• Kate Armon & Craig Smith

The Courage of Grief during COVID-19


A few weeks ago I wrote about the effect of Covid-19 on the funerals that we were holding. I wrote about how upsetting were the limits on numbers and how heartbreaking the seating arrangements were. I have to admit at the time I could only see the negatives. We felt like new celebrants again, desperately trying to remain professional, whilst conducting services for ten family members spaced apart, grieving effectively on their own. It was awful to watch, knowing there was nothing we could do and knowing we had to stick to the rules. Not something I have ever been very good at! We came home from every funeral emotionally exhausted and devastated for the families in our care. We felt like we were letting them down at their most difficult time.

But something interesting has happened over the last couple of months, as we have all become more used to this new time we are living in. We have seen first-hand how amazing we, as humans, are and our ability to adapt to a new situation is really quite incredible.

As the weeks turned into months, the families we helped started looking at funerals in a new way. They started looking at small gatherings as a positive rather than a negative. The services became intimate and gentler, with just the immediate family present, fully able to support each other and give each other their full and undivided attention, whilst those who were not able to come were invited via a live link or video filmed on the day.

What we initially saw as heartbreaking became something else. It was a chance for family members to connect on a deeper level. The pressure of having a hundred mourners they must try to talk to and thank had lifted, and they were simply allowed to just grieve in their own way; a more private and open way.

The chairs seated so far apart is no less upsetting. However, even this aspect of the funeral was mostly just accepted by families, they didn’t get angry, they didn’t blame anyone, they simply got on with it.

Last week the government told us we can have hundred mourners at a funeral, however this is not really strictly true. Most chapels, churches and crematoriums can still only take around twenty to twenty-five patrons, once social distancing has been adhered to. Some families were initially pleased of the change, but then like us, realised that it was still not possible due to the size of the venue, and simply took it in their stride. Whilst other families, regardless of larger numbers being allowed to come decided to still have a small funeral with a video instead. We saw smaller funerals becoming a choice rather than an instruction.

We have also seen an increase in outside funerals and memorials. In an outside space it is much easier to have a hundred people, although once spaced correctly it is a difficult service to take without a really good PA system. The outside services, in the end, have remained fairly intimate with families choosing to have no more than forty or fifty people and have been absolutely beautiful.

Last week we were privileged to do a service by candlelight at Braeside, in Merrimac, here on the Gold Coast. As the sun set and all the lights in the trees started to twinkle, we stood under the big tree in the gardens, flanked by the flames from the kerosene lanterns. It was one of the most beautiful services we can ever remember taking.

I hope that our industry, like others, can one day go back to some kind of normality, but I have to say my own thoughts on funerals have shifted a little. The smaller services we have held over the last month or so have been some of the most beautiful I have done in my career as a celebrant. They have a level of intimacy that you don’t have at a larger gathering and families seem to be able to express their grief more openly, without worrying about having to also be a good host to other mourners attending the funeral.

Large funerals and memorials will of course always exist, and rightly so, as people want to be able to pay their respects to those who are important to them in their lives. But I have a feeling moving forward, smaller family gatherings with video technology for a wider attendance will become a popular alternative.

The shift in thinking throughout this Covid era certainly wasn’t what we were expecting, and I can’t help feeling if I had lost someone close to me at this time I would have wanted to rage against the system. But even at a time of great loss, our families have learned to adapt. They don’t make a fuss or worry about what they can’t do, they only worry about what they can do and how they can make the best of a difficult situation.

We have been truly humbled by the brave families we have helped during this time and we will forever honour their courage in the face of their greatest loss.

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