Life after Lockdown – The Funeral Celebrant

Still not something we like to think about – but we really should. The Thanatologist’s previous post (‘The Memory Lives Forever’) is here.

Less Can be More – by the Thanatologist

When I wrote my last guest post for this blog, I was feeling very sad. I had just delivered several funerals that felt bleak, with only a very few mourners or even no mourners at all, with limited ceremonies and little feeling that we were celebrating a life.

What’s changed? Undoubtedly there have been some changes; the number of mourners has increased for a start. Some crematoria decided they could allow greater numbers and still have social distancing; some relaxed the ‘curtains must be closed’ rule they had imposed. It’s a really emotive point for many families, and I had to get creative with ‘we will close them but only at the absolute last minute’ solutions.

But my attitude and those of my clients has also changed.

At first I found it difficult to get a life story over the phone, but I have now learned new skills and new tactics. To my relief, many of my clients prefer a simple phone call to a video meeting! It’s not the same as seeing someone at home, but there’s a huge saving in travelling time and fuel.

I have had a couple of funerals that felt almost ‘normal’ – despite limited numbers my clients decided to hold a full celebration, with family and friends delivering tributes and with lots of music. Webcasting and live streaming has now become normal, allowing people to watch from home.

Yes, there are still some limitations: no limousines, still not more than 20 mourners, no opportunity to touch the coffin on leaving or lay flowers upon it; at burials, the coffin is being lowered straight away rather than at the end of the service meaning it’s barely visible while I’m speaking.

But clients seem to have accepted the situation. Of course, there are a few who have tried to bend the rules, additional mourners sneaking in at the back and so on. I turn a blind eye where I can. I’m frankly astounded at the number of mourners who have arrived at a service wearing face masks – and then rush to embrace other family members who are clearly not in the same household! But that’s up to them.

Last week I did a very simple funeral – my client chose to have no flowers, a very short tribute and no music at all. This was nothing to do with Covid-19, it was just what she wanted and what she felt her sister would have wanted. And do you know what? It was beautiful and very moving. Silence is powerful.

I am grateful that I have been able to work throughout the pandemic and I am also glad that work is now quieter. I want to see friends, I want to be able to go out for meals and go to the theatre and sing with my choir again, but I don’t want to go back to the busy and sometimes complicated life I was leading.

And these difficult times have also changed the way that I view funeral services. I know now that a simple service can be just as moving as one with a lot of detail. It’s a cliché of course, but sometimes less is more. That is the lesson I have learned through Covid-19.

Watch out for more ‘Life after Lockdown’ guest blogs over the next few days.

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