The current restrictions during the coronavirus pandemic have meant many people are unable to attend funerals, cremations and wakes. This is a very distressing reality for thousands of people at this time. Each month in the UK there are around 50,000 deaths, so many people have been unable to say goodbye in the way they expected.
However you have been affected, whether you are planning a funeral or have been unable to hold the kind of event you wanted during lockdown, we understand that it can be heartbreaking. It is also really tough for anyone who cannot attend. We have given some ways to try and help below.
During the coronavirus pandemic there have been restrictions on how funerals can be held. Restrictions are changing over time, but it is likely that some social distancing restrictions will continue for some time. Restrictions may involve only limited numbers being able to attend, abiding by social distancing rules, and no singing. Because of the changing nature of restrictions, you will need to contact your funeral provider to find out what is possible. Funerals may be shorter than normal or delayed, and social distancing can mean that hugs and other comforting ways of showing support are still not allowed.
Speak to your funeral director, celebrant or faith leader to make sure you are clear on the rules (they can vary between providers and depending on your location). Discuss with them how you can share the service for anyone who is not able to attend. They may be able to live stream it on facebook, or you could film it or take photos to share afterwards.
Contact all the people you would normally tell and let them know the date and time. Normally anyone who wants to can attend a funeral, but at the present time you may have to explain that the numbers who can attend are limited, and ask people not to come along in person. Even if they are not able to attend, or watch they will have the chance to mark the occasion at the right time in their homes.
If it’s overwhelming to contact everyone yourself, ask people to call five people each or post on social media, or send an email (blind copied to avoid sharing everyone's address).
During times when numbers able to attend a funeral service are limited then relatives may be faced with an agonising decision about who can attend. At some points during the pandemic numbers have been limited to immediate family, or to only ten mourners. As at April 2021 up to 30 are allowed, which in many cases would still prevent many significant people from being included. Those who would be of most comfort to you, or who were very close to the person who has died, may not always be the obvious choices.
If you have to tell someone that you know would like to be present at a funeral that they cannot attend, we hope they will understand. The following suggestions may help.
- Make sure they know that there are strict rules in place and that this is hard for you too.
- If there is going to be a live stream or a recording, let them know how they can join.
- You could suggest that they mark the time of the funeral in their own way, and that you will appreciate knowing they are thinking of you. Read our thoughts on attending a funeral remotely.
- You could also ask particular people who were very close to the person to share an anecdote or memory, and if you are attending you could read it out for them.
- When restrictions allow, you can consider a larger memorial service or event so that all those who want to can come together and remember the person who died
Cruse Clinical Director Andy Langford offers some suggestions for saying goodbye when it isn't possible to attend a funeral.
Normally Cruse advice is that children and young people should attend funerals if they wish to. Given current restrictions this may not be possible.
It is better to include children in conversations where possible. Even very young children will understand that certain things are not allowed at the moment, so explain to them what is happening. If they cannot attend you can decide together how you will mark the occasion and how you will remember the person. We have some suggestions here, and you could discuss these and also let them come up with their own ideas, which will be meaningful to them.
What can help
How you can help yourself at a funeral
There is no escaping the fact that the funeral will not be the same as it would have been. Many people many not be able to attend, and this might include those who would have been there as a support to you. Social distancing rules may be very difficult to follow when you can’t comfort each other the way you normally would.
It may help to think beforehand about what it will be like, and what is most important to you. Those aspects which you cannot include at this time might be able to be included in a memorial at a later date. In the meantime some people have even found that there are some benefits to a smaller intimate service, where they do not have to interact with large numbers of people.
Think about after the service too. You may like to make sure you have people to talk to, arrange a small gathering (where current rules allowed) or some kind of virtual get together with those who couldn’t attend in person. Consider what's best for you, and what you will need to support yourself and those around you.
How you can help yourself if you can’t attend
Contact the next of kin and find out if they are streaming or filming the service. Even if you cannot watch in real time, or the funeral is delayed or reduced to a very short service you can still set some time aside to have your own private goodbye or memorial at home. Look at pictures, play some of the person’s favourite music, write a message to them, light a candle or follow any of your own cultural rituals.
Ask those who have been able to attend to call you afterwards so you can hear their account of the event, and take the time to share your memories of the person. We will not be under these restrictions forever, and at some future point you may be able to hold a formal or informal memorial to those who have died. And we are here to speak to if you need us.
How you can help someone else who cannot attend, when you can
If you know that someone you care about is not able to attend a funeral, you may be able to help them at what is a very difficult time. If you are attending the funeral, find out if it is possible to take pictures, record the event or even live stream it. They may like to record their own message to read out or play at the funeral.
Offer to call them afterwards and let them know how it went. They may appreciate the chance to share their memories of the person who has died, and hear your memories too.
As time goes on after a funeral and people continue their lives, some bereaved people find that messages of support tail off. In times of social isolation it will be even more important that they have someone to talk to, so try and stay in touch and let them know you are thinking of them.
How you can help someone when you didn’t know the person who has died
If you can find it in yourself to reach out, please do. Especially if they are on their own. They may want to just share their favorite memories or how painful it is. We all struggle with what the right and wrong this to say but avoiding the subject can compound their grief and make them feel more alone. Acknowledge the person who has died, use their name, text, call and check in regularly.
You can offer them some practical advice too. Share the information and suggestions on this page, or offer to help tell people about the alternative funeral arrangements.
Listening to a distressed loved one, whether you knew the person who died or not, will be hard for you too. We are here to support you if you need to talk.
How Cruse can help
Cruse has 4500 bereavement trained volunteers in our network who are here to support you or someone you know.
Video for Distant Memorials is a collective of freelancers who will offer free memorial videos for as long as social distancing measures disrupt standard funerals