"I’m sorry, you can’t carry your son’s coffin” I said.
As a father and mother looked at the tiny woven baby coffin with blue ribbons on Thursday morning, their tears came thick and fast. I felt helpless.
As a celebrant, my role at funeral services is to offer support to the bereaved family on the day. It’s my natural instinct to console and comfort someone, to offer a handshake, a hug or a reassuring hand on a shoulder when someone breaks down reading a tribute. But all this has gone. The virus doesn’t stop for the deceased.
Since the Covid-19 outbreak, the weddings we officiate at have been postponed. Funerals of some sort must take place, however, be they cremations or burials. The deceased must be taken care of.
Yet the outbreak has completely transformed these occasions. A family can no longer travel in a limousine together; family or friends can no longer carry the coffin; attendees must sit apart at a time when they need to be close to each other.
Worst of all is that in most places there is also a limit of 20 people for each funeral. “Immediate family only” is the rule. But what if your immediate family consists of 30 people? Who chooses? Tensions are often already running high; the stress and upset of deciding who to put on this list can add to the emotional turmoil.
One lady called me in tears as the limit to numbers had caused family arguments – and some werew refusing to attend. She begged me to allow a “few extra”. I softly explained that it wasn’t possible and that I was sorry, although I know that these are family rifts that may never heal.
Of course, all of these restrictions are understandable as we all have to make a huge effort to contain the spread of the virus. But this is hard for people with broken hearts. They feel cheated.
Another family, for example, asked if they could approach the coffin with flowers, messages and their grandad’s favourite cap. Usually I would encourage this; but now I have to refuse. “We promise not to actually touch the coffin,” they said. But the new rules are in place for a reason. I have to say no.
The parents of that baby boy; in my heart I would have given anything to let them carry their son’s tiny, beautiful coffin to his final resting place. Yet in my head, I knew it couldn’t happen.
Another man, who had been married for more than 50 years, was in turmoil worrying about the safety of attending his beloved wife’s funeral. It’s unimaginable. But this is happening across the country.
And of course, there’s no one to blame. No hard and fast let out for the anger, frustration, disappointment and upset that adds to the grief already so deeply felt. It’s just the new way of death that has become the 'new normal'. And it’s for all funerals, not just those of coronavirus victims.
In recent days I’ve delivered funeral services that should have had hundreds of attendees. People joining in their sorrow, in their grief, but also in their love. But you strip all that back to a few people, who can’t even give each other a consoling embrace, and it feels like there’s nowhere to turn.
Families feel guilty they are not able to give their loved ones a “
'good send-off'. I feel guilty I can only offer words. I feel the heartache at every single service.
And, unbearably, I can see that we may soon come to a point where any “social gathering”, including funerals, will have to cease. Lives are at risk, and unattended services may prove to be the only safe option.
As a whole, our understanding of a funeral is likely to change. We’ll have to dismiss the idea of a procession, and forgo mourning around the coffin and gathering in the chapel or by the graveside. And in its place, we will have to find new ways to bring ceremony and solace in remembrance of a loved one, to unite in grief, and in love: but from the safety of our own homes.
The restrictions and guidelines are changing daily. This is not only how your Funeral Director works, but also at each crematorium, cemetery and natural burial ground. I am working within the guidelines to keep myself, my family and you as safe as possible. Therefore, I am unable to make home-visits to discuss your wishes, however I am available on the telephone, email, Facetime, WhatsApp, and Zoom.
When we do meet on the day of the service, please do not be offended that I am not shaking hands, and it is heart-breaking I cannot provide a hug of comfort. As I have always said, please do research and telephone around to make sure you find and choose a Funeral Director that you are happy with for both cost and attitude. Also, you are not bound by your ‘closest’ Funeral Director or Funeral Location.
It’s your choice.