By Rhian Messam, Funeral Director
When talk of a new and contagious virus first started, nobody could have predicted how badly affected we’d be and how quickly our worlds would be turned upside down.
Today is the National Day of Reflection, marking one year since we entered the first lockdown. This is a chance to take a few minutes out and look back at everything we’ve all gone through. Collectively we’ve experienced this together but all in unique and individual circumstances.
When the restrictions were brought in during the first lockdown, it made working in funerals a real challenge. Changes were made to flowers that were available, limousines being used, and the number of mourners allowed at funerals was reduced. Everything had a profound effect on families, sometimes they weren’t even able to attend services due to travel restrictions which only added to their heartache.
A large proportion of people in our care had passed away due to coronavirus, meaning families weren’t able to visit the chapel of rest and say their final goodbyes. Passing this information on was the hardest part for me.
Restrictions began easing, but things were still challenging due to the sheer volume of funerals we had, coupled with colleagues being off work ill or isolating after contracting coronavirus themselves. It really opened my eyes to the severity of what was happening, and the pain the virus had caused.
I sadly lost my grandma to coronavirus which was heartbreaking. Experiencing such a personal huge loss made me realise first-hand exactly what the families I’d been supporting had gone through. Luckily I was able to arrange and conduct my grandma’s funeral, including all the personal touches that meant so much.
Throughout the pandemic, Co-op have been amazing providing all the support and advice I could have ever wished for. Following government updates and the subsequent changes they brought, we had weekly calls to update everyone. We were also encouraged to have general chats and get things off our chests. I didn’t once feel unprepared for the next steps and where the industry was going.
I feel incredibly grateful for the opportunity to continue working. Having the ability to focus my mind on such a meaningful role and be available to support people through such difficult times has given me a different perspective for the future. Staying positive has helped; remembering that this won’t last forever and there’s light at the end of the tunnel. The whole experience has changed me as a person and I now have a greater appreciation for the smaller things in life.
Over the last year, I’ve found things to be quite challenging. There’s been new government guidelines to understand and adhere to, along with getting to grips with internal procedures that’ve also been implemented
Some of the restrictions have meant I’ve not been able to fully carry out the wishes of the families I‘ve been working with. Personally I’ve found this quite difficult and at times it’s been upsetting as I want to do everything I can to help them say their best goodbyes.
Additionally, I’ve found myself constantly worrying about my family throughout the pandemic, the isolation has been really tough. Thankfully I’ve got a great line manager and work with a brilliant team, all of whom are very supportive. Constantly receiving communications from an authentic source, the colleague comms updates helped to keep me informed with the latest information which was really helpful too.
If I can offer one bit of advice, it would be to never be afraid or scared to ask for help and support if you need it. Don’t let things build up and eat away at you. I know I’ve relied on my team throughout the pandemic for support and they’ve been nothing but brilliant throughout.
We’ve shared our stories to highlight how everyone’s handled the challenges of the last year while tentatively looking forward to a hopeful, brighter future. To join in collectively, our funeral homes are encouraged to turn their window displays yellow just like this fabulous display below. However, you choose to mark the National Day of Reflection, remember that looking after your own wellbeing is vital. LifeWorks is available to colleagues if you need it, just call 0800 069 8854.