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Planning a funeral during COVID-19 restrictions

We hold funerals to help us in the grief process and to acknowledge a death. In so doing, we’re acknowledging, honouring and celebrating that life. We’re also creating sacred space for those at the funeral to reflect on life and death, enabling family and friends to give and receive emotional support. 

A funeral service allows those grieving to face the pain of their loss with their community, and express their feelings around that loss. This may be through reflections or readings, music or rituals, poems or prayers. It may also be through tears shed. When people come to a funeral they are acknowledging the significance of what has happened and letting the bereaved know that they’re not alone.

A funeral is a way to say goodbye while giving testimony to a life. In the case of the death of a baby it is also a way to create memories of that life and to reflect on all that was hoped for, and dreamed of. It ‘s an opportunity to reflect on the changed identity of the parents and a public acknowledgement of them as parents, parents whose baby has died, parents who will not see their baby grow, but parents regardless.

Right now, things have changed and we cannot hold a funeral with the presence of support networks, friends and family. The reality is that with the professionals who will be there, only an additional handful of people can be present. Of course a funeral service can be live streamed, it can be recorded, photographed, and shared with those not physically in the space. This is a blessing and something to be celebrated.

However, these communication technologies don’t help the parents and their immediate families, those most deeply impacted by the death, from feeling the physical absence of those they love at a time when they most need them. Bereaved parents often experience strong feelings of isolation no matter what is happening in the world around them or how many people they have at their side. As a bereaved mother, I remember feeling incredibly alone; no-one knew how I felt, no-one felt the grief as I did. Some of my closest friends didn’t know how to ‘deal’ with me, didn’t know what to say or what to do. In some ways the funeral helped with this – not just me, but also those who came.

Those feelings of isolation continued long after the funeral as I tried to regain some semblance of normalcy to my life. Visits from my friends were often life saving; my daily walks and cups of tea with neighbourhood friends were also a godsend. Even conversations with strangers on the train or with colleagues on my return to work were helpful. Attending the SANDS support group each week, gave me a place where I could open my heart to others who knew how I felt, or at least their own version of that pain. Not living in lockdown, I was free to come and go, to have people over to my house, or not if that was my preference. Anyone who knew about our baby’s funeral and wanted to attend it could, and did.

Living through the death of a baby while living in lockdown does nothing to help those feelings of isolation; in fact, it will likely exacerbate them. So how to create the connections that will serve us at this time? Social media is the way that our lives are shared, with pregnancy and birth announcements not just the norm, but expected and anticipated.

Creating a private group or website for the memorial of a baby is one way to share with your friends and family and for them to offer you the support they are not able to share with their physical presence. I would suggest sharing with your community in this way. Share the funeral, share the readings, share any words written to your baby, share photos, share your needs and allow those you share with to share with you. Encourage them to post messages, written, audio or video, encourage them to share music and poetry, choose a time and ask those you love to light a candle for your baby with a shared intention. Encourage them to say your baby’s name. Create with them your memorial to your baby and allow this to be your contact with the outside world. Allow these expressions and exchanges to support you in your grief and isolation.

As a bereaved parent, your needs are great. The family and friends of a bereaved parent might need an invitation to reach out, never more than now. Use technology to help you through this moment in your life and beyond, creating your baby’s memorial as you do.

Janne Sverdloff

Celebrant and End of Life Doula

Janne's second daughter, Jessica, was stillborn at 39 weeks gestation on the 27th July, 1989. This changed her life and its course, a journey that is still unfolding...