Please, stop now

Fran Hall 28 Comments
Fran Hall


Someone needs to say it.

With the heaviest of hearts, today we are going against everything that the Good Funeral Guide has become known for over the years, and calling for funerals to be stopped completely.

Now. Today. Just stop.

The decision to exempt funerals from the current ban on social gatherings was undoubtedly made for compassionate reasons, but the current lack of clear instruction and direction is leading to anguish and suffering beyond imagination.

By allowing funeral ceremonies to continue in some form or other, bereaved people – and all those supporting them – are genuinely risking their health and even their lives by gathering together to try and have a funeral like the ones we are used to, yet in most cases, grieving people are ending up with a funeral that has been pared down to something almost unrecognisable. Almost everything we are familiar with in a funeral ceremony has been stripped away by the attempt to slow the spread of Covid-19. What we are left with is worse than nothing. 

This cannot continue. It’s breaking people’s hearts, hurting family members and friends. It’s confusing everyone. It’s putting lives at risk. It’s making everything impossible for people who are already reeling from shock and grief. Heart-breaking decisions are being asked of people – decisions which are too much to bear. The current situation is not compassionate or kind, it’s devastating and destructive.

We will probably never know the damage that is being done daily to people’s hearts and souls, their emotional and mental wellbeing, their ability to grieve and survive in a newly empty, frightening world. Confusion and uncertainty casts a heavy weight that is doing untold damage to individual people everywhere. Families are being made to choose who can attend and who must stay away. Friends and lifelong companions are being excluded from being present for a ceremony through multiple individual interpretations of the phrase ‘immediate family’. If numbers are drastically limited, someone has to decide who has the most right to be there. It’s unbearable.

Funeral venues and funeral companies are interpreting the new rules in different ways, meaning that, depending on whereabouts you are, you may only be allowed to have 25 – or 20 or 10 or 6 or 4 – people attending a ceremony. Crematorium staff in some places are being required to monitor the numbers of people arriving and restrict entry – one crematorium has stated that the chapel doors will be locked and the police called if more than a certain number of people gather for a funeral. Yet in other crematoria, no restrictions have been imposed. Everywhere is doing things differently.

You may have travelled in a limousine, or the cars you wanted may have been cancelled. You may be asked stay two metres apart outside the chapel while you wait. Or maybe nobody is willing to step in and tell you to stay away from other people gathering there. You may be asked to sit separately inside, or the seating might have been re-arranged to make sure you don’t come into contact with anyone. The coffin may be wheeled into the chapel, not carried. The curtains may have to close around the coffin to prevent anyone from touching the surface. Hymn singing may be discouraged – hymnbooks have been removed from many crematoria. Video-links may or may not work, leaving excluded mourners at home without a connection to those who are attending, unable to see or hear what is happening even remotely. There are licensing issues with music choices being broadcast, even where video links are available. It’s impossible for everyone who is trying to make things work right now.

Funeral ceremonies are where our deepest humanity is called for, to steady and support the faltering broken hearts of people whose worlds have been shattered by the death of a person they love. We show up to be silently present, to demonstrate our love by being there for the final time in the presence of the physical body of the person whose life has ended.

We come together to grieve as a family, a community, a society who stands together to bear witness to the loss of one of our own. We reach out our hands and our arms to comfort and hold each other, we lean on each other for support and safety. We weep together, we rest our heads against familiar loving shoulders and feel the warmth of strong arms holding us upright.

This is what a funeral is.

Now, none of this is possible.

The current confused and confusing situation is dangerous. It’s frightening. It’s unfair on everyone. It has to stop.

If a clear directive came from government that funeral ceremonies must stop now, we are certain that the incredible people who dedicate themselves to supporting bereaved and grieving communities will quickly find new ways of creating ritual and meaning in a safe way. Over the coming weeks we will share thoughts and ideas and ways of commemorating the lives of those who have died without risking the lives and wellbeing of those who survive. We welcome guest posts from anyone who would like us to share their ideas.

