Coronavirus, Barbers, and the Life of a Funeral Director


This blog was first posted on Facebook on 10th April 2020. Although some things have improved since it was written, social distancing still presents many challenges.

My barber can be inappropriate. I won’t say any more about him because I don’t want him to be identifiable. And anyway, this post isn’t about him.

I went to get my haircut about 4 weeks ago, just when the horrendous scale of the coronavirus pandemic was starting to hit home. He knows I’m a funeral director, and when I walked in, across a crowded shop, he shouted out ‘You’ll be happy with all this going on!’ I’m anything BUT happy.

These are tough times for all of us and for many different reasons. But I’d like to give you just a bit of insight (which sometimes my barber seems to lack) about the way they impact upon me, and my colleagues, and the work that we do.

Our whole purpose, and the reason why Peace Funerals was created, is to support families and friends, during a period of loss, to create a funeral for their loved one that feels personal, appropriate and a fitting tribute. Every day, our capacity to do that is being progressively weakened. I’ll give you a couple of examples, but there are loads more.

The first time that I would meet a family to arrange a funeral, I would begin with a handshake. It seems trivial but in that instant you are trying to convey so much – ‘I am here for you’, ‘This is a horrendous time for you, but I can help to steer you through it’, ‘You can be calmer now’, ‘We can create a way of saying goodbye for your loved one of which she would have been proud.’ You might think that that’s a lot for a single handshake, and it is, but it is the beginning of addressing all those points, which you build upon as the meeting progresses. Now, there’s no handshake, no face to face meeting, two metres distance when we meet the family, possibly not even until the day of the funeral.

A second example is about the funeral ceremony. Initially, when nearly every other form of social gathering was prohibited, or discouraged, funerals were exempt. Not so now. Now they’re restricted to a small number of immediate family members. And worse than this, mourners are not allowed to sit next to each other in the crematorium. What does anyone want when they’re attending the funeral of someone they love? A hand to hold, an arm to snuggle into, a nearby face to look at for reassurance when the tears are coming. None of these are now allowed. It breaks my heart.

This isn’t a post to criticise the government and other authorities for taking the actions that they have taken. I believe that they’re essential. But they are necessarily broad brush and have a lot of unintended consequences which are difficult to fix without weakening the message. Who’d be a prime minister?

I have so much respect for everyone who is working to keep the system going, in spite of risks to themselves. I also respect those people staying at home, away from their loved ones, with no physical contact, even through family challenges and significant times.

Of course, my story isn’t unique to funeral directors – so many people are having a tough time. But just in case there are any other people out there who think, like my barber, that this is a great time for me, please believe me, it isn’t.

John Mallatratt, Director, Peace Funerals

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