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Social distancing has robbed funerals of the personal touch

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Pat Laffan unlocking the gates to St Stephen’s Cemetery. Photo: Mary Browne

Pat Laffan unlocking the gates to St Stephen’s Cemetery. Photo: Mary Browne

Pat Laffan unlocking the gates to St Stephen’s Cemetery. Photo: Mary Browne

Pat Laffan oversees burials at St Stephen’s Cemetery and for him the past year has been one of seeing the traditional Irish funeral reduced to a social distant yearning for contact.

Pat said the main difference for him over the past year was seeing the separation of social distancing. ‘The numbers coming to funerals were a lot less too. The people who came were very good at social distancing. They were very respectful,’ Pat said.

‘I didn’t get too involved. I stayed very distant from proceedings on the day of the internment.’

Two of Pat’s sisters died during the past year and he felt the chill of social distancing first hand on both occasions. ‘It was difficult for the families. Both of my sisters were older than me. Both had been ill but there was no Covid-19 thankfully, but obviously we had to respect social distancing and Covid as well. That is my personal story and I am sure everybody has the same story.’

Unlike in any other year, Pat wasn’t able to get close to mourners and sympathise with them on the day of burials.

‘I just do my job. You see friends and they want to pay their respects. You’d usually pay them by either a hug or a handshake. Now it’s a wave or a nod of the head. You can’t really do it the way you want to. Even with close family it’s difficult because you have to respect social distancing because we all come from different households and different parts of the country so we can’t get physically close either at the burial or afterwards. Before, people would go to a public house or back to the family home. Now even family all go their separate ways and phone each other afterwards to talk about it.’

Pat said restrictions have made the working life of undertakers and priests very difficult.

‘Undertakers have a difficult job anyway. I’m sure Covid-19 hasn’t made it any easier. I would say the same about priests. They have both been very respectful.’

Pat said the numbers attending funerals has fallen dramatically, adding that RIP.ie could be a game-changer in how people pay their respects to the family of deceased people in Ireland.

‘Technology has played a role in that. In the past, in normal times, you would make a huge effort and travel great distances to be at someone’s funeral if you were close with them. RIP.ie has given us a way out as you can sympathise online. People can log on and you see the name of someone you know very well. From my point of view when Covid-19 finally ends maybe by next year we can get back to having our traditional funerals again. I hope so anyway.’

Pat said mourners receive great comfort at funerals, but that has been drastically impacted by restrictions.

‘I miss seeing the personal comfort you see at that point of time. You do take a certain comfort from a huge or a shake of the hand. It’s the physical contact you appreciate.’

He said the cemetery is respected for the most part and is a place where fewer people have been coming to pay their respects to loved ones over the past 12 months.


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