'We've never known anything like this' - funeral directors tell of Covid-19 pressure

Funeral director David Button, right, with employee Gary Fry in Felixstowe

Funeral director David Button, right, with employee Gary Fry in Felixstowe - Credit: Tim Ward

Funeral directors in Suffolk have told of the pressure and emotional strain caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, saying: "We have never known anything like this."

As well as having to organise high numbers of funerals, staff are  having to explain government restrictions on numbers to grieving families, often via videolink rather than in person.

David Button, owner of David Button Independent Funeral Directors in Walton, Felixstowe, put a heartfelt post on his Facebook page, following an extremely busy week which was very demanding for his staff.

He said:  "It's fair to say we have never known anything like this, ever. It's demanding, it's emotional but we do love the work we do. 

"We wish to thank all members of our team for such a demanding week. Without those folks we couldn't do what we do."

He also thanked everyone for their support, from vicars and celebrants to cemetery and crematorium workers and florists.

Mr Button said: "I would definitely say this time we have noticed a lot more Covid deaths than in the first wave. It really has exceeded any expectation."

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He said it was very difficult for families, as only a maximum of 30 people could now attend services, but they were understanding of the restrictions.

Funeral arranger Joanna Thomas, a member of Mr Button's staff, said: "We have had some very sad cases. Sometimes a whole family has gone down with coronavirus, and unfortunately someone has succumbed.

"I think  a lot of families are finding the world doesn't seem real at the moment, and they are finding it so difficult to come to terms with what's happening, because they feel as if it is just a bad dream. It is very hard for them."

She also said it was down to funeral directors to explain government restrictions over numbers attending funerals to families. "It all comes down to us."

Martin Brown of Tony Brown Funeral Services, on the route to the funeral of Roddy Blois of Yoxford in January, 2021

Martin Brown of Tony Brown Funeral Services, on the route to the funeral of Roddy Blois of Yoxford in January, 2021. The service was held in Blythburgh and the horse pictured here belonged to Mr Blois. - Credit: Kerry Wilmot

Martin Brown, owner of Tony Brown Funeral Services in Saxmundham, said January to March was always a very busy period, but the pandemic meant there had been no let-up since February last year.  

"I love my job, but there has been quite a lot of stress involved," he said.

However, although they were handling more deaths due to Covid this time, he said: "Last year was a lot more difficult because it was all new."

Mr Brown said at first funeral directors had struggled to get vaccines, which was vital to protect everyone concerned because they were going into nursing homes and hospitals, but luckily his staff had now been vaccinated.

Another problem was that, when the pandemic started, his bearers were over 70 and had to isolate. "My son, Scott, who was then 16, stepped in, and a friend who had been furloughed." 

He said families were accepting the restrictions because they didn't want to risk infection, and some were even deciding that fewer than 30 people should attend a funeral, to be cautious. "We had one funeral where we thought there would be 15 people, but in the end there were only three."

Luke Farthing of Farthing Funeral Service in Ipswich

Luke Farthing of Farthing Funeral Service in Ipswich - Credit: Sarah Lucy Brown/Archant

Luke Farthing, managing director of Farthing Funeral Service in Ipswich, said they had been very busy during the pandemic. 

"Because of the circumstances with coronavirus, we are probably spending more time organising funerals rather than less, even though they are smaller funerals than usual." 

He said when they had seen people in person it had to be just one or two rather than whole families coming in, as in the past. 

"We tend to make a lot of funeral arrangements over the telephone or by Facetime, and it's not the same as speaking face to face, where it's more personal. It's a bit more of a challenge."

However, he said: "I think there is light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccines."

He said there was now enough PPE, whereas in the first wave it had been hard to get hold of, and funeral directors also had better systems in place now.

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