Rennie is a Funeral Director in Burnie, Tasmania. In this article, she discusses the impacts that COVID-19 can have on a family once someone has died. Funerals are essentially a celebration of our human existence, both within the family group, and also the wider community. They are an incredibly important opportunity for people to meet together to honour the life of the person who has died. A funeral that totally meets these needs, in an authentic way, can provide a huge psychological boost to the family, for weeks (months) after it has taken place.
For this reason, the necessary restrictions regarding funerals during the COVID-19 epidemic has been for some families, almost catastrophic. To only choose 10 people out of a family group that may number 40-50 (thinking of grandchildren, nieces, nephews, cousins, and others) to attend, is distressing to say the least. To not be able to include sporting and service organizations, with whom the deceased person had a lifelong connection, has caused much heartache.
Some families have planned a second service to be held after restrictions have been lifted, only to find that they are unable to endure the emotional strain of a second event. They feel robbed and cheated out of the funeral they (and their loved one) had envisaged. Many funeral companies provide live streaming of the funeral, and while this has many advantages (people can watch in real time or at a later time), however with so few people in attendance changes the way that a funeral ‘feels’. During the pandemic, pre-planning is still very much advised.
For families who have lost someone to COVID-19, they may also be further traumatized by:
- the inability to visit and support their loved one during their dying, or only having a one hour visit right at the very end. Leaving their loved one in the care of strangers (wonderful medical staff, but still strangers), feeling like they are distanced and not involved in their care, as indeed they are.
- being in isolation themselves due to testing, therefore feeling distanced
- not being able to view the deceased. Some Departments of Health have issued instructions to Funeral Directors, forbidding them to open body bags, and perform any mortuary preparation and dressing of the deceased.
- the daily, incessant stream of media stories of COVID-19 related issues means that traumatized/stressed people cannot escape the constant barrageof stories.
All of the above, means that, sadly, the risk of mental health issues down the track is increased.
For the Funeral Director, the arrangements being conducted by phone and email, rather than face-to-face, means that we find it harder to build a connection with our families. The incessant cleaning and sanitization of premises has added to our costs, as well as recording names and phone numbers of every person who attends a funeral, for future possible contact tracing, increases our workload, and the annoyance of the general public.
We have had to implement new strategies and equipment, for live streaming. We have had to examine every task that we perform (as has nearly every other business) to see if it meets safe COVID-19 guidelines. It has not been an easy time for any of us.
However, we are still committed to serving our families and our communities to the very best of our abilities!