A short piece I wrote for a magazine in May.
In normal times funerals usually run like clockwork. Every hour a new set of mourners arrive. They come early, or last minute, and there are often the tail enders who smash the Cemetery speed limit in their desperation not to be late. They come alone or by the car load. Greeting each other with hugs and words of sympathy. There is always laughter too and frequently a last chance for a calming fag or a dash to the loos before the hearse arrives. The crematorium staff lurk efficiently with hands behind their backs with the sardonic air of butlers.The minister or celebrant is there early and having prepared in their own private room, waits patiently at the door trying to balance friendliness with empathy. Then the funeral cortège arrives and an atmosphere of expectant dignity descends. A funeral director then bustles up, shakes a few hands, and surreptitiously passes a cheque in a envelope to the minister as if paying a bribe.
The music starts and the coffin is led into the chapel and the mourners follow and file into the rows of seats.
But today was different. This was COVID 19 time. The car park was buried under a temporary mortuary. The previous funeral, the first of that morning, had over run so the crematorium staff were already anxious about how they would manage the rest of the day- with double the usual amount of services to fit in. Even with a limit of only ten mourners per funeral all the available car parking was full that so that those coming for the next funeral had to be held back at the cemetery gate.
Because of the mortuary there were security guards on that. They were heroically trying to be kind but they were unintentionally intimidating to the people held up at the entrance. Each mourner had arrived in their own car and far more than the ten allowed had come along, creating a snake of traffic stretching back to the supermarket roundabout which blocked the access for desperate shoppers.
There was no means of communication between the security guards and the crematorium staff, so we just had to wait. Eventually the people attending the first funeral were ushered out and those for the next took their place. First though there had to be a last gasp discussion of which of the 20 mourners could go into the chapel where they were to be socially distanced for the duration of the service. While the funeral director and the crematorium staff sorted that out the parakeets chatted in the trees as usual and I debated in my head how I was going to break the news to the grieving family that their one hymn had mysteriously dropped off the computerised music system. And how thirty minutes of music, eulogies and prayers could be squeezed into the 15 minutes of the allotted time that remained.
The rite was concluded with hand washing rather than hand shaking but shared
goodwill, patience and the solidarity of bewilderment just about saw us through.