‘Choosing relatives to attend mum’s funeral was horrendous’

Limits on the number of mourners allowed at funerals has forced families to make heartbreaking decisions.

Agnes Poole McKee passed away in October just six weeks after being diagnosed with cancer.

The 74-year-old left behind a huge family, and while having to come to terms with such a sudden death, daughter Marie Jeffrey faced the heartbreaking task of deciding which 20 relatives could attend her mum’s funeral.

With coronavirus regulations limiting the number of people allowed to gather for funerals in Scotland, families and friends have been unable to say goodbye to loved ones the way they would have liked.

The impact on families and funeral directors will be examined on STV current affairs show Scotland Tonight at 7.30pm on Thursday.

“It was horrendous,” Marie said. “My mum had five kids, her partner John, our partners, then 16 grandkids and six great-grandkids.

“She’s also got a brother and her sister-in-law and loads of extended family members. Having to narrow that down to 20 people was really, really difficult.”

Not being able to hug her loved ones at the service was something Marie found particularly tough.

“We were all separated,” she said. “I wasn’t allowed to sit with the rest of my family. You couldn’t hug anybody. That was the worst part of it.”

For Marie’s family, the grieving process is far from over and not being able to get together is really taking its toll.

They are looking forward to giving Agnes the send off she deserves when lockdown rules are loosened.  

Marie said: “My mum was very traditional. She would’ve wanted a sit down meal with all her nearest and dearest.

“But hopefully when restrictions get lifted we can celebrate her life in some way and do something for her, probably just a knees up in a pub.”

‘One night we had 73 bodies’

Those who organise funerals are having to adapt to a whole new way of working.

Dom Maguire, of Anderson Maguire funeral directors, has seen the number of services increase up to three-fold in a single day.

“For a firm who would normally do five or six funerals a day, there was one day this year, we did 17,” he said. “There was one night where we had 73 remains on the premises, which is unheard of.”

His company have conducted 250 funerals of people who’ve died from Covid-19 – taking a toll on his staff.

“There were times when staff were here until 10, 11, 12 midnight,” he said. “A few weeks ago, some of our staff were out seven times during the night to residences to remove people and this takes its toll.

“I have a responsibility as an employer to make sure our staff are looked after as well as they can be in the circumstances.”

‘Terrible time for people’

The pandemic has also changed the way mortuary service workers do their job – from layers of precautions when handling bodies and bodily fluids to how they interact with grieving families.

Kelly McBride, an embalmer at Anderson Maguire, said: “We are finding funerals are taking longer, which means in turn we aren’t getting deceased into our care as quickly as we usually would and changes will have occurred because of that delay.

“We treat everybody that comes into the mortuary exactly the same. The difference with Covid patients is because of the risk of infection we can’t embalm these bodies.

“But we are still preparing them and placing them into their coffins as respectfully as we do with all of the other deceased.”

Kelly said they’re doing everything they can to keep people safe.

“It’s a terrible time for people,” she said. “I feel really sorry for those who’ve lost loved ones, it’s unfair but unfortunately this is the situation we are in.”