I went to my first funeral when I was 12. I was pulled out of class, and at first, I thought it was my 82-year-old grandmother. It was my dad. He died of a heart attack, my brother and grandmother next door without realising it for three hours. It was impossible to imagine what I would do without him. Even worse now, imagining what it would’ve been like if he passed away within this last year.
Covid has made it impossible to be close with loved ones and grieve over those we’ve lost. Though there have been few fatalities in the country, we have all been affected by the worldwide pandemic by extending distant family and friends. My grand-uncle and his family survived their case of Covid. Whether it be by Covid-19 or some other cause, funerals have been near impossible to find comfort in.
As most (and I hope everyone) knows, Alert Level 3 restrictions limit [funeral/tangihanga] gatherings to 10 people. I’m not sure about you, but I have never attended a funeral with less than 50 people, much less 10. Funerals are a time to mourn. They aren’t easy; it’s impossible to find the right words to say or comfort one another. My best way is through connection: hugging one another, giving a tissue, praying with one another. However, the restraints of Covid have taken this away from all of us, especially those grieving.
For anyone who doesn’t know, Indian and Māori funerals are very similar. While Western memorials quietly commence in a church, these cultural procedures occur in the household, heavily involving rituals that connect all members present. There is one moment I distinctly remember from my dad’s funeral. Over a hundred people were crammed inside the living room, sitting cross-legged on the floor, leaking into the adjoining kitchen. My brother and I performed prayer with a priest in the center of the room, and everyone touched their right arm to someone else until it eventually reached us. Around six people held onto my right shoulder, elbow, arm, wrist, anything they could grab. I do not know the religious meaning enough to explain it, but we were all somehow connected. The elders in the room sang hymns and held each other.
I found comfort in listening to everyone telling stories about my dad and looking after my mother while she cried. Now that funerals have moved onto Zoom, it has been challenging to find the pathway to grief. Everyone grieves in their way, but being in a pandemic adds another level to the whole situation. I constantly wonder whether I’ll remember my most recent as the Covid funeral, the one where it was all online, and we sat at home on mute. Everyone at the funeral was all on this one computer. I could see the number of people there and everyone’s name. I am grateful to be capable of attending important events such as these to have an alternative to grieving alone in silence. I sat with my mum and asked her questions about who everyone was. I think she found it comforting that I was interested.
*the writer has chosen to publish under a pseudonym.