Funeral directors have been stretched to breaking point with Covid-19 as 30,000 deaths were recorded in the past month alone, up from the extra 90,000 funerals that took place last year.
I was shocked when my friend Daphne told me she was changing career and training as a funeral director.
I fear I may even have quipped, in bad taste: “Well, at least you’ll never be short of work.”
But it soon dawned on me that Daphne had found her vocation – that she was born to care for the dead and bereaved.
Because she is the strongest, kindest, most spiritually grounded person I know – the perfect person to take your hand when you’re blinded by grief and fear.
She will care for your dearly departed as if they were family then don her top hat and morning suit, and lead them on their finally journey.
And, if you’re struggling afterwards, you can pop in for a cuppa at the bereavement support group she started.
But, over the past 12 months, Daphne and her fellow UK “FDs” have been stretched to breaking point by Covid-19.
Her workload has doubled and, recently, she and one colleague were simultaneously trying to care for 28 deceased and their families, while organising and taking out funerals.
She told me: “I live with the constant guilt that I am failing people, at a time when they are more traumatised, angry and scared than ever.
“Many have lost multiple family members and are struggling financially too, but all I’m doing is firefighting.”
Last year there were 90,000 extra funerals but this latest wave has claimed 30,000 lives in the past month alone.
Mortuaries are packed to capacity, families are waiting weeks to bury their loved ones and FDs have had to adopt stringent safety measures meaning they can’t offer the same degree of care.
They’re also having to “police” ceremonies and try to turn away confused or angry mourners who breach the 30-person rule, because the cops won’t.
One Hertfordshire FD was recently fined £10,000 after 150 people attended a funeral – though none of the mourners were fined.
It’s little wonder that these exhausted professionals have felt like the forgotten front line.
Or that my friend Daphne collapsed with physical and mental exhaustion three weeks ago.
She’s on the mend, thank God, and keen to get back to work. She’s also had her Covid jab – after funeral workers were finally added to the priority list with healthcare staff.
But it breaks my heart to think of the pressure she’ll be under. So, when you’re frustrated about lockdown, and fed up with social distancing, please spare a thought for my pal Daph.
“I am actually the last person anyone wants to meet”, she says.
“But I became an FD because I felt I could help people at the most traumatic time of their lives.
“And I just don’t want to let them down.”