Covid-19 & Funerals in Australia

Living in a Covid-19 world…

Thoughts for today, tomorrow …a month from now…

Thinking ahead… Italy… the entire country is on lock down.

Only one week ago, this would have been unthinkable. Even though it is a reality today, it still seems surreal.

When it comes to looking forward and putting our best foot (feet?) forward now is the time to consider what can be done – by each of us. How can we minimise the impact of the Coronavirus and Covid-19 in the world and the communities in which we live?

And in my world, that is one of grief and loss, of death and dying and of gathering together to celebrate well lived lives.

The world of grief and loss, dying and death and funerals is something most people don’t want to think about at the best of times… but today it might serve you well to think about how funerals, burials and memorials can be done differently in the coming weeks and months… at least until we know how the virus and illness will play out here in Australia.

All the ways we say farewell to loved ones – well most of them – involve us gathering together. Many people in one place. Many people in public and community spaces. It might be that the ways we’re used to being of comfort to one another at funerals and farewells needs to be a bit different for the foreseeable future. It doesn’t mean it will change forever… just for now.

We will be well served to think about how families and friends can provide support and comfort a little differently. About how we can take the pressure of people – especially our elders – to attend services when there is a more than usual risk to their health involved.

In the times we are currently facing, gathering together, hands being held, hugs and kisses given and tears being shed all have the potential to increase the risk of illness, the need for quarantine and social distancing at best …and at worst may result in hospitalisation or death earlier than otherwise may have happened.

As people may choose social distancing or self-quarantine to take care of themselves and others there might be less people physically participating in funerals at all the places people currently say farewell – be it public cemetery chapels, churches or the range of alternate venues that are possible. It may be that some of those venues will be closed – temporarily or for the foreseeable future…

What options exist?

Over the years that I have been involved in leading funerals, memorials and burial services; giving thanks for people’s lives, there has been an increasing accessibility of technological solutions for those who are unable to be present at end of life celebrations or commemorations.

Live streaming of farewell and commemoration events has been one way to allow others to be present at a distance. It might be that you choose to hold a celebrant led, home-based funeral or memorial and live stream the event from your home with only a small number of people gathered. Other people could gather in their homes and so minimise the risk of possible infection across large numbers within your circle of family and friends by being in smaller, more intimate, private environments. This would also mean that people who choose social distancing or are self-quarantined would still be able to be part of the farewell. Different technological platforms can provide different solutions, including allowing those not physically present to deliver eulogies or tributes.

This can also extend to video or writing tributes that can be posted on a FaceBook page or images that can be shared through an Instagram account.

A memorial service at a later date is also another option to consider. An increasing number of families are choosing direct cremation or private burials immediately following a loved one’s death. And after having a bit of breathing room they call me to plan, create and lead a memorial service for them. This gives families the time and reflection space to decide how they can authentically celebrate a person’s life. It also offers opportunities to consider how people feel about being in large gatherings. It can take the pressure off people by not asking them to choose whether to attend a public gathering or not. It might be that announcing that a memorial will be held in the future allows the space for any impacts of Covid-19 to be appropriately handled.

If a memorial service, at a later date, is your preferred option, you might like to consider the co-creation of a Celebration of Life Commemorative Book in the meantime. I present my families with a printable version (PDF) of their loved one’s farewell service in the days following the event. It includes the words I’ve written for the service, as well as any eulogies, tributes or the person’s life story. Ifyou feel those in your loved one’s world would benefit from the opportunity to gather thoughts and stories together, choosing some poems or readings, adding some favourite pictures and then having your loved one’s life story written by a professional writer sooner, rather than later, then the creation of a Commemorative Book is a great option. It can be distributed electronically and then when the time is right you can choose to hold a Memorial Service where everyone can gather together. All the preparation will have been done and people can gather together to give thanks for a well lived life!

So, if it should happen that public options for funerals are suspended, you now have a number of options to consider so you are not left feeling like you have no choice in how you can deal with grief and loss in what may be incredibly challenging times.

Here’s hoping – that if we are all able to be as considerate and sensible as possible – that we won’t get to the point of needing these alternatives. However, should it be necessary I am happy to help with any options you might like to consider, discuss or undertake.

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