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Celebrating a Life – Funerals & Memorial Services

Updated: Apr 22, 2020

ARTICLE 3: 20 April 2020

Our lives seem to have been on PAUSE since Alert Level 4 came into effect on 23 March 2020. The world keeps on spinning, babies continue to be born and other people have sadly ‘passed away’. The cycle of life does not pause – it doesn’t wait for ‘life to go back to normal, the way it used to be’.


A death, especially a sudden death, is extremely distressing and painful at any time. My heart goes out to those who have lost a loved one or friend recently during this COVID-19 national lock down, either from the virus or other causes, and for various reasons were unable to hold a funeral or tangihanga or a farewell gathering with your wider circle of friends and family.

When someone close to you dies, your life is changed in many ways. The time of bereavement following a death is a time to adjust to these changes. If the person had been sick for some time, you may have begun to grieve before their death.

So how do you say goodbye, celebrate, commemorate, honour, and acknowledge the life of your loved one or close friend when all public gatherings are cancelled?

Restrictions under Alert Level 3

Today the Prime Minister announced that we will move into Alert Level 3 at 11.59 pm Monday 27th April. Click the link to see the Alert Level 3 Details. lt will feel similar to Level 4 with an important difference being that you can expand your bubble a little and only acceptable gatherings are permitted with a limit of up to 10 people in total.

In effect, when we move to Level 3 you could hold a funeral services with up to 10 people attending. It must only be a service, a ceremony, no ‘after function’ where food or meals can be served and no large gathering. Travel restriction will remain but regional travel can take place. You can travel to permitted gatherings in your local area only.

Those who do attend must keep themselves and others safe. A list of those who attend must be kept and stay at least 2 meters apart and wash hands regularly.

But we’re not there yet.It is vital that everyone knows we are still under Alert Level 4, and all Alert Level 4 restrictions remain in place

Restrictions under Alert Level 4

While we’re under Alert Level 4, a number of restrictions remain in place around a burial or cremation service, including no clergy or celebrants being present. Public funeral services are not permitted, only the Funeral Director and those who were in the same ‘bubble’ as the deceased can attend the service.

Others will be able to “attend” through video conferencing as many Funeral Directors now offer the use of technology – enabling you to ‘live stream’ a private burial or cremation service to share online with others.

Funeral directors are encouraged to carry out burials and cremations as quickly as possible. Where this is not possible, they can offer families and whānau other options, including:

  1. holding the funeral or tangihanga after the Alert Level 4 restrictions ease. Bear in mind that we don’t know when that might be and there could be practical or cultural reasons why this is not an option

  2. live streaming or providing photos of the service and/or burial

  3. cremating the deceased and burying the ashes at a later date, and/or holding a memorial service later when restrictions on gatherings are lifted and it is safe to do so.

Full details are in the Guidelines for Funerals and Tangihanga Services that the Ministry of Health and the Funeral Directors Association NZ have provided – do review them often as these are constantly being updated.

Celebrating a Life with a Memorial Service

Holding a memorial service once all restrictions on gatherings has been lifted is an excellent option to consider. You can take this time now to work together with family to create a wonderful ceremony that reflects the person and is what your loved one would want. You may find it can be therapeutic.

Grief is a part of life – it affects everyone and everyone grieves differently. Grief is a natural response to loss. We each have different reactions when grieving. These can be expressed emotionally, physically, spiritually, mentally, socially and can impact on our relationships.

You may want to think about and make notes on all the things your loved one enjoyed, their favourite songs, music, flowers, colour etc. What did they enjoy doing, what is it that triggers a memory that you remember them by. Put together some photos if you’re planning on having a slide show or a memory board. You may be isolated, but you’re not alone, so use technology to work with your family and friends.

Everyone deserves to be remembered well; to have their life celebrated, honoured and acknowledged, ideally surrounded by the physical presence of those who loved them and those whom they loved. Holding a memorial service post COVID-19 can give you all a wonderful sense of closure. You may prefer something smaller and more private but equally as meaningful.

My cousin Graham died on 8th March, just prior to Alert Level 3 and his loving and talented son wrote and sent this beautiful message to us all:

"Graham’s memorial service and life celebration is being postponed until early 2021. (date to be confirmed) The recent events and subsequent laws being imposed both locally and internationally have significantly compromised the ability to pay a dignified, and reflective tribute to the great man who has had a vast impact on many lives. To think of attendees greeting with elbow shakes, or leg taps, is beyond comprehension given Graham’s welcoming and interactive disposition. With Graham’s close family members no longer able to attend from Australia, and also people locally starting to be very cautious with interactions as they come to terms with the unknown, it's now become an easy decision to postpone. It's an absolute desire for Graham’s close family and friends to honour him in the right way, with a wonderful send off and atmosphere which mirrors his magical contribution to our lives. On the 8th of March we lost a father, grandfather, brother, and an epic mate way too soon. We would like to thank everyone who has offered condolences, love and support through Graham’s final weeks, and also through the grieving process. Please raise a toast this coming weekend in his honour, hold his memory close, and keep those wonderful feelings bottled and ready for celebrating when the dust settles."

Sometimes we need to be patient and wait for the right moment to say farewell.

Celebrant Services

it would be an honour to work with you and your family during this difficult time. Together we can create a beautiful funeral or memorial service that is personalised, sensitive and meaningful and at times light-hearted – a service that truly reflects the life of your loved one.

Take this time to prepare for when you can again gather in your circles of love, family and friends.

If you want to wait until the majority of restrictions are lifted, and you’d like to engage my services, then I recommend you contact me to book and secure my celebrant services. The next 12 months are becoming a busy period for celebrants.

You’ll find more information on how you can celebrate life, either a birth, a death or a marriage during and post COVID-19 in my other upcoming articles.

Please get in touch

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