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Frequently Asked Questions about Funerals during the COVID-19 Lockdown

The following is for Level 3 Lockdown.
I have lost a loved one during the shutdown period, what happens now?
When a person passes away, one of the first things to do is contact the police and the deceased’s health provider. If they have died from an unknown cause, a post-mortem is required and police will assist with this process. If they have died from COVID-19, Police and/or your Health Provider (your doctor or the hospital) will support you with information about what to do next.

The following is for Level 3 Lockdown.

I have lost a loved one during the shutdown period, what happens now?

When a person passes away, one of the first things to do is contact the police and the deceased’s health provider. If they have died from an unknown cause, a post-mortem is required and police will assist with this process. If they have died from COVID-19, Police and/or your Health Provider (your doctor or the hospital) will support you with information about what to do next.

After this you can contact a registered funeral director to make arrangements for a burial or cremation. It is their job to take your loved one’s body from your home, or the place where they passed away, to the funeral home.

Please note – only registered funeral directors can carry out this work. Families and or communities must not carry out funerals without engaging a Registered Funeral business

When the funeral director comes to collect my loved one’s body, what will happen?

During the level three COVID-19 period, the funeral director and their team will collect your loved one’s body wearing full protective gear. This will include face masks and gloves. Understandably, this may well be upsetting for some people, especially young children. Funeral directors have a lot of experience of dealing with bereaved families and will do everything in their power to help you through this time in a sensitive manner.

One family member will be appointed to conduct all liaison with the funeral director, including paperwork. It is recommended that arrangements are made remotely where possible.

The funeral director will make all the arrangements for the burial or cremation.

Who can view the body or attend the funeral?

Family, Whānau and friends in separate isolation bubbles are permitted to go to the funeral home for viewing, but no more than 10 at any one time. Two family members can dress the deceased, with the agreement of the funeral home.

Your loved one’s body must not be removed from the funeral home for viewing, and the funeral home must maintain a register of those who visit or attend the funeral.

For the funeral itself, no more than 10 people can attend. You must keep to the physical distancing rules and there can be no reception and no serving of food or refreshments. Groups are not allowed to gather outside the funeral home, and members of separate groups/bubbles should not mix.

The Funeral Director will provide the Sexton at the cemetery or crematorium with a list of people attending the funeral, including name, address, emails, cell phone, date and time. Extra cleaning will occur before and after the burial or cremation has occurred and staff will be wearing protective equipment such as gloves and masks.

Seating will not be available at the crematorium to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19, and services will also be limited to 15-30 minutes.

Are there any different guidelines for tangihanga?

The new guidelines apply to everyone, but there are aspects of this advice that will have a particular impact on tikanga for bereaved whanau.

When informing the police of your loved one’s passing, you may wish to speak with the Police Iwi Liaison Officer, which your local Police will be able to facilitate. Māori communities, iwi, hapū and whānau are being encouraged to establish local ‘kaiwhakarite’ or people who can assist whānau during this time as well. You may wish to contact your ‘kaiwhakarite’ to seek advice. Get in touch with your iwi and hapū organisations as well as marae to see if a ‘kaiwhakarite’ has already been established.

If you are unsure about funeral directors, work with your local Police Iwi Liaison Officer, ‘kaiwhakarite’, Tribal Authority, Health Provider and/or local Civil Defence Emergency Management Centre to identify someone suitable.

Whānau and friends in separate isolation bubbles are permitted to go to the funeral home for karakia, mihi or poroporoakī., but no more than 10 at any one time. Up to 10 people can attend the tangihanga.

Depending on where you are located there may be the ability to have the deceased interred at an urupā or private cemetery. However, this will need to be agreed with the funeral director. Maraes are required to remain closed at level three.

Although you may not be used to cremation it may have to be an option you consider, especially if you are wanting to return your loved one to their whānau urupā once we recover.

