clearn.png
Monday November 29th, 2021 1:23AM

Pandemic takes a toll on exhausted UK funeral directors

By The Associated Press

LONDON (AP) — Funeral director Hasina Zaman recently helped a family say goodbye to a young man in his 30s who had died from COVID-19, on the same day she was planning a service for a husband and wife, both also lost to the virus.

Since the pandemic struck, Zaman's phone has rarely stopped ringing, with bereaved people seeking help that she is not always able to provide.

“Every week I think I don’t have what it takes,” said Zaman, whose company Compassionate Funerals serves a multicultural, multi-faith community in east London. The small firm normally arranges about five funerals a week, but COVID-19 has driven the number as high as 20.

“We just do it,” Zaman said. “Literally just hands-on approach and just go for it and do it. And it’s not sustainable. It’s definitely not sustainable, because it’s not healthy.”

Funeral home staff are under pressure in many places, but the burden is especially intense in Britain, where more than 115,000 people with the virus have died, one of the highest per capita death tolls in the world. Undertakers, embalmers and others who deal with death for a living often regard the pressure on them as less important than the pain felt by bereaved families. But many are exhausted by the sheer amount of mortality they have faced, and the pandemic is increasing awareness that their own mental health also deserves tending to.

Funeral directors across the country describe a heavy burden from more services, tougher hygiene measures and fewer staff because of illness and self-isolation requirements.

Emma Symons, an embalmer at Heritage & Sons Funeral Directors, northwest of London, says her workload has tripled.

“Some days it is relentless and is really difficult, particularly if we have younger people who’ve died,” she said. “Sometimes it really does get a bit too much.”

Heritage & Sons' parent company says its group of funeral homes across southeast England is arranging 30% to 50% more funerals than in a typical year. Ben Blunt, a senior funeral director at Heritage & Sons, says this winter’s surge — which saw Britain record more than 30,000 coronavirus deaths in January alone, though cases and deaths are now falling — has been even worse than the peak last spring.

“In the first lockdown, we kind of didn’t know what to expect,” he said. “But having had the experience first time around and now going through it for a second time, there is that sort of slight dread, that we almost know what’s on the horizon.”

Alison Crake was better prepared for the pandemic than most. Before anyone had ever heard of COVID-19, she wrote a guide about how to plan for a pandemic for Britain’s National Association of Funeral Directors. Crake anticipated some of the stresses a pandemic could bring, including staff absences, a shortage of mortuary space and the need to procure extra protective equipment.

But she says that if anyone had described the scale of death and disruption to come, “I probably would have gasped at the thought of it.”

Crake, who runs her family's funeral firm in northeast England, says the profession has been shaken by shuttered places of worship, strict limits on attendance at funerals and other restrictions to slow the spread of the virus which mean funeral staff can’t always give grieving families the comfort they crave.

Speaking sensitively to a bereaved family over Zoom is a new and delicate skill that funeral directors have had to learn. Blunt says it’s painful not to be able to do something as simple as shake a client’s hand.

“We’re professionals,” he said. “But we’re human beings as well.”

Still, Crake says funeral staff, who often regard their profession as a calling, can be reluctant to seek help — though some in the industry are trying to change that. The guide she wrote was updated in October with a greater emphasis on providing emotional support for employees. Those who are struggling can call Our Frontline, a service set up during the pandemic, partially funded by Prince William and his wife Catherine's Royal Foundation, that offers mental health support around the clock to key workers. Funeral staff have been included in that category, alongside medics and emergency services personnel.

“We understand that this is the profession that we’ve chosen,” Crake said. “And for many of us, we see it as vocational. We consider ourselves to be part of our community and our community is part of us. But equally, there is a need to get that balance to make sure that this prolonged exposure to trauma doesn’t result in compassion fatigue.”

Conservative lawmaker John Hayes, who heads a parliamentary group on funerals and bereavement, recently paid tribute to the “quiet dignity” of funeral workers during the pandemic, saying their essential work “often goes unnoticed by those in the corridors of power.”

Zaman is anguished at the restrictions on travel and assembly that mean families often can’t grieve together. One recent weekday, mourners stood in the rain outside her parlor, taking turns to enter for socially distanced prayers over the coffin of a young man who had died far from his homeland of Gambia. A eulogy was delivered on the sidewalk over the rumble of cars and buses.

But she is proud of how the profession has adapted since the first surge of the outbreak. Livestreaming allows friends and family to watch funerals from afar. Thanks to training and protective equipment, she can let Muslim clients wash and shroud their loved ones’ bodies before burial, in line with Islamic practice.

Zaman says when families can have that connection and catharsis, “you feel a sense of achievement” that makes the stress worthwhile.

“I am exhausted,” she said. “For sure. But I look after myself. ... I recover. I’ve got 10 hours to recover after work and during the nighttime, and then I come back here and carry on.”

