Death in the time of Corona – An Anonymous Account


Death in the time of Corona | by Anonymous | 4th May 2020

The title seems obvious, almost ridiculous.

If there is one thing we know about Corona – it can kill. Almost 30,000 people have died from Corona since the start of March and plenty of other people have died from other causes in the last 2 months as well.

I want to use this opportunity to share my experience of being bereaved in this period. I am writing this anonymously for a variety of reasons but mainly as I do not want the focus to be on me as an individual but for all of us to understand that behind all of the deaths are tens of thousands more families and friends who have had to deal with an already difficult and perhaps tragic loss in the worst circumstances possible.

In my case the death in my extended family was of a young man with children. He had no underlying health conditions and did indeed die from Covid. It was sudden, brutal and tragic. The emotional pain was limited for me but the effect on his close family was tremendous.

In the immediacy of his death, life was surreal. Whatever else we can achieve remotely, death and bereavement support is very limited. The death coming days before lockdown, the fear of the virus outweighed the effect of any legal restrictions which were about to come into force. Elderly parents were terrified of hugging their grandchildren to comfort them and desperately torn between wishing to stay in London to await the funeral and wanting to remove themselves from this Covid hotbed to the countryside where they live.

The traditions of visiting the bereaved, taking food, gathering as a family were all lost. Everything rendered onto Whatsapp messages or brief calls.

A desire to comfort relatives and have them to stay was brushed aside as against the necessity to force them to return home in the knowledge that the lockdown was about to come into place.

My life changed overnight from being a family lawyer. I was now the family’s expert on the new Corona legislation being debated in real time during the week of 23rd March on Coroners, treatment of funerals and forced cremations. Whilst specialist lawyers were running high level webinars on the regulatory changes, my family was living it. Would there be a post mortem? Would the family be forced to accept a cremation when they wished for a funeral? How many people and who would be permitted to attend a funeral? Would long distance travel to the funeral be prohibited?

It emphasised to me that at the end of the day the law affects real people. It really is not just words on paper to be debated over in an intellectually stimulating manner. It is a lesson we must all incorporate into our professional lives going forward.

I now turn to the funeral. To all those lawyers thinking that remote hearings are not so bad and the opposition is from dinosaurs of my vintage who do not like computers and that most things can be done remotely given a will – I hope that the reality of a remote funeral will make you stop and think. They really, really are not one of the life events which ever should be conducted remotely if at all possible. Events of high emotion simply do not lend themselves to screen time.

Only two members of the family attended the funeral in person. They were elderly and not IT proficient. Their ability to use Whatsapp is poor at the best of times and they have never graduated to Zoom. A funeral is certainly not the time to try to coax elderly relatives to install Zoom on their phones. Their filming skills have always been notoriously poor – photographs of trips to exotic locations with wonderful wildlife have produced hilarious results mainly involving the ground and handbags. It was therefore a big ask that they should livestream the funeral on Whatsapp on their phone but that is indeed what happened and to their great credit reasonably successfully. Remember that there is no opportunity for a practice run. Everything is depending on this phone call.

At the appointed hour my family and I all turned off all our devices save for one phone which was placed on the mantelpiece. We stood quietly and with our heads covered in the living room of our own home as the world went on around us. I could hear comings and goings outside, the neighbour’s child in the garden, post was delivered through the door.

We watched in silence the short service and the coffin being taken and buried over a shaky Whatsapp. This took about 20 minutes and then the camera turned off. There was no conclusion, no way to console the family, be with the other mourners. The call simply ended.

Finally, I would just ask everyone reading this to be extra kind to everyone bereaved in this period from whatever cause as they have been denied the usual human support and traditions that all of us so need in bad times. This will take time to heal.