A funeral in the time of Covid

Milly’s been sick for almost two years, going downhill steadily as Motor Neurone Disease tightens its grip. It’s a cruel condition, remorseless, destroying her body but leaving her mind intact. Helpless, she watches herself slowly waste away. When she finally passes we are sad to say goodbye, but relieved that her suffering is finally over.

The church in the village where Milly lived is closed, being too small for services to be conducted safely while the virus is still active. Instead, the funeral is moved to one that is a little larger, a few miles from her home. It’s a decent sized country church and probably seats around 200 people in normal times, but because of the virus, attendance today is by invitation only and limited to just 30 mourners. Others wishing to pay their respects must stand outside, and listen to the service relayed on loudspeakers.

We put on our facemasks before entering. Only the pews in the nave are available; others in the aisles on the left and the right are out-of-bounds. To facilitate social distancing each pew is limited to just two mourners, the first pair sitting to the left, those in the row behind them to the right, and so on. It looks and feels surreal, this funeral is in the time of Covid.

The priest takes his place, wearing a clear plastic visor. He welcomes us, and apologises that this will not be the sort of funeral to which we are accustomed. It doesn’t matter, we think, we’re simply pleased that we are able to gather here to pay our respects. The social distancing, the facemasks, the other restrictions, none are of any lasting consequence when seen in the context of the life that Milly has lived and lost.

The coffin bearers enter. Incomprehensibly, while everyone else in the church is masked-up, they aren’t. Why? It’s inconsistent and makes no sense, but that could be said of so much of the official response to Covid-19. Our government is clearly making it up as they go along, and while I don’t seek to minimise the challenges they have faced I do worry that they simply aren’t up to the job. I’m tempted to say that they’re a joke, but plainly this is no laughing matter.

The service begins: the prayers, the Bible readings, the eulogy. All standard stuff, swiftly and efficiently executed. But no hymns. The priest advises us that singing is not currently permitted at religious services, as it increases the risk of spreading the virus.

Instead he flips a switch, and a recording of Dear Lord and Father of Mankind fills the air. It’s a familiar hymn that most of us learned in primary school and, although we’re not allowed to sing out loud, as I glance around me I sense several mourners mouthing the words within the privacy of their facemasks.

The end, when it comes, is unexpected. Today would have been Milly’s 89th birthday, and as the coffin bearers carry her from the church the priest flips his switch again and Happy Birthday to You echoes around us. It’s a bit quirky, and therefore in keeping with the rest of the morning’s proceedings. We are reminded that, although we are here to mourn, today is also a celebration of a life well lived. Covid-19 cannot and will not be allowed to distract us from this simple truth.

Rest In Peace, Milly.

10 comments

  1. krikitarts · September 16

    A beautiful post, Mr. P.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · September 16

      There were things that I needed to say, stuff to put on posterity’s record. I’m pleased you think I made a decent job of it. Thank you, Gary.

      Like

  2. nationalparkswitht · September 16

    I’m sorry for your loss. We’ve had to attend 3 funerals via Zoom since the restrictions began, so I’m glad you at least got to pay your respects in person.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · September 16

      Thank you, and likewise my condolences for losses too. It’s important that we find some way, within the restrictions and with technology’s help if necessary, to say goodbye. We owe to the memory of those who have passed, and also to give comfort and show support to those who are left behind. Take care, Theresa, in these difficult days.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. magarisa · September 16

    My condolences.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Catwoods · September 16

    I’m so sorry to hear this.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. tanjabrittonwriter · September 16

    My condolences on your loss, Mr. and Mrs. P. As unusual and quirky as the memorial service might have been, at least you were able to attend an actual service. That’s more than many mourners are able to do.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · September 17

      Thank you. In the circumstances I thought it was a good service, well organised and respectful, and I’m pleased we were able to say goodbye in person, rather than via Zoom or some other technological intervention. I’m sure Milly would have chuckled at the mourners as they secretly sung along with the hymn behind their facemasks…it was a minor, but in my view safe and entirely acceptable, act of rebellion!

      Liked by 1 person

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