Funeral rules treating people like infants says Chelmsford widow

A grieving wife said she felt she had been treated like a child during the funeral of her husband, after being ordered to sit six feet away from her grandson who she lives with.

Jackie Fildes said there needs to be more compassion and common sense after seating at the funeral of her husband of 50 years, John, was set up ‘like an exam hall’.

This meant her 23-year-old grandson Alastair, who she lives with and who helped care for John before his death from dementia at the age of 76, having to sit two metres away instead of being able to give her hand “a squeeze”.

The 74-year-old from Chelmsford said that given stresses about the virus and abnormal life, it would have taken no time to set chairs up so that those people who live together could sit next to each other.

“I was totally shocked how the chairs were positioned – it was like an exam hall,” she said

“It was so stark with all the chairs six foot from each other.

“There were only seven of us there. But there were some of us in tears and the partner who they lived with were sitting next to them.

“They were six foot away. It was horrible.”

Jackie said that beforehand she was told only spouse or partner, parents or carers, brothers or sisters and children and their partners may attend.

But John’s brother has been in Australia since he was 19 and is not close to him. Jackie’s brother however was very close, but it was not clear if he was allowed.

She didn’t want to ask in case he was refused so he agreed to pretend to be John’s brother for the cremation.

She said: “I can completely understand the limit on the number of people and completely understand the isolation of family units.

“What I do have a problem with is someone being an arbiter of who was close to John.

“That could be a judgement I could make. It is for the family to say who these people are.

“Social isolation and setting a maximum number of people is fine but I would like to see the families being able to choose the people who are closest to the deceased and want to go and I would like to see family units who live together be able to sit together.

“I live with my grandson. I could have sat with him and know he would have given my hand a squeeze.

“I felt infantilised in some way.”

She added: “My grandchildren were closer to him than his own brother.

“I understand why they are doing it but I don’t see there was an awful lot of thought.

“They are just making blanket rules.”

Councillor Stephen Robinson, leader of Chelmsford City Council, said: “I was genuinely moved by Mrs Fildes’ account of her recent experience. I have spoken to council officers and they will act to ensure that distress like this is fully minimised in future.

“The council completely understands that at such a distressing time we all need to have our loved ones close to us. The last thing that a bereaved family wants is to be kept apart. Cemetery staff also have to put social distancing measures in place to prevent more lives being lost to this virus, and indeed have been strongly encouraged to do so by local faith leaders.

“Cemetery staff have enormous sympathy for families and will always do their best to balance these two essentials.

“Although special rules have to be in place right now, the council certainly doesn’t want to cause any additional stress for families. The layout of the chapel has been altered to allow attendees to stay two metres apart. However where attendees currently live together, staff will permit this layout to be adjusted on arrival.

“Everyone’s situation is different and we encourage families to contact cemetery staff in advance of a service to talk through any concerns and discuss their circumstances. The council and its staff will always do their best to minimise distress to families.”

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Piers Meyler

Local Democracy Reporter