Coronavirus (COVID-19): guidance for bereaved about funeral arrangements

If a loved one passes away during the coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak, there is guidance available for the bereaved on new temporary arrangements for the death and burial/ cremation process. This applies to both COVID-19 related and non COVID-19 related deaths.

Dignity and compassion

It is hoped that these changes will still provide a dignified and compassionate approach to allow bereaved families to remember and say goodbye to their loved ones with the respect they deserve.

Families and friends are asked to respect any advice or restrictions that might be put in place during this difficult time.

Pre-funeral arrangements

The funeral director plays a key role in both caring for the body of the deceased up until burial or cremation and in helping make the various arrangements which take place at this time.

During the pandemic it is strongly recommended that funeral arrangements made with your funeral director are made by telephone and not in person at the funeral director’s premises or the family home. This is in line with social distancing guidance, the advice not to travel, and the directive to stay at home.

It is recommended that:

  • wakes should not be held
  • funeral services should not be held in family homes
  • there should be no remains taken home to rest

Many of our religious and cultural practices have had to be restricted at this time due to the risks presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of these changes are listed on this page and your funeral director will also be able to give you more specific information and guidance in this area.

Timescales

During the pandemic it may not always be possible to bury a loved one within the usual 72-hour timeframe.

The deceased will be taken to the funeral home and stay there until the funeral, burial service or cremation.

However precautions have to be taken to prepare for the risk that these may not be able to take place as quickly as normally expected.

If needed, an additional temporary mortuary facility has been prepared which funeral directors will be able to use if they don’t have enough capacity in their funeral home.

If this becomes necessary, the family of the deceased will be told.

Funeral service

A number of restrictions have been put in place for funeral services to make sure of the safety of families and loved ones, as well as all those who officiate at services.

Representatives of faith communities and cultural groups will provide guidance on how they will organise revised funeral arrangements. Your funeral director will also be able to advise you on this. These will take account of the restrictions that have to be put in place.

General guidance

The funeral should be private and only the following should be there, up to a maximum of 10 people (this figure does not include funeral directors or other people needed to officiate at the service, such as faith/ pastoral representatives, grave diggers and so on), including:

  • members of the person’s household
  • close family members
  • if the deceased has neither household nor family members in attendance, then it is possible for a modest number of friends to be there

Social distancing must be practised at all times, which means numbers attending funerals may be restricted further in smaller enclosed places -detailed information on social distancing can be found at this link: 

In many situations the household members of the deceased person will be the next of kin and they may be having to self-isolate in line with guidance. Where the funeral is scheduled to take place before the period of household isolation has been completed (14 days from the first case in that household), there should be no mixing between mourners who are self-isolating and those who are not.

Anyone showing symptoms of coronavirus or are awaiting test results should not go.

Those who do go will need to stick to social distancing - at least two metres/ six feet between people at all times. This includes travelling to and from the funeral. 

Mourners who are clinically vulnerable or in a shielded group may be able to be facilitated to go, with appropriate processes put in place to minimise the risk of transmission. They are not advised to go if there are others attending who are self-isolating due to another member of the household being unwell with symptoms of COVID-19.

While funeral notices can still be placed in newspapers or using online services, funeral arrangements should not be advertised.

You can find further details about family gatherings at a funeral at this link:

If the family wish to live stream the funeral/ burial, they may do so provided the funeral director and pastoral/faith representative is in agreement with this.

Gatherings after the funeral

The current restrictions on social gatherings and the need for social distancing means that any gatherings after the funeral that would normally have happened will not be able to take place at this time.

City of Belfast crematorium

All cremation services for Northern Ireland are catered for by the City of Belfast Crematorium, located within the grounds of Roselawn Cemetery, just outside Belfast. 

At present the chapel and facilities at Roselawn Crematorium are closed to mourners. They are working with funeral directors, undertakers and faith groups to make sure that bereaved families are aware of these new measures and are given support at this difficult time.

As a result of the closure, families may want to make alternative arrangements to hold a service or ceremony elsewhere.

Cremations will still be carried out but unfortunately, no family or friends can be in attendance.

For further details, visit the Belfast City Council website.

Further information

The Public Health Agency has produced a number of useful documents to help bereaved families during the COVID-19 pandemic.

These include a guidance document around grief and bereavement, a practical advice booklet, and a ‘saying goodbye workbook for children’.

These can be found at this link: 

 

 

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