___

Kearney reported from Aylesbury and Bletchley, England.

  • Associated Categories: Associated Press (AP), AP National News, AP Online National News, Top General short headlines, AP Business, AP Business - Personal Finance, AP Business - Financial Planning
© Copyright 2021 AccessWDUN.com
All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed without permission.
Chinese TV features blackface performers in New Year's gala
Chinese state TV included dancers in blackface depicting Africans during a broadcast celebrating the Lunar New Year
2:29AM ( 4 minutes ago )
Australian city Melbourne begins 3rd lockdown due to cluster
Australia’s second-largest city of Melbourne will begin its third lockdown due to a rapidly spreading COVID-19 cluster centered on hotel quarantine
2:24AM ( 9 minutes ago )
Tokyo Olympics: Mori is leaving but gender issues remain
Yoshiro Mori has resigned as the president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee following sexist comments implying women talk too much
2:07AM ( 26 minutes ago )
Associated Press (AP)
Lawyer who defended Trump accustomed to political disaster
Bruce Castor, a onetime rising-star prosecutor from suburban Philadelphia, made something of a comeback earlier this week in heading to the well of the U.S. Senate to defend his client, Donald Trump, in the ex-president’s second impeachment trial
12:52AM ( 1 hour ago )
Trump returns to spotlight in trial — but not on his terms
For two days, it’s been wall-to-wall Donald Trump
12:46AM ( 1 hour ago )
What to watch as Trump's lawyers deliver impeachment defense
Donald Trump’s lawyers have a simple objective as they open their defense at the former president’s impeachment trial: Don’t lose any votes
12:40AM ( 1 hour ago )
AP National News
China bans BBC news broadcasts in apparent retaliatory move
China has banned BBC World News from airing in China, a week after threatening to retaliate for the revocation of the British broadcasting license for China’s state-owned CGTN
10:32PM ( 4 hours ago )
Democrats pushing Biden's COVID-19 bill through House panels
Democrats have pushed half of President Joe Biden’s $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief plan through a House committee, and other House panels on their way to completing their own pieces of the sweeping legislation
10:08PM ( 4 hours ago )
Attorneys spar over powers held by Britney Spears' father
Attorneys for Britney Spears and her father sparred at a court hearing over how he should share power with a financial company newly appointed as his partner in the conservatorship that controls his daughter's money
9:36PM ( 4 hours ago )
AP Online National News
The Latest: Australia's 2nd largest city to begin lockdown
Australia’s second-largest city will begin its third lockdown due to a rapidly spreading COVID-19 cluster centered on hotel quarantine
11:38PM ( 2 hours ago )
Jags' Meyer defends hiring ex-Iowa coach accused of racism
Jacksonville Jaguars coach Urban Meyer defended the hiring of a former Iowa assistant accused of racism by saying he “vetted him thoroughly along with our general manager and owner.”
10:05PM ( 4 hours ago )
Judge: Trump's lifting of mining ban in US West was wrong
A federal judge has overturned a Trump administration action that allowed mining and other development on 10 million acres in parts of western states that are considered important for the survival of a struggling bird species
9:17PM ( 5 hours ago )
AP Business
US long-term mortgage rates flat; 30-year stays at 2.73%
U.S. long-term mortgage rates were flat this week for a second straight week
1:55PM ( 12 hours ago )
Sportbooks say pre-Super Bowl push for new customers scored
America's sportsbooks blanketed the country in waves of advertising in the two weeks leading up to the Super Bowl
5:33PM ( 2 days ago )
Stocks push to more gains, and record highs, on Wall Street
Stocks pushed to more gains and record highs on Wall Street, just as the market came off its biggest week since November
4:40PM ( 3 days ago )
AP Business - Personal Finance
AP Business - Financial Planning
Chinese TV features blackface performers in New Year's gala
Chinese state TV included dancers in blackface depicting Africans during a broadcast celebrating the Lunar New Year
2:29AM ( 4 minutes ago )
Australian city Melbourne begins 3rd lockdown due to cluster
Australia’s second-largest city of Melbourne will begin its third lockdown due to a rapidly spreading COVID-19 cluster centered on hotel quarantine
2:24AM ( 9 minutes ago )
Tokyo Olympics: Mori is leaving but gender issues remain
Yoshiro Mori has resigned as the president of the Tokyo Olympic organizing committee following sexist comments implying women talk too much
2:07AM ( 26 minutes ago )
Lillard scores 30 points as Trail Blazers down 76ers 118-114
Damian Lillard scored 30 points and the Portland Trail Blazers beat the Philadelphia 76ers 118-114
2:05AM ( 29 minutes ago )
Australia report says make Google and Facebook pay for news
Australia’s Parliament will debate making Google and Facebook pay for news after a Senate committee recommended no changes to the world-first draft laws
1:55AM ( 39 minutes ago )