How social distancing has brought a more personal element to funerals...
We recently had a catch up with celebrant Deborah Morgan Lewis of Morfa Civil Ceremonies who has been right in the centre of organising funerals during the Covid-19 pandemic. Deborah is based in Cardiff and has conducted natural burials at our natural burial grounds in both Cardiff and Usk.
We wanted to discuss how she has been finding the changes that have had to be implemented and how this had impacted on funerals. What came across, when we discussed this, was that socially distanced funerals don't have to be impersonal; in fact, they can be much more intimate and rewarding.
“Implementing restrictions shows how much we care”
When we first started talking about funerals and changes that have had to be made, one aspect that we discussed is that it can feel as if there is not as much warmth because you can’t give a hug to those who need it. You're not able to meet people face to face, and it doesn’t feel right because it’s not in our nature to deal with bereavement in this way. When someone is in pain, we want to reach out to them.
This has been one of the hard-hitting impacts of current restrictions. We have felt this ourselves as a natural burial provider because we can’t invite people to the office or meet them over a cuppa, and social distancing has had to be maintained at both the office and the natural burial grounds. While we can’t show how we care in the ‘normal ways’, it doesn’t mean there is any less care. In fact, these restrictions show how much we care, because we want people to be safe and well.
Speaking to Deborah it was clear that it is so difficult to go against what you feel you ‘should be doing’ but it’s for our own good. So at the moment we just have to show our love and care in other ways and we can break through the ‘coldness of covid-19’ to create funerals and natural burials that are full of love and warmth.
One of the biggest impacts on funerals at the moment is restrictions in numbers. It has caused upset to some people and we know ourselves that it is a hard decision to make, but it would be much more upsetting if we ignored government advice and people became unwell because of it.
Whilst natural burials are the ideal setting for funerals at the moment as they are outdoors - we don’t have to sanitise our environment and don’t have to worry about back to back funerals – we have still had to restrict numbers to ensure funerals are safe. This is not just for the welfare of our families but also for the welfare of the officiants like Deborah and our Funeral Directors and Funeral Suppliers who are at risk of catching Covid-19 every time they go to work.
We have great respect for those working in the funeral sector, it’s not something people like to think about and as a result they are sometimes overlooked, but they are an integral part of the current pandemic so as a natural burial provider it's our duty to keep them as safe as possible. However restricted numbers does not mean that family cannot be in attendance and we wanted to get Deborah's view on this and how she has been working with families to overcome this.
‘Turning to Technology’
When speaking to Deborah she mentioned that one of the biggest ways we have been countering the restrictions is via webcasts and recordings. Some crematoria have built in systems, however funerals can be streamed or recorded using a phone, but it’s important to remember that technology is not full proof, it doesn’t always work as it should. As Deborah said, “I think it is far more important for the few family members in attendance to be ‘present’ in mind and being, rather than preoccupied with using their phone or other device to record/livestream the service… This is their one-time opportunity to say goodbye so using a device to record can be distracting for everyone present, when the focus should really be on your loved one.” If this is something you wish to do then it’s important you are able to do this in a way that still allows to focus on your loved one, one way is to arrange for a professional videographer to do this for you.
An intimate service of celebration and love’
Using technology is not the only way to have all your family and friends involved because one aspect that Deborah mentioned is that the more intimate gatherings have actually had a much more positive and meaningful impact for the families who are grieving.
As all family and friends cannot be at the service, a eulogy or tribute isn’t necessarily as appropriate as it is for a larger gathering. Some families find that their own messages for the deceased are more personal - they can be from individual family members, or friends, whether in attendance or not.
It has brought a personal aspect to funerals that many families may not have heard of before and includes every part of their life with genuine messages of warmth and love.
There are positive lessons that we can learn and take with us when restrictions are lifted to make funerals even more personal.
“You don’t have to put on a brave face”
These intimate gatherings also mean that some families feel much more relaxed, with less pressure, because we all grieve differently and many of us put on a ‘brave face’ so we don’t upset others. As gatherings are currently limited to close family, individuals can grieve openly and say a very personal goodbye without the worry of how they may appear to others.
For some families they have had the service they never knew they wanted – Deborah has had feedback from families who have been surprised that it was such a nice ‘send off’ because it was so relaxed and informal. She has also had many families say to her, “He would have loved this because he hated any fuss. He would only have wanted his closest family there anyway.” And so, whilst he may not originally have chosen an intimate service, it turned out to be the perfect ‘send off’.
“Memorial services can be organised with family and friends at a later date”
For those who maybe still wish they could have a large funeral because they would have wanted all their family and friends there, this is still possible. At our natural burial grounds we are making sure families know they can have a memorial service when gatherings are safe again. Deborah has mentioned that some of her families are choosing to have a memorial when they inter or scatter ashes, while some of our families have asked if they can do something special like a memorial service or picnic at the burial ground when they place a memorial plaque. Other families are choosing to have ‘party’ or ‘wake’ to celebrate their loved one’s life at a later date - while we have also had families stay behind at the burial meadow to have their own intimate wake following their funeral with pizza or a picnic, and we are lucky we can offer this.
“There doesn’t have to be a meadow or woodland full of people
to show how much they were loved”
When we asked Deborah what she felt was most important to her when officiating funerals at the moment she said, ‘‘Making the service as personal and loving as possible. It is so difficult being unable to grieve together but we can give a loved one a completely personal service that celebrates everything they have meant to their family and friends… there doesn’t have to be a room full of people to show how much they were loved.” - Deborah Morgan Lewis - Morfa Civil Ceremonies.
This is something we definitely agree with at Leedam Natural Burials although as we mentioned to Deborah in our case it’s, “there doesn’t have to be a meadow, or woodland full of people to show how much they were loved.” It is nice to hear how personal funerals and natural burials can still be.
Thank you very much to Deborah for her help with this blog. Deborah’s details below if you want to get in touch or find out more about Morfa Civil Ceremonies.
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