How To Plan A Funeral In The Coronavirus Era

Posted at 09:54am on 18th May 2020

Before the days of lockdown - due to the coronavirus - planning a funeral following the death of a loved one might have been perceived as a positive and constructive experience. Although not intentionally so, making funeral arrangements, whether for burial or cremation, could be seen as a welcome distraction from grief and loss.

That was then! Sadly, while contacting funeral planning services and finding a funeral celebrant once meant you were less likely to dwell on your distress, things have now changed, drastically. With churches closed, as I write this, and the number of friends and family permitted to attend a burial or cremation, it may well be more stressful than ever.


The Age Concern website has an excellent factsheet which covers such topics as:

The Arranging A Funeral website covers similar subjects, plus an explanation of probate, and a section on planning for the future.


When my adult daughter died, very suddenly, in suspicious circumstances, I was too shocked to consider whether burial or cremation would be the better option. It was only when I spoke with a friend who had recently lost her mother that I was persuaded of the merit of cremation. When you love someone, it's hard to see their body ravaged by disease or the self-destructive elements of drug-addiction. In that case the fires of cremation may be seen as having a purifying affect. For those of a Christian faith, the spirit of a person is released and the body is but an empty shell. Ridding it of its imperfections may, therefore, be seen as an act of cleansing. Conversely, there are those who find the thought of burial and slow decay of the body repugnant.


For others, burial is perceived as demonstrating greater respect for the body of their loved one. It may be that environmental issues are important, and that cremation is seen as a pollutant, releasing carbon dioxide, nitrogen oxide, hydrogen chloride and other gases into the atmosphere. Or it may simply be emotionally unacceptable to some mourners, to contemplate burning the body of someone they have known and loved.


In Western civilisations, black or purple have traditionally been the colours of mourning. Again, this is a matter of personal choice. Prior to the Lockdown, many services were taking the form of a celebration of life, rather than the traditional ceremony. Increasingly - especially in Christian circles - this means that bright clothing is often worn in recognition of the joy of having known the deceased. It's probably best to check with the family.


This, of course, is a matter of personal choice. I know of people who have planned their own funeral right down to the last hymn and prayer. But where this was once an opportunity for friends and family to gather to pay their last respects, that is currently no longer viable. It may be that the rites of passage will have to be decided by the incumbent, or funeral director.

In normal circumstances, a family member or friend would give a eulogy - a short address on aspects of the deceased's life, which may not be known to all. Secular or sacred poems may be read, or songs sung by a soloist. It is worth noting that copyright issues must be observed when such material is used, but a good funeral director would advise on these matters. The bereavement poem contained within my book, A Painful Post Mortem, may be freely used by anyone purchasing the book. As all profits are for charity, I hope this will be seen as a way of giving back to society.


Cremation or burial would normally follow a funeral service but, with social distancing and church closures, this will now, almost certainly, be the sole event attended only by a handful of family or friends. Following this, friends who had attended the funeral service would have been asked to wait for the return of family members, at which point refreshments would have been served, and the mourners would have had a chance to catch up with each other, and to reminisce about the deceased.

We are now unable to meet in large groups for fear of cross-contamination. As a result, people are increasingly using the internet service, Zoom, as a means of connecting visibly and audibly with others. Doubtless, funeral directors would be able to give a lead on how to go about this, but if not, there are countless websites giving directions. Friends and relatives unable to attend the actual service could, thus, be invited to join a virtual meeting, afterwards. While this falls far short of tactile connection, it does provide the means to see faces, hear voices, and to share the eulogy and music if so required.


For many, having a place to go to visit the departed is crucial, and a grave may be seen as the best means of achieving this. It is worth checking with the local council, however, to find out what the duration of tenure is on a grave. I was shocked, a few years ago, to discover that my grandmother's grave (which for geographical reasons the family had been unable to attend for some time) had been buried beneath another layer of graves. On enquiry, we were told that twenty-five years was the length of time an untended grave might be retained.

A plaque in a garden of remembrance may be a better - and often less expensive - option. I wanted to be sure that my daughter's child - a baby at the time of her death - would have somewhere to visit if required at a later date, so this was my choice. My daughter's ashes were scattered among the rose gardens beneath.


They may make you weep when they arrive, but knowing that others cared about your loved one is part of the healing process. You will learn things about the person you have lost which you may never, previously, have known. In time, these remembrances will become incredibly precious to you.

Etiquette demands that you reply to each card and letter you receive. A simple 'thanks' will suffice but, like the planning of the funeral, the fuller the response you make, the greater the benefit to you.

Believe me, you will need all the assistance you can get in the grieving process. You think this was tough? Wait until the funeral's over and the depth of your loss really sets in!

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