What a funeral during lockdown is really like and why everyone deserves so much more
My grandma recently died from coronavirus and her funeral had to be held under strict social-distancing rules. This is what it was like.
'This awful time reminds us all that the only thing that truly matters is the love we have for each other', said the vicar with an air of optimism as she stood by the side of my grandma's coffin.
I slowly looked around the chapel at the nine other people spread out across the spacious room due to social-distancing rules. In front of me was a piece of A4 paper warning me not to move from my spot and across the floor ran red and white tape to reinforce the point.
The crematorium building would have been heaving otherwise. There would have been loved-ones crammed into the pews giving out warming hugs and reassuring nods. Instead it all felt surreal and distant.
My grandma had joined the thousands of loved ones that the world is saying goodbye to earlier than expected and without the send-off they deserve due to a virus that started thousands of miles away in China. I remember seeing the initial story while on holiday in January and not giving it much of a second thought. Just three months later that virus had turned the lives of my loved ones upside down.
The full-of-life woman I remember died aged 91 after contracting Covid-19 while in a care home. She had underlying health conditions and it struck faster than anyone could have imagined. So fast that she didn’t show the symptoms we have all become so used to reading.
Why lockdown rules matter
Every death is tragic and heartbreaking but now the grieving process for those left behind is made 10-times harder as, understandably, every precaution is taken to try and slow down the spread of the virus.
Her loving sons and daughter did not get the chance to say goodbye as she passed away in a busy hospital ward surrounded by caring medics who had done everything they could for her. That breaks my heart more than anything else. They deserve to grieve for their mother in the way that comes so naturally to us all. She should have died surrounded by her family but that was stolen from her by this selfish disease.
The next day, sat in my cramped home office that doubles as a child’s playroom, I picked up the usual NHS press release listing deaths in each area due to coronavirus and realised my own grandma would be among the numbers. I quickly deleted it and then regretted it. She will never just be a number on a sheet but the numbers are important. If we don't respect the lockdown rules there will be more and more people unable to hold their loved ones in their final moments. Please remember that we are all the solution to this crisis – and we can all be the problem. You choose.
A beautiful Spring day
The morning of the funeral soon came and we met at the house where she used to live and stood awkwardly apart as we waited for the hearse to arrive, fighting the human urge to simply put our arms around each other at a time of great sadness.
Our small congregation followed the silver Mercedes to the crematorium along quiet roads in our individual cars (the funeral cars don't allow for social distancing). The sun was shining, the streets were lined with trees in full blossom and there wasn't a cloud in the sky. It was a day for the picnics and laughter I remember sharing with my grandparents, not goodbyes and tears.
Thankfully, we were still allowed to carry the coffin and carefully place my grandma at her final resting place. As is now the norm, I quickly squirted alcohol gel into my palms as we listened to prayers, had a few smiles at great memories shared and tried our best to sing her favourite hymn.
At the end we stood near the funeral flowers for a while before saying goodbye and slowly drifting back to the cars that would take us back into lockdown. There'd be no raising a glass together, laughing at family jokes or bumping into people we hadn't seen for years at the bar. The celebration of her life will have to wait for another day but it will most certainly happen.
Life goes too fast
I actually hadn't seen my grandma for some time before she passed. Life is very busy with work and young children. There had been many times I was going to pop and see her but something else came up. I knew she was not very well but I thought that there was time. There wasn't.
As I made that long drive home alone, I had an overwhelming feeling of guilt for all those moments I have taken my family and friends for granted - and none more so than my grandma. This disease has shown how fast the world can change and how fragile life really is.
My mum currently works in a hospital ward tackling the Covid-19 outbreak and I worry about her every single day but it's who she is and I'm incredibly proud of what she does. Other loved ones have various underlying health conditions that put them at risk.
I am not unique. Similar concerns will be shared by everyone reading this. Some of you will have lost someone or will know someone fighting this illness and my heart goes out to you all.
If there is anything positive to gain from all of this, it is that the vicar was right. Lockdown has made us realise that while a night out, a day trip or a game of football are great, it is the people that we share those moments with that make them special.
I'm looking forward to giving everyone I love a very long hug when this comes to an end and being that annoying person that pops by just to say hello. It's the least I can do for my grandma.