But for now, for today, for the foreseeable future, for your sake, for our sake, for the sake of all of us, please, please think the unthinkable.

Unattended burial or cremations are the safest, kindest, simplest way to deal with our dead right now.

Funerals, as we know them, cannot go on.


  1. Fran Hall

    I think you are right to address this issue so directly. I am going to be conducting my last funeral as a celebrant on Monday. The whole process has been wracked with uncertainty, adding to the distress of the family. I have phoned crematoria to try and establish what the new rules are but the responses, apart from “limit numbers and observe social distancing “ have been vague. At the last funeral I conducted, attendees did not attempt to self distance although there was plenty of room for them to do so, and after the service there was much hugging. This is human nature.
    As I am over 70 ( although not compromised by any health issues) my family and friends have been concerned about me continuing to work. I have had to persuade them by telling them that there will be no more than five people attending, that I will be standing well apart and not shaking hands at the end. It will feel horribly stiff, but that is the only way now. So in a way it will be less risky than going into a shop at the moment.
    However, I will take on no further work. We need better guidance, for all our sakes.

  2. Fran Hall

    I have direct experience of this right now. My husband died on Monday in Brighton – our children are in London and therefore we are unable to attend even a small funeral. He will have a direct cremation… at some point in the future we will have a memorial service. But we can’t mourn together, nor mark this rite of passage. I am also an independent celebrant. It’s all frightening and heartbreaking.

  3. Fran Hall

    Genuinely has brought me to tears, because it’s right. I have witnessed all of this and it is too difficult to manage as it is. Funeral directors are not the police, the government need to be clear now for the sake of the bewildered grieving people and for the sake of us working to carry out our duties safely.

  4. Fran Hall

    Absolutely true – I have already emailed my local MP imploring the same message. I am not able to physically help my families as I am self-isolating but I could talk to them and write their story for use later on – that would at least give them the opportunity to express their thoughts and feelings. Talking as we know is good and starts the grieving process. I think it’s just a matter of time before the Government intervene – I hope they do.

  5. Fran Hall

    I’m a celebrant in the wilds of West Wales. We feel secluded, but we’re not.
    The very act of putting a ceremony together can be cathartic. It could be shared online at the moment of a “committal only” ceremony. You’re right Human nature, at this time especially, does not allow social distancing. It needs to be imposed.

  6. Fran Hall

    Sadly I have to agree with you. I have an elderly mum currently in lock down at the nursing home where she lives. If she were to pass away during the next 12 weeks, we as a family would mourn her loss deeply. A cremation is what she wants and what she would get. Alone to keep others safe.
    There will be time to celebrate her life in the future, when times are different. She would hate to think that being at her funeral had caused any one of her friends or family to become unwell.
    I personally think that this may become the norm, let’s wait and see

  7. Fran Hall

    I hear what you say in your post and as a Celebrant I am sad to have to adjust what I previously offered families.
    And it’s hard but all the staff I work alongside are excellently following guidelines and ensuring all do too rather that than distressing families further by not allowing them to be at their loved ones funeral.
    Delaying practically would be difficult for funeral homes etc but just unimaginable pain would cause to families already robbed of so much.
    Caroline Carr Celebrant

  8. Fran Hall

    This is such a strong and sensible argument and everyone needs to listen to it. I have been arguing for a dis-aggregation of the funeral. Separate the disposal of the body from the other parts of the funeral. The remembrance and celebration can be better carried out when all this is over and people can come together at a tune and place that suits them. Religious and cultural rituals similarly can be separated from the rest of the funeral. And the reminder of our own mortality which encourages reflection on the meaning of life is surely already in everybody’s mind already. Thank you Fran for such a thought provoking article. .

  9. Fran Hall

    Being a Cemetery Operative, and therefore considered a ‘key worker’, little mention has been made of the potential dangers faced by staff having to deal with burials on a daily basis.
    At present, my employer’s ‘efforts’ at protecting workers from potential Covid-19 has been to put up posters advising staff to wash their hands and the provision of some out of date, antibacterial (!) alcohol free (!!) hand gel. And that’s it. Business as usual (apparently).

