• Kate Armon

The Weight of Grief during COVID-19

There have been a lot of times in my career as a Funeral Celebrant that in one way or another have tested me to my limits emotionally. Where I have had to fight back tears as I stand watching a family talk about their loved ones, or buried a little one who hadn't even taken their first steps and whose parents pain was so great that I knew nothing I could say, would even begin to ease what they were feeling, and all I could do was my best to help them through.

I am not immune to people's suffering because I see it so much, I just try to bottle it up as best I can, so that I can be the greatest support I can be for my families. They need me to be strong, so they know they can rely on me, that I won't let them down in their time of need. When we get home is when we deal with it and my hubby and fellow celebrant is my shoulder to cry on. When we get home and we always sit and talk through our funerals together.

His shoulder was heavier yesterday with my grief and l felt like I let my beautiful family down. You see it was the first time I had to officiate at a service under the new Covid-19 rules. Don't get me wrong I understand the rules and why we have to follow them. But it doesn't make what the family went through yesterday any easier to bear and my heart felt like it literally was breaking for them.

In a beautiful chapel in Mt Thompson, we had five people attend a ladies funeral. A popular lady who was the heart of her community. A lady who ordinarily would have had many, many people at her funeral to mourn her loss. But on a beautiful sunny day, that would deceive you into thinking it was a day like any other, these five people sat in a large room with two square meters between them, not even in arms reach of one another.

I watched at their most difficult time each of these five people go through the grief of losing their Mother, Wife and Grandmother's completely alone. Separated by the space around them and my voice bouncing off the walls as it echoed in eerie stereo. Unable to bear the distance between myself and them I came out from behind the lectern and instead stood in front of them, still keeping my distance but just without the barrier between us. Sadly, it made little difference to the loneliness I felt in that room. It was one of the most painful things I have ever seen.

As I started the service I could feel the lump in my throat getting bigger and I found myself taking all the advice I have given to eulogy speakers over the years. Like hold you chin up, it stops the tear ducts, breathe through your nose, take a breath, but nothing helped. And as we tried to sing 'How Great Thou Art' my emotions threatened to overwhelm me.

As the service came to it's conclusion, I walked down to the door, my normal impulse to hug or at least shake my families hands sadly too could not be done. Anyone who knows me would know how difficult I found this, by nature I am a hugger. I stood there feeling completely useless and that failed in my duty of care, that I had only done half my job for a family who truly needed me. I turned to the beautiful Funeral Director who was taking the service with me and saw that she too had tears rolling down her face, I realised there was nothing we could do but just be there.

As the family left they thanked us both most sincerely for a job well done under the circumstances. We watched as they left, falling into each others arms in their grief as they left the building, getting in their car and driving away.

The Funeral Director and I just stood there. I think we both felt the weight of grief like we had never done before and we cried.

As Funeral workers its our job to help people, to ease the grief, to offer comfort and today I felt like my hands were tied behind my back, my legs taken out from under me. All I could do was smile and do the best service I could but it didn't feel like it was enough. To not be able to offer myself completely went against everything I am and the reason why I became a Funeral Celebrant in the first place.

Our industry has changed over night and it is incredibly hard to accept even though I know we must. Funerals have to go ahead, they will not stop because of Covid-19 but they will be changed beyond recognition. My industry now talks of live streaming and funerals with no more than 10. We won't even be able to meet families in their homes but instead organise funerals via live links or over the phone. And, I know that this has to be the way forward for now whilst we get through this health crisis, but it doesn't mean I have to like it, and I don't, it's absolutely heart breaking. Losing someone you love in your life is one of the hardest things you will ever go through, and now it's a little harder. All we can do is be there for our families in any way possible and know we can get through this if we all support each other.

Kate x

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