Coronavirus Update: Changes to Funeral Arrangement 0

Person leaning against a fence by a lake

As lockdown eases, the government has released new guidelines for families arranging a funeral. While things are not quite back to normal, a lot of the harsher restrictions have been relaxed. Here’s what’s changed since the last time we covered this. 


Who can attend a funeral now?

Both family and friends can now attend the funeral, although “modest” numbers are still recommended.

If you are self-isolating because you’ve had contact with someone with Covid-19 symptoms, you can attend the funeral but only if you don’t have any symptoms. You should not attend at the same time as anyone who is medically vulnerable or extremely vulnerable. Once the funeral is over, you should go back to self-isolating until the two-week waiting period is up.

If you are medically vulnerable or extremely vulnerable, you can attend the funeral if you would like to. However, it’s a risk, so it is really important to take every precaution you can to keep yourself safe. It’s best to make sure other attendees know that you are vulnerable and that they need to help you avoid close contact. Ideally, you would travel to the funeral alone or with members of your household.

If you are travelling to the funeral from abroad, and you’ve been advised to self-isolate for two weeks, you can still attend the funeral. Again, after the funeral is over you should go back to self-isolating.

If you have any symptoms of Covid-19, you can’t go to the funeral. Instead, you may be able to watch via a live-streaming service. We have more advice on paying your respects from home here.


Do I still have to socially distance at the funeral?

Yes, these measures are still in place. You need to:

  • Stay 2 metres away from others.
  • Avoid touching anyone who is not in your household.
  • Wear a face mask if travelling to the funeral on public transport, and at the venue if asked.
  • Wash your hands frequently using either soap and water or hand sanitiser (most venues will provide this).
  • Always wash your hands after coughing, sneezing or blowing your nose, or after being in a public place.
  • When coughing or sneezing, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue (and bin it ASAP) or cough into your elbow. Then wash your hands.

Don’t forget! These measures are especially important if you are self-isolating for any reason — whether you’re vulnerable yourself or may have been exposed to Covid-19 by someone else.


How many people can come to a funeral?

This is up to those running the venue (i.e. the crematorium, burial ground, place of worship). The advice is that numbers should be kept low enough that everyone who attends can stay 2 metres apart at all times.

In practice, this can mean that you’re restricted to fewer than 10 guests. The maximum is 30, but funeral directors report that in most cases venues are not allowing that many.


Can we hold the funeral at a place of worship?

Churches, synagogues, mosques, temples and other places of worship have re-opened and may be able to host the funeral service. Again, no more than 30 people can attend and numbers may be kept low so that the 2-metre rule can be observed.


Is it true that singing isn’t allowed?

For now, yes: singing, chanting and anything that involves raising your voice should be avoided. Wind and brass instruments (anything that involves blowing) are also off-limits. Music at the venue should be kept at a low volume so that people don’t have to shout or stand closer to each other to have a conversation.

This is because these activities increase the chance that the virus could spread from one person to another.


Can we hold a wake or funeral reception?

Yes, as long as you follow the latest ‘stay alert’ guidelines on social distancing. You may, however, prefer to hold off on this for now and hold the reception at a later date, when things are back to normal.


What are the rules on travelling to and from the funeral?

Mourners are asked to follow social distancing rules when travelling and, if you can, take your own car by yourself or with others in your household.

If you do need to hire funeral transport (like a limousine), then you’re being asked to:

  • Keep numbers in each car as low as possible
  • Leave the windows open
  • Try to sit as far apart as you can (ideally following proper social distancing)
  • Face away from passengers who aren’t in your household
  • Wash your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds before and after travelling, or use hand sanitiser
  • Cough or sneeze into a tissue (throwing it away ASAP) or the crook of your elbow if you don’t have a tissue
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Consider wearing a face mask if you’re travelling with people outside your household

If you are travelling via public transport, a face mask is mandatory unless you have a medical condition that makes you exempt.


Get the support you need

If you are struggling to pay for a funeral and would like some help with the cost, our guide is here.

If you need someone to talk to about your loss and how you’re feeling, help is available.

  • Cruse Bereavement Care offer free advice for bereaved people and a support line to chat: 0808 808 1677.
  • The Samaritans help line is open 24/7 if you’d just like to talk: 116 123.
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Comparing Attitudes to Wills 0

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What Makes a Good Funeral? 0

A wicker coffin decorated with flowers by the team at Full Circle Funerals

What makes a ‘good’ funeral?

Most people in the funeral profession have their own (usually quite personal) idea of what the answer to this question should be.

