COVID-19 reshaping burial of the dead
Ahead of the prime minister’s announcement yesterday evening that only 10 members of the immediate family of a deceased person and at least one officiant and essential mortuary staff can attend a funeral, some grieving families had already adjusted plans for the burials of their loved ones.
For some, that means having only small graveside ceremonies, according to Owen Bethel, president of Bethel Brothers Morticians and Crematorium.
“The general trend seems to be to have the services at the gravesite, have a brief ceremony at the gravesite for the committal,” Bethel told The Nassau Guardian yesterday.
Speaking ahead of the prime minister’s announcement, he said those services will still be “conducted by the relevant pastor or clergyman” despite actual services being prohibited.
“The government has, I think, suggested that it be limited in numbers of attendees and the clergymen all seem to be in unison that only family members will be, or should be, allowed to attend,” Bethel said.
“[But] the public or the others can come and sign the condolence book, the register, during the public view of the respective deceased.”
According to Bethel, such signing ceremonies should not pose a concern as it relates to COVID-19, as “generally there’s not a congregation or congregating of persons coming to view”.
“They typically will just come in, view and sign the condolence book and leave,” he said.
“What we have done is, as has been recommended, basically provide sanitizer there and do the regular cleaning or sanitizing of the facilities.”
But Dominic Sweeting, proprietor at Sweeting’s Colonial Mortuary Crematorium, told The Guardian that Baptist churches still had services planned, at least for this weekend.
“The Anglican churches have canceled some of their services,” Sweeting said.
“In fact, we have a lot of services going out this week.
“We’re going to Baptist churches on Saturday so their service is still on for Saturday…but all the other services that are planned prior for weeks to come, it’s like everything is on a shutdown.”
His comment also came before the prime minister announced an emergency order putting in place certain restrictions on events, including funerals.
Sweeting noted that even at those services that had been planned, some families were nonetheless choosing to have only relatives attend as a safety precaution.
“The thing is, [for] some funerals only families can come to the funerals because of the virus,” Sweeting said.
“They don’t want to have too many people, especially loved ones who have been well-known to the community.
“…They’re not going to have big funerals because now the epidemic that’s going on now is crazy.”
Bethel added that while family members may be disappointed by these changes, there seems to be a sense of understanding.
“…I think there’s an element of disappointment but understanding,” Bethel said, “because of course it’s last minute, they would have made all their plans and arrangements for this service, et cetera.
“But I think they all fully understand that it’s a necessary measure that needs to be taken.”
He added, “I think going forward we will now be able to apprise families that this is what will happen, going forward, so they will make the arrangements accordingly.”
Sweeting also said “everybody has to be understanding” as the coronavirus pandemic continues to evolve.
COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO) last week.
It has spread to all continents except Antarctica since emerging in Wuhan, China, in December.
WHO announced that Europe is now the epicenter of the pandemic.
The Bahamas, meanwhile, has three confirmed cases of the highly infectious disease which causes fever, cough, shortness of breath and in severe cases pneumonia.
The Ministry of Health has stressed social distancing in an attempt to prevent further spread of COVID-19, and yesterday evening Minnis announced a curfew that will last from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. until March 31.
He also announced a ban on a wide range of social events, including funerals, except 10 members of the immediate family and at least one officiant and essential mortuary staff.
Sweeting said the business aspect of being able to put on a funeral has also met unexpected challenges due to the virus.
He said the struggle with being able to get supplies needed for funeral homes “feels like this is chaos going on”.
“The business, when you have to order supplies like with caskets and embalming materials and all of the day-to-day things that you have to do with funeral homes, it’s like you can’t even order stuff in because now the flights are backed up, flights are not coming to The Bahamas and you have to actually still be able to get these people’s loved ones to be buried for a certain time, so it’s really, really chaotic,” Sweeting said.