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Death is cruel

It is also inevitable

We all have to face death through the loss of our loved ones and ultimately we have to face our own death.

Although death is never welcomed often it is made a little less traumatic by the comfort and love of spending the last days and hours of life with those that mean the most to us. It is also important that after someone has died there is the ritual of a funeral service; a chance for family to be supported by the love and community of people who had special relationships with the person who has died. A funeral service is the final act of respect and helps people to assimilate the impact of the loss and say the final goodbye to someone they love. It helps people move into grief.

I know all of this from personal experience, I remember how important it was to spend that most precious and poignant time with Seth as he died and also know how important the funeral and the wake was. Seth’s death was the most difficult event in my life, but the sense of love, community, support, solidarity and respect for Seth’s life and his contribution to the world made the funeral a life affirming event.

Since Seth’s death I have unfortunately, just like you attended many funerals and have reflected on the importance of the affirmative presence of those who loved and respected the person who has died.

On Tuesday I attended a funeral in a time of social distancing, a funeral where only 10 family members were allowed to attend, where there was no live music, where the family who attended were having to keep social distance from each of the respective family groups. A funeral with no limousine because the family could not share the space as they come from different households. A funeral where people were forced to sit 6 foot apart in households, a funeral where a sister and brother had to sit apart, where a mother and father could not comfort their children. Where hugs and kisses were absent, not through lack of caring but through the knowledge that social distancing would save lives. At the end of the service there was no where to go, nowhere to take part in the ritual of remembrance that comes from a wake, there were no fond recollections, no stories, no anecdotes everyone just walked away to their own car and returned home to support the collective efforts to protect the NHS and save lives.

We know that as the pandemic develops there will be more and more families where a loved one dies alone and where the funeral is only attended a few people. A time where the attendance of 10 people will seem like a luxury.

The pandemic will change the way we view dying, death, grief and bereavement forever. As a society we will need to find new ways of living with the trauma of dying without the ability to comfort a loved one, of death and funerals being solitary rather than community occasions, with bereavement being traumatic and with grief being complicated by the trauma of absence. There will be much to do to support people now and in the future.

Nearly six years ago I suffered the trauma of Seths death during 33 short and heart-breaking days, those days flashed by in a second. During those days, I couldn’t enable Seth’s and my voice to be heard and after he died I had great guilt and mental anguish about what had happened. My way of dealing with that trauma was to try and make improvements and that was why I created Seth’s Story and that has been what has driven me since. That passion to help others and #sethslegacy will continue to drive me to do all that I can to provide support to those who experience grief and traumatic loss now and especially in the coming days, weeks and months when the pandemic will manifest its gruesome toll.

This week has been a sad one but it has been an incredibly rewarding one too.

The funeral I attended on Tuesday was for my Uncle Lionel and I had the great privilege to be asked by my cousins to lead the service. It wasn’t something I expected to do, it wasn’t something that I had done before, it was something that I was really nervous to do but having done it was something special, something intimate and something that helped to emotionally connect a small family group who were together ……..but apart.

This week I feel honoured and humbled to have been part of something so beautiful and the thought that some families in the coming weeks wont have that opportunity truly breaks my heart.

We have to act to embrace, support and nurture the people who will be bereaved by the pandemic and we have to think back to the quote from Cicely Saunders the founder of the Hospice movement that “How people die remains in the memory of those who live on.”

Dedicated to memory Lionel Robert Hancock 1939 -2020

“Today the world is unrecognisable from the world we were in just a few weeks ago, it is hard to comprehend the momentous changes that have taken place but some things never change the need for love, family and kindness.”