How funerals have changed in lockdown

Saying goodbye to a loved one has become difficult with restrictions imposed on funerals during the coronavirus pandemic. Here, Lauren Everitt, reports how people are paying their respects during lockdown.

New rules were issued by the government detailing how many people could attend funerals in a bid to prevent the spread of COVID-19.  Throughout the Diocese of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich, vicars have found bereaved relatives have been incredibly understanding about the strict rules which limit attendees to members of the person’s household and close family members.

The Revd Tiffer Robinson, Rector of the Benefice of Rattlesden, Brettenham, Thorpe Morieux and Hitcham, said that the lockdown had posed some difficulties but that mourners had been supportive.

“Families have been remarkably understanding and haven’t taken it out on us or blamed us for the restrictions,” he added. “Most clergy have conducted small funerals before but the difference in these times are that these smaller services after often against the wishes of the family who might have had many wider family and friends want to attend. Some families have said they’ve not found it too difficult to not have friends or other relatives there as they wouldn’t have been able to comfort each other because of social distancing.”

Churches have been closed since March, so funerals have only been able to be held in crematoriums or at the graveside with services lasting for only 15 minutes. Mourners in attendance must observe the social distancing guidelines.

Revd Robinson added: “Graveside funerals have obviously worked better as they’re outside in the open which lends itself to people being able to socially distance within their households.  One positive to the current situation is that funerals held at crematoriums have provided the opportunity for services to be livestreamed.  It means that people who live faraway or abroad, who wouldn’t necessarily have been able to attend the funeral, have actually watched the service.  It’s very surreal when you’re talking to a handful of people in front of you with many watching in front of their computer screens at home.”

He said one area of his role that he thought was indispensable was visiting the bereaved person’s family before a funeral. “It is normal practice for me to meet people before a service however it seems they are more than happy to talk things through over the phone,” he added. “It may be something that continues for some people whereas others like the comfort of meeting in their home first.”


Case study: Thankful for more personal service

One of those to arrange a funeral during lockdown was Beth Butcher, from Brettenham, whose dad, Evan Edwards, died suddenly.  The 55-year-old, from Elmsett, had a heart attack and died on March 31 – just over a week after lockdown was enforced. Mrs Butcher, 28, planned the burial with her mum, Susan, which was held at St Mary the Virgin Church in Brettenham.

She said: “We were allowed limited family – up to 10 people – for a 10 to 15-minute service at the graveside. My grandad, who is over 75, was not allowed to come to his own son’s funeral because he’s at high risk of coronavirus. My auntie travelled down from Stoke on Trent for the service but had to travel straight back as we couldn’t have a wake or have her in our homes. We all had to social distance in our household groups around the grave.”

Mrs Butcher, who has two young sons, said the hardest part was not being able to comfort her siblings, mum and auntie.  “There was something almost special about a small funeral,” she added. “Because the only people there were those who absolutely loved him, it was a lot more personal. “We didn’t do a traditional eulogy, but we wrote down every raw feeling and memories of dad which Tiffer read out and was very meaningful. We made up for a scaled back funeral in others as dad’s coffin had photos printed all over it. It looked amazing.”

On the day of the funeral, the hearse arrived at Mrs Butcher’s home and everyone walked behind it to the church in socially distanced households, something she described as ‘sobering’.

Mr Edwards leaves behind his wife, four children and two grandchildren.

Page last updated: Wednesday 24th June 2020 3:27 PM
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