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7 ways the Coronavirus pandemic has changed UK funerals

EACH year, Dying Matters Awareness Week aims to raise public awareness about the importance of talking more openly about dying, death, and making funeral wishes known.  This year, because of the Coronavirus pandemic, which is taking so many lives, the need to speak about funeral wishes with family and friends has never seemed more pertinent. Coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we live, but it has also changed the way we deal with death. Andrew Copson, Chief Executive of Humanists UK takes a look at the changes that have taken place in terms of how funerals are now being conducted in the UK.

1. Funeral planning... Humanist funeral ceremonies focus on the life of the person who has died, the relationships they forged, and the legacy they left behind. To gather the detailed information used to write the funeral script, celebrants would normally meet bereaved family members in person, to learn about the life of the deceased and to discuss funeral plans. But, as a result of travel restrictions and physical distancing guidelines; and in order to protect both clients and themselves; celebrants are now conducting their 'family visits' by telephone or video call.  1 humanist funeral celebrant who has had experience of this new way of working is Adele Chaplin from Ipswich. She explains:- "Conducting family visits by phone or video call is certainly providing some new challenges. When you meet with a family face to face, you can catch those little smiles, sideways glances, and chuckles that you don't always pick up on a video call. People tend to treat the calls much more formally than they treat you when you're sitting in their living room with a cup of tea. You also really don't have the opportunity to comfort people the way you would in person. You can't hug, smile, or even pat a hand; it all has to be communicated by voice. However, remote meetings do have a positive side too. People tend to be much more organised, having written out their loved ones stories in advance and really having thought about the music and readings they would like. Learning to handle remote meetings is making us better celebrants, as we are now able to take on a range of new and challenging circumstances."

2. Social distancing at crematoria... The latest Government guidance on funerals says:- "Only members of the deceased person's household or close family members should attend funerals." And, while the Government has not been prescriptive on numbers, at some crematoria limits are imposed, with some areas permitting a maximum of just 5 and others allowing up to 25.

3. Direct cremations... Some crematoria have been closed to ceremonies for a number of weeks now, meaning that no family members may be present when the cremation takes place. For families in this situation, celebrants are offering alternatives such as deferring the memorial service until restrictions are lifted or having an online memorial ceremony via video.

4. Live streaming a funeral ceremony... Celebrants have noticed an increase in the number of enquiries about using in house equipment to live stream funeral ceremonies from crematoria or funeral homes. By using this type of technology, mourners can access the ceremony from anywhere in the world. Humanist funeral celebrant Adele Chaplin said:- "Initially, conducting a live streamed ceremony following the lockdown rules can seem unusual; there are only a handful of people in attendance, but you are conscious there could be hundreds more watching online; and it's important to include those people in the ceremony and make them feel part of the day. I always make sure I mention and thank those watching the live stream so they know they feel included. I hope that once this lockdown is over, people see the continuing benefit of live-streaming, which makes a funeral accessible to those who can't be there in person."

5. Live streaming a memorial ceremony... Where no 1 can be present at the crematorium or graveside, families may decide to have an online memorial ceremony led by a celebrant from their own home. The celebrant can conduct a full memorial ceremony or, if there will be a gathering for a memorial later in the year, they can conduct a short ceremony to mark the committal. Ceremonies can either be entirely celebrant led, or they can include contributions from others. Humanists UK's Ceremonies Training and Development Manager, Ginny Collins said:- "Memorials allow time for several contributions from others. They are very different in tone from funerals, and can feel more like a party, with slideshows and music, perhaps a moment to reflect at the end, and then on to the buffet. All of this can be recreated online."

6. Pre-recorded ceremony... Some humanist funeral celebrants have received requests for pre-recorded ceremonies to be filmed by the celebrant and emailed to the family as a keepsake, in preference to having a live memorial.

7. Coordinating meaningful rituals... For people who can't attend or watch online, but wish to mark the time of the funeral in a meaningful way, humanist celebrants can help families to create a ritual that can be enacted by each mourner at home. This might be the lighting and extinguishing a candle at particular times, reciting a piece of poetry, or playing a specific piece of music. Rituals can also be included in the live online ceremonies for those participating. Humanist celebrant Stewart Holden said:- "I conducted a funeral in Northern Ireland last week for a young man whose friends were watching online in homes around the world and all of whom lit candles at the same time whilst listening to a song. The family present in the funeral home did the same thing and it gave us all a feeling that while we could not all physically be together, we were nonetheless united in that moment through that shared action." As the saying goes:- "Necessity is the mother of invention," and our celebrants have demonstrated that they have risen to the challenge of finding innovative solutions to the new challenges brought by the Coronavirus. They are developing new skills whilst continuing to conduct meaningful ceremonies with compassion and respect.

