Please, stop now

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.

0 0 vote
Article Rating
guest

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

28 Comments
Newest
Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Janet Brodrick
Janet Brodrick
4 months ago

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.

debbie Johnson
debbie Johnson
3 months ago
Reply to  Janet Brodrick

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… Read more »

Micah Jung
Micah Jung
4 months ago

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… Read more »

Sue Whitlock
Sue Whitlock
4 months ago

So you are suggesting unaccompanied burial/cremation with a memorial service later?

Fiona Jardine
Fiona Jardine
4 months ago

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.

Sue Marshall-Jennings
Sue Marshall-Jennings
4 months ago

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.

Mike Kinnaird
Mike Kinnaird
4 months ago

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.

Andrew Bryant
4 months ago

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… Read more »

Katherine Mclaird
Katherine Mclaird
4 months ago

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… Read more »

Kate Compston
Kate Compston
4 months ago

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.

John Ashton
John Ashton
4 months ago

Fran please could you email me details ? Many thanks John

Li Mills
Li Mills
4 months ago

Thank you for bravely saying what needed saying, however hard it is for people to hear.

Jodie McCombie
4 months ago

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… Read more »

Hayley
Hayley
4 months ago

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… Read more »

Richard Paterson
Richard Paterson
4 months ago

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,… Read more »

Cassie Louise
Cassie Louise
4 months ago

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… Read more »

Philip Evans
4 months ago

Brilliant Fran. Our sentiments entirely.

Withheld
Withheld
4 months ago

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).

John Birrell
John Birrell
4 months ago

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… Read more »

Belinda
Belinda
4 months ago

I am a celebrant, and I agree with you Fran.

Caroline Carr
Caroline Carr
4 months ago

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

Nixie James-Scott
4 months ago

Thank you Fran…

Angela
Angela
4 months ago

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… Read more »

Helen Williams
4 months ago

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.

Ann Wynn
4 months ago

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.

Clare
4 months ago

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.

Karen Archer
Karen Archer
4 months ago

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.

Anne Wellings
Anne Wellings
4 months ago

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.… Read more »