April 20, 2020

Death in the time of Coronavirus

The world has been turned upside down by the Covid 19 Pandemic. It has impacted our lives and has dramatically altered how I work in the funeral business. The process of dying and death often appears to be veiled, but dealing with it during the time of Coronavirus adds another level of distress. I thought it would be helpful to explain what is happening as the crisis has unfolded and hopefully I can dispel some uncertainty and give some comfort.

When a person dies, the family of the deceased usually contacts a local Funeral Director to make arrangements for the body to be taken from the place of death to a resting place, prior to the funeral. The family discusses what kind of funeral they would like with their Funeral Director, taking the deceased’s beliefs and wishes into consideration. Funeral plans range from a traditional religious service to a bespoke ceremony created by a Funeral Celebrant. At this point it will also be decided whether a burial or cremation will be most appropriate.

I work closely with Funeral Directors who do the most sensitive and considerate work that is often underrated. Once I have confirmed I can take a service for a family, I contact them and arrange to meet. During the meeting I start to form a picture of the deceased and following on from that I can create a meaningful and  personal funeral service – a celebration of the life of the person. One of the major changes now, is that I am unable to meet families face-to-face, apart from in exceptional circumstances. Whenever possible meetings are remote, via Skype, Zoom or video call. If a family member is elderly, hearing-impaired, or unfamiliar with technical devices, we can meet in a garden with plenty of distance between us.

The Funeral Industry is continuously being updated by the Government on changes necessary to keep us safe; by us, I mean Funeral Directors and their staff, Crematoria staff, Funeral Celebrants and of course the limited numbers of people who are currently allowed to attend funerals. As a Funeral Celebrant, my instinct is to want to talk face-to-face to families and give personal, heartfelt support. It is heart-breaking not to be able to do so, but we do our best in difficult circumstances.

At the time of writing, the Surrey and Sussex Crematorium, Kent and Sussex Crematorium and Wealden Crematorium are still allowing funerals to take place. The numbers allowed to attend a funeral are restricted to just ten people. Crematoria services have had to be cut short to enable chapels to be cleaned between services.  Bluebell Cemetery  is still offering live webcasts so that more family and friends can participate remotely. Where live webcasts are not available, services can at least be recorded. At a recent recorded funeral service I read out the contributions of absent family members and spoke directly to them, as though they were in the room with us.

This is all of little comfort at a heightened time of extreme loss, I know, but it is what is happening right now. Across the country, there are reports of Crematoria being closed to the public entirely.  Direct cremation with no family members in attendance is a bleak reality. Should it come to that, I assure you I will do everything in my power to ensure you feel as well connected as is possible to the entire process.

Jessika Hulbert

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