Severely reduced services hard on families in pandemic, funeral directors say

Ryan Hooper, PA

Funeral staff have described the anguish of having restricted numbers of mourners attend services during the coronavirus pandemic.

Government restrictions saw funerals scaled back to just 10 mourners during the first lockdown, although up to 30 are currently allowed to attend.

But it means families have been faced with the difficult decision on who can say their final goodbyes in person and who will be told to stay away or watch the service online.

Mandy Dewar, funeral service manager at Co-op Funeralcare in Watford, said: “One of the biggest challenges is having to tell families about the restricted numbers.

“It’s been very difficult, because it goes against what we’re here to do for our families – to tell family members they can only have 10 or 20 people attending.

“But we have been able to offer them webcasting, so we have been able to offer an alternative.

“Although they aren’t able to attend, they can view it and it’s been actually very positive because it allows people who have not been able to travel the opportunity to be part of that service. Some family members also like to re-watch the funerals.

“It’s nice for them to be able to reflect. So there are some positives.”

Mrs Dewar, 51, said restrictions at funeral services were particularly hard on the families of young people.

The Covid-related death of 13-year-old Ismail Mohamed Abdulwahab, from Brixton in south London, in March last year drew widespread attention after photographs from his funeral service showed no members of his family were allowed to attend because they were self-isolating after two of his six siblings had displayed mild symptoms.

It prompted the Government to state that families could attend funerals to mourn their loved ones and be allowed to visit their graves.

Mrs Dewar said: “To see that (Ismail’s funeral) was very upsetting because nobody wants that for their loved one, it’s a time of being with your family and friends and taking comfort from those around you.

“To see them going through that on their own and not having the opportunity to give their family the full service they would like has been very difficult.

“Explaining to families they can’t have all their family members – putting them in that position that they need to choose who attends the funeral of their loved one – is very difficult.”

Funeral director Colette Sworn gathers a floral tribute as part of her preparations to oversee a funeral at Co-op Funeralcare in Watford, Hertfordshire
Funeral director Colette Sworn gathers a floral tribute as part of her preparations to oversee a funeral at Co-op Funeralcare in Watford, Hertfordshire (Jonathan Brady/PA)

Her colleague, funeral director Colette Sworn, said Covid-19 restrictions meant there was one occasion where a widow was the only mourner allowed to attend her husband’s service because other family members were either vulnerable or shielding.

She said: “Being a funeral director, all we think about is helping and supporting our families so I felt I had to be in the chapel with the lady to pay her respects to her husband.

“She was very grateful, she felt very lonely.

“I feel for the families because grief is a hard time for families at the best of times, let alone being in a pandemic.

“And I feel families need families around them supporting them.

“The lady on her own, I felt I couldn’t leave her alone. That’s not what we’re about.”