When they come to write the history of the last few years, 2020 is going to be one HUGE chapter; the overriding theme of which will of course be the bolt out of the blue that is the Coronavirus pandemic.
In addition, economic turmoil on a scale not experienced by anyone born since 1945 and the implications of which we may not have seen the extent of yet. We’ve had civil unrest sparked by the death of George Floyd in the USA at the hands of a police officer and the Extinction Rebellion protests prior to that. Not forgetting wildfires on an unparalleled scale across Australia and in California in particular.
In the midst of all this turmoil, I believe our colleagues at CPJ Field have stood like a beacon of hope and optimism in dark days, always thinking about what we can do and how we can achieve things rather than finding a reason not to. Focusing our efforts and energy not only on supporting our customers, but ensuring we look out for each other in the process too.
Separated from our friends and family for the good of all society was a sacrifice we were all willing to make. Supporting grieving people who had been banned from visiting sick relatives before they died we did not expect, but we rose to the challenge.
Sending mothers, brothers, fathers, daughters, grandchildren and so on back to their respective homes after a funeral of “immediate family only”, on their own, to reflect on their loss and grieve alone without the comfort of all their family and friends around them has become a daily pattern of life. So too has standing over to ensure social distancing is maintained (God forbid that a daughter should hug her father in his desolation) between mourners at a service. You’ve taken this all in your stride and have borne the brunt of the emotion and at times exhaustion unwaveringly.
I’m proud that throughout you have continued to allow grieving friends and relatives the chance to say those final goodbyes and pay their respects in our visiting chapels. You have continued to ensure that whether COVID-19 positive or not, deceased people are looked after as if they were one of our own. When others have said no, you’ve said yes, allowing grieving families to feel comforted that the life of the person who has died mattered. That they have marked their death in a meaningful and relevant way as they take their next step forward in a newly shaped life that includes the memory of that person, if not their physical presence.
More than that you’ve innovated and developed new ways for friends and families to comply with the regulations AND support those trying to find their way through loss. Planning routes for funerals, paging through towns and villages where mourners stand in their gardens or by the road clapping and holding up signs. Funeral corteges followed by cyclists, coffins on brewer’s drays or services broadcast online so that others can try to get some sense of the community that we all need when someone we love dies.
You’ve embraced the technology available to us to put households together (virtually) for funeral arrangement meetings, nursing homes together to socialise and compete in quizzes against each other, and encouraged communities young and old to put pen to paper to remind those confined in their homes that they are not forgotten and they are not alone. Moreover, using condolence webpages to create the sense of gathering and sharing memories and stories that is normally achieved face to face.
Amidst this all, we’ve found time to invest in things such as learning; embracing Zoom lessons for distance learning and the opportunities these alternative approaches bring. We’ve developed relationships across the company as we’ve offered help and support to one another in getting the job done and at the same time recognising the relationships we have with others in the parcels and hampers of kindness shared with other care givers and key workers.
A sense of community has grown around the weekly calls and regular team meetings where we can all check in on each other and offer support; many a colleague sharing how it gave them a sense of connection to anchor them during the week. We’ve also recognised the importance of wellbeing during the crisis and have made this a priority which we’ll adhere strictly to moving forwards, as individuals and as a whole.
We have travelled a long way with an open mind and a determination to be the best we can be. Even as the pressure of those days in May and April drift into memory, the continued restrictions on gatherings and requirements for social distancing and face coverings present continued challenges. Planning a unique funeral whilst ensuring compliance and reassuring others that these things can be done is still very much the norm.
It now seems a little naïve to have thought back in March that come September we would be able to recognise your efforts and commitment at our annual company gathering. That said, I think more than ever it is important to have things to look forward to: teams that work hard together should play hard together and sitting down to share a meal together helps to nourish our relationships. It is really disappointing that we’re not able to hold this event this year; I was really looking forward to raising a glass with everyone and celebrating your successes, not least of all as everyone always seems to feel refreshed and recharged after these events.
As we look ahead to the winter and the potential threat of a second wave, try to reflect on your successes. We continue on in our determination to bring love and compassion to our fellow human beings in their moment of need, with our reputation in our communities and with our partners in funeral service (hospitals, coroners, crematoria, cemeteries, etc) enhanced as a result of your efforts. This should continue to be a source of great pride to you – and it certainly is for me.
A prayer for the future: That all the things we’re forced to do now we’ll choose to do in the future. When life returns to a stable state, may we continue the good things we’re doing, appreciate those around us, challenge ourselves to serve others and find ways to get things done.