Funeral provision in the UK was significantly disrupted when Covid-19 infection control policies were enforced.
The restrictions constrained how and by whom deceased people could be cared for; how funeral directors and celebrants could communicate with bereaved families; and possibilities for gathering for funerals, mourning and memorialising activities.
The impact of the way people have been unable to properly grieve for their loved ones and even to be with them as they neared the end of their lives will have a long lasting effect.
Death rites and ceremonies can be important forms of care and respect, both for people who have died and for their families and friends, so the disruption has caused much distress. However, the restrictions have also prompted the development of new funeral practices, some of which have been welcomed. For example, some people have found it easier to take part in activities online.
Researchers at the University of Aberdeen are taking part in an interdisciplinary project which will bring together insights from anthropology, archaeology, health services research, philosophy, social policy and theology to analyse the diverse experiences of disruption, distress, adaptation and innovation in funeral provision associated with Covid-19.
The team will interview bereaved families and funeral service providers of different faiths and those of none. They will also analyse funeral artefacts, including online films, tribute pages, and written accounts.
The study is funded by the Economic and Social Research Council, as part of UK Research and Innovation’s rapid response to Covid-19.
Study leader, Professor Vikki Entwistle Chair in Health Services Research and Philosophy at the University of Aberdeen, said:
“Many of us have been bereaved, or know someone who has been bereaved, during the pandemic. In some cases the restrictions have added stress and a sense of injustice to the experience of funerals.
“Funeral directors and celebrants, as well as bereaved families and friends, have experienced the disruption as challenging. Their work can be considered a form of care for people who have died, bereaved families, friends and communities – yet they have not been studied as professional groups to the same extent as those who are more typically considered part of health and social care services.
“By speaking to bereaved families and to funeral professionals, and by analysing how funerals have been conducted during the pandemic period, we hope to gather information on what matters most in funeral provision for different social and faith groups.
“This will help develop a better understanding of what makes a funeral ‘good’ and of the ethical implications of different policies and practices. This work will be valuable because, in contrast with considerable research into care provided towards the end of life, the practices and ethics of care after death are under-explored.
“We will use what we learn to help produce recommendations for future funeral care.”