***UPDATE*** Gloucestershire crematoriums have amended their restrictions to include just a few family mourners. Check with your funeral director or look on the relevant website for more detailed information
In a world where everything is changing by the day, if not the hour, in response to the Covid 19 virus, the way funerals are conducted is no exception. As staff in the funeral industry, including us celebrants, seek to protect ourselves and others, measures to support social distancing have been increasing over the last few weeks.
I am no longer seeing families in their homes to talk about their loved ones and plan farewell ceremonies with them. Instead we are relying upon the telephone, Skype or WhatsApp to develop a relationship and agree content.
Local crematoria had already removed hymn books and restricted the number of people allowed to attend services, as well as providing additional hygiene measures such as providing wipes to clean the lectern, buttons etc. Two of the three Gloucestershire crematoria, Cheltenham and Gloucester, have today announced that from this Wednesday no family mourners will be allowed to attend until further notice and it is anticipated that others will follow suit.
As you might imagine, however necessary, this is a devastating situation for bereaved families. Not being able to say a proper goodbye to a loved one adds further to the grief and sense of loss. Reactions have been mixed, with some families distraught and others relieved a decision has been made as they were struggling to know what to do for the best.
A saving grace to this agonising situation is that most crematoria, and certainly all the ones in Gloucestershire and South Gloucestershire, have facilities to live stream and/or record ceremonies. The usual additional costs for this are being waived. This means that whilst far from ideal, families can at least feel there is a connection between themselves and the ceremony, albeit at a distance. As a celebrant I feel both the honour and the weight of responsibility being the ‘human’ connection ‘on the spot’.
It is also anticipated some families will opt for direct cremation without a ceremony at this point, then have a memorial or celebrant of life ceremony at a later date when friends and family are able to gather.
However bereaved families chose to deal with the situation facing them, my hope for them is that they are able to draw at least some comfort from feeling they have done the best they could for their loved one in these extenuating circumstances.