Funerals in a Strange Time

It’s a strange time to be a funeral celebrant (well…to be fair, it’s a strange time to be pretty much anything) as the UK, along with much of the world remains in a state of ‘lock-down’.

Funerals continue to go ahead, but with a maximum of 10 people allowed in the room and all the social distancing rules being observed. That’s ten including the celebrant, the funeral director and sometimes the crematorium attendant too. This means that friends, family members, neighbours and so on of the deceased are often not permitted to attend the service and at best might be able to watch it on a streamed webcast.

It also throws up some unusual situations, such as the recent funeral for a lady who was a devout buddhist. The family searched for a suitable celebrant amongst the buddhist communities, but this came to nothing, as these communities were unwilling or unable to leave their temples.

With a little help and a lot of research I found the elements of a buddhist funeral that were most important and incorporated them into my service. It was only three ‘chants’ which I read out in English, one of which had been printed into the order of service so the attendees could join in.

It felt a little like a prayer, which as a humanist I’d normally be reluctant to lead, but in fact the text was secular. More importantly it was what the family needed, and so I was happy to do it.

The period of reflection was accompanied by a recording of a chant performed by buddhist monks; again an unusual element, but one I was happy to incorporate.

While I continue to help families following the deaths of their loved ones, and indeed while I’m happy to ‘move my goalposts’ to accommodate families’ wishes, I’m all too aware that there is one important – perhaps essential – element missing from these funerals, and that is the cathartic sharing of stories, the much needed release of laughter and happy memories that are so often to be found after a funeral service is over. This element will continue to be missing until we are free to go about our lives again unhindered.

My hope is that the families who have lost people during this strange time will, in due course, take the time and make the effort to hold memorials or informal gatherings to celebrate and remember their loved ones and that they encourage all those friends, family members, acquaintances, neighbours, colleagues etc. who were unable to attend the service to come along and to share those stories and memories that raise a smile or a laugh.

For what are we if we can’t laugh, and do we really think our loved ones would want us to feel nothing but sadness?

For the next three months or until lockdown is over –
whichever is the later I will be donating 10% of all fees to St. Wilfrid’s Hospice in Bosham.

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