Distancing pain for grieving families

Greg Nethercott Picture  TBW Newsgroup
HEART-BREAKING CHANGES: Mount Gambier funeral director Greg Nethercott – who is a national leader in the sector – says new regulations sparked by COVID-19 will trigger emotional hardship for grieving families. Picture: SANDRA MORELLO

REGIONAL funeral directors have implemented a raft of measures to comply with strict new Federal Government measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Funerals held indoors at Limestone Coast venues and churches will now be restricted to crowds of less than 100 people, which is expected to trigger an emotional response from grieving families.

Social distancing and other measures preventing touch points will also be swept in as part of unprecedented measures facing the funeral sector.

These restrictions will come into play this week when a number of funerals are held in the region.

Already, the seating has been altered at Carinya Gardens Chapel to comply with social distancing rules.

Cemetery staff are also working with funeral directors to ensure services are compliant with government directives.

National Funeral Directors Association of Australia president Greg Nethercott – who is a funeral director in Mount Gambier – revealed the sector had responded quickly to the unfolding health crisis.

Still grappling with the evolving and “fluid” directions flowing from government authorities, he conceded the new measures would cause hurt and distress for families who have lost loved ones.

“It is obviously an emotional time – someone has lost someone,” Mr Nethercott said.

“These measures are unfortunate and tragic. We do not want to impose these as an industry, but we need to support the government measures.

“People have to understand it is a new world at the moment- a lot is changing in our lives. The safety of staff, clients and the community is paramount.”

Mr Nethercott said COVID-19 was impacting on all sections of the community.

“Any funeral that is booked at the moment will have to comply with the new rules – we have funerals today and Monday,” he revealed.

He said the sector had no choice but to implement new protocols given the COVID-19 ramifications sweeping Australia.

“There maybe also restrictions of the attendance of a loved one due to COVID-19,” Mr Nethercott said.

Pleased there had yet to be a confirmed case in Mount Gambier, he said the government’s directives must be carefully followed to protect the community.

It is understood the annual death rate in Australia was seven per thousand people, but the COVID-19 death toll could be 40 per thousand people according to overseas trends.

Mr Nethercott said contingency plans were also being implemented across Australia to ensure funeral homes could handle greater numbers.

Changes will also be swept in regarding sign-in registers, the number of people at funeral arrangement meetings, the distribution of booklets/memorial cards as well as placing petals on coffins.

He said people should refrain from hugging each other and touching the coffin due to social distancing measures.

Mr Nethercott said there would also be limited numbers of people at wakes and venues may have to use disposable cutlery and plates.

Live-streaming or recording services were among the options on the table for funeral directors.

“I hope we do not get to the point that at an arrangement people will have to wear a mask. Hopefully, we can observe social distancing,” Mr Nethercott said.

“Already, funeral directors are reporting they are capturing some of the detail by phone and paperwork is being sent electronically.”

He suggested the changes could see small funeral services and direct cremations with memorial services planned for a “much later date”.

This could be particularly important to accommodate people travelling from overseas.

Mr Nethercott suggested there could also be a move to hold more graveside funerals given they could have more people.

Donation envelopes are also likely to be impacted and people may choose not advertise funeral times but invite people to the service.

People will also not be allowed to touch coffins.

Mr Nethercott said the National Funeral Directors Association of Australia was working closely with government authorities.

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