In March, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that no more than 10 people (including the priest/celebrant and one representative from the funeral home) could attend a funeral, with social distancing to be observed at all times.
Proprietor of Frank J Siebert Funeral Directors, Natasha Siebert said while it was “gut wrenching” for some Catholic families to not be able to provide the large send-off they had planned, they were finding alternative ways to acknowledge someone’s passing and join with others in their grief.
For example, at the funeral of much-loved Sister Mary Canny on April 2 the Josephite community stopped at the same time to pray for her together.
“We took Sr Mary’s coffin to the Convent chapel, as we have always done, and then the Sisters held a ‘compliant liturgy’,” Natasha explained. “But we also advertised the ability to download the prayer sheet and everyone stopped at the same time and prayed the same liturgy.
“So there are ways to be together, but not be in the same room. It’s still possible to give families, in a large way, what they want in the way of a ritual; it’s about the experience they have to compromise.”
Natasha said she had witnessed some “incredibly beautiful intimate gatherings” in recent weeks, but emphasised the importance of families to hold another event when restrictions are lifted.
“Our human condition needs to acknowledge that someone has passed, whatever your faith might be.
“International grief research says we need it for mental health so I would certainly encourage people who have opted not to have a service now or have had to compromise and had a smaller service to consider having something that involves others later.
“We need to acknowledge that someone has gone, we need to celebrate the gift they were and the footprint that’s there.”
Reflecting on the impact of the restrictions, the funeral director said she was “surprised, disappointed and pleased”.
“We knew the regulations were coming as we were seeing what was happening in the rest of the world and we had already started to think about how we might manage.
“I thought more people would opt for an unattended burial or cremation now and then a public event later. I’ve been really surprised that has not been the majority decision of families.
“Most are choosing to proceed with a service within the restrictions and either that’s it, or have another event later.”
Natasha said live streaming the funeral Mass or committal had increased in popularity as a way to enable friends and family living locally, nationally and internationally to be part of the service.
Others have chosen to record the funeral and then share the file with people, while some attendees have sat with their phones on a video call during the service.
“We had one family who couldn’t organise all their Zoom connections to work at once so they ended up attaching all their phones to a pole at the gravesite and everyone was connected to someone watching it virtually. People are being very creative.”
Natasha praised her staff who had been “quite remarkable taking everything in their stride” and also made special mention of the clergy for their pastoral care during these unusual times.
“They are by age in South Australia in the most vulnerable group and they have been so generous, so pastoral, still keeping with the liturgical and legal requirements, but being so giving in their care and flexibility,” she said.
“The pastoral capacity of the clergy we have here is immense and I don’t think we appreciate it often enough at times – and here’s a time when it’s been so important and so generously given.”