It can be difficult knowing where to go when you lose a loved one at the best of times. But with the current restrictions on social gatherings, funerals excepted, here we take a look at what the emergency legislation and guidelines will mean to you if you lose someone in the immediate future.

To protect your health and that of funeral workers, special measures have been introduced across the board, something no-one in the business takes lightly. However, some measures are mandatory and some are voluntary because there is a perceived need to protect the living. After all, if funeral workers are sick or isolated, they can’t offer you any of their care in your time of need. 

You should expect to be asked you what your loved one died of. Funeral Directors are trained to handle the deceased from any cause and ought to have the appropriate personal protection equipment. What they can not protect you or themselves from are relatives who are unwitting carriers of the disease. For this reason, it is necessary for us, at least for the foreseeable future, to put in place special measures. 

Nearly all funeral directors ask your understanding in stopping face to face contact with them in favour of making arrangements using phone calls, and for some like us, video calls and email. 

You should expect to obtain the Medical Certificate Couse of Death (MCCD) from the hospital bereavement office or GP surgery as usual.  Registration will, whether via the library service in Kent or the Registration Service in Sussex, now be conducted too by telephone. Certified copies for probate will be emailed and, to speed the process up, the authority to cremate or bury your loved one, the ‘green’ electronically to either your nominated funeral director and/or the chosen cemetery or crematorium.

For cremation the Coronavirus Bill, which became law on 23rd March, has had the most impact. Previously three independent doctors had to attest to the cause of death. Firstly the doctor issuing the MCCD, who also had to have seen your loved one with in 14 days of their death and again after death before completing the Cremation From 4, an independent doctor who also had to see the deceased, speak to you and any nursing staff before completing the Cremation Form 5, and finally the Medical Referee at the crematorium before approving the cremation by signing the Cremation Form 10. Under current special measures any doctor, if requested by the doctor who looked after your loved one and is unavailable due maybe to isolation, can issue the MCCD and complete the Cremation Form 4, and that is having seen your loved one within 28, not 14, days, and again after death by video link wherever they are lying if this is more expedient. There is no confirmatory Cremation Form 5, which is temporarily suspended although the Medical Referee does still have the final say in completing the Cremation From 10. 

Along with most funeral directors, we will endeavour to have all documents signed and served, wherever possible, electronically, although there may be a need in some circumstances to use the post or hand delivery. 

And so we must consider the type of funeral service available to you. The Government have said that public gatherings must be limited to two people, except for funerals.  With churches, largely because of an elderly clergy and congregation, closed and local cemetery chapels closed too, the only option for an indoor service with hymns and music etc., is a crematorium chapel.  However, the Government have also suggested that those attending funeral services should be close family and under 70 years of age, and/or not shielding for health reasons. In practice this means that if you lose a loved one you can have a graveside service, largely spoken, unless you bring along a portable speaker, in a churchyard or cemetery, or in a crematorium chapel. But, those attending are limited to spouses or partners, parents & carers, siblings & spouses/partners and children and spouses/partners, in all circa 10 people. Some venues are saying 6 people only and you must remember that there will be no hymn books, no open coffins, you won’t be able to touch the coffin before, during or after the service and there are to be no handshakes or hugs in accord with social distancing guidelines. 

The advantage in using a crematorium, though, is that the service can be streamed and/or recorded to allow those unable to attend to participate either on the day, or shortly thereafter. With any of these choices there is the opportunity for a later memorial service in church or chapel with the cremated remains should you have had your loved one cremated. 

Pretty much all service celebrants and clergy will also restrict you to telephone conversations in preparing the funeral service for your loved ones and will gain your approval by email.    

Now, the most important restriction that seems to be imposed by the venues is a refusal to allow anyone to attend the funeral of a coronavirus victim. Reluctantly, this restriction has been imposed for two principal reasons, firstly the likelihood that near family will have been with your loved one during their illness and be infected, and secondly, the concern that the sheer number of possible deaths make the option of waiting at least two weeks for every victims’ family to isolate logistically impossible.

Sadly, most funeral directors have also had to stop viewings in their chapels and viewing rooms and, consequently, will not accept clothing to dress the deceased ahead of their funeral. Instead they will place them in a gown.

Because of the risks to both clients and to their staff, funeral directors have reluctantly withdrawn limousine services for the foreseeable future. This also reinforces HM Government’s social distancing guidelines and we are encouraging families to travel together in household groups often behind the hearse from either your house or the funeral home. Some funeral director’s may not offer this choice.

Your understanding is also requested if, for whatever reason, the funeral director needs to carry your loved one into chapel using chapel wheels, rather than bearing them in on the shoulder. This may be due to a local crematorium restriction, staff shortages or the need to ensure social distancing. For this reason also, most funeral directors will not allow families to carry the coffin either.

And what of the cost for a funeral?  Well, given that almost all services are either an unattended cremation, or a limited service using a hearse only, we have two specially priced packages with limited service options. Should you need the services of a funeral director during this crisis, more than ever you should ‘shop around’ and ensure that you aren’t paying for services and options that you can’t have due to the restriction imposed on us all.

Away from the funeral itself, many florists are shut but flowers are available from a limited number of florists, or the local supermarket. If your florist is closed please contact your funeral director who should know where to source, with some limitation in colour and type, flowers for you. Donations in lieu of flowers should be made on-line if your funeral director supports this, or by cheque to their offices ONLY please.  Cheques and cash on the day are presently frowned upon.

None of this is something that we, as committed as we are to provide you with the highest possible level of service, take lightly. However, the safety of those that have lost a loved one and require our service, and our staffs’ wellbeing is of paramount importance to us in this awful time. Funerals may never be the same again.

Simon Welham & all the team at Welham Jones