With the coronavirus still prevalent across France and officials warning that the country has not yet reached the peak of the pandemic, funeral services must strike a balance between supporting grieving families and protecting their staff.
COVID-19 death toll in France exceeded 10,000 this week, making it the fourth country after Italy, Spain and the United States to exceed this threshold.
“The hardest thing for families right now is not being able to mourn the dead … and honor them as usual,” said Sandrine Thiefine, CEO of the funeral franchise Pompes Funebres de France, which owns numerous branches across the country.
Thiefine, who has nearly 30 years of industry experience, said that most of the time, victims of COVID-19 are placed in a closed coffin immediately, which means that the family can no longer see the deceased , which she said was “extremely difficult”.
Funeral services on the front line
On March 24, the Superior Council of Public Health (HCSP) relaxed the rules, which meant that the deceased should not have been buried immediately, which allowed family members to access the deceased s’ they respected a certain distance between them.
Another month-long decree was issued in early April to prevent the spread of the virus to frontline funeral workers. Embalming bodies is no longer allowed, but they are simply washed quicklyd dressed. Makeup can no longer be applied or formaldehyde used, leaving the deceased in a more natural state of decomposition when he returns to the family.
However, many funeral homes like Thiefine immediately place the deceased in closed coffins to prevent the virus from spreading to staff.
This has been made even more difficult due to the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE), as funerals are currently not listed as a “priority” for access to protective equipment.
“We are severely lacking in equipment, especially masks,” said Thiefine.
“The government has announced that we will be allowed to have masks, but nothing has been confirmed … and we still do not have masks,” she said.
Romain Pahindriot, CEO of Maison Cridelwith funeral home, which has branches in Paris and the French Basque Country, agreed that there was a shortage of masks, but that protective sheets to cover the deceased were also lacking.
But funeral services are trying to ease the pain of their clients while protecting their staff by becoming more digital.
Due to social distancing measures, only 20 people can attend a religious service. Space is also limited for burials with around 10 people allowed to visit cemeteries, while crematoriums are usually held without the family present.
To reassure families, funeral homes like Maison Cridel, which has existed since 1886, are starting to offer live video streaming services from the ceremonies.
“This health crisis will rapidly evolve the profession to new services such as custom ceremonies and the development of digital tools,” said company CEO Romain Pahindriot.