The coronavirus outbreak has affected the way funerals are conducted. The main specific impact is that the number of attendees is restricted in number. In our area it is to ten people.
The question I want to confront in the light of this is: how do we deal with helping people to mourn? In the process of grieving the funeral marks an important closure point. The initial period of overwhelming sadness between the death and the funeral is brought to an end. Moreover, there is a sense of having done everything well by appropriately and reverently undertaking the funeral. In doing so you have honoured the memory of the deceased. It’s from then on the mourners can move forward in their lives. They no doubt continue to grieve, but they do not have to face another event to reopen the mourning process.
The conundrum at this time is whether memorial services at some point down the line are an appropriate way to include more people in the mourning and give due public tribute to the deceased. Alternatively, is it better to seek to embrace more people more closer to the time of decease through an online funeral?
Each would be lacking in certain way and are not ideal. With a memorial service there is opportunity to share grief with others in the flesh. However, the main problem concerns the wait; there is the continuous hanging on for the memorial service. At this time with all the uncertainty concerning the lifting of lockdown there is really no date that can be fixed for a service. And then there is the further ingredient of uncertainty engendered by the perpetuating of social distancing after the lifting of lockdown. This leads to so much uncertainty. And the waiting for that service can lead to an open-question about the closure that the initial funeral should have brought.
The importance for allowing for proper mourning was brought home to me in reading this article. In it we read:
Petty’s problems with anorexia and bulimia started when she was in her late teens, after her grandfather died.
“I didn’t really mourn,” she says. “I just got on with my life. I went to the gym every single day. At lunch and after school. I think that was my way of coping.
Hence the issues appertaining to the proper use of a funeral are not just speculative. They can be a key means for granting the opportunity to mourn and the healthily to move forward. The funeral cannot guarantee this, but it can be of great assistance.
As I write this I do not fully know what is best. Probably on balance I would feel that an online funeral service is wholesome. This can also providentially give opportunity for many to participate who through distance or infirmity would not be able to attend a building based service. provides the necessary closure element. We did this as a church with the funeral of Margaret Lee last month. Here is the recording of the funeral. We also produced an online memorial for her which is here.
Should the route of a memorial service be chosen I suggest that the mourning family should be counselled to consider the burial or funeral service to be the time of closure. The memorial service can then be viewed as a time to be encouraged by the presence of others who held the deceased in high esteem.
The uncertainty of when such a memorial service can take place needs to be borne in mind in any helping and counselling of the family and friends of the deceased through the time between the funeral and memorial service.