To find a celebrant near you, visit:- HumanistCeremonies.Org.UK.

Aymentsheild Defaqto and Mind aim to ease UK's financial worries during national conversation week

FINANCIAL organisations Paymentshield and Defaqto have teamed up with mental health charity Mind for this year's National Conversation Week. The awareness week aims to get people talking in a bid to improve the nation's wellbeing, at a time when people are facing unprecedented challenges and are separated from each other. Through safe conversations via phone, video conferencing, or any other socially distant method, people can bring comfort and take care of each other during the current tough times. National Conversation Week reminds the public to get in touch, and encourages creative ways to connect with friends, family, neighbours, acquaintances, online communities, and professionals, to give and receive much needed support. In particular, National Conversation Week hopes to encourage conversations about money, to tackle financial worries. A recent YouGov study of over 1000 GB adults, commissioned by Paymentshield, revealed that finances were the single biggest concern when asked to select from a list of 7, with 32% of respondents admitting that money is the thing that worries them the most; ranking higher than work, family, friends, fitness, housework, and hobbies. This is likely to have increased following the outbreak of Coronavirus, with many people facing additional financial difficulty and uncertainty. Financial worries have a huge impact on mental health, and talking to someone about the situation can be very helpful. Shockingly, Paymentshield's research discovered that 41% of people rarely ask for financial advice when they need it. According to financial experts at Paymentshield, during periods of financial uncertainty, people tend to consider their outgoings and can be tempted to make risky financial decisions based purely on cost alone. Seeking the help of professionals is especially recommended during these periods, to avoid them being left vulnerable, for example if they cancel an insurance policy and are no longer protected, or swap to a cheaper policy without understanding how to avoid being stung by compulsory excess fees. National Conversation Week raises awareness of the benefits of talking to financial advisers, so that people can have a better understanding of what they can do if their circumstances have changed. As part of the awareness week, free resources and information have been released. This includes mental health information from Mind, which is National Conversation Week's charity partner for the second year in a row.

Stephen Buckley, Head of Information at Mind says:- "The Coronavirus outbreak will have a long term impact on our economy; we're likely to see another recession as the nation attempts to get back on its feet. We know there is a strong link between issues like debt, unemployment, poor housing and poor mental health. So, it stands to reason that factors like job insecurity, unemployment, low paid work and redundancy could have a knock on impact on mental health. Unfortunately, we know these kinds of factors disproportionately affect people who have existing mental health problems. That's why it's important that financial support and support with wider social issues are there for people when they need it. Speaking about these issues and asking for help may seem daunting, but sharing your worries can be a real relief and is often the first step in getting the help you need. We're supporting National Conversation Week in the hope that it will encourage people to speak to a friend, family member, or another trusted individual about how you're feeling."

Jennifer Ripley, Head of Marketing at Paymentshield, said:- "We might not be able to see each other face to face, but that doesn't mean that conversations have to stop. We know that right now is a particularly worrying and challenging time, especially with so much uncertainty, and whilst people are cut off from their usual support networks. It's more important than ever before that we stay in touch, especially when it comes to financial conversations. Money is 1 of the biggest contributors to poor mental health. We're calling on the nation to keep the conversation going; from video calls with a financial expert, to a chat with grandparents; and support each other."

Independent financial research company Defaqto is also supporting this year's National Conversation Week. Its independent comparison tool can be used alongside conversation to gain a better understanding of the overall value and quality of a financial product. To mark the start of the week, Paymentshield has also launched an online quiz to help people find out more about their financial personality, and how conversation could benefit them. The annual awareness week, founded by Paymentshield, is now in its 4th year. National Conversation Week 2020 takes place from 11 May to 17 May 2020. For more information, resources and advice, or ways to get involved, visit:- NationalConversationWeek.Co.UK. For advice and support looking after your mental health at this time visit:- Mind.Org.UK/Coronavirus. For more information and tips visit:- Mind.Org.UK/Money.

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