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At an already difficult time, grieving families now face additional challenges in paying their final respects to loved ones amidst the current pandemic. The most recent advice issued by the UK government allows funeral services to continue, although there are significant changes to the format.

Along with other organisations in the funeral industry, the NAFD (National Association of Funeral Directors) have established the Deceased Management Advisory Group (DMAG). This group is frequently in contact with government officials and cabinet members on the funeral sector’s response to COVID-19.

To try and appease some of the stresses that may arise during this challenging period of uncertainty, we have put together a list of questions and answers to hopefully address any queries about arranging a funeral at this time.

Will I still be able to arrange a funeral?

Paying your final respects to a loved one is an important part of the grieving process; therefore, funeral homes currently remain open. The bereaved will still be able to arrange a funeral for their loved one, although the service must now take place within strict social distancing guidelines and ideally, the arrangements will be made electronically (e.g. online) or over the phone. Compare funeral directors in your area.

How do I arrange a funeral if I am self-isolating or experiencing coronavirus symptoms?

To ensure everyone is doing what we can to reduce the spread of the virus, it is vital to adhere to government issued advice. If you or anyone else arranging the funeral is showing symptoms of the virus or has tested positive, please remain isolated and do not attempt to arrange a funeral in person.

Funerals can be organised online or via the telephone where possible. However, if you have to meet with a funeral director in person and have not shown symptoms, please respect the social distancing guidance:

  • Always remain two metres apart
  • Wash your hands frequently
  • Cough/sneeze into the crook of your elbow or tissue (and dispose of the tissue afterwards)

Is there now a delay between a person’s death and the funeral service?

The space of time between death and the funeral will vary depending on:

  • The needs of the family
  • The availability of the minister/celebrant
  • Available times at the chosen venue
  • The cause of death (or if the death is referred to the coroner)

Under the recent Coronavirus Act, the process of registering a death has been revised. Now, the funeral director is able to help with the registration, and the documentation can be submitted electronically. This should make the process of registering a death quicker and more efficient for the bereaved.

Can I still visit my loved one in a chapel of rest?

In the majority of cases, the current advice is that mourners are able to view their loved one in the chapel of rest. Although, it is important to remember that you must only visit the chapel with those who live in the same household as yourself and respect social distancing guidelines. For those who are in the at-risk category, you are advised to refrain from visiting at all.

Prior to visiting a loved one in the chapel of rest, arrangements must be made with the funeral directors to ensure certain distancing measures are put in place.

Where can the funeral be held?

The outbreak of COVID-19 has led to the closure of all Church of England churches, as well as many other religious organisations.

The majority of crematoriums remain open, however, there are now restrictions on how many people are permitted to attend a service and how they can interact during it. For more advice on this, get in touch with your funeral director to see how these limitations may affect your service arrangements.

Families are also still able to choose between a burial or a cremation.

What is the guidance on informing people of the funeral?

It has been advised by the government not to publicly advertise the location of a funeral. This is to avoid unexpected attendees arriving for the funeral, who could be turned away at the door. Not only could this be distressing for those who are told they cannot attend the funeral, but it could also be distressing for the grieving family and put key funeral workers at risk of infection.

What are the rules in attending a funeral during the pandemic?

Whilst funeral directors are dedicated to supporting grieving families, they are equally concerned about increasing the risk of infection through large gatherings. Therefore, the social distancing guidelines must be followed at funeral services and there are restrictions on additional mourners.

In line with advice issued by the UK government, funerals may be attended by up to 30 family members and friends. The venue must have sufficient space for social distancing guidelines to be followed and you can contact the venue to check if you are unsure.

You must not attend a funeral if you are experiencing coronavirus symptoms. However, you can still attend if you are self-isolating because someone in your household has symptoms but you do not, or, you’re self-isolating because you have arrived in the UK from a non-exempt country or territory. To find out if you need to self-isolate when travelling to the UK, take a look at the latest government advice.

How can additional mourners grieve?

Unfortunately, it is not recommended for additional mourners to attend a funeral service in order to reduce the risk of infection.

At an already challenging time, this can be hard for families and friends of the lost loved one. However, there are some alternative methods of commemorating those who have passed:

Group video call

Try connecting with friends and family members using Zoom, WhatsApp or various other platforms to share your favourite stories of your loved one, light candles and play some of their favourite music.

Online memorial sites

An online memorial site enables family and friends to share messages, photographs and memories of their lost loved one.

Celebration of life

Although some may be unable to attend the funeral service itself, consider planning a memorial service or celebration of life for a later date for when social distancing rules have been relaxed.

If you have any questions, it is important to talk through your options with your funeral director. You may even be able to record or live-stream the funeral service to those who cannot be there.

What happens during the funeral service?

Mourners will be asked to respect social distancing measures, remaining two metres apart from anyone not living in the same household. Attendees must also refrain from making any physical contact with anyone who lives outside of their household.

Although, things are continuously changing, so there may be other limitations such as restrictions on family bearers or charitable collections may have to be made online.

For more information on how funerals are operating at this time, visit NAFD or contact your funeral director directly.

Related links:

NAFD COVD-19 Funeral Advice

Government advice – Funerals during the COVID-19 pandemic

Church of England - Coronavirus (COVID-19) guidance for churches