Covid-19 and baby loss
Updated April 3rd, 2020
In my day job as a funeral director I have been, like others in my profession, saddened by the recent changes to funerals in the light of the Covid-19 pandemic.
The measures being taken are correct, needed and appropriate but that doesn’t make them any less difficult to be a part of.
Daily I am experiencing that all too increasingly familiar feeling of frustration and sadness, watching people say goodbye with only immediate family in attendance. I KNOW it needs to happen, but it doesn’t stop me from disliking the situation we are all in.
Last week I conducted the funeral for a tiny little baby girl. Born too soon and too poorly to stay. Always the hardest funerals to conduct but made all that bit harder by watching just a mummy and daddy attend. Two solitary figures carrying a tiny white coffin. Normally by the day of a funeral for a baby I have built up such a relationship with the family. After all they are trusting me with their precious child. They need to know they can trust you, that you will do as they have asked. And this connection is built up over time. Usually by the time you get to the funeral you have created an understanding. But I arrived with their child having never met them. Now that is a lot of trust to put in someone who you have only spoken to over the telephone.
And I couldn’t help but think about the vital support they are missing. How when dads hands shook as he was lifting the coffin I would normally be able to reach out and steady him. How now it was just a reassuring look I could offer and not a comforting touch of the arm. I couldn’t help but feel sadness that normally a mum, walking behind her husband carrying his child, would normally have her own family holding her up, supporting her physically as well as mentally. But there was no one. All isolating under the guidelines. Even in the absence of their family I could normally be there to provide that succour. Not imposing but a gentle touch of the arm, or a tender squeeze of the hand. But because of these guidelines, yes these very necessary guidelines, I feel I cannot do my job properly. And I am frustrated. And (thankfully) this is the only time this family have done this, and hopefully ever will. Yet they do not know there should be more. But surely, they feel it?
The other facet I couldn’t help but notice was those around us. My regular friendly door staff who give us smooth entry into the chapel were replaced by two people normally based in other areas of the local council, who were just not accustomed to funerals, let alone the funeral of a baby. Perfectly lovely people but who did not sign up to bear witness to such sad sights as a baby funeral. Seconded from their normal jobs of litter enforcers to help out during the pandemic, these two people have been thrust into this world to provide essential back up. To allow the normal staff to get on with other jobs. Their tears and reaction to seeing this sorrowful scene was heart-breaking. How do you go from arguing over rubbish being dropped to opening the doors on this mournful sight?
But that is just it, we are all adjusting. Some to new roles and some of us to our roles but in a very different way.
My thoughts then turn to anyone suffering the loss of a baby right now. For years I have been part of a movement for change. A band of merry men and women urging the powers that be to offer more support, more counselling, more acknowledgement for the tiny babies that cannot stay with us. And that makes me sad that right now that momentum has almost stopped. We are clinging on to provide vital connections to those really struggling but is it enough? That enthusiasm we had to make a difference halted by a virus born out of foreign lands. How is it this is affecting our lives and the lives of those we care for so much? It is surreal.
This dreadful virus is claiming lives every day and the measures being taken are vital. They really are life or death. But my heart cannot help but break a little for those just starting out on their journey. Over the last few years so many improvements have been made to care for the bereaved and their precious babies.
But then my attention turns to the others like me, frustrated at not being able to care for those we signed up to care for. I cannot help but think of those amazing midwives and doctors having to break the news to just one parent at a sonogram. To tell parents that extended family cannot see their beautiful baby in the bereavement suite. The remembrance photographer unable to visit to take precious photographs that could have been treasured forever. The bereavement midwives who follow up the death with a visit and offer a warming hug. The registrars having to register the baby’s death impersonally over the phone. The other funeral directors that have to break the news that viewings of the baby in the chapel of rest are restricted. The support groups that have to close their doors. The cemetery staff having to watch the three solitary figures of mum, dad and minister at a graveside. The vicar who cannot visit and plan a touching service but has to do so over the telephone.
The ripple effects of Covid-19 are being felt far and wide. And not just in the way we would imagine.
We are all adjusting to this new world. The way we live our lives is changing. The impact is being felt worldwide. People are losing their jobs; our movements are being restricted and our mental health is being impacted. That is a massive difference to how life is lived.
But for me personally I cannot help but think of the bereaved parents walking this path alone. I always promised to walk alongside anyone suffering this tragic loss if they needed me to. And not being able to fulfil a promise I meant with all my heart, hurts.
But when all this is over, we will be there. To do what we can, to pick up the pieces and to help them to grieve for their precious little ones. We may not be able to do anything now but we must not forget these families who not only have to experience the worst pain imaginable but who are experiencing it at the worst possible time. When this ends, and it will end, those of us in caring professions and the charity sector will need to continue the fight…to ensure these bereaved are heard.