“It is worse than a war” – that’s how families burying their dead in Spain’s worst hit region are describing the impact of the coronavirus.
At one of Madrid‘s largest cemeteries, La Almudena cemetery, in the space of little over an hour we watch as many as six funerals take place.
Six broken families. And it’s like this hour after hour. Day after grim day.
The Rumbero’s have gathered to bury their 90-year-old mother who died of coronavirus in a care home two weeks ago.
They say she would have wanted a big funeral with all her family and flowers – lots of flowers.
Under the lockdown large gatherings are prohibited.
The daughter of the deceased, Pilar Rumbero, says what’s happening “is too hard… it is worse than a war”.
She explains that only three family members are allowed but her mother had so many relatives and friends and they are unable to take part.
The procession of hearses pulling up to the church is constant. As one leaves another arrives, there isn’t much time for goodbyes.
Each coffin is wrapped in plastic to protect the living. It is difficult to give the dead the dignity they deserve in a pandemic.
The priest, Javier Fuenmayor, flicks holy water at the end of each service and then it’s over and another one begins.
“Normally we would have 10 to 12 people buried here [each day]” he says.
“But with this aggravating factor [coronavirus] the number has increased, dependant on our capacity, to between 25 and 30 people. That’s without factoring in those that are sent to crematoriums and that could be between 40 and 50 people. We are at our limit.”
:: Listen to the Daily podcast on Apple Podcasts, Google Podcasts, Spotify, Spreaker
Even grieving here has to be done quickly and without much support.
Only three family members are allowed to attend, they wear gloves and face masks for their protection.
Some live stream the short service so other relatives can pay their respects. But in a Catholic country where family is everything it’s painfully not enough.
In another church across Madrid, people are storing the ashes of their loved ones because there is a huge backlog of services that need to be carried out.
Spain is coping but it is not easy adjusting to a new way of being where death is everywhere.
Father Ignacio Andreu says people need the church more than ever in these dark times.
“Our door is open for all people who suffer but we have also reactivated our WhatsApp group.
“Even though such groups can be annoying sometimes, it is allowing us to keep in touch with people, have a face-to-face contact, listen to them and, from my experience, call people and say to them: ‘I am thinking of you, I am praying for you, I’ve heard your father died or your mother is in the hospital, and we are praying for them’.
“People really appreciate that.”
He is now harnessing the power of the internet to minister to his congregation to meet social distancing rules.
Daily services are live-streamed to the faithful in their living rooms – it’s not the same but it does allow people to connect and hope for better times.