My name is Anne Allison and I am a business owner/funeral director along with my husband David in our family business, Oakdale Funerals.
Thank you for reading my thoughts around my experiences of working as a funeral director and celebrant during the challenging time of lockdown and restrictions during the COVID-19 pandemic here in Melbourne.
Gee, first and foremost how terribly difficult this time has been for so many people in our community, but I have to s
ay that holding funerals in this space brings a whole new word to the meaning of grief, and for many families has compounded what was already a terribly sad and stressful time.
Imagine wanting to hold a funeral for your hugely loved Italian father with the expectation of around 200 attending his funeral, with a big gathering afterwards of wine and food, in the Italian way of course.
Instead of this we watched our client family crumble as they begged to allow just one extra special family member to attend, taking the numbers from 10 to 11. This was incredibly important to them. Despite speaking with politicians and other authorities our pleas fell on deaf ears, and that one extra special person watched the service on their own in their lounge room. Our client family cried. So did I.
Or the four year old precious little girl who died from a rare and aggressive cancer. The ten attendees looked understandably shell shocked and I know so desperately missed the physical and emotional support from others on such a sad day. I saw some of them quietly hugging discretely in a corner, away from the cameras. It came to mind how terribly sad that we have come to this time where a simple much needed hug is forbidden. This quote I recently found reminded me of just how much we need others:
“To be honest with you, I don’t have the words to make you feel better, but I do have the arms to give you a hug, ears to listen to whatever you want to talk about, and I have a heart, a heart that’s aching to see you smile again…”
I’m sure many of you during this time can relate to that quote in your own life.
It is human nature to want to be with others, to comfort others, to laugh with others, to grieve with others – and it comes from deep within our biological core.
During this time there is absolutely no doubt that technology, in particular the ability to live stream, has been our savior. As much as we loathe it at times and feel the pangs of our love/hate relationship. It has certainly come to our rescue with the marvels of live streaming and recorded tributes.
And family members and friends have been oh so grateful to indeed feel that they are almost present in the service, albeit minus the hugs!
We have conducted services with 300 people watching in from all over the world. How amazing and wonderful! On one occasion we had the family grandchildren unable to attend but watching in and also providing pre recorded tributes where they could be seen and heard in the chapel.
As a celebrant I have found other ways to introduce love and meaning into the funeral space, with these experiences and rituals being embraced and appreciated.
Another service we conducted for a popular and accomplished academic featured thirteen pre-recorded audio-visual messages from family and colleagues! What a blessing for family attending the service to see and hear these heartfelt tributes.
Of course, like for many others ‘the COVID’ experience in the funeral space has not been all bad. I have been personally surprised, even uplifted to see first-hand how special a smaller more intimate service has been for many families. Particularly when their loved one was a quiet person, someone who didn’t like lots of fuss. I’ve lost count now of how many people have actually expressed how perfect and beautiful the service was for their family. With less tension and the ability to be truly present with their 9 special people, just sitting quietly and informally reflecting on a special life. In my role as a celebrant I have also felt the huge amount of love in the room and I can see that families have been brought closer together during this time.
It has also been wonderful to see so many families still celebrating their loved one with a smaller service, and this has actually surprised me to some extent. Although sadly there is no doubt that many families are also electing to have their loved one cremated with no gathering in which to say goodbye, when under normal circumstances they would have chosen to hold a funeral service. Many families talk of holding memorial services at a later time when families can join together in a way they choose.
From a business point of view, our phone continues to ring but COVID has certainly changed the way we operate, it’s just different. Masks, hand sanitizer, gathering the names of attendees and consideration of other logistics has unfortunately become our normal. Contrary to what people believe, we are not swamped with work and deceased COVID sufferers. In fact death rates are considerably down in the winter of 2020 when compared to other years.
And on we go… helping families as best we can throughout this time.
Thank you.. Anne