The New Funeral Etiquette: A Coronavirus Update 0

To protect bereaved families during the current coronavirus outbreak, the government has laid out a number of strict guidelines for funerals. 

These often conflict with what’s instinctive during times of grief — to hug, to hold hands, to simply be together. It’s going to be hard. But these rules are also essential if we want to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe at this time. Following them now can save lives.

If you’re going to a funeral in the weeks to come, here’s what you can expect.

 

Who can go to the funeral?

Many local councils are limiting numbers at funerals at the moment to 10 people, sometimes less. The funeral director will warn you ahead of time if this is the case.

We have a detailed summing-up of the rules on who can attend here. But essentially, it’s:

  • Close family
  • Anyone who lived in the same house/flat as the person who has died
  • (If there aren’t any close family members) close friends

If you are pregnant, over 75, or have a condition that puts you at greater risk of serious illness, you should stay home to stay safe. If you’re not sure, check these lists of vulnerable groups and extremely vulnerable groups.

The same goes if you have any coronavirus symptoms at all, even mild. Or if you need to be self-isolating because you’ve had contact with someone with Covid-19. Stay home.

If the person died due to Covid-19, and you were living with them, you won’t be able to attend a funeral until the 2 week quarantine period is up.

We know it’s hard not to be there to say goodbye. If you’re struggling with this, we have some advice on other ways to pay tribute to the person you’ve lost here.

 

Travelling to the funeral

The government says that it’s important to only travel to the funeral with other people from your household — sharing a car can help a virus spread. 

For this reason, a lot of funeral homes are saying no to limousines at the moment to protect their staff and bereaved families. If you do have one, it’s really important to: 

  • Check that the funeral director will disinfect the car before and after.
  • Wash your hands for 20 seconds before getting in, and the same after — try not to touch your face.
  • Follow any instructions the driver gives you.

If you like, you can ask the funeral director to change the route of the funeral procession so that it goes past the homes of people who wanted to go but couldn’t. This gives them a chance to say goodbye: they can step outside and wave or clap to pay their respects.

 

Before you go in to the service

Most crematoria are asking people to wait in their cars until a staff member tells them it’s okay to come in. So, each household comes in one after the other. This helps prevent crowding at the entrance.

If you’re going to an outdoor service at the graveside, it may be the same at the cemetery gates. The funeral director will tell you what to expect.

Remember, you need to stay 2 metres away from anyone you don’t live with. We know this is very difficult to bear when all you want to do right now is comfort each other, but it’s really important. 

You can find advice on social distancing here.

 

The funeral service

If you’re having the service indoors, at the crematoria for example, there are a few things to bear in mind:

  • Staff from the venue will usually hold the doors open for you, so you don’t have to touch them.
  • There will almost definitely be hand washing facilities and hand gel ready for your use when you get in. Don’t be afraid to ask.
  • Seats are usually placed two metres apart now, to help you maintain social distancing.

If the service is outdoors, perhaps at the graveside, you can stand together with people who are living with you during the service. But you’ll need to stay 2 metres away from anyone else.

For either kind of service, it can help to know that:

  • You can ask the funeral director ahead of time if they can live stream the funeral service. This means other friends and family can watch from home.
  • The coffin will most likely be carried by staff from the funeral home or brought in on a wheeled platform. This is so that family members can have safe social distancing.
  • You may be asked not to touch the coffin. For this reason, a lot of crematoria are closing the curtains around the coffin after it is brought in.
  • If you have to cough, sneeze, or blow your nose: cover your nose and mouth with a tissue, or your sleeve if you don’t have one. Then wash your hands or use hand gel as soon as you can.

Remember: even though the service is going to be small, it can still be really meaningful and special. And you can always hold a bigger service that everyone can attend later on, when larger gatherings are allowed again.

 

After the funeral service

As with travelling to the funeral, it’s important to only travel back with the people you live with. When you get home, take 20 seconds to wash your hands.

While it’s not possible to organise a wake at the moment, you could still hold an ‘online wake’. You can use a free video call service like Google Hangouts, the Houseparty app or Zoom to talk to friends and family. 

It’s a chance to share memories about the person who has died and talk about what happened at the service to those who couldn’t make it.

Bear in mind that some free video call services cut out after 40 minutes. It’s no problem: you just need to set up the call again to continue.

 

Get the support you need

Losing someone you love is always overwhelming. But it’s particularly hard right now.

If you need someone to talk to 

  • 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.

If you need help with funeral costs

  • Beyond’s guide to government, charity and other sources of financial aid can be found here.
  • You can also get free advice from Down to Earth, an organisation that supports people struggling with funeral costs: 020 8983 5055.
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Comparing Attitudes to Wills 0

What happens after we die?

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The UK's Attitude to Wills

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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.