Never in my long career in funerals have I witnessed such significant restrictions on the way we say goodbye to our loved ones as we have seen across the nation in recent months.
It has been a time of great loss for our communities and my thoughts are with all those who have been impacted by the loss of a loved one. Sadly, we know first-hand that for thousands of families the restrictions on funeral services have further added to their grief.
It’s in our DNA as funeral directors to do everything within our power to support families. We naturally want to do anything and everything that provides some form of comfort in a time of such loss and grief. For myself and all my colleagues at the Co-op, it remains utterly devastating to have to tell families that due to the restrictions they will be unable to have the tribute they would have wanted for their loved one.
Along with all funeral directors, I could not be prouder of my colleagues who have worked tirelessly through the pandemic to help families navigate through the restrictions. Often this has meant we have had to find new and innovative ways to create a tribute that says a fitting and personal goodbye. Be that through arranging for the hearse to pass by the family home, or by conducting the service outdoors or via live stream.
People lead unique lives and so their funerals should be unique too. There have been so many incredible and inspiring services arranged even in the current climate. I’ve seen everything from a socially distanced service on a farm, to photos of absent mourners on the crematorium chairs. We are of course a long way from returning back to how funerals were conducted in the past, but we have adapted to a new normal, so that we can continue to provide the best possible care to families at the most difficult time of their lives.
Signs that we can begin again to offer more choice to families have come as a great relief. One such example has been the gradual reopening of places of worship and the recent news that the Church of England has provided guidance on how funeral services in their religious settings may be resumed.
Prior to the pandemic, one fifth of all Co-op funerals involved a Church service. During the lockdown we estimate therefore that nationally more than 35,000 families may have been unable to hold funerals in Church as they would have wished. Sadly, this figure will be significantly higher when also taking all other religious settings into account.
Observing religious traditions plays such an important role in the emotional wellbeing of many families at a time of loss. For many, holding funeral services in a place of worship provides them with the opportunity to create a personal and fitting tribute to their loved one and the life they lived. That could be due to the religious beliefs of the person who has died, or something that brings loved ones closer to a comforting memory, such as holding the funeral service in a religious setting where a family marriage took place.
We know that for all places of worship there is so much to navigate and overcome to begin re-opening. With the virus still present in our communities, this of course needs to be approached with caution. It is also not a one size fits all approach. Religious settings differ greatly in terms of capacity and some places of worship attract significantly higher attendance at family services such as funerals.
Although it isn’t a straightforward road ahead, it is my hope that all denominations will work with funeral directors to explore ways to begin offering funeral services again. At the Co-op we will be offering our full support both in terms of sharing our expertise in having conducted socially distanced funerals, and by standing ready with any practical solutions so that services run as smoothly as they can.
Co-operation is more important than ever in these unprecedented times and we’ll continue to work closely with a wide range of organisations including funeral trade associations, crematoria, cemeteries, religious leaders and government to find solutions at a national and local level. By sharing our expertise in conducting funerals safely during the lockdown we hope that together we can give more families the opportunity to say goodbye to their loved ones in the way they wish.
Director of Funerals,