Coronavirus: Grieving family members say lockdown funeral rules cruel and unnecessary

A widow says the lockdown rules around funerals are unnecessarily strict, to the point of being cruel.

At level 4 only people in the bubble of the deceased can say goodbye. And now, the rule is becoming such a problem, the police have been called on grieving families.

At one funeral parlour, staff were reduced to tears as they were forced to tell family that due to the lockdown they can't say goodbye.

"They're angry, they're sad, they're everything - and so for me to come and say unfortunately it's only the family of the same bubble, things get a bit out of hand," says Francis Tipene of Tipene Funerals.

Some people outside a bubble of the deceased have become so distraught and angry Tipene has had to call the police - twice.

For many, not being able to have a funeral follows the struggle of not being able to visit their loved one in hospital, due to the risk of transmitting COVID-19.

"Psychologically this could be really damaging if we don't manage some really important work now around dealing with grief," says Janet Mikkelsen of Aroha Funerals.

Andrew Hercus died from melanoma just before the lockdown started.

His wife Kiri had to cancel a planned 300-person funeral, and Andrew's mother, who flew over from Australia and could only see him from a distance in life and couldn't see him at all in death.

"She wasn't even allowed to enter the funeral home and have her own personal time with him," says Hercus.

She says the rules are unnecessarily cruel, and multiple bubbles should be allowed to visit as long as they do so separately. 

"If you can get into the supermarkets, bubbles are mixing all the time, how come we can't do it for these funeral homes?"

Level 4 is forcing rituals rooted in tradition to be re-thought for the 21st century.

"[There is] live streaming, calling ministers in on the telephone to read the final rights, the commendation, the committals all those things," says Tipene.

Aroha Funerals recently conducted an entire funeral via Zoom, attended by local family and people in Australia and India.

"It was lovely, everyone had their speeches and eulogies and played music," says Mikkelsen.  

Tipene says many families are doing things differently during these difficult times.

"A lot of people are cremating now, whereas they wouldn't have before, and they're opting to have a service, a memorial, later on with something physical there like ashes. And then there are families asking to hold the bodies for the long term until the alert levels drop down to 2."

In some cases, an open casket funeral could be possible up to five weeks after death.

Hercus is planning a ceremony for Andrew next March, on the one-year anniversary of his death - when hopefully his family can say goodbye.