Covid changes the face of funerals

Undertakers say they have noticed an increase in funerals since the Covid-19 second wave hit.

Covid is changing the funeral industry, say undertakers and clerics.

“We used to have about 10 funerals a week, now we have 10 to 18, mostly coronavirus,” says Carol Petersen of Tony Wyllie & Co Funeral Home, which has a branch in Muizenberg.

Sheldon Solomon, of Fern Funerals in Retreat, said the second Covid wave had kept them on their toes. They now have an average of 60 funerals a week, compared to 25 a week during the first wave.

Funerals were being held with greater speed, he said, because families had limited time at the gravesite.

A man digs a grave at Plumstead cemetery.

Those who had paid for the “bells and whistles” funerals were still getting that, he said, but now there were added costs for the personal protective equipment needed to collect a body and prepare it for the funeral.

Terry Lester, rector of Christ Church Constantia, said they had about 60 funerals a year. While he had not seen a marked increase in funerals, the complications Covid created around a death were something new to deal with.

Those wishing to show care and compassion to the bereaved now had to do so remotely.

“In our communities, washing and dressing a deceased loved-one is part of the process of loss and grieving,” he said. “Family and friends come to the house to console and pay respects to the dead. These rituals are not allowed.”

Now when someone died of Covid at the hospital their body was placed in three separate body bags, he said.

Mr Lester has conducted funerals with just himself, the verger and a camera streaming the service to mourners.

Kenneth Yorke of Peninsula Tombstones in Retreat said Covid was changing the demographics of death. “It’s not just the elderly dying but younger strong healthy people,” he said. “They contract Covid and a month later die.”

The City said demand for burials on a Saturday remained high and mourners were asked to consider alternative days.