What do you do when Covid-19 is turning funerals into ‘view-nerals’?
“If we can’t all be there then why bother?”
“We don’t want to make people watch the service on a screen.”
“We’ll hold a memorial later…”
These are just three reasons I’ve heard from families about why they are not going ahead with any symbolic farewell or ritual for their loved ones in the ‘here and now’.
Since the introduction of Covid-19 Federal and State based restrictions on the number of attendees at funerals – for the health and safety of all Australians – there has been a marked drop in the number of funerals, burials and memorials being held. It’s not a surprise but it has tremendous significance.
Every day for the past four years I have been working with death, dying and grief. During that time, I have immersed myself in learning as much as I can about death, dying and grief and the rituals and practices that exist around the world and those that we hold dear here in Australia. And without question the way we mourn the passing, and celebrate the life, of those we love matters. It matters that we take the time to acknowledge our loss, our grief, our sadness. It matters that we don’t turn away from the existence, the presence of grief in our life. All the memorials, burials and funerals you have been to in the past are all proof of why acknowledging the death of a person we know, love or admire is so important. It is vital that we stop… that we take the time to acknowledge our loss. To step toward some way of accepting that life will be significantly different in all the days and years ahead.
Here’s the thing that concerns me…
In these extraordinary days we are living in; in the social, physical, financial and emotional challenges we are experiencing to varying degrees postponing funerals, memorials or burials, any end of life acknowledgements means that we might not be looking our grief directly in the face. After the practicalities of organising a direct cremation or an unattended burial are made – both options mean that no one is, or will be, present to acknowledge the end of person’s life. There more to this than meets the eye – particularly a grieving eye.
Seeing delayed grief in some members of the families I have delivered services for – those people who push aside their grief, deny their loss and jump straight back into life as if nothing is different – and how it shows up later is an important factor in deciding how to progress should someone you love pass away during the current restrictions or when no mourners are allowed to attend funeral services at all. Whether it’s six months, a year or two years later unacknowledged loss and grief will rise up when it is least expected and hit harder than it otherwise might. Either way these grief support resources might help.
How we organised funerals in the days before Covid-19.
- You’d engage a funeral director. They’d take care of all the practicalities.
- If you’re having a religious service, you’ll know or be connected with the relevant person. If you’re having a humanist or secular (non-religious) service, you’ll either know your preferred celebrant or your funeral director will connect you with one they think is best fit for your family. (Or you can call me.)
- Sticking with the celebrant path – cos that’s what I do and know – you would then, with my assistance, go about crafting, collecting, writing, expressing your thoughts and feelings, your memories and experiences to be created into a beautiful and fitting tribute for your loved one.
- The service would be conducted with everyone present with some time afterwards to continue to share your personal memories over a bite to eat and something to drink.
- You walk away feeling like you have taken one step – perhaps even one giant leap – on the journey of your forever changed life without your loved one.
Here’s how you can manage mourning, grief and loss in the time of Covid-19.
You can choose to create a service with a funeral celebrant; capturing all the memories and stories of family and friends, prepare the story of your loved one’s life, choose poetry, music and photos – all the things you would do if you were going to hold a service that everyone can attend! It can be shared – I prepare a PDF document that can be distributed amongst family and friends prior to the service so people can have it on hand during a streamed service or while they are watching a recording of the service.
You can choose to go ahead with a funeral, memorial or burial with the limited number of mourners (currently that is TEN plus officiants, funeral directors and cemetery staff in Victoria. Check your state of territory. This may change at any point, particularly if family and friends ignore the current limit. As at April 1 consideration is being given to whether the rule is being ignored by mourning families and what actions might result from that.)
You can have the service live streamed for ‘in time’ viewing and/or record the service for distribution through the many available online services currently available. The next stage of restrictions will likely see services being conducted but with mourners only able to participate remotely, online.
And then, when restrictions are lifted a wonderful memorial can be conducted utilising the original service planned or make changes and inclusions should you wish to. The depth of feeling will have been captured by preparing your loved one’s farewell in the ‘here and now’. Once you’ve planned in the ‘here and now’, you’ll be ready to hold a memorial as soon as you’re able. And more importantly, with all the planning having taken place you will be more likely to go ahead with the kind of send off you would have had had Covid-19 not hit our shores.
The Covid-19 Delayed Grief Pattern
If you don’t plan for, or hold, a send-off later… be aware of all the unexpressed grief that can flow out when you least expect it or when you are least prepared for it.
I write this as families are calling me to let me know their mum or their dad have died; that they want me to deliver the service in the future, but they won’t worry about planning it until ‘later’. My concern is that you be able to experience and express your loss and grief in the ‘here and now’, so it doesn’t come back like a tsunami later.
Funerals have been a part of the rich tapestry of ways that we deal with the loss of those we love. Don’t think that going through with as much of the planning and sharing as possible won’t make a significantly positive difference to how loss and grief are dealt with in your world.
…to share these thoughts with those you know, who experience the death of a loved one, over the coming months. Feel free to talk to me about the other ways I can help you navigate and walk through death, dying and grief in the time of Covid-19.
My wish for you is that you be well in all the ways you possibly can.
We have just one life…
Independent Funeral Information | Life Story Collector & Writer | End of Life Tributes | Easier End of Life Experiences | Funeral, Memorial and Burial Celebrancy
Just One Life… doing and designing dying and death differently and with dignity and distinction.
For more information on doing dying and death differently or to start thinking about how to handle a death of a loved one before you are overtaken by grief, organise a conversation with Jacqui today.
Call +61 (0)412 741 531 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
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Jacqui Chaplin is a Lifetime Commemoration Specialist and funeral celebrant in Melbourne, Australia. She loves capturing stories of the nature of life and being human and celebrating and commemorating well lived lives and lives that have ended. Jacqui has a passion for bringing the conversations that many of us find difficult to think about, let alone speak about, out in the open so we can see how our stories, values and beliefs influence our attitudes and thinking on dying, death, mourning and grief.