Funeral directors turn to new ways for families to say goodbye
- Credit: Rosedale Funeral Home
Online funerals, personalised services and protective gear for staff are among the lengths funeral directors are having to go to give meaningful ways for mourners to say goodbye to loved ones.
The way we deal with death has changed since the coronavirus outbreak, which has made it increasingly difficult for Norfolk undertakers to arrange ceremonies and has put additional strain on families at the most stressful of times.
Restrictions on social gatherings means funeral services are being held under extreme limitations, with just very immediate family permitted to attend.
Anne Beckett-Allen, co-founder and director of Rosedale Funeral Home, which has branches in Wymondham, Diss, Beccles and Bungay, said: “We have encouraged families to focus on the positive choices that they are still able to make and in the main they have used the extra time during lockdown to plan truly meaningful services.
MORE: What you need to know about arranging a funeral during lockdown“Some families have chosen not to attend the funeral rather than make the difficult decision over who to include or exclude and others have embraced the idea of a virtual funeral on Zoom where all the family can gather together online and share memories, music and readings.
“Families have been really understanding that we have been unable to offer all our usual services and many of them are planning memorial services at a later date.”
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Until the end of March, it was recommended that funeral directors wear full personal protective equipment (PPE) while working with the dead. Public Health England then released updated, industry-specific guidelines that said gowns and respirators were not necessary.
Mrs Beckett-Allen said: “It was very hard in the early days when there was a lot of confusion about the restrictions, but since clear guidelines have been set out we have been able to support the bereaved in a much more positive way.
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“We have asked people not to visit the funeral home unless absolutely necessary and we have spent thousands of pounds on PPE and hand sanitiser for the team.
“Many of our bearing team are over 70, so they have had to stay at home, and some of our staff are working from home while others are unable to work because they have no childcare and have to home school their children.”
MORE: Live Zoom theatre show amid coronavirus crisis for Dying Matters Awareness WeekPaul Allcock, of the Norwich-based Allcock Family Funeral Services, said: “It must be traumatic for families and for us it is having to still get people through the process. Having to tell people their friends and distant relatives cannot come to funerals is really difficult, especially at this time.”
Dignity, which operates more than 800 funeral locations across the UK, said that the proportion of clients choosing a “simple” funeral had significantly increased while the Co-op, which carries out 100,000 funerals a year, warned that some funeral homes could go bust without government support.
Mrs Beckett-Allen said: “Our experience hasn’t been that funerals have necessarily been simpler, indeed we have helped families to organise some very creative funerals that have still managed to involve the community, and we have had requests for our bicycle hearse, a horse drawn hearse and a flat bed lorry as well as some beautiful coffins of bluebells and sunflowers.
“I think funeral homes in general have struggled with not being able to do everything a family requests, we are used to bending over backwards to accommodate specific requests, and we find it very hard to say no to people who are grieving because it goes against all the reasons why we are working in the profession - to help people.”
‘We were still able to celebrate his life’ - family on funeral during coronavirus
Derek LeFevre was a much-loved father, grandfather and great-grandfather. He was well known as a specialist plasterer working in stately homes including Holkham Hall.
After retirement, he was a popular character at Top Farm Equestrian Centre in Weston Longville and lived close to his children and grandchildren.
His funeral would normally have been very well attended. However, restrictions meant his service could only be attended by 10 people, all of whom adhered to social distancing.
Relatives unable to attend as far afield as Majorca, Ibiza and New Zealand watched the service via a webcast.
Despite the restrictions, his daughter Sandra said: “When we put it into perspective, we are still lucky to have been able to have a funeral for him despite it not being quite the send-off he deserves.
“We know right now there are many people losing loved ones to this awful virus that are not even able to have that.
“The service felt so positive in that we were still able to celebrate his life. All my relations who viewed the service online said what a lovely service it was. We all had so many messages on our phones from family who were watching so it felt like they were with us.”