Breaking through the ‘coldness of Covid’ to create funerals full of warmth
A Catch-up with Morfa Civil Ceremonies
We recently had a catch-up with celebrant Deborah Morgan-Lewis of Morfa Civil Ceremonies. Deborah is a funeral celebrant accredited by the AOIC and is based in Cardiff, South Wales. She has conducted natural burials at both Cardiff and Usk and has been right in the centre of organising funerals during the Covid-19 pandemic.
We wanted to discuss how she has found the restrictions that Covid 19 is creating and the impact these are having on funerals.
What really came across to us was that smaller socially distanced funerals don’t have to be impersonal. In fact, they can be very intimate, personal and special.
We can’t hug but we can still show we care
When we first started discussing funerals and restrictions, one aspect that really stood out was that it can feel as if there is not as much warmth. This is because you can’t give a hug to those who need it, not even to closest family and friends. You’re not able to meet people face to face. 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. It’s part of how we show care and offer comfort, but covid has restricted this.
This has been one of the hard-hitting impacts of restrictions. We have experienced this ourselves because we can’t invite people to the office or meet them over a cuppa. There is social distancing at the office and the natural burial grounds. But while we can’t show how we care with our presence, 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 Debs it was clear that it is so difficult to go against what you feel you ‘should be doing’. This is because it is the norm but it’s for our own good. At the moment we have to show we care in other ways. Reach out to people with thoughtful acts and find other ways to show we are there. For some people having that physical space has been a bit of a relief.
Smaller funerals and burials
One of the biggest impacts we have encountered with funerals during covid is the restrictions in numbers. It has caused upset because it is hard for those that cannot attend. It would be much more upsetting if we ignored government advice and people became unwell.
We have found our natural burial grounds have been the ideal setting for funerals. Partly because we don’t have to sanitise our environment, worry about time slots or worry about back-to-back funerals as we don’t book funerals back to back or restrict time. We have had to reduce numbers to ensure funerals are safe. This is for our families and their visitors and also our staff and funeral providers like celebrants and funeral directors. However, numbers haven’t had to be as restrictive because our funerals are outdoors. Families have time and space and can do things they wouldn’t be able to do at a crematorium.
While we have had to lower numbers families still have the time they need to plan something special. Giving families a bit more time can help to plan something personal. We know some crematoria have taken this on board. However, others have restricted time slots further to accommodate cleaning. This impacts families further when they may need more time not less. However, we have helped families who wanted more time and space by hosting services at the natural burial ground. They then followed onto the crematoria for a very short committal with allowed numbers.
Another thing that we touched on was that restricted numbers do not mean people cannot be there. There are ways to include family without physically being there in person. We wanted to get Deborah’s view on this and find out how she has been working with families to overcome this.
Turning to Technology
One of the ways we have countered the restrictions in travel and numbers is via webcasts and recordings. This includes using webcasts and recordings. Some crematoria have built-in systems you can use.
There is also the ability to record or stream via a phone, but it’s important to remember that technology is not full proof. It doesn’t always work as it should and take your focus away from the funeral. As Deborah said, “I think it is far more important for the few family members in attendance to be ‘present’ in mind and being. Not preoccupied with using their phone or another device to record/live stream the service. This is their one-time opportunity to say goodbye. Using a device to record can be distracting for everyone present when the focus should be on your loved one.”
If you cannot use a built-in system to stream or record there is another option. You can arrange for a professional videographer to record or stream the service for you. This allows those who can’t be there to say goodbye and allows those there to focus on the funeral. You can arrange this whether it’s at a crematorium, cemetery or natural burial ground.
An intimate service of celebration and love
Using technology is not the only way to have all your family and friends involved. You can include family in different ways. Deborah has found that for some, an intimate gathering had a much more positive and meaningful impact for those 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. Instead, families had a chance to include personal messages from family and friends whether in attendance or not.
This has brought a personal aspect to funerals that many families may not have considered before. Instead of a eulogy of their life, they included every part of their life with genuine messages of warmth and love. Some have included flowers from family and friends’ gardens to go in a very personal floral tribute or a photo to go on the coffin.
These 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
Intimate gatherings mean that some families feel much more relaxed, with less pressure on them to stay strong or presentable. We all grieve differently but 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. They can 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 said 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 they may not originally have chosen an intimate service, it turned out to be the perfect ‘send-off’.
Arrange a Memorial at a later date
Those who still would like a large gathering with family and friends can still have one. At our natural burial grounds, families can arrange a memorial service when gatherings are safe again. Sometimes this means families can add personal touches that are not possible on the day like a wildflower seed scatter.
Deborah has mentioned that some of her families are choosing to have a memorial when they inter or scatter ashes. Some of our families have asked if they can do something special when they place a memorial plaque. You can even incorporate a memorial into the wake for a more informal memorial. Some families have asked us if they can return in the summer for a memorial picnic.
Some families are choosing to have a ‘party’ or ‘wake’ to celebrate their loved one’s life at a later date. Because our burial grounds are green open spaces families have remained at the burial meadow after a funeral. This has allowed them to have their own intimate wake following their funeral with pizza or a picnic that fits within guidelines. We are very lucky we can offer this. These are some of the things you can do, whether during restrictions or even after if it is a more fitting farewell.
“There doesn’t have to be a meadow or woodland full of people, to show how much someone was loved”.
What is most important?
We asked Deborah what she felt was most important to her when officiating funerals during the pandemic. She said, “making the service as personal and loving as possible. It’s difficult being unable to grieve together but we can still give a loved one completely personal service. One that celebrates everything their loved one meant to their family and friends. There doesn’t have to be a room full of people, to show how much they were loved.”
This is something we definitely agree with at Leedam Natural Burials seeing how personal our funerals have been. Leedam Natural Burials But 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 was good to hear how personal funerals and natural burials can be amidst restrictions as long as we are all willing to put the time, effort and care into them. They may be a bit different to the norm, but sometimes this has been a positive experience because it shows us we can do things our own way. It doesn’t have to make the send-off any less meaningful. You can read about how some of our families have been adding their own personal touches to their funerals here.
A big thank you
We wanted to say a big thank you to Deborah Morgan-Lewis for her help with this blog.
We also wanted to thank all those working in the funeral industry including funeral providers, funeral suppliers, officiants and funeral directors.
We have great respect for those working in the funeral sector. We know death is not something people like to think about and as a result, they are sometimes overlooked. But they are key workers and an integral part of the current pandemic and everyday life. They are at risk of catching Covid-19 every time they go to work and are arranging Covid funerals. As a natural burial provider, it’s our job to keep them as safe as possible, along with our families, visitors and our staff. We really do appreciate that they are going out of their way to help plan personal and meaningful funerals at what is a very difficult time for all. We hope you all stay safe and stay well.
Deborah Morgan-Lewis; Morfa Civil Ceremonies
If you want to get in touch with Deborah at Morfa Civil Ceremonies you can find her details below.