  10. Fran Hall

    I’m sorry but I really don’t agree with this. We lost my beloved step-dad on Wednesday and are only allowed a burial for a maximum of ten immediate family members (no service, no wake) next Friday. It’s not ideal but better than nothing and if we couldn’t hold this next week, we would be denied closure in every form. It’s hard enough that we have no visitors from friends or family members at the moment, no-one bringing round casseroles or food to help, we struggle to get milk to make ourselves a cup of tea for consolation etc but to take away the funeral in it’s entirety would just be too painful. Most people who are grieving have been in isolation for days anyway so will not be causing a great risk to attend the funeral, in our case we nursed my step-dad who was having palliative care at home for ten of the most painful days but it means that all of our burial attendees will have been in complete isolation for over two weeks so is not ‘unsafe’ for us to meet for the funeral. Surely something is better than nothing?!

  11. Fran Hall

    Here is a letter I had published in today’s (27th March) ‘Wrstern Mail’:

    Celebrate lives in a meaningful manner

    As a retired humanist funeral celebrant, I offer my sincere condolences to anyone having to arrange or attend a funeral in the current exceptional and difficult circumstances.

    Restrictions are already in place limiting the number of mourners allowed to attend a funeral, and it has also been suggested that funerals could be held with no-one present, which may seem a strange and sad possibility to many of us. But it is an option that can actually lead to a more meaningful, comforting celebration of life. In over 30 years, I regularly officiated at celebrations held in pubs and clubs, hotels, care homes and people’s own homes. This was because the families concerned realised that, despite the best efforts of staff and the availability of music, visual tributes and, nowadays, online streaming facilities, crematorium chapels can be quite bleak, austere places, and the time available may be as little as 25 minutes.

    The alternative is to arrange for a cremation or burial with no-one present. Then, at a suitable time when the immediate shock and feelings of numbness and unreality have worn off, or when the current crisis is over, a celebration can be held at a favourite venue in more informal and relaxed surroundings.

    I recall the funeral celebration of a man who had been cremated a few days before, with no-one present. The urn containing his ashes had pride of place at the top table in his local club, with the cap he always wore, the tools of his trade and a bottle of his favourite tipple.

    Everything was properly managed, but family and friends could have a drink, join in some favourite songs and relax enough to recount memories they probably wouldn’t have wanted to share in a crematorium. That’s just one example of how, with an experienced celebrant at the helm, the emphasis can be on celebrating what was, rather than grieving for what is no more.

    Nothing can diminish the immediate impact of losing a loved one, especially where a death was unexpected, premature or avoidable, but a life celebration held at a suitable time afterwards can help, by reminding us of good times, happy memories and a shared appreciation of life. In the end, what matters more than someone’s death is that they lived and were the unique and special person they were.

    Richard Paterson,

  12. Fran Hall

    I am burying my husband on Wednesday, and we had a tough 2 years while he fought on. Whilst we have been told we cant have a service we have accepted that immediate family can go to the graveside and myself and my 5 year old need to do this. Having a closed burial is not going to help either of us. I understand that we have stand 2m apart from the other 5 guests and I am willing to do so just to be there. Bereaved people need to have something even if it’s just the burial, please dont ask for that to be taken away too.

  13. Fran Hall

    I’m a Funeral Celebrant and I agree clarification from the Govt is desperately needed, not least on the issue of prepaid funeral plans and whether the underwriters will refund elements of plans not used. Clients are feeling ripped off as well as distressed by the restrictions in place.

    I know live-streaming of funeral ceremonies has been mooted but it’s simply not practical for many. Celebrants are ready to deliver funerals this way but it may feel equally as dismal and the communal comforting of an attended funeral is lost. Would the Celebrant be present with the deceased or sitting behind their own computer delivering a service remotely?

    I think direct cremations (? and unattended burials?) will be more likely. One way to ease the distress this will cause is for celebrants to work with families at the time of death to craft the memorial service, as if the full funeral ceremony were taking place.

