Tough stories of fragmented mourning in Australia, due to Covid-19, have been shared with us this week. People are improvising in response.
A small group in one case used Facetime to share an important graveside moment, even though they wouldn’t normally. Another family have embalmed the deceased in the hope that this means they can have a full funeral when restrictions are lifted.
While there have been no substantial changes to the law since we reported last on this (March 27) https://good-grief.com.au/adapting-the-funeral-starts-now/, there has been a recalibration of the law that only 10 mourners can gather at a funeral.
“There was a bit of confusion around this initially,” said Carly Dalton, of Melbourne’s Greenhaven Funerals, and President of the Association of Independent Funeral Professionals.
“But further clarification has come through, explaining that there can be a group of 10 mourners – and then the funeral staff required to conduct the service,” she said.
“So the additional people can include, for example, a hearse driver, a funeral conductor and then the celebrant/priest or minister, and a videographer.”
Carly said the Catholic Church in Melbourne is working with an additional set of directives which have come from the archdiocese.
“At two recent Catholic funerals I attended, the discretion on the interpretation of the numbers was in the hands of the priest. In both cases, the church was locked once there were 10 people inside, but these were not all mourners.”
“In one case it was the priest, the funeral director (me) and the videographer.”
The new arrangement, where the number of support staff is reduced is putting additional pressure on funeral celebrants, who are doing tasks normally done by others.
Carly also said she has received feedback that police are patrolling cemeteries, to ensure that the strict social distancing and numbers rules are not being breached.
“A funeral director in the western suburbs of Melbourne was fined last week for breaching those rules,” she said.
Carly has also had reports from other funeral directors that the police are regularly patrolling cemeteries in the south eastern suburbs of Melbourne, including Springvale Botanical Cemetery.
“They are actively looking for people who were breaching the rules – so the limitations on funerals are real. It is very real.”
Everyone is doing their best to adapt and accept the new rules we need to work by and some are more emotionally affected than others.
“I conducted a funeral last week for a gentleman and only the immediate family could be at the funeral. The wife of the deceased man was actually very grateful for the opportunity for a quiet, small funeral.
“She told me she would have found it very difficult to have 300 people coming up to tell her about their grief, telling her how sad they were and offering condolences, when she was struggling to deal with her own sadness.”
“In another service for a young woman however, only her family were present but we were live-streaming it to 300 people on line, so I knew there were many more people who loved this person and wanted to be part of this.”
In contrast to this client, who welcomed the limitations others are very distressed by the small, unattended funeral.
“What’s lost now is the personal choice in this.”
“This week I dealt with a funeral for a gentleman who told his family he did not want a viewing, he wanted no ceremony and he wanted no memorial. He just wanted to be cremated. Because of the circumstances we find ourselves in now, with Covid-19, this was easy to organise and most of his family completely accepted it.”
“His wife was saying to the children ‘He wanted you to get on with life. We just have to move on’. But it was very distressing for one of the children – and I wonder what impact this will have on her in the long term.”
“For me, the funerals are not for the person who’s died, they are for the living, for the people left behind to acknowledge and cope with what’s happened.”
For most people, Carly recommends they conduct their small restricted funeral now, and then plan for a larger memorial in, say, six months time to allow extended family and friends to participate.
“I’ve been saying to people ‘let’s check in again in six months, which would take us through to September. Let’s look forward to the opportunity to gather everyone together for a memorial service, which will have the look and feel of a funeral but without the deceased present.
“We can have a memory table set up, with the deceased’s ashes in an urn, their photos, flowers, candles and any other memorabilia that would be relevant to them.”
Carly believes that the way funerals are being conducted in general is changing, there is a trend towards cremation rather than burial and celebrant lead rather than church services.
She’s observed that the way society celebrates and honours life has been going through massive change over the last ten years and believes Covid-19 will not have a huge impact on this.
And in America, many of the large hotel chains are partnering with funeral homes. The funeral homes take care of the deceased person and their cremation or burial, the hotel co-ordinates the celebration of their life.
“COVID-19 will not have a big impact on this in the long run, it is just influencing how funerals are able to be conducted right now,” she said.
For the latest Federal Government update on funerals, go to:
For more information on funerals now, to go: