What a celebrant wants you to know during Covid-19

funeral celebrant | covid-19 | london funerals

Celebrant Hannah Jackson-McCamley has been at the forefront of helping people grieve during social isolation, from planning funerals on Zoom to creating memorial altars. She shares why Covid-19 has made grieving people so vulnerable and how we can still find ways to come together.

How has Covid-19 changed what you’re doing?

There’s been a significant lack of direction in terms of what everyone is meant to do, so it’s been left up to individual chapels and crematoria to find their own way. Given that it feels like everything is in a state of flux, it can be harder to be the steady anchor that clients need. But it’s more important than ever. I’m working with families who are as broken as they’ve ever been. They’ve lost a loved one, and they’ve also got this weird unknown around everything.

I’m working with someone whose child has been in intensive care for weeks, and their whole world is already falling apart. The notion that the actual world is falling apart is a very strange thing for them to wrap their heads around. So you’re dealing with people who are even more vulnerable than usual.

What impact do you think this is having on people’s ability to grieve?

It’s having a deep impact, because a key attribute of grief is feeling a lack of control. One of the things that you often can control while grieving is what the funeral looks like — and that’s been taken away. A lot of time, in normal circumstances, people say, ‘I want to send my person off in a way that’s right for them.’ And now they’re told that, actually, they can’t.

Some people might feel real stress because they can’t find flowers, or they can’t get the coffin they want. The people who you love, and who support you, also can’t be there and that’s really upsetting. However, in all of this, there are ways that we can still acknowledge someone has died.

What kind of ideas have you come up with?

There’s been lots of talk about having memorials at a later date, which I think is a brilliant idea. I like doing memorials because they’re often months later and people’s heads are in a different place. Though there is still pain, it’s not quite as raw.

We’re probably going to have a lot of memorials towards the end of this year. I think it’s very important that those people are marked in an authentic way. If someone has died during [Covid-19], they shouldn’t be forgotten and swept away.

But this shouldn’t be a deferred funeral. People need a sense of ritual, however small, to take place around the time that their loved one has died. Otherwise there can be a sense of limbo and stasis.

How are you finding ways to help people who want to have a ceremony now, and don’t want to wait to have a memorial?

I have been suggesting that we do things online. I’m offering a smaller funeral ritual via Zoom, where everyone can dial in and people can still say their tributes.

When you get down to the nitty gritty, a lot of people just want their person to be recognised — and also for their grief to be recognised. So I’m trying to encourage people to convene in some way or share what they want to say with a wider group.

One family that I’m working with is thinking about doing a virtual wake, where everyone talks about that person and raises their glass. They’re going to send out a Spotify playlist of music that their loved one liked and listen to that together.

A Zoom service wouldn’t be like a normal service, but I think it’s important that there is a sense of acknowledgement. It means you have the ability to say goodbye in a communal atmosphere to help take the next step in your grief.

What would a meaningful online ceremony actually look like?

I mean, how do we make a traditional service meaningful? I always take my lead from the family when it comes to how they want to remember someone — is that through music, is that through readings?

It may be that the family just needs to see lots of faces who meant a lot to the person that died. They want to know that they’re being thought of and everyone is coming together. It may be that there’s long eulogies or lots of tributes. As with a ‘normal’ funeral, it looks like what that family needs it to.

What kind of rituals of remembrance could people be doing?

It can just be as simple as setting up an altar with someone’s picture, or something that represents them — if they loved Liverpool, maybe a football scarf. This is especially helpful now that people are less able to go and visit the body of the person who’s died. Often, families find a lot of comfort in just sitting with their person.

It’s about creating a meaningful sense of presence, but without it being too painful. It’s quite a nice thing to ask children to draw pictures of granddad, or talk about their favourite memories. Maybe each night, you light a candle or you raise a glass of wine. It might be that you take some time out and just listen to records that somebody loved.

A lot of things aren’t so different from what I’d suggest in normal circumstances. It’s just that we now have to be mindful that we’re probably isolated.

What kind of advice would you give to someone trying to plan a funeral right now?

Take your time to work out the key things that you need to have a meaningful goodbye. And know that any sort of ritual of remembrance is still important. It doesn’t need to be elaborate, but it’s important that people don’t feel that they’re forgotten in their grief — or that their loved one is forgotten amidst all this madness.

We’ll get through what’s happening. I just feel desperately sad for families who are having to deal with this on top of their grief.

Discover more articles