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by Gemma Fraser
11 May 2020
Talking point: The last goodbye – a socially distanced funeral

Funeral - Image credit: PA

Talking point: The last goodbye – a socially distanced funeral

“Would you ever consider not going to the funeral?”

That question plays over in my mind as the defining moment of how the coronavirus pandemic has altered our world inconceivably.

My partner shook his head in response and that was the one and only time I asked him. From that point on, our focus was on the logistics of getting from Scotland to Ireland for his father’s funeral.

Before last week, the coronavirus pandemic was a nightmare, but one which my family was largely shielded from as we retreated from the world and lived inside our own little bubble.

But all of a sudden, that nightmare became a reality when my father-in-law passed away after contracting COVID-19.

As I type this, it still doesn’t seem real, and I still think I’m going to wake up from this coronavirus-induced dream.

But there we were, after receiving that life-changing news, on hold to the Irish embassy seeking permission to travel to attend the funeral.

Everything about that phone call and the question I asked my partner would, in normal circumstances, be abhorrent.

But all of a sudden it became the norm, with every relative who called to pass on their condolences assuming we wouldn’t be attending, and every bit of advice we read online telling us it was unlikely we would be able to go.

Compassion, fortunately, was on our side and we made the eerily quiet journey across the Irish Sea.

No funeral of a loved one is ever going to be easy, but the funeral of a loved one where numbers are restricted, the coffin is sterilised and family members can’t hug each other is one which adds a new layer of pain on top of the loss. An added cruelty that goes against every aspect of human grief.

Irish funerals usually involve relatives and friends travelling from all over to pay their respects, and in many cases, bringing the body of their loved one home one last time before being laid to rest.

Of course, we had none of that.

But what we did have, in place of a wake house with family and friends pouring in all day and night to spend time with their loved one after death; in place of a church service with hundreds of mourners; in place of all the Catholic rites and rituals that would usually give some comfort to those left behind, was that same respect for the dead.

As we followed the hearse to the churchyard, where my dear father-in-law was laid to rest with his beloved wife and daughter, the streets were lined with the mourners who would normally have been sitting waiting in the packed-out church.

Instead, friends, family, neighbours, old colleagues, came out of their homes and stood, two metres apart, to bow their heads in respect and clap in an overwhelming celebration of his life.

Not being from an Irish family myself, and unaccustomed to such large gatherings at a burial, I used to joke with my partner how much his dad loved a funeral.

Of course, the joke doesn’t seem funny anymore – it probably never was – but the sentiment remains. I admired his commitment and dedication to paying his final respects to the dead.

My father-in-law always went out of his way to ensure he did this, and I will forever regret that we were robbed of the chance to give him the send-off he so deserved.

But when all of this is over, and the family can all come together again, we will make sure we do him proud.

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