Philip Potter

A funeral in the time of COVID

Posted on 07 July 2020

I was supposed to go to a funeral today. I wasn’t able to go. But I found my own ways of remembering and marking the occasion, and writing about them is part of that.

A couple of weeks ago, my dad’s partner passed away. It was very sudden and unexpected. I didn’t

Endless practicalities

My initial feeling was simultaneously: I have to go, and I can’t go. I have to go to remember Tracy, and to support my dad. I can’t go because the rules are too onerous, and the distance too great.

I did a lot of looking into what specifically the rules said: both here in England and back in Scotland, because the rules are different. In England there was a notable easing of restrictions over the 4th July weekend; in Scotland it has been somewhat more muted.

Aberdeen is a long way away. We’re used to thinking of the UK as a small country, but Aberdeen is still 7 hours’ train ride away from London, or 1.5 hours flight. There is only one flight a day, which means it’s impossible to do a day trip by air; a day trip by train is possible but incredibly impractical. There is normally an overnight sleeper service but that is not currently running.

Then, once I’ve got to Aberdeen, I have to get around. I don’t want to use public transport if I can avoid it. If I took the train, I could bring my bike with me; if I flew I couldn’t.

It’s not permitted in the rules to stay overnight at someone else’s house in Scotland. In principle you can form a bubble with another household to mitigate this; but only if at least one of the two households has only one adult, and as my younger brother lives with my dad this does not apply. Perhaps it would be permitted to stay in Tracy’s flat, but she lived on the other side of Aberdeen from my dad which would make things impractical.

I also had to consider my family’s needs. Bedtime with a baby and a 3-year-old is still not an easy time with two of us; my wife was very supportive of me going but we were both concerned about how difficult it might be for her in my absence.

Finally, it would very much be against the rules to give my dad a hug. It’s not possible to give someone a hug and maintain 2 metres of distance. I decided that this is one rule that I was willing to ignore, on this occasion, if he was similarly willing.

This is it, I’m going

Having trawled through all the possibilities – transport connections, accomodation options, time away from family – we decided we could make it work; I’d fly up north on the day of the funeral, go

The day itself

On the day of the funeral, I decided that at 12 o’clock, the time of the funeral, I would sit in silence for a while. I come from a Quaker background, and so silence is my natural tool for these occasions. I didn’t make much more plans than this; but at 11:30 I surprised myself by what I felt I needed to do.

I changed into more funereal clothes: sombre, dark colours and more formal than usual for a weekday. I rearranged the furniture in the lounge into a circle, using whatever seating we had to hand: a sofa, a pilates ball, a wooden folding chair, a footstool. Somehow, even though I was on my own, there still needed to be this resemblance to a Quaker meeting for worship. Again, I did not plan any of this; I just found myself on autopilot doing all of these things, because this is how my mourning needed to be in this particular moment.

At 12 o’clock, I sat on the wooden chair, in the impromptu circle, and started centring down into my silence. I couldn’t help notice that, completely unintended by me, there was an extra seat in the circle: Luke’s potty. It seemed ridiculous, farcical even, and yet entirely right than he should somehow be represented. He knew Tracy as well as any of us.