Funerals during 'Lockdown'
This particular Death Café was held during the Coronavirus pandemic lockdown.
It was held using Google Meet to overcome the social distancing issues associated with a physical gathering. Nonetheless, we came prepared with a cuppa and the occasional nibble.
Key issues discussed:
· People are feeling a greater sense of their own mortality at present
· One funeral director is offering monthly peer bereavement support groups, which are open to all, regardless of whether they have used the company’s services.
· There has been a significant increase in the number of deaths in the Leeds area’s Jewish community, rising from 2-3 per week to 2-3 per day. Funerals are attended by the Rabbi and next of kin only, but members of the Jewish Community may mark the deaths with prayers or rituals in their own homes.
· There is general concern about the lack of contact for older people. However, some were encouraged that local communities had leapt to the challenge and formed informal support networks to ensure people were getting what they needed.
· With regard to funerals, local councils are behaving very differently. The situation is dynamic and demands close communication between funeral directors, celebrants and families to manage expectations and devise creative solutions. Arrangements made prior to a change in guidance are tending to be honoured.
· Crematorium staffing levels are very lean and so it is vitally important to consider their safety and wellbeing.
· Many people are stoical about the situation and opting for a simple committal now and planning a more extensive memorial at a later date. However, the reactions to not being able to hold a large funeral range from devastation to philosophical to relief in some cases.
· Whilst it may not be possible to spend time with a loved one immediately before or after death, people should not be afraid of asking their funeral director what is possible under the current circumstances. Once a funeral director has been chosen, there is a tendency to go down a particular path, but people should explore options. For example, some funeral directors may have the facilities for families to hold a simple ceremony on their premises if this is not possible elsewhere. However, funeral directors are finding it a challenge to keep everyone safe, which is their first priority.
· Families may react very differently to funeral director and crematorium staff wearing protective clothing if called for. Once again it is all about managing expectations and informing people in advance, so they are not taken by surprise.
· There have been some problems with livestreaming funerals ceremonies. Celebrants and Funeral Directors should be aware that the recording starts at the beginning of the allotted time slot and finishes at the end time. It is not edited to remove any conversations that may take place during set up and clearance before the next ceremony.
· The current restrictions on spending time with a loved one prior to death, caring for them after death, mourning them at a funeral, physical contact to offer solace and gathering together to celebrate a life will have a big impact on the grieving process. This is a challenge for everyone involved in the bereavement sector to help people find creative rituals to acknowledge, accept and honour a death that they might not have considered previously.
· However, those planning memorials at a later date may benefit from having more time to think through what they really want, rather than having to cram all the arrangements into a couple of weeks immediately after the death, when their grief is very raw.
· We can also learn from other nations and cultures death practices. For example, we were told that in Malawi, all gatherings and family events, including funerals, are postponed until the dry season as it is vital to spend the maximum time possible working the land during the wet season. There are parallels here in terms of delays to the grief process. No doubt we can learn from the many other rituals that take place around the globe.
· In all probability, we shall be facing a new normal at the end of the pandemic, which may be a positive as it could embrace more diversity and creativity in terms of conversations about death and ways of saying goodbye. Families may gain more control over how they cope with, and celebrate, the death of a loved one and this can lead to new opportunities. The use of technology may increase, albeit recognising that certain faith groups may wish to retain their current funeral practices.
· The discussion rounded off with ways of promoting the Death Café concept more widely. Ideas ranged from linking up with local bereavement services, community groups and local libraries. ‘Good Grief Guiseley’ was noted as a good example.