For the eco-minded funeral director, it’s often things like willow coffins and natural burials. Others pride themselves on their traditional horse-drawn carriages and excellent embalming. And there’s always the odd funeral director who seems to think it’s all about having a lot of cars (so many cars).

But what happens when we ask bereaved families what they think?

Dr Sarah Jones, funeral director at Open Circle Funerals and author of the excellent Funerals, Your Way, has just completed a study that did just that. A collaboration with Dr Julie Rugg from the University of York’s Cemetery Research Group, the research revealed the five key factors that matter to families most. We caught up with Sarah to find out more.


Hi Sarah! What inspired you to do this research?

Having started my working life in healthcare, I was ‘brought up’ to make sure that everything I did was based on evidence.

Once I began arranging funerals, I naturally wanted to take the same approach. So, I began looking at all the writing available on funerals. But what I found was mostly based on anecdote, opinion or the personal reflections of professionals. And even the more robust research made assumptions about what was important, without having asked bereaved people themselves. I thought we could do better.


What were you trying to find out through your research?

Ultimately, I’d like to understand whether a funeral has any impact on wellbeing at all. What difference does a ‘good’ funeral make?

But before we can look at that, we need to understand what a good funeral is. Which aspects of a funeral are most important to families? Only then can we establish if, when all these factors are in place, there is an impact on how bereaved people feel.


How did you conduct your research?

Dr Julie Rugg and I designed and co-lead the study with the University of York. We recruited participants using newspaper articles and social media and asked them open questions about their experience of arranging or attending a funeral. We spoke to more than 50 people. Meanwhile, we had ethical oversight from an advisory committee made up of industry experts.


People aren’t always comfortable talking about death. Was it hard to find participants?

Actually, no! We thought that it might be, but in the end we had to stop recruiting new participants once we had interviewed 53 people. People were surprisingly forthcoming, too: the average interview was around an hour and a half long. We gathered a huge amount of data from these ‘experts by experience’!


What did you find out?

Once our interviews were complete, Dr Rugg analysed them to understand what people consistently said mattered to them. The five themes that emerged were:An infographic showing Dr Jones' findings

  1. Were funeral wishes known?
  2. Were decisions inclusive?
  3. Was the funeral director responsive?
  4. Was contact with the body helpful?
  5. Did the funeral event meet expectations?


Why did it matter if funeral wishes were known?

People spoke in detail about how meaningful it was to be able to fulfil funeral wishes after someone has died. If their wishes were unknown, it often meant that the family worried about whether they’d done the right thing. Interestingly, it didn’t seem to matter if the instructions were detailed or not. It was enough to just have some direction.


What does it mean that decisions were inclusive?

How well a family worked together to arrange the funeral had a significant impact on how satisfied they were with it. Most families seemed to try hard to manage this. But in some cases, people felt deliberately excluded from arrangements, or felt that their opinions were ignored. These people were the most dissatisfied with the funeral.


Any key takeaways for funeral directors?

First impressions count. People often commented on whether the funeral director had got the tone right straight off the bat – and this initial impression seemed to set the tone for the relationship.

One thing that might surprise funeral directors is that while some people wanted to be given a lot of personalisation, choice and control over the funeral, others did not.

Essentially, funeral directors need to have the emotional intelligence and skill to be able to understand and deliver the kind of support that each individual family wants and needs. There’s no one-size-fits-all option.


You mention contact with the body: do families want more, or less?

It varied. While some people found being with the body consoling, others didn’t need or want that contact at all. But time and again we heard that it was important. Contact with the body of the person who had died, at the right time, was a key talking point. It matters a great deal to many people.


What about embalming?

Not wanting to bias our interviewees, we didn’t ask any direct questions about embalming. But the people who raised it themselves did so in a negative way – citing various interventions which had occurred without their prior knowledge.


Did any of your findings really surprise you?

For me, one of the most striking findings was that different people found meaning in very different elements of the funeral.

For some people, this happened at the time of death.  For others, it was the act of carrying the coffin, writing the eulogy or lovingly preparing the written service booklet.  Some people found the choice of coffin or flowers important; others couldn’t even remember what had been chosen.


What would you like others to draw from your work?

Funeral services are under a lot of scrutiny at the moment. It’s the perfect time to reassess the kind of support we offer bereaved families. And there’s no denying that the people who shared their accounts with us really challenged some of the current thinking about funerals and what people want from a funeral director.

What I’d like this study to do is help people in the funeral profession benefit from the perspective of bereaved people. After all, we all want to offer the best possible support to the families who place their trust in us.

Want to find out more about the study? A full report can be downloaded for free here.