Advice from undertaker as funerals and wakes alter during pandemic

Funerals and wakes as we know them will be sadly vastly different for those bereaved of a loved one who has died of COVID-19.

Our local undertakers are keen that everyone who suffers a death in the family due to this dreadful virus will be treated with the utmost respect.

New laws and rules have been introduced by the authorities for funeral directors which may cause anguish for those grieving.

Hugh and Dermot Quinn, of Quinn Bros Funeral Directors in Portadown, said all local undertakers work to the highest level of care and professionalism and want people to know that their loved one will be cared for correctly and with the highest respect.

Hugh and Dermot Quinn of Quinn Bros Funeral Directors, Portadown

Many of the new rules are in place to protect everyone, including the undertaker and associated staff.

Hugh said: “When dealing with remains that have been infected with C19, we have to take precautions. Very little is known about the virus, so we have to follow guidelines set out by health authorities.

“Unfortunately coffins will be closed as we cannot carry out the normal preparation. However, each individual will be treated with the utmost respect, as always.

“Cremations and burials can take place, however, the person will have to be brought straight for interment or cremation, with services taking place at a later date. This is because the immediate family may possibly be in quarantine and cannot be in contact with the public.

Quinn Bros Funeral Home in Portadown

“This is really unfortunate, but these are exceptional times and we must think of everyone’s safety and well-being.”

Dermot revealed that while there are no health authority restrictions on someone who dies without the virus, there will be some differences to funerals and wakes.

He said: “When it comes to a deceased person who does not have the virus, we can carry out the normal preparations. Although we do have to be more vigilant, as there is no testing at present in the community or nursing homes etc.”

Government restrictions have also led to changes in what happens at wakes and chapels of rest.

Hugh said: “Wakes and chapels of rest have to be restricted, again for the good of the family. We have been advised not to advertise death notices to cut down on people gathering, which is the biggest problem when it comes to the virus, people gathering. Again, this is for the protection of the family. There cannot be a wake for a person who has died with COVID-19, for obvious reasons. The risk of infection is too high.”

Normally the undertaker is in close contact with the family of those who have died but all that has now changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Dermot explained: “Undertakers have to be very careful. A lot of things will have to be done over the phone or Facetime, or Skype or whatever is easiest for families.

“We have to be cautious when going into someone’s home, for their good and our own good. We fully understand that people may be wary of us entering their home, so we have to reassure families, keep our distance and wear certain PPE (ie mask and gloves).

“Communication is key! It is very important that families understand that anything we do is for their best interest and ours, so families need to be fully informed, every step of the way.

“The same applies for clergy members. It’s very difficult for them also, and they also have guidelines to follow. We keep in touch with the clergy, regarding guidelines for services etc and they are very good at keeping us up-to-date with guidelines and procedures.”

It is an emotional time for everyone and Hugh says local undertakers recognise the impact this is having on everyone.

“This is totally unfamiliar ground for everyone, us included. The guidelines put in place are for everyone’s protection. However, we understand that is little comfort for those affected.

“All we can say is, that after this whole thing is over, people can have get-togethers with family and friends to celebrate their family member. Services can also take place then too. We will help organise these for families, placing notices with all relevant details.

“It is really important that people understand that all these measures are there to protect everyone.”

When Dermot was asked about the possibility of mass burials he said: “If people do as they’re advised, this hopefully won’t happen.

“We have been speaking with some other funeral firms, and we are all of the same opinion. If people are careful, stay at home and follow advice, we hopefully won’t experience such an awful thing.

“Health authorities are putting measures in place, as are we, but that is preparing for the worst, but hoping for the best. Let’s hope for the best. There is a lot of scaremongering and rumours going around, and this helps no one. Stay at home, listen to the doctors and nurses, who put themselves at risk every day for our benefit. They know what they’re talking about and we all need to take heed.”

For those with a family member who dies of COVID-19, Hugh said: “The only advice we can give is to listen to health care professionals.

“When it comes to the actual funeral, we will talk you through the whole process, but, again sadly we are all limited with what we can do, for the time being. It’s not funeral directors dictating what has to happen, we are following guidelines set out for us, for families’ protection, and ours.”