Funerals during lockdown

We spoke to funeral director Kate Spohrer about her work during this difficult time.

Have you found any of the restrictions difficult to comply with for example numbers at funerals are limited to a handful people in our locality aren’t they?

“Yes, it feels more difficult to enable the healing and grieving to take place. Families have to make tough decisions on who can and who cannot attend and this can lead to conflict at a difficult enough time without having to decide who can and cannot attend. Then when people enter the chapel they are expected to sit on isolated seats so no-one can comfort the grieving. It all feels hollow and inhuman. I encourage households to sit together.”

Are all crematoria imposing the same restrictions?

“No, each crematorium differs in what they will and will not allow. At some I am not allowed to leave the curtains open at the end of the ceremony. For some people the curtains closing is a very distressing experience. I have always given families the choice to close or leave open. Now we have to close the curtains to ‘Discourage anyone from going up to the coffin on their way out’ completely removing family choice.”

You always start your ceremonies by spending a few moments touching the coffin, making a connection with the one who has died. Is this something you are still doing?

“I have been told not to touch the coffin. I’m not sure who is being protected here, me or the crematorium attendant behind the scenes. There are so many inconsistencies in life at the moment, for example we can go shopping in a supermarket without mask or gloves, and inevitably at times get within two metres of another, at the checkout for example, and who knows who has handled goods before you pick them up, yet at a unique event like a funeral we are expected to fight all our human instinct. It’s very hard and leaves me with a feeling of great sadness.”

There is such a thing as a non-attended cremation, which seems to be gaining popularity. Can you tell us a bit more about them?

“A non-attended cremation is exactly as it says; no mourners attend. The funeral director takes the coffin to the crematorium with no family present, usually early in the morning and the cremation takes place later that day. We take ours to Redditch Crematorium because we like to keep it local. We also tell people exactly when the cremation will take place so they can, light a candle and spend some quiet time then. This kind of ceremony can be very good especially if the family can see the funeral as separate parts, 1. the cremation, 2. the memorial/celebration and then 3. the food and drink.”

Some ceremonies are now being webcast. How do you feel about that?

“I think it’s a great idea. I ‘attended’ my uncle’s funeral the other day via the web. It was good, his funeral was a long way away so I probably would not have been able to go in person even without Covid-19 but this way I got to feel included. His son who lives abroad was able to read a eulogy on screen. I have taken several funerals which we filmed. This new way of doing things may have a positive and lasting effect. We think nothing of photos and video at a wedding, why not at a funeral as well?”

Are burials still taking place, or does everyone have to be cremated?

“Yes, burials are still taking place. We did a lovely woodland burial a few weeks ago, beautiful location, lovely willow coffin, daffodils from our own gardens, Beatles music at beginning and end. The numbers were restricted but we were all out in the open in glorious weather, no time restrictions, and it would have been a very clean environment virus-wise. I always feel uplifted on a day I am going to a woodland burial. Such a deep connection with nature; they feel so right.”

So would you recommend a woodland burial?

“Absolutely. They are definitely the way forward, very 21st century, eco-friendly and healing. I’ve already got my plot!”