Socially distanced mourning, 12-hour days, and and practising in full PPE—what the experience of funeral workers tells us about the changing face of griefby Jason Murugesu / July 6, 2020 / Leave a comment
“I’ve cried a lot,” says Amanda Dalby, a funeral worker in Halifax, West Yorkshire. “I don’t usually! It unprofessional—it’s not my loved one. But during the pandemic, I couldn’t help myself. It’s been a traumatic experience.”
Soon after lockdown began in March, Park Wood Crematorium in Halifax announced that no mourners would be allowed to attend cremation services. This decision was swiftly reversed following objections by clergymen and funeral workers, but mourners (limited to ten) were still not allowed to enter its chapel for the funeral service for several weeks in April and May.
“There was one 85-year-old woman who had sit outside in the cold, as a service was conducted for her husband of 62 years,” Dalby says.
Halifax has been left relatively unscathed during the pandemic, Dalby tells me, but Covid-19 has still impacted every aspect of a funeral and the grieving process. “It’s so devastating seeing ten people in a chapel mourning a loved one, all socially distancing,” she says. “They’re sobbing and just looking at each other.” “There’s going to be a lot of unresolved grief” she continues.
“What I’ve started doing is putting my hand to my heart, and then putting it back down” says Katrina Wagstaff at The Cornish Funeral Company. “I guess it like a form of sign language—just to show that we’re thinking of them.”
“We’ve got one hand behind our backs,” says Wagstaff’s husband, Terry. “When we collect a body, we go in with full PPE. We come in with white suits and it’s all very scary and impersonal.”
As owners of a relatively new company, Katrina and Terry pride themselves on providing a service that is more personal and less restricted by tradition. Of the 200 or so funerals they have done since opening, only eight have used a hearse. But while they used to discuss funeral plans at someone’s home over a cup of tea, it is now all conducted over the phone. “Sometimes you feel like a cog in the machine, and like we’re just body disposers” says Katrina.
Ali (not her real name) works in a crematorium in the South of England. She says that her team have had an average of two…