Burying a loved one in the era of COVID-19

Burying a loved one in the era of COVID-19

Thursday, April 02, 2020

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The pain of burying a loved one is becoming even more excruciating as traditional norms of extended ceremony and eulogy are having to be abandoned in this era of COVID-19 or coronavirus.

That, of course, is one of the multitude of ways in which changes are being forced on the whole of humanity as COVID-19 brings to the fore thoughts about the possibility of dying from this virus to an extent not contemplated before.

Whether death comes by the coronavirus or the multiple other causes of our demise, people are increasingly dealing with the matter of how to bury their departed loved ones when large gatherings are prohibited.

Incidentally, funerals — the starting point from which Jamaica's first case of the COVID-19 emerged in Bull Bay, St Andrew — have been among the hardest hit by the Government's order limiting pubic gathering to no more than 10, and minus elderly people over 65 who are in the most vulnerable group to the virus.

Wakes and nine-night featuring live bands and feasts, as well as after-funeral repast, are now a thing of a time gone by.

Ask Ms Verna Reid, who last Wednesday had to bury her brother, Mr Troy Stephenson, who succumbed to an asthma attack. The family was forced to scrap all the plans for a traditional burial and, instead, take the casket straight from the funeral home to the cemetery.

In keeping with the 20 people restriction on social gatherings that was announced by the Government on March 16, Reid and her family began planning the funeral. They decided on a March 29 date for a handful of relatives and friends to say their final farewell.

However, as gatherings were further restricted to no more than 10, to further curtail the virus, they had to adapt, in the process dropping plans for the customary church service, the usually lengthy funeral programme and eulogy.

The burial date was brought forward to March 25, and in the end only eight people were in attendance for a truncated ceremony lasting approximately an hour at the Dovecot Memorial Park in St Catherine.

“In light of all this, we have to be mindful that other people are involved — minister, drivers, funeral operators, and so forth,” Ms Reid said, adding that she would not want to put anyone in harm's way.

In another sense, a Jamaican pastor and a church member felt the pain of being dragged before the courts in Antigua and Barbuda for breaching public health regulations banning gatherings in excess of 25 people at a funeral.

The church member, a Jamaican woman visiting the eastern Caribbean island, admitted to obstructing a police constable during the funeral service at the church on Sunday when the officers attempted to disperse the congregation, news reports said.

The incident forced the New Testament Church of God, Antigua District, to apologise to the authorities and people of Antigua “for the unfortunate event… We know as an organisation that every member is held to the same standard as everyone else to follow the laws and guidelines of our country. Our failure to do so in that instance was wrong and we are sorry”.

Things could get worse as there are countries in which burials are being delayed as cemetery workers stay home to escape the virus.

Let us hope that we never get there.

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