Continuing the Port's Road to Recovery series, this week the Examiner looks at how COVID-19 has impacted the funeral industry in Port Stephens. The Port's Road to Recovery series aims to paint a picture of individual industries and social issues, how they have been impacted and what the future looks like for them - as told by those on the ground.
While the funeral sector is one of many to be greatly impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, it is has not all been negative.
In fact, according to industry leader White Lady Funerals, the health and safety restrictions brought on by COVID-19 have created a "new look" ceremony that remains meaningful and personalised for those loved ones left behind.
"Technology is now playing a larger role in funerals, live streaming allows people to not only attend but participate in eulogies, sing songs and to be connected. Where live streaming is not available, funerals can be recorded and sent to family and friends," said Nadine Stone, from White Lady Salamander Bay.
"Other concepts include using the symbol of the empty chair for people who can't attend, perhaps with a photo or a flower placed on the chair, and holding a viewing on a separate day for different members of the family to say their farewells.
"Another option is driving by the home or down the main street of the community for friends and neighbours to pay their respects."
Ms Stone said that during the first few weeks of isolation, some families chose to have their loved ones cremated while planning for memorial services after the lifting of restrictions.
White Lady believes it is important that they show what can be done, rather than what can't. "For example, we have guided families towards small intimate gatherings and the use of technology."
Ms Stone believes that as restrictions continue to be relaxed and the number of people permitted to attend expands, the new innovations would continue to be offered, ensuring that families can celebrate in a special and meaningful way.
"The importance of funerals is greater than ever, with families continuing to use technology and other ways to involve their wider community of family and friends as they celebrate the life of their loved one."
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Throughout the pandemic the team at Lance L. Boots in Raymond Terrace have embraced technology to connect friends and family members who have been unable to attend a service due to physical distancing guidelines.
Where families have requested it, funeral staff have video recorded a service or set up a private livestream for people to watch as it happens.
"I've seen both sides of the coin," said owner and operator Paul Smyth. "I've seen disappointment when people can't go and I've seen the intimacy in families where it was just a private affair."
Mr Smyth said the pandemic had presented many challenges for staff and grieving families such as having to limit service numbers to initially 10 people including staff, then 10 mourners plus staff and a celebrant or minister, to 20 mourners.
But this also provided an opportunity for families to connect with each other.
"Some of the most intimate funerals we've done is when there was just 20 people, family, and they've really shared with each other. They're talking with each other, not talking to 300 people. They've just been concerned with their own feelings and emotions," Mr Smyth said.
"But by the same token, we've had identities around the town and district die where the community haven't been able to pay their respects, which has been difficult.
"That then raises the question how long is it viable to leave that time frame where you'll say you'll have a memorial service at a future date?"
Mr Smyth added that throughout the pandemic some families had adjusted to the restrictions by conducting the funeral service themselves rather than inviting a minister or celebrant to lead the ceremony.
Starting July 1, limits on attendance has been further relaxed in NSW for funerals, weddings, places of worship and community sport, as long as there is no more than one person per four square metres of space.
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