Today I took two funerals at our local crematorium. They were both pre-booked before the lockdown and neither of the deceased contracted Covid 19.
They were both local families who had requested my services but neither attended the church.
Usually I would meet the family in person at their home a week before the funeral to discuss arrangements, prepare the eulogy, read scripture and pray. If they are willing I would then return a second time to confirm the details (ensuring that I have the correct names of all the Grandchildren etc), read scripture and pray.
I would then meet the family in the home of the deceased the morning of the funeral for “Family Prayers” before leading the procession (with the hearse) to the end of the road. A Welsh Valley tradition.
The service and committal are both usually at the Crematorium, (very occasionally at the church).
In such a close community such as the Welsh Valleys, funerals are very well attended. I have rarely done a funeral with less than fifty mourners (and as many as 2,000).
Following the service I would receive an invite to the wake (usually at the local rugby club). I do go on occasion – if appropriate.
The following week I hope to meet the family again with a printed copy of the Eulogy in a card and offer further literature about our church and the hope we have in Jesus.
But in light of the Coronavirus and the national lockdown I can no longer follow this process.
So here are some practical pointers that I hope will be of assistance if you are conducting a funeral service during lockdown.
Before the Funeral
This is going to be tough and made even harder under the heightened anxiety of the lockdown.
Prepare everything over the phone
Phone technology is more familiar to older relatives (and friends) of the deceased. Nobody will feel left out. Zoom and other video conferencing apps can cause added anxiety in a potentially difficult situation. I would not use them unless recommended by the family.
Make sure you have contacted all the family and friends that wish to be involved.
Your initial contact may give you all the information you need, but it is worthwhile to call wider family and friends out of courtesy to see if they have anything to add.
Follow Government guidelines
New regulations limit the amount of mourners that can attend a funeral. Our local crematorium has stipulated a maximum of five guests. Make the family aware that you are up to date with the guidelines. This will save any embarrassment on the day if others wish to come.
Liaise with the Funeral Director about who can come.
Please be sensitive, deciding who can come can cause a family feud at a most difficult time.
Make the effort to contact all those in the immediate family (and close friends) who cannot come because of the restrictions (especially elderly relatives). Help them feel involved by asking for any anecdotes that they wish to add to the eulogy, or simply share with them what you hope to say on the day. Assure them that you will give their condolences during the service. Offer to send a copy of the Eulogy and Order of Service to those who can’t come.
The Funeral Service
The families grief will be amplified by the tragedy of seeing row after row of empty seats. Be conscious of this.
Arrive as early as possible to give you more time with the family. Expect additional members to attend to view from afar. Make sure you go and speak to them – even if they are five minutes walk away in the car park.
A gentle handshake or a pat on the arm speaks volumes, but this cannot be done. Social Distancing limits our ability to communicate, so more time is necessary to show your support to the family verbally. They will need it.
Thank God for the five in attendance and preach Christ as you would normally to a full house, to quote Rev. Richard Wurmbrand “Preach to the unseen angels”. You will have a small but captivated audience with no where to hide, they are in deep grief and pleading for hope. Jesus is always the answer. Take your time, embrace the silence.
When it comes to the hymn. Offer the family to stand and simply ponder the words if they do not feel comfortable singing in an empty room. Gauge their response, if they are not singing, remain mute.
At the end of the service
Still respecting ‘Social Distancing’, offer your condolences again to the family then politely and promptly depart, do not linger.
Wash your hands when you get home.
Follow up with a phone call over the coming days.
Love them. Pray for them.
“The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” Psalm 34:18