Coronavirus: funerals beyond recognition

SINCE time immemorial, funerals have been important rituals that have brought comfort to grieving families and friends.In recent decades, services have evolved to incorporate a range of elements encompassing transport in the form of hearses and limousines, as well as floral tributes, religious and civil services, personalised coffins and post-service gatherings to remember the deceased.

Behind the scenes, funeral directors have invested heavily in clinical-standard equipment to provide dignity and respect to our loved ones in their care – and then came Covid-19.

Within a matter of weeks, years of tradition have been pushed aside, as society understandably prioritised protecting the living over the way it said goodbye to the dead.

Gone are comforting limousine journeys to services, floral tributes are increasingly difficult to come by and most distressing of all, families and friends can no longer come together in large numbers to pay their respects.

Additionally, many funeral directors are now unable to offer viewings in chapels of rest, as a result of necessary infection control precautions.

Funeral arrangements are being made over the phone rather than by face-to-face appointment.

This has taken an immense toll on families who, in some parts of the country, are being denied funeral services. Or are not able to be close to – and hug – relatives from different households.

It is also extremely upsetting for funeral directors, who are coping with unprecedented levels of demand for services that have stripped back to a bare minimum.

The instinct, though, is to care and help families through this distressing situation as best they can.

At the time of writing, Government advice for funeral services stated only close relatives should attend. This means people from the deceased’s household and immediate family.

If there are no family members, then a close friend of the deceased may attend.

While services have been stopped in Church of England churches, many crematoria chapels are enforcing strict social distancing guidelines with mourners required to sit at least two metres apart.

Restrictions can vary locally and families are urged to check with their funeral director to understand the situation in their town or village.

So, how do people say goodbye in a time of restricted funerals?

The answer lies in technology, simplicity and planning ahead.

The National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors (SAIF) advises families to talk to their independent funeral director about options for webcasting any service taking place now and then consider arranging a post-pandemic thanksgiving event.

People who are grieving and unable to attend a funeral are encouraged to set aside some time for a dedicated remembrance activity.

This could involve lighting a candle and sitting quietly with pictures of the person who has died to reflect on their memory. Or choosing a day to wear an item of clothing in their favourite colour.

There is also comfort to be had from arranging a virtual wake. Ask mourners to think about something they would like to say about the deceased before logging in.

Finally, and arguably most importantly, families at home with children should involve young ones to help them understand the normality of grief.

Encourage children to paint pictures or make crafts in tribute to a grandparent or parent. This will become a treasured memento.

But with social distancing measures likely to remain in place for the foreseeable future, it is essential families know they are not alone.

Their funeral director is there for them and will do what they can to provide support and advice in difficult times.

To find a funeral director in your community simply go saif.org.uk/members-search.

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