Losing a loved one during lockdown: A Scarborough funeral director outlines what you need to know about services and cremations

Funeral directors on the Yorkshire coast are turning to webcasts and Facebook streaming to alleviate the upset caused by strict new attendance rules.

Friday, 1st May 2020, 9:48 am
Updated Friday, 1st May 2020, 10:17 am

Scarborough Council has stipulated that just five mourners will be allowed to attend burials and cremations during the Covid-19 lockdown.

Since the start of the restrictions, Scarborough Council has allowed “immediate family” only to attend services at Woodlands Crematorium in Scarborough.

The waiting room, office and other public spaces at Woodlands have all been closed, while services can be streamed live online for free for those who cannot attend.

A hearse carries a former care home resident to their funeral in Paisley, Scotland, earlier this week. Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

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Mark Hancock, funeral director at Special Send-Offs on Newlands Park Drive, Scarborough, said the situation is difficult but people have accepted it.

“It’s been received with understanding because everybody is aware of the issue,” he said.

“The use of webcasting and live Facebook broadcasts are certainly helping ease at least some of the distress of not being allowed to attend.

Mark Hancock of Special Send-Offs

“Scarborough Crematorium has removed the charge for webcasts, which is a nice gesture. I have also used a family member’s phone to broadcast a service via Facebook at her mum’s funeral. All the supportive comments and hearts were a real and unexpected comfort to her afterwards.”

Claire Parkinson, Manager of TL Chapman and Son Ltd on Auborough Street, said: “It is very difficult. There are some places in the country where no-one can be there so we are thankful that five people can attend.

“We’re used to dealing with people on such a personal level, being able to sit down and have discussions with families but now it is all having to be done via telephone.”

Scarborough Council has closed the remembrance chapel and book at the crematorium. There is an online version of the book at scribesplus.co.uk/scarborough

Below, Mark Hancock, of Special Send-Offs, outlines the new measures surrounding funerals

What are the rules in Scarborough for funerals in lockdown?

Funerals are still taking place. The Government recognises that funerals are important for the health and wellbeing of grieving people. There are a small number of crematoria who have decided not to allow funeral gatherings to take place and are only holding ‘direct cremations’ with no attendance. York Crematorium tried this and got criticised quite heavily. The Government have since written to local authorities asking them to 'introduce safe and innovative approaches so that bereaved families can attend funerals.' Woodlands crematorium only allows five people to attend now.

‘Social Distancing’ may be enforced with chairs separated. I find the term ‘Social Distancing’ slightly unhelpful; we must of course abide by ‘Physical Distancing’ but as a Funeral Director I am striving for Social Togetherness but at a safe distance.

Are there differences in how I can say goodbye to someone who has died of coronavirus?

There shouldn't be any real difference in terms of what happens at the funeral. The same restrictions that apply for all funerals at the moment will apply to those people who have died with or of Covid-19.

In terms of spending time with the person who has died, at the time of writing you will not be able to go and see them at Scarborough Hospital if they died of Covid-19. Your funeral director may have some restrictions about whether or how you can spend time with them. This is further complicated by the fact that funeral directors may be struggling to get hold of sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) to facilitate safe preparation and for the family visiting the person who has died. At Special Send-Offs in Scarborough we are facilitating visits to go ahead; we have debated and risk assessed this at length, there are risks but they can be managed. Seeing your loved one can be just so important, especially if a family did not have the chance to be with the person when they were dying, which is frequently the case with this awful virus.

How about the funeral itself?

A religious minister or celebrant can lead a ceremony at the crematorium or cemetery, or you could lead it yourselves. Despite the restrictions funerals can still be personal and meaningful, even if the experience is different than you’d originally imagined. You could read tributes and eulogies from absent friends and family members. You could read out the names of people who wished they could be there. It may be possible to share the ceremony online with others – Woodlands Crematorium is able to live stream the service. This can be a really lovely way of sharing with people who aren’t able to attend. The service can also be recorded. Facebook Live is also an option and you can simply use your phone, maybe pass it to the Funeral Director (with a fully charged battery).

You could ask friends and family to light a candle or play someone’s favourite song at a specific time. Whether or not you can see them, knowing that other people are taking part at the same time can be very powerful.

Other ideas might be asking your funeral director to include messages or children’s drawings in the person’s coffin. Now that some flower markets have closed, you could use flowers from your own garden or find other meaningful objects such as clothing, toys or books. Wool or paper flowers from an online provider can also be a nice alternative. Another thing to think about is whether you’d like to hold a memorial in the future.

It’s possible to make the memorial feel more like a funeral by having a celebrant or religious minister involved. They could be there with you to scatter the ashes or help you to read eulogies and tributes. You could also ask your family and friends how they would like to remember the person who has died.

Can I help to carry the coffin?

Scarborough Crematorium has temporarily stopped family and friends from carrying the person who has died. This is to minimise multiple surface contact and potential cross contamination. Mourners are not allowed to touch the coffin at the end of the service for the same reason. At the end of the service the curtains will close.

Are the prices of funerals going up?

Funeral prices shouldn't be going up. The reality of the restrictions means that people are being forced to have pared down funerals which should be costing less than normal. Don’t be afraid to ask for a breakdown of your bill before the funeral. A good funeral director will strive to give you the best possible service at a fair price. If you can, ask a trusted friend or relative to call the funeral director and make sure your wishes are understood and a price is given.

What if the person who died had a funeral plan?

There may well be significant differences (including cost) between the funeral you paid for and the pared down funeral you will now need to have. Funeral plan providers should find a way to refund or pay forward the difference in price. Do ask the funeral director how this can be arranged on your behalf.

Can I have a delayed funeral?

This is clearly the most impossible time for grieving people who are having to face restrictions regarding the funeral. Delaying the funeral, however, will put immense strain on funeral directors, crematoria and cemeteries who are doing their best to give people the best possible experience in difficult circumstances. It is also unlikely to help because the Government has been clear that current restrictions are likely to be in place for the ‘foreseeable future’.

What is a direct cremation?

A direct cremation is a cremation which usually takes place early in the morning without any friends or family attending. A private ambulance may used instead of a hearse and a simple coffin would usually replace anything ornate or expensive. The price of a direct cremation should be significantly lower than a funeral with a ceremony, and is usually listed by the funeral director as an ‘all in’ price. It should involve the same thoughtful care from the funeral director and crematorium.

It’s worth noting that more direct cremations are taking place through this lockdown period with many families planning a more elaborate memorial at a later date.

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