    This captures the grief and raw emotion of now, impossible to recreate authentically in the future. Crafting a funeral ceremony helps those bereaved to move through the stages of grieving – it’s not just about the funeral itself. By crafting the memorial service along the lines and timescale of the funeral people will benefit psychologically. From a practical perspective it prevents a logjam in the availability of Celebrants when normality returns and maintains an income stream for self-employed Celebrants, many of whom rely entirely on funeral celebrancy.

    Funeral Directors might not usually be involved with memorial service planning but they desperately want to help families with this so would hopefully advise the bereaved of this as an option and either book a Celebrant as now or advise clients to research celebrants in the area?

    The ashes of a cremated person or some other symbolic item could be included in the memorial ceremony which would enable the focus a coffin provides to be replicated as appropriate.

    The memorial ceremony would be approved now by the client and then they don’t have to worry about it as the time passes. It would be lodged with professional associations or FDs in case a new Celebrant to deliver were required. Once the memorial ceremony date is known, the ceremony script could be updated or enhanced as the client chooses.

    Once this crisis is over, it will be a time of great thanksgiving. Memorial services might be the first time joyful reunions and gatherings take place. The deceased is then included in the marking of the end of the crisis, the grief of loved ones may have changed but any guilt will be assuaged by the knowledge the memorial will include an acknowledgment and recognition of the way things felt at the time of the death.

    Celebrants can be better utilised during this crisis and have already shown their desire to help families any way they can, including crafting and delivering religious/civil fusion graveside services when the Church has been unable to help as the family expected. We don’t want to leave families with their unexpressed grief and guilt when attended funerals are stopped as they surely shortly will be.

  14. Fran Hall

    Yes, the situation is completely heartbreaking, but I agree with this. Already one lonely death in the (wider) family, and no one knowing what to do, as it’s a large family, and one that would not be able to resist hugging one another. And, yes, who’d be included and who excluded? A complete prohibition on funerals is the kindest form of cruelty, I believe – with alternative imaginative alternatives put in place.

  15. Fran Hall

    I am shocked and saddened by, so many deaths from this dreadful disease, my husband and I are elderly and have paid in full for a Mass followed by burial, in the current climate, where we would have no choice but creamation unattended by our loved ones. We would bow to the inevitable, knowing not only would we be keeping our loved ones safe but also knowing God understands.
    I would like to know how our funeral plans will work as cremation and no Mass would cost a lot less we have paid for a burial plot also?
    How would our children go about claiming any refund?

  16. Fran Hall

    Whilst appreciating the points made in this post, I would want to suggest the following for consideration:

    Especially for Covid-19 patients, many families will already have been deeply traumatised by the brutal reality of having to leave their loved one in hospital to die alone. Already they will have been deprived of having been able to offer that precious ministry of presence and comfort at the bedside of a dying grandparent, parent or child. This has been poured out to me by two such families already, in heartbreaking detail. So to further deny closest family the right to be present as their loved one tangibly and finally leaves this world could be seen as compounding the pain and distress to an extent that for some will be utterly unbearable. This is certainly the view of those to whom I have already been in contact in order to plan a small but kind and loving farewell.

    Given the fast-evolving nature of the crisis, it is inevitable that policy around the country will not be quite uniform. It does seem, however, that a majority of crematoria have managed to enable immediate family to attend funeral services, whilst abiding by Government regulations. A little humour may even be injected. I commenced a ceremony where chairs were set out similarly to your photograph: “Really sorry but Boris broke in here earlier today and messed up the chairs. Nevertheless, we are now going to honour and remember Mum with real love and appreciation.”

    My experience as a minister and celebrant so far is that, despite the deep and undeniable sadness that more cannot attend in person, families have been relieved and grateful still to be permitted to say their goodbyes in a straightforward and tangible fashion. Webcasting and recording of services, along with written transcripts made available for distribution in advance of the ceremony, are additional ways of including the wider family and friends. How ever commendable the intention of planning a larger thanksgiving/memorial in the future may be, I suspect that any such gathering would still be tinged with the lingering regret: “No one was there to say goodbye.”

