By Barbara Millar in the Scottish Review

My job is hardly cheerful at the best of times but, at the moment, it is utterly bleak. I am a civil funeral celebrant and, while crematoria are still able to hold funeral services, I am able to work. But it is virtually unrecognisable from the job I started doing over 10 years ago.

Of course, everyone understands the reasons why only the immediate family is allowed to be present at the funeral service, but it is so difficult to watch them have to say goodbye to someone special in a virtually empty chapel, with no opportunity for hugs from friends and other family members, and no chance to reminisce and share memories of happier times at the subsequent wake. They must go home – and they have to drive themselves, most funeral directors are now no longer using limousines – and grieve alone, without that essential network of support which can make saying goodbye at least a little easier.

Some of my celebrant colleagues report of crematoria with a handful of chairs set out the requisite two metres apart, which really reinforces that terrible feeling of being alone. Some have even reported pews cordoned off with black and yellow tape, making the place look like some sort of crime scene. I have not yet faced any of that. The mourners, family only, are, at the moment, allowed to sit together on the pews. But how long that will last, I have no idea.

I am not able to visit families before the service, to talk about the life of the deceased, so all communication is by phone, text and email. The first time I meet the family will be at the service, and I cannot greet them other than with a nod of the head. The death of someone we love is always so hard to bear, but in these extraordinarily difficult circumstances, it is an even heavier burden which people must carry, essentially, on their own.

Barbara Millar

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