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.
The doors to Fry Bros Funerals stayed open throughout the coronavirus pandemic but government restrictions designed to help stop the spread of COVID-19 presented a new challenge for staff supporting bereaved families.
"The biggest challenge during the pandemic was the restrictions placed on the number of people attending a service," Fry Bros funeral arranger Rod Burgess said.
"COVID has had an impact on the families and friends mourning the loss of a loved one. It has been a difficult time for all people farewelling someone special in their life.
"A funeral is an opportunity to gather together with family and friends to reminisce the good times and to comfort each other. It has been extra tough as they have not had the support they would usually get.
"There have definitely been occasions where a family would have had a service and invited [many] family and friends [but] have not been able to do this due to the COVID restrictions.
"In some cases families have opted for a private cremation or burial with a memorial service to happen at a later date once restrictions has eased."
Mr Burgess said as hard as it was to do, all attendees to funerals with Fry Bros during the pandemic had been accepting of the restrictions.
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Throughout the pandemic Fry Bros has been assisting families over the phone where possible, enforcing strict social distancing guidelines and has sanitising stations set up at each service.
Currently Fry Bros, which services Port Stephens, Maitland, Newcastle and the Hunter Valley, is operating on the government's latest distancing advice which is one person per 4 square metres for inside gatherings.
"When there is a family group from the same household they can sit together," Mr Burgess said. "We are still limited to the total number of people depending on the size of the venue.
"It will be good to see the 4 square metre rule reduced eventually, which would increase the amount of family and friends able to attend a service. Having family and friends together aids in the grieving process."
To overcome restrictions on numbers to services, Fry Bros has also turned to technology.
"We are seeing an increase in live-streaming services and it has been of great comfort to family and friends to be 'present' and be included in the service," Mr Burgess said. "Fry Bros will always do whatever we can to assist families in line with any required limitations."
Fry Bros was founded in 1889 and is believed to be the Hunter's oldest established funeral business still owned and operated by direct family descendants.
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