for succession and ensuring loved ones know how to access what is left behind are critical. Always advisable is to have a lawyer trained in succession or estates to offer the best options. And it doesn’t matter how much one has, little or huge sums, it is best that someone knows what to do with what is left. If loved ones have no clue what is going on, it adds to their burden of coping with the affairs of the deceased.
As I prepared this column, I was able to get a few points in this regard from a close friend who is a lawyer. She advised that this is just a brief overview and that any disclosure is to be balanced against the fear of fraud.
1. List assets and debts and update periodically.
2. Any special funeral wishes? Discuss with family, write down.
3. Pay for funeral in instalments.
4. Make a will and let the person or persons who you have appointed as executors know where the original is. Lodge in Registry of Supreme Court.
5. If children are minors appoint a guardian. Discuss with person first.
6. Set up trusts for minors.
7. Give specific gifts while still alive.
8. Add someone to your account but care should be taken in setting up the banking mandate. Do you want the survivor to own what’s on the account after your death or not? Seek legal advice re estate planning.
9. Know where your original title deeds are.
10. Let someone know where your important documents are kept.
11. Is there a safety deposit box?
Many families have faced great rancour in trying to come to grips with such affairs. Following the above points and setting clear guidelines help reduce or mitigate against such possibilities. Additionally, understanding the processes involved with NIS and other legal obligations is a must.
While it is usual to wish peace for the dearly departed, it is also necessary that peace abides with those left behind.
(Suleiman Bulbulia is a Justice of the Peace, Secretary of the Barbados Muslim Association and Muslim Chaplain at the Cave Hill Campus, UWI. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)