The new coronavirus pandemic isn’t just changing people’s lives, it’s also changing their deaths. My elderly uncle in Ireland died earlier this week. He didn’t have the virus — but the pandemic changed everything after he died.
Irish funerals are social affairs, where family and friends come together to honor and remember the dead, and to catch up on each other’s news too. There is a wake beforehand and a gathering of family and friends for food and drink afterwards. There are tears, but also smiles and laughter, and stories, always stories.
We didn’t get to do any of that.
Because of the pandemic, Ireland has stringent limits on public gatherings, so all funerals are strictly private. And I’m on lockdown in Paris. I couldn’t even send a condolences card to my cousin, his son, because the postal service in France is all but shut down.
So I watched the funeral on a live stream, along with Pat’s daughter in Australia and her family, and other relatives who couldn’t get home because of travel restrictions.
It was a surreal experience, watching my other cousin pay tribute to his father in front of just a handful of people forced to sit far apart, while I sat at my desk at home, at my computer, surrounded by the trappings of work.
My sister was also following the live feed from her home in Dublin, and it was strange to know that we were all there together in the background but unable to communicate with each other. No shared smiles as my cousin talked about Pat, no way to reach out a hand after a sideways glance might discover a tear in someone’s eye.
It was a moving tribute, and despite all the empty chairs, it was a lovely service. As he waved at the camera — at us — my cousin said he and his sister plan to scatter their father’s ashes together, once she can travel again and once restrictions in Ireland are limited.
My heart went out to him, having to deal with this without the support of the wider family.
But at least with live streaming, there was some small sense of community, and comfort.