It’s impossible not to reflect on coronavirus-induced lockdown without thinking about the people who died. The museum doesn’t shy away from death and funerial objects feature in the museum’s collection. In the old Meat Market we have two parish biers, or funeral carts, as well as a display about the local undertaker. The parish bier featured in the photograph was used to take the coffin or corpse for burial, and was built in Falmouth by Blee & Son, Coachbuilders and Wheelwrights.
The number of deaths due to coronavirus is staggering. The latest ONS figures indicate that 46,687 deaths involved Covid-19. Of those 207 occurred in Cornwall, 91 of those in Cornwall’s hospitals. It all seems a very long time ago that Professor Steven Powis said that if we kept the death toll under 20,000 we would be doing well. Sadly, that number was surpassed many weeks ago. Every death isn’t a number, it is a person and a collection of bereaved families and friends.
Each death resulted in a funeral unlike those we have become accustomed to. Everything was one-step removed. You couldn’t go to a funeral home to make arrangements in person. You had to register the death online. You were advised not to advertise when a funeral was to take place, to prevent people turning up on the day. You could visit the chapel of rest, but under strict arrangements. The rules for social distancing held at the graveside or the crematorium. You could not hold or hug the mourners, unless they were in your household. Church services were not permitted. Some funeral directors web-casted the funeral services, but not all. For many deaths (due to the virus or not) families have planned memorials for an unknown future date. It must feel like an ongoing loss without the rituals of closure that we have become accustomed to.
The ‘normal’ grieving process has undoubtedly been disrupted by the global pandemic. In my family, my Great Uncle died due to coronavirus, but had been unwell for some time. His funeral was subject to the same strange conditions, and under different circumstances, I would have taken my mum to Staines (Middlesex) for the burial and wake. My mum, a textile artist, embroidered a collection of words, our memories of him, which was to be placed in his coffin.
One of the things that has been comforting in lockdown has been the shared sense of community. We clapped for the carers on Thursday evenings for ten weeks. Children drew rainbows and put them in the windows to signify that better times lay ahead. My family were heartened by idea to place a yellow heart, developed from the idea of the yellow ribbon, in your window to signify that a household had lost someone due to the virus. There is power in symbols where rituals are lost. We each put a yellow heart in our windows to mark our loss.
If you have been affected by the death of someone, and would like support, the Cornwall Bereavement Network is there to help navigate our losses in these testing and exceptional times. Look after yourselves, and each other.
Citizen Curator Volunteer.