It is no surprise that the COVID 19 Pandemic has forced people worldwide to improvise to adapt to different ways of living, given the circumstances. From the introduction of face masks and regular use of sanitizers, to partial lockdowns and social distancing, the world has been coerced to live in this new normal- and Zambia is no exception.
The Corona Virus first hit Zambia in February this year, followed by strict regulations by the Government of Zambia, instructing all citizens and residents to avoid social gatherings of more than 50 people. This included weddings, funerals, parties, but to mention a few. Also regulated were people’s movements locally and internationally, resulting in a partial lockdown of the country.
A Zambian national called Fred Lungu recently lost his mother to cancer three months ago in the United Kingdom, and because of the virus, he could not give her the burial she respectfully deserved.
“It’s challenging knowing that someone is lying in the mortuary, and the rest of you have to go back to normal life,” Fred grieves, “We are forced to put any physical funeral on pause until her body finally comes back to Zambia.”
According to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office in the United Kingdom, the complete process of deceased repatriation requires close liaison between various agencies such as national embassies, travel insurance brokers and tour operators. The normal repatriation process takes at least two weeks. Fred and his family have been waiting for almost two months.
The United Kingdom had been in a full lockdown for seven weeks from the 23rd of March, and as of the 10th of May, began to ease restrictions slowly. This caused a significant delay in the process, leaving several deceased bodies, including that of Fred’s mother, stranded. Repatriation of a deceased loved one is an emotionally challenging task for any bereaved family or friend. However, repatriation, coupled with the impact of an unprecedented pandemic that has brought the whole world to a standstill, is hellacious.
When the news of Fred’s mother’s death was made known, the family was not only grieving because of a deceased relative. They were also worried that the process of receiving her dead body from the United Kingdom would be dilatory, given the circumstances of the current pandemic.
“In the week that she died, we talked as a family through WhatsApp calls, shared her pictures and videos and reflected on the time we spent with her when she was alive,” explains Fred, “That, to us, was her digital funeral.”
Around the world, people are improvising on how to hold funerals for deceased loved ones who died abroad. Australia is one example. Due to numerous restrictions limiting the number of people permitted to attend funerals in the country, funeral homes in Australia have taken to live streaming to ease the emotional burden of mourners who cannot physically attend the send-off of their loved ones.
While people like Fred are fighting for the bodies of their deceased relatives or friends to return home, others are authorizing the cremation of their remains. The Foreign Employment Board of Nepal, which is responsible for repatriating bodies and providing financial assistance to aggrieved Nepali families, stated that approximately 58 Nepali families authorized cremations of their deceased family members abroad between March and May 2020. This was due to the various lockdowns globally as a result of the pandemic.
Until recently, the repatriation of deceased bodies was halted because of the suspension of international flights worldwide. By the 6th of June 2020, airlines such as Emirates, Ethiopian Airlines, and South African Airlines were cleared to resume their flight schedules between Africa and Europe, among other continents. This brought a sliver of hope to Fred and his family, who anticipate that the body of their loved one will return soon.
“We were assured that by the 20th of June, her body would be in the country,” Fred states confidently, “My grandfather wants to say a final goodbye to his daughter, and so I pray he won’t be disappointed again.”