“Only in the agony of parting do we look into the depths of love.” These immortal lines of British writer George Eliot might no longer capture the mood of contemporary times, when people, battling the coronavirus pandemic, might not even get an opportunity to say a heartfelt good-bye to their departed loved ones.
This is the story in different parts of the world, particularly countries like China, Italy, Spain, Germany, UK, USA and France that are badly-scarred by the COVID-19 virus, where funeral ceremonies are no more what it earlier was. The need to maintain social-distance and stay indoors has resulted in the dead getting buried/ cremated without a proper farewell by their near and dear ones. In India, too, similar cases are being reported.
If a group in Kolkata recently attracted attention for stopping cremation of a corona victim in their neighbourhood for fear of spread of the disease, Monday’s news of a whooping 26,000 people of Morena district in Madhya Pradesh quarantined at their homes after attending a funeral feast where 10 corona patients were present has set the alarm bells ringing.
On Tuesday, a 72-year-old man residing at Jharpada in Odisha’s capital succumbed to the corona virus. Following which, Odisha’s chief spokesperson on COVID 19 Subroto Bagchi said the bodies of corona patients are to be handed over to the state government for cremation, which will be done in tune with the Centre’s funeral guidelines.
India, like certain other corona-hit countries, too, a few weeks ago framed its guidelines for disposal of COVID-19 dead bodies and rules to be followed at crematoriums and burial grounds. But, are these guidelines being strictly followed?
Here is a brief overview of such guidelines in different countries:
The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare has formulated certain funeral guidelines. The crematorium staff should practice hygiene using masks and gloves. The face of the dead can be viewed by the family and relatives by unzipping only the face area. Rituals like religious script chanting, sprinkling holy water or collecting ashes after last rites that do not require touching of the body is allowed. Rituals involving skin contact or touching like kissing, hugging or bathing of the body is not permitted. The funeral staff and the family members are required to maintain hand hygiene after cremation or burial. Most importantly, a large gathering is to be avoided at the funeral site for fear of virus shedding.
Italy has banned funerals altogether in the wake of high corona deaths. People are bidding adieu to their loved ones from inside their homes or hospitals.
In most cemeteries, the funeral is limited to five or fewer persons. The mourners, in masks and gloves, maintain social distance from the coffin. There are hardly any sign of social endearments like consolation touches or hugs. The entire ritual takes places within five minutes without public burial, visitation or eulogy.
Usually the ashes of the deceased are kept in funeral homes to be taken for rituals on family grounds on holidays. However, this year this arrangement has been cancelled. Mourning rituals are being restricted for fear of violation of social distancing.
United States of America
The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggests online streaming of funerals and restricts physical presence of the number of mourners. Initially, CDC limited the mourner number to 50. President Trump then brought it down to 10.
About two weeks ago, the government adopted strict funeral guidelines. The National Society of Allied and Independent Funeral Directors and the National Association of Funeral Directors of the United Kingdom suggested people to resort to attend web streaming of funeral events, as far as possible. Earlier, the number of mourners was not restricted. Now it is limited to only immediate family members but definitely not if they are affected by COVID-19. In Ireland, funerals are being restricted to small private gatherings. Only 100 guests are allowed, while condolences are mostly encouraged through websites where funeral invitations and death notices are posted.
Though there have been few corona virus deaths, the country is taking precautions. Health ministry of Israel has suggested that the dead body be doubled wrapped in better-quality plastic. Washing rituals and other rites should also be done in protective gear. Though infection from deceased is less likely, no one wants to take chances. The government urged the family of COVID-19 victims to postpone funeral after cremation.
(The author teaches at Rama Devi Women’s University)