A day in the life of a funeral director dealing with the Covid Emergency
March 23rd 2020. The day the country went into lockdown. Unprecedented; Troubling; Daunting. None of us could have imagined such an event happening and certainly in the world of funerals we had no idea how this was going to develop. What were we going to do? Could we still have funerals? If we could, then how would they look? How will we get all the paperwork completed by Doctors? How would families register a death? How would we arrange funerals? How would we convey the deceased?
All of these are vital for us and all of them include contact with others. Something that was, all of a sudden, taken away from us. The act of shaking hands. A simple, human gesture that can mean so much, especially at a time of grief. We need families to know they can trust us with their loved one and something as simple as a handshake can be a gesture that imbues trust. It was gone, and so difficult to get used to.
In the early weeks of the lockdown I spent many hours in online meetings. This was something new to us that we weren’t geared up for but very quickly we had the right technology installed. Meetings with our company directors and managers, Coroner’s Service, Crematorium. All of these enabled us to develop the many strategies we needed to carry on delivering a dignified and respectful service allowing families to still have a funeral, whilst ensuring the safety of our families and staff.
It was by no means easy to make the compromises that were needed, both for us and the families, but compromise we did and I am confident that we always did the absolute best we could for everyone that came to us.
I am proud to say that there was never any time where a funeral couldn’t be offered. However, it did mean that Church services had to be foregone and so all services had to be either at the crematorium or at the graveside (sadly the chapel at Goldington Cemetery is just too small for the social distancing guidelines). The numbers attending had to be restricted to a maximum of 10, but at least at Poole Crematorium the Council provided their live on-line steaming service free of charge. This has gone a long way to allow more distant family and friends to be included in the services.
Arranging funerals has always involved lots of paper documents changing hands. Before the Covid crisis the Doctors needed to issue a certificate that is handed to the family that they then take to the registrar who issue them the death certificates and a ‘green form’ for the funeral director. Two doctors complete forms for the crematorium, that are passed between them, us and the crematorium by hand, the family and funeral director also complete forms that are sent manually to the crematorium. Lockdown and social distancing measure meant this all had to change by the use of technology. Under normal circumstances, such major changes would have taken months, if not years.
Incredibly with an enormous amount of assistance and hard work from our partners (registration service, Doctors, Ministers, Celebrants, Crematoria, Cemeteries, Police, Coroner) it was all achieved in about two weeks! And it has worked. The Doctors now electronically transmit all of the forms required to either funeral directors or the registration service. Registrations takes place by phone and our ‘green form’ is sent electronically from the registrar to funeral director. Death Certificates are sent by post to the families and funeral directors submit all of the legal paperwork to the crematorium by email. It has actually created a much more streamlined system and we all hope that much of this system is allowed to continue.
Everyone knows the problems the health and care services had obtaining PPE. This was no less of a challenge for us that we had to deal with along with all of the other changes. We did manage, although it was touch and go at times, and we owe an enormous debt of gratitude to some Swanage School pupils and their families who produced some 3D printed visors that they not only donated to health and social carers, but also to us. These were, literally, a lifesaver for us. Swanage is such a great community when it counts.
The families that we have helped with funerals during the Covid-19 crisis have all been remarkably resilient and amenable to compromise whilst also having to cope with their grief and distress. This has helped us to achieve the best for them that we could, within the restrictions.
We haven’t reached the end of this crisis and none of us know when we will be able to return to some kind of normality, whatever that may turn out to be. It is heartening to see crematoria allowing larger numbers to attend funerals and, albeit with some restrictions, families can now return to having Church services. We continue to adapt and to embrace all of the changes and challenges that we face going forward to give our families the best funerals that we can achieve for them.