The latest government advice is that people should not leave their homes unless absolutely necessary to slow the spread of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) and to protect the more vulnerable in our society. Gatherings of all kinds have been banned, including weddings, baptisms and other religious ceremonies, but at the time of writing (25th March) funerals are still permitted to go ahead, albeit on a much smaller scale that usual.
It goes without saying that a funeral is usually a time to gather friends and family together to celebrate the life of a loved one, but in the current crisis this is simply not possible. So what can be done to help bring people together to pay their respects to a much loved friend or family member? We’ve put together some guidance and ideas, with a little help from our friends…
BEFORE THE FUNERAL – MANAGING EXPECTATIONS
Keep guests to a minimum. This usually means only immediate family (partners, spouses, siblings, parents and children) so carefully choose who will attend and explain to extended family and friends that they can still be involved in other ways (see our tips for holding a ‘virtual’ wake below).
You may decide to separate the funeral and the remembrance service into two different events. The concept of ‘direct cremation’ has become increasingly popular in recent years (well before coronavirus) as it allows a simple, affordable funeral to be held with a small number of guests, so that a larger celebration of life can be held with more time to plan and to invite guests who may live further afield. With the current restrictions on air travel, this makes a lot of sense for families with relatives living overseas. Talk to your funeral director if you think this option might better suit your needs.
AT THE SERVICE - KEEPING A SAFE DISTANCE
While our natural instinct is to touch, hold and support each other physically at times of sorrow and grief, it is important to let guests know that this isn’t going to be possible in the current environment. Our friends at Mortlake Crematorium have the following advice for keeping safe:
• Immediate family only - Only close family members, and no more than 10 people, should attend the service
• Stay away if you have symptoms - Anyone with symptoms, who should be self-isolating, or is in a high risk group should stay at home
• Order a webcast of the service - You can ask your funeral director to order a webcast of the funeral service which can then be shared with other family members via a downloadable link (this service is currently being offered for free at Mortlake)
• Avoid handshaking - Ask guests not to shake hands (instead you could agree an alternative gesture such as a hand on the heart and a bowed head to acknowledge each other and express sympathy)
• Keep a safe distance - Ensure that guests sit at least 2 metres (or 6.5 feet) apart
• Take personal items home - Make sure that tissues, orders or service and personal items are taken home with you
• No family pallbearers - Family members should not carry the coffin and personal items should not be left on the coffin (instead you could blow a kiss or wave goodbye at the end of the service)
By following these guidelines family, guests, staff and the wider community can be kept safe during these unprecedented times.
AFTER THE SERVICE - HOLDING A 'VIRTUAL' WAKE
Ordinarily a wake is an opportunity for guests to come together after the service and share stories and memories of their loved one. It’s also a chance for people to relax a little after the formality of the service, express sympathy and console each other, both physically and emotionally. With the current restrictions on gatherings in place, it’s understandable that families might feel disappointed at having to return home immediately after the service. However, the current social distancing measures are creating a whole host of new ways to connect with each other online and via our smart devices. With email, messaging apps, live video streaming platforms and social media there are still many ways to bring people together to remember the life of a loved one. We’ve outlined a few ways to stay connected after a funeral below:
• Email Special Memories – Ask guests to send you a memory or a special story about your loved one by email, then you can collate the messages and stick them into a memory book, or you could even copy them into the book by hand if you find yourself with time on your hands while isolating. The act of mindfully writing down memories may even be a cathartic experience following the loss of a loved one.
• Create a Photo Gallery – You could also ask guests to email photos of your loved one. They may have photos that you’ve never seen before and you can mount these in a book or album to create a gallery or a timeline of your loved one’s life. You could even ask guests to include a photo of themselves along with their messages, so you can create a visual record of your loved one’s circle of friends.
• Light a Candle Together – Arrange a time with your guests, such as the evening of the funeral, when you will all light a candle at the same time in your separate homes, and take a moment to quietly remember your loved one. Knowing that others are doing the same thing is comforting and creates a sense of shared purpose and connection. You could ask them to share a photo of their lit candle on social media or create a private WhatsApp group for all the guests to share their photos and memories. Or you could use a live video streaming app such as Skype, Zoom or Houseparty to light your candles together in real time and you’ll almost feel like you’re in the same room.
• Create a Virtual Memory Table – Set up a memory table at home in much the same way as you would at an actual wake. Place a memory book, candle, a vase of fresh flowers and a framed photo of your loved one on a table. Take a photo or make a video, then share it on your facebook page where friends and family can add their thoughts, memories and condolences in the comments below. You’ll have this forever on your feed to refer back to, or you could copy the messages into a memory book.
• Send Guests a Favour or Keepsake – Seeds are easy to pop in the post and make a nice little outdoor project for people to do while self-isolating. Many supermarkets have post boxes so you can simply post them to family and friends while shopping for your essentials. Planting seeds in memory of a loved one is a lovely way to create a living memorial and is sure to raise a smile and fond memories when the flowers bloom.
MOVING FORWARD – FINDING SUPPORT DURING ISOLATION
In the old world (was that really only a week ago?) bereaved families might have felt a sense of isolation once the funeral was over and everybody else has seemingly moved on with their lives. Perhaps a small silver lining to us all being socially isolated during this current crisis, is that people are more likely to stay connected with each other through digital and online platforms when they can’t meet face to face.
While the virus conspires to keep us apart, humans are instinctively coming together within the constraints of the current social restrictions, whether to sing from their balconies or applaud the work of health workers. Kindness is catching it seems, with communities rallying around to support the most vulnerable. In addition, people often feel more able to share their feelings and emotions online than face to face, so could it be that what keeps us apart may in fact be what ultimately brings us together?
Please note that government advice regarding COVID-19 is changing on a daily basis, so please ask your funeral director or crematorium for the most up to date advice.
If you are bereaved and need someone to talk to, we offer free online support with trained bereavement counsellors through our partnership with GriefChat. You can access this confidential service here.