Reflections on the lockdown from a Funeral Director

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Who could have imagined the world in which we find ourselves just 3 or 4 months ago? I had a conversation with a colleague about the situation in Wuhan. “We’ve been here before” I said; “Swine Flu, Bird Flu, SARS and so on. It won’t spread to different climates - it can’t travel far quickly. They’ll find a vaccine, this sort of thing happens every flu season”, were amongst the reassurances I offered having been involved in Pandemic Flu planning for some years. If someone had told me that by late March the nation would be asked to stay in their homes to stop the spread in the UK I simply wouldn’t have believed them.

The extent to which we’ve seen the world change around us so quickly was simply inconceivable, yet already many of the chose changes now feel somehow normal. 2 metre spacings in supermarket queues, meetings being held by video call, half empty streets and offices, all of these have overnight seemingly become everyday life.

Funeral service has continued throughout lockdown and will continue to provide support to families experiencing bereavement both as part of the pattern of life, as well as those who have a family member fall victim of this ghastly virus.

Somehow the emotional toll of providing our service to our communities seems to have been greater in the last couple of months than ever before. That is not to say as funeral directors we are not moved by every funeral we’re involved in, as to be successful there is a base level of compassion and understanding of the impact grief has required. Yet in the present circumstances we’re acutely aware that every scenario seems to have a level of tragedy which leaves a deeper mark than usual.

It’s frustrating when the restrictions imposed are so incompatible with your own human instincts. A reassuring hand on the shoulder, a hug from a friend or close family member. These are all the small gestures of comfort that we offer to one another without a thought. Right now, unless you are from the same household, all of these are off the agenda. Even a reassuring and affable shake of the hands before leaving is not allowed. We English can be socially awkward at the best of times and bereft of the devices we use in the place of words or to break an uncomfortable silence, makes these interactions feel more stilted and emotionally challenging than ever. Your choice of words never more important.

But there are a few positives which we must embrace and hold onto as the human spirit shines a light that reassures that maybe everything will be ok. Families and communities are finding new and ingenious ways to support each other. Virtual funeral receptions are being hosted on Zoom in lieu of physical gathering, communities are lining the street (at a socially appropriate distance) to clap the passing hearse or simply standing and bowing their heads in respect in their front garden. Small acts of personalisation and meaningful gestures that reassure grieving families they’re not alone, that the person who died is loved and will be missed are having a profoundly positive impact. That their community, friends and family will be there for them in the days, weeks and months to come, goes some way towards healing the void.

These random acts of kindness towards bereaved people and also towards us as funeral professionals quite simply mean the world. Gifts of food or posies of flowers left on the doorstep of the funeral home or hand delivered with a note simply saying “thank you” somehow makes everything worthwhile. They remind us that the service we provide is valued, that the comfort and support we offer does not go unnoticed and maybe (when this epidemic is behind us) society will be a kinder place more aware of the needs of each other whatever our circumstance.

By Jeremy Field, Managing Director at CPJ Field