All over the world, the way people say goodbye to their loved ones has had to change over the last 18 months.

For centuries, Hindus gathered to burn the deceased on funeral pyres along the Ganges River, Jews received mourners at home during a seven-day mourning period, and Muslims across the Arab world came together to wash the corpses of loved ones.

However, on the 24th of March 2020 the World Health Organisation issued new guidance on burials and enforced strict social distancing measures that restricted the number of mourners at memorial gatherings. Memorials where over one hundred people would have otherwise attended could suddenly only be attended by a maximum of ten.

Socially distanced

In the UK, government legislation made it a requirement for attendees to remain two metres apart during the memorial and while travelling to and from the service and anyone with suspected COVID-19 symptoms or living with someone symptomatic cannot attend. Especially vulnerable people were also advised to avoid any social gatherings, including funerals, no matter how close they were to the deceased.

Mourners were also not allowed close contact with the body, such as to wash or dress the deceased or during the tightest restrictions even carry the coffin. Instead, only those professionally trained in the use of and wearing personal protective equipment were permitted to come into contact with the body at any stage of the process.

Throughout the pandemic, staff involved in organising memorial services or cremations have been considered key workers and were offered the vaccine to help protect them from exposure to the virus. The National Association of Funeral Directors (NAFD) has also asked staff to disclose any potential exposure to COVID-19 to reduce the risk of infection for other memorial staff.

Fewer attendees and delayed memorials

The difficulty of trying to whittle down numbers to single figures during a period of grief caused many families to look for solutions where they can delay the memorial until a time where all their friends and relatives can celebrate a life and mourn the loss together. Some opted for a small service of just immediate family and then a larger memorial later, whilst other have turned to direct cremation providers to simplify matters further with no attendees at the cremation and just one memorial to organise at a later date.

Live streams and recordings

Whether families have chosen for a small service or a direct cremation or burial, live streams of the process have become a popular and safer alternative to large in-person gatherings. Providers had started to offer live streams and recordings of services prior to the pandemic for those who lived abroad or could not attend, but the last year has seen their popularity grow.

Virtual planning

Prior to the coronavirus pandemic, people would usually meet with cremation or funeral providers in person to discuss their wishes for the service. However, over the last 18 months, these meetings have been held virtually, whether over the phone, email or video call. As coronavirus cases continue to decline in 2021, these consultations are likely to return to face-to-face encounters that allow the memorial provider to offer more support to the mourner.

How memorial and cremation services will change in 2021

Throughout this turbulent and challenging period for memorial services, providers have done their utmost to ensure that despite the restrictions, both the deceased and the mourners are treated with the dignity and respect they deserve. As the UK comes out of lockdown in the coming months and restrictions are eased, we can expect some significant changes to memorial services as society returns to normality.

On the 17th of May 2021, the legal limit on the maximum number of mourners was lifted, but limits remain on some venues due to the continued need for social distancing. As the number of people protected by vaccination grows, these final restrictions should soon be lifted normal services can resume.

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