Memorial Service or Nyaradzo - The Meaning and Purpose Of This Funeral Rite

A few weeks or months after death and burial, family and friends will come together for one of the last rites to celebrate the life and cherish the memory of their loved one.

Food will be prepared and served, speeches will be read and poems recited, the traditional drumbeat and even church hymns sung. It is the Memorial Service or Nyaradzo in Shona or Mbuyiso in Ndebele.

While the funeral service of a loved one is characterised by heart throbbing pain, silent mourning, agony and denial, the memorial service, is in most cases a period of well-thought out programmes, deep reflection and memorialisation.

Time works like magic. Because death almost always happens suddenly, the mind has lots of questions, why him or her and why now?

A few months later, acceptance sets in and life goes on, thanks to time. Memorial service time is time to sit, talk, eat, drink and bring finality to the chapter of the life of a family favourite, giant, or breadwinner who for past weeks or months should have been sitting at the table for dinner but has not been and will never sit there again.

Everybody now knows and realises that what happened then is irreversible and all that is left are memory traces of what once was. 

A Memorial service is a time to honour and cherish the memory of the departed, a time to celebrate their life, in a way they would have been happy with if they were alive.

It is not a time for mourning. Most celebrate the life of their departed ones taking into account family values and the deceased’s preferences and beliefs. Those whose beliefs are rooted in African cultural tradition will celebrate the life of their departed over a night of traditional song and dance in a ceremony called kurova guva or chenura, with traditionally brewed opaque beer (seven days) in abundance.

Christians celebrate with sermons, prayers and Christian hymns at a memorial service.
The African memorial service, Chenura, is usually held after a year. Unlike kurova guva, the Christian memorial services are held from a few weeks after death to anything up to 12 months, depending on religion, availability of funds and other considerations.

Lately, a new term for the memorial service has emerged; it is “Celebration of life service.”
Memorial Service or Nyaradzo - The Meaning and Purpose Of This Funeral Rite
Planning for a celebration of life ceremony takes a bit of time, yet it can be a wonderful way of expressing one’s love and affection in a meaningful and commemorative way.
While many people sometimes use the phrases “funeral service” and “memorial service” interchangeably, they are actually different.
A funeral service is any official ceremony that takes place in the presence of a casketed body. In other words, the casket must have a body inside for it to be called a funeral service and the casket lid may be open or closed.

A memorial service on the other hand, is any official ceremony that takes place without the casketed body. In cases of cremation, a memorial service may take place with the urn containing the cremated remains serving as the focal point of the ceremony. In some cases, the focal point could be a picture of the deceased displa-yed on an easel (a wooden frame for holding works of art).

A memorial service may be held anywhere, even at the once favourite restaurant of the dece-ased. Funeral dire-ctors, grief counsellors, or ministers of religion maybe involved in organising a memorial service depending on family preferences or instructions in a Will.

While many may argue that memorial services are sometimes costly, they still are very effective in helping survivors through the mourning period and help bring closure to the mourning process.
Also important to note is that most survivors take the greatest comfort from a ceremony that reflects the wishes and personality of the deceased person.

Those who have settled the affairs of loved ones before, know that it can be difficult to plan a funeral or memorial service.

Sometimes even when family and friends want to honour the person who has died, they may not agree on how best to go about it.

The grief and stress of loss can make decision-making even more challenging.

However, organisational nightmares for both the funeral and memorial services can be avoided by planning before hand through Will writing. Taking time to document one’s wishes will ensure that one gets the kind of service they deserve at the same time providing tremendous relief to those left behind. In cases where the family is left to plan the ceremony, a bit of thoughtful planning is required to help create a service which would have made the loved one happy.

Settling the practical matters first helps in the rest of the planning. Traditionally, the planning of when and where the ceremony would be held is decided on by the elders of the deceased’s family considering the time frame and various commitments to ensure maximum attendance.

A member of the clergy from the bereaved family’s church or religion normally presides over the Christian memorial service and is usually notified in advance to allow them time to plan.
Family members also must be given enough notice time in case there are those who have to come from afar.Frequently, relatives and friends will be asked to give eulogies, which details happy memories and accomplishments.

Commenting on the deceased’s flaws especially at length is considered impolite. In cases when the memorial service is being held together with tombstone unveiling, a trip to the cemetery will be made where the tombstone unveiling ceremony will be conducted.

The minister of religion or church elder will close proceedings with a sermon and prayer.
Memorial services are an important part in the circle of funeral rites especially when they are properly planned and well thought out. They can be happy family reunion occasions. If there is any pain or anguish at a memorial service, it is normally not about how and why the deceased died, it is about who gets what. Most close relatives expect to be beneficiaries of deceased estates. When some family members think they were unfairly left out, they feel aggrieved creating tensions and rifts that become divisive and pose the biggest threat to family break ups.

When organised properly memorial services are occasions most family members look forward to for they help bring closure and finality to the lives of our loved ones.

Written By Philip Mataranyika is the CEO of Nyaradzo Funeral Assurance Company. He can be contacted on:
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