EVERY funeral brings its own heartache. No matter what the circumstances, when someone passes away, a void is left behind.
The Covid-19 restrictions currently in place for funerals mean we must go against our natural response of reaching out to those suffering the loss to offer our support.
Restricting our actions and physical contact is completely at odds with how we would traditionally offer our condolences at a time when support is most needed.
There are certain elements that make the loss of a loved one more difficult to accept. When someone’s passing is untimely or unexpected, emotions are more difficult to process. For the family, the arrangement and attendance of a funeral, can carry them through the initial shock and devastation of a sudden loss. The rosary, removal and funeral offer opportunities for the grieving to be comforted by those who knew and loved the deceased. With Covid restrictions in place, and funeral attendances currently capped at 25 people, families and mourners are finding it so much more difficult to comfort each other.
Recently, my friend passed away after a brief illness. He was young, loved his life and never missed an opportunity to spend time with his friends. His passion was music and he was well known and loved on the Cork social scene, always happy, always laughing and had a kind word for everyone who crossed his path. I was honoured to be invited to attend his funeral but my heart ached as I watched his family go through the motions of the funeral process while adhering to Level-5 Covid restrictions.
On the evening of the removal, a small number of friends stood socially distanced on the street outside the funeral home. Some had already paid their respects, others were waiting their turn to go inside. Wearing our face coverings and remaining separated, it was left to our sad eyes to acknowledge each other.
On entering the funeral home there was no Book of Condolences to sign. In its place was a hand-sanitizing unit, which we have all grown so familiar with since the pandemic altered our way of living. The pathway to to say goodbye to our friend and to sympathise with his broken-hearted family was marked clearly in a one way system, leading mourners to enter one door and leave through another.
It is the most unnatural thing to see someone suffering the pain of grief and not to be able to put your arms around them. The family were masked and seated in the silent funeral home which would have been teaming with mourners if Covid restrictions had not been in place. Without even being able to touch their hands I tried to offer my condolences to the shattered parents.
Behind the masks tear filled eyes must meet and try to say so much.
The following day, the funeral mass was both familiar and unfamiliar. The number of people allowed in the church was only a tiny fraction of the numbers who would have wanted to be there to say goodbye to such a well loved, popular person. The family and small congregation remained masked and socially distanced throughout the beautiful service, which was available to access, through the church website. for those who could not attend.
As the mass ended a beautifully chosen song, by his favourite singer, was played on the church organ and everyone’s heart was breaking. Outside the church, the anxiety that we have all grown to live with throughout this pandemic told us that now is not the time to gather with friends that we haven’t seen for a while, but to move away.
When our friend was laid to rest at the cemetery, we stood, distanced from each other, to offer the final prayers. Now is when we want to reach out to each other, to be together, to hug each other, to cry, to laugh, to exchange stories and to try in some small way ease the pain of the loss.
We want to spend time with the family, to support them, to listen to them, to tell them how much they were loved.
We want to tell the parents how proud they must be to have raised such a kind and bighearted son and how blessed we feel to have known him. We want to thank them for opening their home to down through the years and always making us welcome. None of that was possible though and so all we could do was take our sorrow back to our own individual homes.
Every funeral does bring its own heartache but a funeral taking place under Level-5 restrictions is especially cruel. Covid is forcing us to go against every instinct that we have as human beings to comfort one another at a time of loss. We are forced us to remain distant at the time that we need each other the most.