UK (Sky News)

Coronavirus: Funeral directors struggling for space for bodies during virus crisis

By June 27, 2020 No Comments

There is a group of people whose role and whose compassion has not been a focus in this extraordinary time, but it must be recognised.

A family firm in Nuneaton has invited us to spend the day with them.

Devall & Son have been funeral directors for three generations.

We are with them not to tell another story of despair or grief, but to show another profession which, in unparalleled circumstances, is continuing to work so hard.

They are providing support for the bereaved and dignity for the dead.

Their day begins early. The morning meeting is at 8am. The boss Daniel Devall does the talking.

His tone is calm and reassuring for a team who are under so much pressure.

Staff are wearing PPE when out working
Image:Staff are wearing PPE when out working

“If you are struggling or you need help then please talk to us,” he tells the team.

The Easter weekend has just passed and they know they will be exceptionally busy.

“Listen, I know it’s been a little bit exceptional but thank you for the hard work and the commitment. It is very much appreciated,” he says.

Funeral homes are having to take more bookings than usual
Image:Funeral homes are having to take more bookings than usual

The message is, bluntly, that there is now a significant backlog of families needing their help.

The moment the meeting is over Elliot Maunder and Shaun James prepare one of the fleet of private ambulances.

They are heading to the Warwickshire countryside to a farm for a collection.

They wear full personal protective kit.

Funeral director Daniel Devall said his staff are attending an increase in deaths
Funeral director on his own COVID-19 bereavement

Not all those whose bodies they collect are confirmed COVID-19 cases. But these days, the respectful formality of this process must be hidden underneath white suits.

Daniel shows me his chapels of rest. They are all in use. At the back, there is a struggle for space in the mortuary too.

“There is never a good time to lose someone but during this period it just, you know, makes the whole process so much more difficult.” Daniel says.

By mid-morning Shaun and Eliot are back. Carefully, they bring the latest arrival into their care.

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Waiting for them is Ellayna Bambury. The deceased will remain in her care until burial or cremation.

At the moment it is taking three weeks or more for that to happen. And when it does, only a handful of close family can attend.

“It’s a blur to be honest,” she says.

“It’s just crazy. All the sensitivity has been taken out of a funeral. It’s unbelievable. I have never known anything like it.”

Our conversation is interrupted. She’s called away.

The office staff are having difficult conversations
Image:The office staff are having difficult conversations

At lunchtime they were expecting a delivery of 30 coffins but it hasn’t arrived. There’s a shortage with the supplier.

“We’ll catch up with the delivery and then we’ll reassess things,” Daniel tells a colleague. I imagine he is increasingly overwhelmed inside but it doesn’t show.

In the office, there is a calm professionalism from a team who must be exhausted in every way.

There’s a buzz of conversation. Unbearably difficult phone calls are taking place.

Devall & Son says it has run out of space to store bodies
Image:Devall & Son says it has struggled for space to store bodies

“Just a call this morning just to say obviously we are looking after your dad. He’s safely with us at the moment.

“I understand your father was sadly a COVID-19 patient?”

Daniel shows us a some paperwork. Each wad is neatly paper-clipped together. Each represents a family bereaved.

“Today we’ve booked in 25 funerals,” he says. “To give you an idea, we usually do about 50 to 60 funerals a month.”

And then he reveals that, tragically, one of the funerals will be his own uncle’s.

“Through COVID-19 my uncle sadly passed away,” he says.

“He’d been battling with the virus for just over two weeks.

“So our family, amongst our professional commitments, have also got a family bereavement to look after.

“We will do all we can to give my uncle the dignified send off he deserves but again it will be with a great level of restrictions.”

As they prepare for many more days of this, what we have found at this funeral home has not been despair but a reassurance that should be a comfort for many of us.

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