Yesterday, today, tomorrow – times have changed for the living and the dead!

The sand in the hourglass might have run out for you, but it is not the end. Funerals are complex things that never seem to go quite as anticipated. Mostly, it seems, this is so because we assume everything had been taken care of somewhere along the line and we do not (want to?) take a closer look.

The two stories below show how approaches have changed over time. What seemed to make total sense at the time, is not what we would deem appropriate now!

So let us swing by some interesting history and then look at what you can do now, to make it easier for those who are to make sure you Rest In Peace.

A horse-drawn hearse in the 1970s

In 1808, a merchant and banker named Thomas Bignold founded the Norwich Life Insurance company. Over the years his company went through various changes, mergers and expansions and rather obviously does not look the same today as it did 212 years ago.

So why mention it at all? For the fact that the last person who held a funeral policy with the original Norwich company only passed away in the 1970s. Because the terms had not been updated, it was one of the most expensive funerals a company ever had to pay for.

The stipulations in the policy were as follows:

  1. The hearse had to be drawn by four black horses with white socks
  2. The horses had to have plumes of ostrich feathers attached to their headgear
  3. A band of musicians had to accompany the procession
  4. The hearse had to have glass sides

To fulfil the letter of the policy, they had to search high and low for a horse-drawn hearse. It was finally located in a museum.

My grandparents and the apricots

Three generations ago, it was the Prudent Thing To Do to buy your own coffin whilst you were still very much alive and kicking. Not only were coffins made-to-order; many would even try them out for size. These then had to be stored for later use. One of the favoured places was the attic. As anyone with an attic can tell you, these become ovens in summer. Many farmers take a pragmatic approach to life and death. Heat and wood are the ideal components to successfully dry fruit like peaches and apricots.

Fast forward to today

Many funeral policies claim that you will receive a payout within 24 to 48 hours. What you may not realise is that it does not mean from the minute your Dear One departed. The clock only starts ticking once all the necessary paperwork has been finalised, submitted and approved.

The documents you need

  • The identity book of the deceased
  • A Notice of Death (BI1663) issued by a medical practitioner
  • A Death Certificate issued by Home Affairs


If the death was due to unnatural causes, a police report needs to be issued, before a death certificate can be obtained. This could mean a delay of several weeks. Even if no foul play is suspected, it can take 2 weeks or more to organise the funeral. During this time someone has to pay for storage, even if the hold up is due to delays caused by the Official Powers That Be.

A funeral checklist

  1. Type of service
    • Would you prefer a burial, cremation (with or without a memorial service) or a graveside service?
    • Do you require embalming or have any other culturally or religiously significant requests?
    • Would your family want a home vigil on a Friday night and then the burial service on the following Saturday?
    • Does the body need to be transported long distance?
  1. Logistics
    1. Beforehand
      • What funds are available and are there people who could step in and help?
      • Who would conduct the service?
      • Is a family viewing appropriate?
      • How would you like the deceased to be dressed?
      • What sort of coffin, casket or container for ashes should be used?
      • Would you like a funeral notice placed in the newspaper? In which newspaper?
      • Do you want flowers on the coffin and/or church or would you prefer donations to a charitable organisation in lieu of flowers?
    2. During
      • Who will organise the catering?
      • Do you need a musician and what music would you like?
      • Would you like a customized feature, like a presentation or a slide show?
      • Who will prepare a eulogy?
      • Who will carry the coffin or casket?
      • Will refreshments be served following the service, by whom and where?
    3. After
      • Who will arrange a tombstone?
      • Would you like to sponsor a bench along a familiar pathway or in a park?
      • What should happen to the ashes in the case of cremation?

Final Words

It seems that crooks and scammers have no respect for the dead or grieving. You do not need to face this alone. Surround yourself with people who will give you honest, detailed and practical advice.  

We want to suggest that you look at the website of the South African Associations of Retired Persons (SAARP). You will find that they provide various useful, detailed resources and links about a variety of subjects of special interest to retired persons.

They also offer an Assistance Benefit Plan that can help you make sure that you do not leave your near and dear ones with extra burdens to carry at the time of your passing.

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