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‘I wanted to take her hand but I couldn’t’: Dundee funeral celebrant speaks of pain watching people grieve alone

Celebrant Alan Morgan at Dundee Crematorium
Celebrant Alan Morgan at Dundee Crematorium

A Dundee funeral celebrant left heartbroken at watching people grieve alone says loosening restrictions will be crucial in helping many recover from loss.

Alan Morgan, who has performed more than 1000 funeral rites, believes there are fewer tougher sights than seeing people separated at their time of greatest need.

The officiant has watched on over the past year as people are prevented from embracing or even seeing those that should be there to say goodbye.

He says he recently presided over a service for a 92-year-old man but felt agonised at watching his wife alone.

“I just wanted to take her by the hand but I couldn’t,” he said.

“I have to stand away while an elderly person staggers on their own.

“You’re there to do a service and want to be loving and compassionate and that generally means to touch people.

“It’s very difficult to stand by and not be able to offer comfort.

“I feel for families. To lose someone in these circumstances is just so tough.

“It’s a shame to watch it happen.”

Fears over ‘grief pandemic’

New rules in Scotland now allow funerals of up to 50 — up from 20 and just 10 at the beginning of the pandemic.

Studies show the average attendance of a funeral in the UK is around 50 and so it means the majority of people should be able to attend most.

Social distancing and mask-wearing will sadly remain for the time being, however, the numbers permitted will be the highest since the pandemic began.

Funerals are deemed an essential part of the grieving process because it encourages mourners to face the pain of their loss and express their emotions.

With people robbed of the chance to do this properly, coupled with a higher number of deaths than usual, there is concern a “grief pandemic” may be on the horizon.

Of 2000 bereaved UK adults surveyed last May by Co-op Funeral Care, 59% said their grief process has been negatively affected by the lockdown.

Mr Morgan says organising a funeral can be “quite a harrowing experience” at the best of times.

He said: “We would usually spend time at their home but everything has to be done over the phone just now and it’s difficult without that personal touch.

“People often feel a wee bitty guilty because they are not actually getting a chance to give them what they think they deserve — a send-off at the end of their life.

“For those wishing to celebrate a loved one at a funeral ceremony the heartbreak was immeasurable.

“They have to choose who to invite out of the ten or twenty people allowed while taking away the opportunity of saying goodbye to others.

“Who is more deserving? There isn’t an answer to that.  The rest sadly had to wait outside or join online if able to negotiate smart phones, tablets and laptops if indeed they own such a thing.

“It’s awful and the rules make everything so much worse.

“I must say though that people have adapted really well as the pandemic has gone on. In the beginning it was really horrendous because it was all so new.”

Queen’s experience mirrored by millions

The cruel and tragic rules were best illustrated at the recent funeral of British Royal Family member Prince Philip.

Images were beamed across the world showing his devastated wife Queen Elizabeth II sitting on her own wearing a face mask.

The striking visuals were a powerful reminder at what her and many others have had to endure over the past year to avoid spreading Covid-19.

Mr Morgan added, “Here we have a 95-year-old lady who has lost her husband. That’s it. She’s on her own while she did it.

“This really has been quite hurtful for so many people but it’s nice to see we now hopefully have a way out of it.

“As a celebrant, with more people allowed at funerals, I will be able to feel the room.

‘Masks and distancing will remain’

“OK masks and distancing will remain but I think people will appreciate they have more people and that applies to the wakes afterwards too.

“The funeral industry is sometimes termed the fourth emergency service but the silent one you don’t see.

“I think it’s important to highlight the work they do to help people.”

Affertons funeral director Paul Craigie echoed those thoughts and said any relaxation of the rules should help.

He said: “To be honest, it’s been absolutely horrendous.

“One of the worst things has been turning people away from ceremonies because there’s too many.

“I really feel for people having to go through it during the pandemic.”

‘You do need a funeral’

Dundee musician Paul ‘Lefty’ Wright had to organise the cremation of his best friend Jim Morrice who passed away from cancer in November last year.

Paul says he was lucky in the sense that he was able to make arrangements with the help of Jim, a well-known music teacher, before he died.

Jim Morrice (with saxophone) and Paul Wright (aka Lefty)

They decided not to have any official funeral or ceremony until restrictions are relaxed enough to allow a gathering.

But Paul believes waiting such a long time isn’t particularly healthy.

He said: “You do need a funeral because it’s consolidation isn’t it?

“It’s a tough thing to go through anyway but during the pandemic it’s all the worse.

“It will be a relief to have a good service for him and get his friends who I haven’t met up from other parts of the UK.

“They’ve just been waiting this whole time.”

Anyone struggling with grief can contact the charity Cruse Bereavement to get free support.