The situation of the global coronavirus pandemic and our response to it is changing rapidly. It is already having a major effect on public gatherings such as funerals. I can’t offer any advice but I can tell you what I as a celebrant am doing in response to the problem.

Family visits
Like all celebrants I try to visit the family of the deceased. This is central to ensuring that the ceremony reflects the wishes of the person who has died and of their family and friends. But at the moment I am not visiting families in the homes. Instead I will work by phone, email, Skype, Zoom or FaceTime or will meet family at the offices of the funeral director.

I am trying to avoid shaking hands at the moment and instead am bowing to family members as a mark of respect. Of course, it’s tradition for families to shake hands with ALL mourners after a funeral (and often to go back for refreshment somewhere). I don’t have any official guidance from Dundee Crematorium but at my services, I have made an announcement to say that families do not want people to feel uncomfortable if folk prefer NOT to shake hands or to socialize afterwards. Everyone understands the situation we’re in.

If people can’t attend
Many people will not be able to travel to funerals. Others, especially people in high risk groups, may decide not to attend. This can be very distressing as a funeral is such an important part of the grieving process. Some crematoriums like Dundee offer the possibility to stream the ceremony live or on a “Watch Again” website. They can also make a DVD of the ceremony.
I often make a single printed copy of the eulogy but I am also happy to prepare larger numbers of copies for those who can’t attend. I can include photos and even a CD of music played at the ceremony.

Memorial services
If only a few people are able to attend a ceremony – or if the situation changes and all funeral services are stopped – it’s important to remember that a memorial service is always an option once things settle down. Freed from all the constraints of crematorium schedules etc, a memorial can be a very special way to bring people together, share stories and memories.

Michael Hannah, Funeral Celebrant, March 2020


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