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Funeral director's heartache as families can't say proper goodbye during coronavirus lockdown in Northern Ireland


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Ian and Stuart Milne

Ian and Stuart Milne

Liam McBurney

Father and son at work

Father and son at work

Ian and Stuart Milne

A prominent undertaker has spoken of his heartache at watching families in Northern Ireland being forced to say farewell to their loved ones without a normal funeral.

Ian Milne said coronavirus had severely impacted on centuries-old traditions.

He said: "We are going to end up with a heavy harvest of people who couldn't mourn properly and the suspension of most church services has completely disrupted the religious rites which have helped people come to terms with grief for centuries the length and breadth of Ireland."

Mr Milne, who has funeral homes in Portadown, Lurgan and Banbridge, said Government restrictions on all funerals, and not just Covid-19 ones, are increasing pressure on families at "what is always a difficult and challenging time".

The new rules mean that a maximum of 10 close family members can be present - socially distanced - at private services and subsequent committals at cemeteries, while Roselawn crematorium is out of bounds to all mourners.

Death notices in newspapers no longer carry details about the timings of funerals and where they're being held.

Police are investigating claims of breaches at recent funerals of Sinn Fein members in Belfast and Tyrone where photographs showed the number of mourners appearing to far exceed those set out in the regulations.

Mr Milne said that the guidelines which he agrees are unavoidable, have robbed families of crucially important elements of the grieving process.

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Father and son at work

Father and son at work

Father and son at work

He added: "In Northern Ireland we have always joined together as a community to express our condolences for the bereaved with handshakes and hugs which also spoke volumes about how much we thought of the dead person and their relatives.

"The absence of the usual wakes before a funeral has also taken away the chance to celebrate a life as well as mourn.

"That support has always been comforting to people as they try to cope with their grief. And on the day of a funeral it's no longer possible for friends to show their feelings with simple gestures like the carrying of the coffin, something which also can't happen because of the present circumstances.

"Neither can the gathering together after a funeral of friends and family for a cup of tea and a sandwich and for the sharing of fond and happy memories about the person who has gone."

For cremations, some clerics have been holding services at the homes of the deceased or in funeral homes with bodies already in the hearses before they're driven to Roselawn where coffins are handed over at the entrance with no relatives in attendance.

Mr Milne said that as a funeral director he feels he can't fulfil his full role "not because I don't want to but because the Department of Health guidelines are very strict".

He said it was heartbreaking to have to say no to requests from families.

He added: "Funeral directors have always played a major role in helping the bereaved and not just in the practical sense of organising the funeral.

"We have also been able to talk to grieving families to give them a steadying word but now that has become more of a problem."

Mr Milne has organised the funerals of a number of Covid-19 victims.

He said that he and other undertakers have had, in the aftermath of coronavirus deaths, to carefully review their procedures for dealing with bodies which can no longer be embalmed and which are kept in sealed coffins.

Mr Milne this week posted a message on his firm's Facebook page urging people to show sympathy with the bereaved by bowing their heads and praying if they see a hearse going past them on "its solitary and final journey" sometimes with no mourners' cars behind it.

The Facebook post which praised the work of the "fantastic" NHS said the demonstration of solidarity would be a return to old cultural traditions in Northern Ireland.

It would also "reaffirm" people's compassion for families who had lost loved ones without being able to say their last goodbyes.

Belfast Telegraph