As I walked the short road to our local cemetery to conduct my second funeral under the Covid-19 restrictions, my first having been an unsettling trip to the crematorium with only two mourners present and staff in protective suits, I was struck by a profound sense of sadness for those who would join me at the graveside, and those who could not. In normal circumstances this would have been a well attended funeral in the church for a well known and well-loved member of the community. Instead only his immediate family would gather.
The hearse was leaving from the family home and would make its way through the village. I recalled following the hearse carrying my mother to the crematorium and an older man who stopped, removed his cap, and bowed as we passed. That simple act might help families to know that they were not alone. The comfort they would in other circumstances have received from their friends and neighbours gathering was still in some small way available. And for us, as those who could not attend, there was a way we could still honour and remember those who had died.
As I walked down the road I posted a short plea on Facebook.
“Paying Our Respects
If you see a hearse, could you stop, stand for a moment as it passes, perhaps take off your cap, and bow your head? In these times where funerals are limited to only a very few close family our chance to support people during a bereavement is limited. So, I wonder if we could revive an old tradition that would show people that their loss is noticed and shared by us all? It would mean the world to families in a time of sadness.” The post must have acknowledged a widespread concern. It went viral.
As the weeks have passed I’ve faced the same issues as all ministers. Pastoral visits by phone and by video just aren’t the same, but then nothing is. I’ve found families to be understanding and grateful for the time to talk, and for the opportunity to have a funeral that is perhaps more fitting and full than they first expected; a tribute by the graveside, music played on a bluetooth speaker, time to reflect and remember, and the offer of a fuller service printed or recorded for them to keep and share.
We find ourselves on the list of key workers for a reason. These, as we all know, are strange and difficult times where the rites and rituals of dying and death are curtailed so small acts, seemingly tiny details and fleeting moments, will be magnified in importance. There is always the tendency to focus on what we can’t do, what has been lost, but that does not serve those we help. There are still conversations to be had, time to be shared and rituals to be followed. We might have to be a little more creative in that but there is still great meaning and comfort to be found in all kinds of places and actions.