    In the desperately sad scene evoked by the famous lyrics of Lennon and McCartney’s song:

    “Eleanor Rigby
    Died in the church and was buried along with her name
    Nobody came.”

    At least she had Father McKenzie to offer a blessing and commend her into God’s merciful keeping. Likely more than would be done if funerals are “stopped.”

    Lucy Denyer wrote in The Telegraph last week of recently joining in a church funeral via video. She acknowledges the strangeness of the situation. Then she adds:

    “Yet there was an intense sense of reality about this particular service. As the daughter of our friend put it when I spoke to her, ‘We had this freedom, because it was just us. There was no having to think about guests or caterers.’ And so they could focus fully on celebrating a life well lived and the rest of us had the privilege of joining in. And at the end of the funeral, when the prayers were said, there was a beautiful stillness. I listened to the birds. I whispered the words of ‘The Lord’s Prayer.’ And i was grateful to have been there, in whatever form I could.”

  17. Fran Hall

    Absolutely right. The current mess is dividing families, those in the industry and crucially it’s dangerous.
    A gathering is a gathering. And the emotions at funerals makes this impossible to manage. I’ve walked away from it all. Am I infected ? Don’t know. Are they? They don’t know either.
    Instead of a compassionate national response, we’re left with disarray as everyone interprets everything, every way.

  18. Fran Hall
    Sue Marshall-Jennings

    Thank you for your courage in saying this.
    Many will die due to COVID-19 and people are still dying due to other illnesses but – either way – I am sure none of them would wish for their friends and relatives to be put at risk. There are many ways to honour the life of a loved one and often that can be done better at a later time when people are able to reflect much more on what that person meant to them and when not suffering from the shock and distress at the time of their death.

  19. Fran Hall

    A lot of things are happening via an app called zoom e.g exercise and chat etc. Each meeting has an individual ID so the service is recorded. Maybe with one piece of music and a nice picture. A member of the family is given their link and passes it out to family and friends to come in to the service virtually. Would help people to cope maybe.

  20. Fran Hall

    so Cremation is the only option we have? Cremation is up and up and up? I want to mourn my family member without this virus hanging over everyones head. Like you say We come together to grieve as a family, a community, a society who stands together to bear witness to the loss of one of our own. We reach out our hands and our arms to comfort and hold each other, we lean on each other for support and safety. We weep together, we rest our heads against familiar loving shoulders and feel the warmth of strong arms holding us upright. This is what a funeral is. We need to say GOOD BYE.

  21. Fran Hall

    I heard somewhere today that if a person dies from this virus the body is doubled wrapped in plastic sheeting and put straight into a body bag with no viewing allowed, and that coffins must be sealed. How does this impact on graveside burials in natural burial grounds when coffins are usually of willow etc . I am appalled at the idea.

    1. Fran Hall

      Janet, thank you for raising this as this was so distressing for me to hear when I was informed that my father could not buried in his own or new clothes but it would be in a body bag!! This almost broke me. This is not being respectful of the dead! (code of practice for FDs). It might explain why we are not allowed to view at any time.

      The Funeral Directors to my knowledge have full protective garments from top to toe. So why, particularly after isolation period of 14 days, can they still not perform the presentation of the deceased for burial. I must point out that I in no way would want anyone to be put at risk of this virus but I assumed that after 14 days it would be safe enough to prepare the body, especially if the funeral is weeks away.

      It begs the question, what happens when they die in hospital of this disease? How is the body stored etc. The government have failed to make very clear guidelines in regards to this. There should be no room for a mixed interpretation. Why should one Funeral Director be doing something opposite to another Funeral Director in such times. People are already suffering having lost loved ones to Coronavirus. With closed lids and no photo taken of the deceased – anything goes! We have to trust that our loved one is being buried as respectably as possible and to have no mourners there is not even a consideration! There has to be at least 2 present!

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