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Because family life matters

Saying goodbye during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Although we know that death is one of the certainties that everyone has to face at some point, it is always hard to say goodbye to someone close to us. But the current restrictions put in place to prevent the spread of the COVID-19 make that process so much harder and more complex to cope with.

Holding a funeral, committal, service of thanksgiving or similar formal ritual is an important milestone that aids, to some extent, initial acceptance of our loss and provides an opportunity to grieve alongside others. However, the present limits on who can attend such events in person and the necessary physical separation are forcing us into what can often be an unwelcome and unfamiliar format for that vital initial step on our journey of grieving. As a society, though, we are incredibly resourceful.  It’s good to see people making innovative use of online communications to allow funerals and other formal occasions to take place, giving relatives and friends the opportunity to participate irrespective of their actual location.

Take for example the funeral of a young woman who died from cancer that took place shortly after lockdown. The private committal at the crematorium was only attended by close family members and a service of thanksgiving was broadcast online later that afternoon. For the bereaved parents who had prepared for her death, it was not the service that they had imagined or planned with their daughter but they were able to see some positive outcomes:

As a family we felt liberated that we were able to worship together without anyone else watching and it felt very intimate.  Our daughter loved people from all walks of life and it enabled all to attend where ever they were in the world and many were there with us who wouldn’t have set foot inside a church.”

The service included photos and videos compiled by one of her closest friends, pre-recorded tributes from her parents, some of her favourite music with pre-recorded worship songs led by another friend from his home, and a live-streamed talk by the Minister. There was also an invitation at the end of the service to donate online to two charities that were dear to her heart.

In the current crisis, many of us have suddenly come to appreciate the ease of online communications and the ability to stream a live talk via YouTube, Facebook or similar media platforms. One other innovation was the availability of a live prayer-line if anyone watching wanted someone to pray with them.

But of course one of the negative aspects of the current climate is the need to obey current social distancing rules to maintain physical separation and wear a face covering when required. We are by nature relational beings and, particularly in a grief situation, our natural reaction is to seek and give physical comfort through a hug or other form of touch. That’s our normal way of showing that we care at a funeral, as well as sensitive face-to-face conversation. But when we desperately need that reassurance of human touch or caring facial communication and are denied it, we can feel isolated and ignored.  And that can be especially true when watching a funeral online, which some may need to do due to the current limitations on social gatherings. So in those circumstances it is essential to talk to someone else about how you feel.  And that can happen later through online video chat, over the phone, or face-to-face whilst suitably distanced.

Many support organisations, including ourselves, offer the opportunity of speaking with someone on the phone or by email.  But in the current situation, some are also starting to create online forums for the bereaved to communicate and receive comfort. It is absolutely essential for anyone grieving though, for our good mental health, to talk about how we feel and not bottle it up. And in your grief, do try to be kind to yourself and those around you.

If you are having to plan a funeral during this difficult time and are finding it hard, this article has some ideas that you may find helpful – Ten suggestions for planning a funeral during the COVID-19 pandemic

Here are some helpful resources and suggestions from bereavement support organisations regarding funerals during the COVID-19 pandemic:

For those attending a funeral online, you may find the Little Box of Big Thoughts a useful aid.  It can be downloaded free of charge and consists of a number of unfinished sentences which you can then complete in relation to the person who has died.  You may find them helpful in describing your unique relationship with that person.  You can either fill them in online or print them out and write on them.  Once printed, they can be cut into squares and kept safe to remind you of that special person.

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