Funerals on the Gold Coast during COVID-19 times

Like so many other businesses, we have adjust to changes in our work conditions and the services we can provide to people at the time of a death in the family.

Social distancing and the number of people permitted within specified areas, means we can only have two members of the family attend the meeting with our team to arrange the funeral service. I suggest other family members who would ordinarily have been present at this meeting dial in via phone to be part of the decision making process.

On arrival at our building to arrange the funeral, the obligatory hand sanitiser is now a permanent fixture on the front desk and is offered to guests as they enter. We have also introduced a strict morning cleaning regime of all surfaces, door knobs, light switches etc., which is repeated after any visitors to the building have departed. This procedure is replicated in the Chapels where the funerals are held.

The biggest impact to funeral services is the limitations on attendees. Initially this was 10 people in total – including the minister or celebrant and the funeral staff, so in reality this only allowed for 7 family members to attend. This has been raised to 10 family members, plus the person conducting the ceremony and our staff. (this number is at 30/4/2020 and we believe may change again in the near future). We have removed seating in our chapels and now only hold 10 chairs, spaced far apart according to the guidelines.

However, 10 people present at the service is still a very small number and we are finding the option of livestreaming services has become the norm. I recently had a service livestreamed and we recorded 285 views at the end of the service from around Australia and the globe. The feedback we have received from the “viewers” has been overwhelmingly positive, which is a great comfort to the family. We have always provided this opportunity in the past - usually for people overseas who could not make it to a service - but it was not a common occurrence. Now it has become “the norm”.

While there is the temptation to not have a funeral and plan a memorial at a later date with the deceased person’s ashes present, we find that, especially for the immediate family, this is emotionally unacceptable. It is still an integral part of the grieving process to have a ceremony of farewell i.e. “a funeral”. The gathering of the clan is especially important in this time of isolation. We have on some occasions held two funeral services back to back – meaning we have the minister or celebrant repeat the service after the first 10 family members have departed, for a second set of 10 family members. This allows an expansion of up to 20 in attendance, and that has been a great solace. Likewise with viewings, we stagger these over an extended period of time to allow more members of the family and friendship circle to attend and pay their last respects. There are over 120 different cultural groups living on the Gold Coast, and for many of these, the funeral ceremony is not negotiable – it simply must take place.

As funeral directors we take great pride in the work we do, and in times like these it feels more important than ever to create meaningful funerals for the families we care for. It is a privilege to serve our community and it now has a significance like never before.

We also have grief support resources available on our website https://www.whiteladyfunerals.com.au/funeral-help-advice/grief-support-resources/ to help families at this time.

An update as at 15th May 2020, we are still required to maintain the social distancing of mourners attending services, allowing 4 square metres per person, with a space of 1.5 metres between guests. In Chapels that have a large capacity this extends the number of guests attending a service to 20 people, this is in addition to the Clergy or Celebrant and funeral staff. However some of the smaller Chapels which are limited in size can have a maximum of 14 in attendance – including staff and Celebrant . These numbers will be reviewed by QLD Health in another month with a view to further increases in attendance.

Jenny Crewes

White Lady Funerals Southport

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