Restricted funerals challenge our ability to grieve together by Judy Brooks

Though death is common to us all, the death of each person death is as individual as they are. Even those whose death is occasioned by common causes die in their own way. Some wait for loved ones to gather around. Others wait until they are on their own.

Having sat with many during those last weeks and occasionally last moments of life, the full gamut of responses is evident, often changing over time. One’s death is individual, even if it doesn’t reflect one’s individual preferences or choices. And yet, as John Donne so poetically noted, the death of any man diminishes every one of us.

This was brought home most sharply at a recent family funeral. To have 10 in attendance at any funeral is a significant limitation, yet not the greatest cost to be borne at this time. A funeral service is not just about laying the remains of the person to rest to underline the reality of their death and significance of their life, but also a final calling together of all who knew and loved the deceased.

A funeral gathering – and the wake that follows – unite friends and strangers to recall the impact Restricted funerals challenge our ability to grieve together of the deceased upon the community. Stories are told, acquaintances are renewed, memories rekindled and new aspects of the deceased’s life revealed. It underlines that death is a community event as much as it is an individual one. It is a reminder that “no man is an island, entire of itself ... every man is a piece of a continent, a part of the main”.

The ritual of a funeral is an important element of closure and separation – a confrontation with the finality of death and an opportunity to reflect on what has been and what remains. At the same time a funeral service opens up a new future, a place where the whole life of the deceased is released back to the community. Memories of an invigorated youth, or young love, or early parenting memories. Memories of a vibrant human being no longer constrained by sickness or age. The funeral service lays the ground for the storytelling which follows, giving permission to laugh and to cry, to recall and to reshape through memories and recollections.

Death, like faith, always holds a communal property, connecting us together in both celebration and reflection, agreement, difference and embraces diversity.