Who Can and Can’t Go to a Funeral? Coronavirus Update 0

At the moment, it’s absolutely crucial that everyone does their best not to spread Covid-19, for their own safety and the safety of their loved ones. 

Stopping large gatherings is a big part of that — but it has consequences for funerals, which are normally a chance for family, friends and the whole community to say goodbye. 

For now, funerals are still allowed in the UK, unlike some other countries. But there are strict guidelines on who can and can’t go. These are important: they help keep mourners, funeral professionals and their families safe. 

Here’s what you need to know.


Who is allowed to go to a funeral at the moment?

The government has said that only close family members and people who were living with the person who has died should attend a funeral.

Close family includes:

  • A husband, wife or partner
  • Parents or carers
  • Brothers and sisters
  • Children and their partners

If a grandparent has died, their grandchildren may come to the funeral. And if the person who died didn’t have much close family, a few close friends may come instead.

But be aware that some crematoria are still limiting numbers to 10 or less mourners. This is so that proper social distancing can still be followed, even in small venues. Your funeral director will tell you before the service if there’s a limit.

We know this is hard. You want everyone to be able to say goodbye, and you’re worried that this won’t feel like a proper send-off. But small ceremonies can still be very special. And when the coronavirus restrictions are lifted, you’ll still be able to have a proper memorial service that everyone can attend.


Who can’t go to a funeral, even if they are close family?

Even if you’re a close family member, or one of the other people listed above, you should still stay home and avoid the funeral if you are:

  • At higher risk of becoming seriously ill. If you’re over 70, pregnant, or have a medical condition that may increase your risk (see a list here), stay home.
  • Are meant to be self-isolating. For example because you’ve had contact with someone with Covid-19 or have travelled back from a high-risk area.
  • Have Covid-19 symptoms. The main coronavirus symptoms are a high temperature and a continuous cough, although a few people have reported a sore throat, stomach troubles and mild cold symptoms.

If you’re one of the people who has to stay home, don’t feel like you aren’t doing right by the person who has died. They would want you to be safe. We have some ideas to help you say goodbye in your own way here.


How can families and their funeral directors help people who can’t go?

If you like, there are ways to help people who can’t go to the funeral pay their respects. Here are some possibilities:


Live streaming the funeral

Friends and family could log on and watch the funeral service online as it happens. Your funeral director or staff at the crematoria or cemetery should be able to help you set this up.

If not, video chat services like Zoom or Google Hangouts can help. Just be aware that some free services have a time limit or a set number of people who can join.


A special funeral procession route

Your funeral director may be able to change the funeral procession route so that you drive past the homes of friends and family who live locally. They can stand in their doorways, windows or driveways and clap or wave to show their respect and support.

With this option, it’s important not to forget the rules on social distancing. Make sure everyone knows to stay 2 metres apart from people not from their household.


Share the time and date of the funeral

Even if someone can’t attend, they can still have a moment of silence, light a candle or find their own way to pay tribute to the person who has died at home. It may help you all feel close to each other if you do this at the same time.


Make them part of the service

It can be very powerful to read out the names of the people who wanted to be there but couldn’t make it. Some families are doing this during an outdoor dove release, which is a beautiful way to make a small ceremony feel special.


Give an update after the funeral

You may like to call some people to tell them how the service went, or send emails or make a social media post with pictures. If you’ve made an order of service for the funeral, you could also share this with people who couldn’t attend. It’s okay to wait a few days or ask a friend to pass the information on for you if it’s too much to handle right now.


Make an online memorial page

This is an amazing way for people who can’t attend the funeral to share memories of the person who died, write messages of support, and even upload pictures and videos of them for everyone to enjoy. You can make an online memorial page for free with us here.

Your funeral director will also have some ideas, and will be happy to talk you through them. 


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

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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.