Once we recover from this pandemic, your whānau may want to come together to honour your loved one. If your whānau member was cremated, you may want to bury their ashes at a whānau urupā. If they were buried immediately, you may choose to hold a service at the burial grounds. These are only some of the ways you may choose to remember your lost loved one.

Can I view my family member once they are at the funeral home?

Yes you can - family, whānau and friends in separate isolation bubbles are permitted to go to the funeral home for viewing, but no more than 10 at any one time. You’ll need to talk to the funeral home about the number of people who can attend a viewing at any one time as this will depend on the size of the funeral home.

Funeral home staff must work within the physical distancing protocols as outlined by the Ministry of Health. A funeral director or member of the funeral home staff must be present in the funeral home at all times and meet physical distancing rules while any viewing is in progress. The funeral director’s premises must be cleaned after a viewing has taken place.

Can the people living in my loved one’s isolation bubble carry the coffin?

Yes, they can, but you will need four reasonably fit adults to be able to do this. If that is not possible staff will be on hand to carry the coffin for you. In order to keep everyone safe, we are not able to mix groups. For instance, it is not possible for two family members, and two staff members to carry the coffin.

Can I take part in religious/cultural rituals when my loved one is at the funeral home?

Rituals related to the care of your loved one’s body may also be allowed. These must be carried out in the presence of an embalmer who will give direction to anyone present on the correct Personal Protective Equipment requirements. Once you have looked after your loved one’s body and it is time for people to visit the funeral home it is important to note that activities such as kissing, washing or touching the body must not occur before, during or after the viewing.

For example, Muslims have two fundamental requirements for funeral and burial, ghusl (ritual washing) and janaza (prayer over the body), that must be carried out by Muslims and within their strict rules for handling of the body. In this example, funeral directors may wish to work with their Muslim communities to identify Muslim males and females who can prepare the body of the deceased for correct funeral and burial, under the supervision of the embalming staff.

Why can’t my wider friends and family gather together for a funeral at level three?

While the country is at Alert Level 3 the government has restricted funerals and tangi to a maximum of 10 people. It would be difficult to control physical distancing between family and friends during a larger ceremony.  This means that you may not be able to give your loved one the funeral your family may have envisaged, distressing\. But this is not a decision that has been taken lightly, the risk of spreading COVID-19 could be very serious for vulnerable people.

It is also worth noting that family/whanau members are not currently allowed to travel between regions to attend a funeral.

Can I delay the funeral until we move to a lower alert level?

It is potentially possible to do this. Your loved one’s body could be stored safely, or embalmed. Talk to your funeral director about this, as it is not possible to do in all situations and some funeral directors will not have the required facilities. It may then be possible to hold the funeral once  we are at a lower alert level. However, it is worth remembering that level three may be extended, or it may be reintroduced after being lifted temporarily.

If I want to go ahead with the burial, what options do I have for helping my whānau, family and friends see the ceremony?

A funeral or tangi is a fundamentally human thing, and people across the world have already had to think of different ways of sharing their loss and/or celebrating the lives of their loved ones. Funeral directors will be able to assist you in being able to live stream the burial or cremation to family and friends who cannot be present. You may also be able to use a video conferencing website like Zoom to allow many different people to attend a virtual ceremony.

You may also consider holding a memorial to your loved one once life has returned to normal. Your funeral director will be able to advise you on this.

I have lost a family member and I now live alone, where can I find help?

If the loss of a loved one means that you now live alone, you should contact Nelson/Tasman Civil Defence on the usual Council phone number 03 546 0200 and ask to be put through to a welfare team who will be able to assist you. You may need help getting food and other essential supplies at this time.

We understand that this will likely be a very difficult time for you, but you are not alone. You can call or text 1737 – free, anytime, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week – to talk with a trained counsellor.

Are the cemeteries open to visitors? If they are open, why can we not attend the funeral?

Cemeteries are open to visitors, although people must still observe appropriate physical distancing rules. If a burial is taking place, there will be a sign at the Cemetery entrance. Visitors should note that people conducting the burial may be wearing protective clothing and that this might be distressing to witness.