by George Clark
South Canterbury funeral directors face support strategy challenges for those who lost loved ones during the Covid-19 lockdown and restrictions.
To stop the spread of the disease, gatherings for funerals and tangihanga were not permitted during Level 4, and will remain limited to 10 people under Level 2, which came into force today.
Betts Funeral Services managing director Julian Donaldson said the families of those who had died had respected the restrictions.
“Everyone has been understanding of the rules and why they were set in place,” he said.
“No-one has asked to bend those rules. A couple of families chose to wait to say goodbye to their loved ones, as the Government allowed 10 people to attend a burial or cremation at Level 3. Luckily technology has come to our aid.”
Betts Funeral Services staff took photographs at each step of the process and livestreamed what they could. One funeral at a Catholic church was watched on 100 different devices, while only a priest and eight mourners were physically there.
It was hard to “see families lose someone and not be able to see them or give a send-off”.
“We tried to do what we could, if it meant us saying a few words on behalf of the family and livestreaming it, putting special items or emailed notes into the casket of the deceased and taking photos to show that they were there,” he said.
“It was about trying to think outside of the square of what we could do under the restrictions to help a tough situation. If you can imagine having just 10 people at a funeral, even if you look at your own family, it is hard to choose who to have come along.”
Mr Donaldson said he believed the restrictions proved the importance of some form of send-off.
“Those who have gone through this lockdown and lost someone see the importance of saying goodbye when that choice is taken away from them.”
Aoraki Funeral Services funeral director Shelley Wilson agreed.
“In normal circumstances we can choose to have a funeral or not. When someone tells you that you are not allowed to have it, you sort of feel like you are really missing out on something. You do not get the choice there. The grieving process is best undertaken with support.”
Ms Wilson said most of the registered 25 to 30 deaths during lockdown had been sent straight to cremation or burial.
One family was hoping for a service at Level 2 but would wait until they were allowed more than 10 people.
“A big part of our job is meeting people and helping them through a tough time not being able to do that seems inhuman. It is a very different time and the level of grief that these particular families will go through will be even harder than normal grief, which is hard enough on its own.”
Health and safety would remain the No 1 priority and contact registers would be in place.