Last Thursday, I officiated at the funeral of Arthur Spikins at Mortlake Crematorium. It was a surreal occasion for the five of us present. Due to the guidance around coronavirus we all observed social distancing, the service was brief and we all went straight home afterwards. Of course, we will mark Arthur’s life later in the year with a gathering at church.
Visiting the crematorium gave me the chance to speak with the staff there as well as the funeral director. As coronavirus affects all of us, our eyes are on key workers who are working hard and exposing themselves to the virus to keep vital services running. One “forgotten” industry is funeral management. What I learned from the people I spoke with is that they are working at capacity right now and it is a hard and challenging time.
Normally, a crematorium might have 8 to 16 funerals on a given day. Last Thursday the crematorium was at its capacity of 20 funerals and will likely remain at capacity for weeks to come. The staff said they were coming in about 7.45am and staying until the evening. Those who actually carry out the cremations are on rotas that cover 24 hours a day. The issue is not just about an increase in deaths. It is also about being able to provide a dignified funeral with the chance for family and friends of the deceased to grieve well. Everyone connected with funeral management – from crematorium and cemetery staff to funeral directors to clergy – takes pride in being able to walk with families through a difficult time and provide excellent care. The current crisis is so hard because it is impossible to provide this. There can be no face to face contact or personal touch before or after, and the distancing, fewer mourners and shorter service times diminish care at the time of loss. Everyone is trying their best, but as the funeral director said to me: “This is horrible. Please pray for us.” Please do pray for funeral management staff, for clergy, for those dying – some alone, for those who grieve. As Christians we place ourselves and them in the hands of the risen Jesus who grieves with us and overcomes death itself for us.