Before the coronavirus pandemic, I took pride on creating bespoke funeral services by chatting for hours with the bereaved family and friends to gain an insight into the different aspects of the life of the person who had died. That all stopped virtually overnight.
Face-to-face meetings were replaced by telephone calls and Zoom and I rarely met a family until the funeral service itself. It was heart-breaking to say the least, but it was less about what people wanted and more what could be offered as the pandemic gripped the world.
There were and continue to be many restrictions in place, including the number of attendees at a funeral. Where hundreds of mourners may have been expected in attendance in normal times, many found themselves limited to immediate family, sometimes with just eight people present, depending on a crematorium’s policy.
One man I worked with invited eight people who each represented a different part of his partner’s life. There was someone from work, someone from his community garden scheme – all who had never met before. That was quite special.
My colleague funeral arrangers and directors have said one of the most difficult aspects in arranging a funeral with a family during pandemic was telling people that they couldn't have an opportunity to see their loved one again especially when coronavirus was suspected – in some cases, never getting the chance to say a final goodbye in person. A truly tragic position for anyone to be in.
At times, government guidance was controversial and unclear across the board, leading to confusion and distress across the industry - no comfort to grieving families.
Another big change saw funeral services becoming shorter - in some cases a necessity where crematoria would have struggled to fulfil demand at the height of the pandemic. More families conducted the ceremony themselves, rather than leading through a minister, or celebrant, playing 20 minutes of the person’s favourite music or reading a poem.
Despite everything coronavirus threw at us and continues to do so with a second wave potentially imminent, I and my colleagues in the industry continue to strive to do our best for families with compassion and kindness.
Hopefully the lessons learned in the last few months will bring comfort to families in the future when they need support the most.