Thursday, April 16, 2020

an open letter from a funeral director during the covid pandemic

the author & her grandfather

I’m Emma Jane, a death care professional who has worked in the funeral industry for the better part of a decade. Caring for those who can no longer look after themselves is my passion. So when people started reaching out to me with concerns during the COVD-19 disaster, I wrote this letter to help ease your mind. To assure you that if you do lose a loved one during this pandemic, they will be looked after and cared for with upmost respect and articulation. Sending you all much love xo
Emma Jane

I would like to take a moment and address everybody who’s lost a loved one during the COVID-19 chaos. I am reaching out to the grieving who fear they’ll be robbed of the traditional, comforting farewell ritual that a large funeral provides. This ritual provides those in mourning an opportunity to reunite with relatives they may not have seen in years, to share hugs, kisses, and stories of the beloved deceased. 

Those of us who work in the death care industry offer our deepest condolences from the bottom of our hearts that you are experiencing this heartache during the Coronavirus chaos. I write this letter with the hope that it will calm your mind.

For those with endless questions, I am answering a specific inquiry presented to me just this afternoon:  ‘what will you do now, with all the bodies? Do you just keep them all piled up in the morgue?’

My answer: Of course not.

Funeral directors treat your loved ones like family. My colleagues and I retrieve the dead from bed sheets while neglecting our own. We leave behind a pouch of potpourri as a gesture to say ‘we care.’ Once back at the funeral home, death care professionals painstakingly tend to details, applying hydrating cream to the face and hands of your loved ones to prevent dehydration from the cool room. I offer these details so you can rest assured the one you miss cared for wholeheartedly.

When it is time to prepare your loved one for the funeral, the director will groom them lovingly, shaving if necessary, washing their hair, and dressing them diligently with the outfit you have chosen. They are being looked after, I promise you. I hope this information helps.

Now to the event in focus, the funeral.

Up until two days ago, up to 500 people were allowed at this goodbye ceremony that not only celebrates your loved one’s life, but also propels your grieving journey in the right direction. Funerals, we say, are for the living. They provide a chance for stories to be shared and sentimental songs to be played, along with a safe place for you to cry freely. 

However, in the wake of the new restrictions placed upon funerals, I’d like to reveal something to you: Some of the most touching services I attend are intimate gatherings of less than ten.

Guests take turns entering the chapel to spend one-on-one time with the deceased, placing mementos in the coffin, leaving a kiss on the cheek and a gentle touch on the hand. Once each attendee has taken their turn, they sit quietly in the chapel. Eschewing numerous eulogies, extravagant photo montages, and scheduled music, they simply sit. Peacefully, they spend time with their loved one who has passed. Funeral directors find these services particularly humbling. I once witnessed a colleague with hulking biceps that bulge through his suit step outside to wipe a tear.

These small services are special, our favourite. 

If you’re afraid you are not honouring your loved one with a large gathering, rest assured, they don’t mind. If you believe in an afterlife, they are there now, understanding the mess we are all experiencing. They love you regardless. 
They get it. 

However, grief changes you forever.  Grief alone can stir despair and fear. I’m so sorry you have to navigate this experience during a pandemic, where despair and fear abound in spades. I will be here for you every step of the way from afar, this I promise you. 

All of this being said, I’d like to also offer additional options. Memorial services are not currently common in Australia. A memorial service takes place at a later date, after a loved one is buried or cremated. Such services forfeit ever-climbing funeral expenses like chapel hire and flowers. Rather than a coffin, a photo is present, often alongside the deceased’s cremated remains in an urn. Loved ones gather over drinks, tea, and food to embrace the joys and sorrows of celebrating a life since passed. Memorial services are less formal. As such, people are more inclined to laugh and share unfiltered stories. I believe memorial services are a great alternative to traditional funerals. Perhaps you may not have considered this. 

Another option includes approaching the clergy or reverend conducting the service to ask if they wouldn’t mind presenting the service several times in a row. This allows multiple groups of family and friends to attend in smaller numbers. Live streaming is popular now also. 

I am the first to admit, funerals are an important step in the grieving process. They allow those in mourning to begin a new life without the deceased. However, during this time where only 10 to 12 guests are allowed, I want you to know everything is still going to be okay. You can still say goodbye. This has not been taken away from you. One simply requires an alternative option for the time being.

You can say goodbye on your own time, when you are ready, by visiting graveside or holding the memorial with your loved one’s urn. Throw a party even, once the self-distancing orders have been lifted of course. Know your departed loved one is with you every single moment now, funeral or not. They are by your side in your memories and dreams. 

In the meantime, please know your chosen funeral director is caring for your loved one. They wish there was more they could do for you.

Ask questions. Don’t be afraid. Death is scary, but mystery spurs fear, so ask your funeral director as many questions as you need. It’s their job to console and be there for you. They are trained to nurture your grief like no one else can.

This an uncertain time for all, but your dearly departed loved one should not be an added stress during the turbulence. They’re cared for.

Emma Jane

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