Falkirk Council states that, in light of the current coronavirus crisis, all funerals, be they cremations or burials, can only be attended by immediate family.
They are even taking the step of offering a free webcasting option for services at Falkirk Crematorium, where families can view cremation services from their own homes on their own devices.
Due to social distancing, those mourners who are allowed to be present at a funeral are advised not to shake hands at the end of cremation or interment services.
The COVID-19 outbreak has also forced the local authority to remove hymn books and song sheets from premises.
The current situation is making things difficult for funeral directors, who are used to being “hands-on”, dealing “face-to-face” with customers and able to provide them with the funeral they want for their loved ones.
Long established funeral directors Thomas Cuthell and Sons, based in Hope Street, Falkirk, is just one of the business which has had to adapt to the changes and make sure everyone stays safe, while at the same time allowing families to say farewell to mothers, fathers, husbands, wives, brothers, sisters, sons and daughters in as dignified and respectful a manner as possible.
Alistair Cuthell, company director, said: “The key thing really, is funerals are now very much private with only family members permitted to attend. You cannot have 40 people or more gathered together in one place.”
At the moment Falkirk Crematorium only allows up to 15 people at funerals and those people must be family members.
And there is even criteria to define a “family member” in these days of social distancing and self isolation.
According to Mr Cuthell, the Federation of Burial and Cremation Authorities (FBCA) guidelines identify family members in this case as being spouses or partners, parents, siblings and children.
“There are no church services just now,” said Mr Cuthell. “It is straight to the crematorium or straight to the cemetery.”
When the coronavirus first started to take hold in the UK, things were still unclear for a lot of people, with some businesses staying open and some closing/
Mr Cuthell said: “A week ago things were almost changing on a daily basis as far as guidelines went, but now it’s very clear from the government what is allowed and what is not allowed.
We have found people just accept the situation for what it is.
“Most people appreciate there is very little they can do about it and we are all in the same situation. It’s unfortunate for people who have to go through a bereavement at a time like this and they don’t get the funeral they would normally get.
“What we are doing is offering people a memorial service to take place at a later date free of charge, for those who still feel the need to have a service of some sort. Some people have taken us up on the offer and we will be able to hold the services when things start to settle down.”
To say that Cuthell and Sons has had to change its business practices is an understatement.
“As a business I think we are working to stay open,” said Mr Cuthell. “We have separate places for staff to work and make sure we have distance between them throughout the working day. Some of our staff are currently working from home, but we do need to keep our funeral homes open.
“Normally we have two members of staff in the hearse – a funeral director and a driver. Now the driver is on his own driving the hearse and the funeral director is in a second car. We also cannot provide funeral limousines, which would bring drivers into contact with people.
“Family members have to make their own way to the funeral in their own cars and when the funeral is finished they have to go back home, of course, because there is nowhere open for them to meet up afterwards.”
Most of Thomas Cuthell and Sons’ pre-funeral arrangements are carried out over the phone, through e-mails and digital services like Facetime and Zoom.
“We have now stopped face to face contact with customers,” said Mr Cuthell. “We are doing our best to work around these restrictions, but people can still visit the premises to come and see a loved on if they wish.
“This is not ideal for the customers and many will find it hard, but it is something we have to accept at this moment in time.”