Australia markets open in 3 hours 24 minutes

Funerals in Australia are now restricted to 10 attendees due to the coronavirus. A psychologist explains how it could affect the grieving process.

Chantelle Schmidt
  • New government rules to slow the spread of the coronavirus mean funerals in Australia are now restricted to 10 attendees or less.
  • The new rules, announced on Tuesday night, are likely to be in play for at least the next six months.
  • Psychologist April Ash of The Indigo Project explained to Business Insider Australia how the new rules could affect the grieving process.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia's homepage for more stories.

Funerals are now restricted to just 10 attendees, as part of the government's latest measures to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus.

The upgraded restrictions, announced on Tuesday night, came after indoor gatherings were restricted to 100 people, and outdoor gatherings to 500 people, which was already having a significant effect on funeral services.

Whitney Meldrum-Hanna attended a funeral on March 20, several days prior to the implementation of the latest rules. She told Business Insider Australia the restrictions on the memorial were already "pretty intense".

"They livestreamed the funeral inside the church for those who sat outside. Everyone was 1.5 metres apart, no touching," she recalls, noting that there were also reduced capacity limitations at the crematorium.

Psychologist April Ash of The Indigo Project told Business Insider Australia that social distancing during incredibly difficult life moments can make an already isolating experience feel even more so.

"They may feel more alone during this period of physical distancing," Ash explains of a grieving person's emotions.

The government's recommendation for Australians to stay at home where possible can add to this.

"It also means that distraction is perhaps more difficult, meaning that they feel as though they cannot escape their grief, particularly if they are surrounded by reminders in their home/space," Ash said.

With the funeral attendee limit now reduced to five, it could lead to the cancellation and consequently unforeseeable delay of a deceased person's memorial service.

Pushing back a funeral can in turn put a hold on the grieving process, Ash said.

"Many people often do not start properly processing their grief until a service or marker of the end of the loved one’s life has been completed," she explains.

"It is often not until after a service that an individual will allow themselves or let go enough to sit with this more intuitive way of grieving where we sit and feel the pain of our grief, which is incredibly important for one’s grieving process."

Not attending a funeral can also complicate the grief process.

"It can affect their ability to feel like they are able to create closure or properly honour or say goodbye to a loved one," Ash explains. She also said it can increase the likelihood of feelings such as guilt and regret after someone's passed.

Funerals are also an opportunity to feel less alone in your emotional processing. "To bear witness to others grief and having your own grief acknowledged and witnessed is important for healing and can help give individuals permission to grieve," Ash said.

Funerals that are able to continue will need to keep with the four square metre distancing measures, and funerals of those who have died from COVID-19 are subject to additional government advice.

According to the Australian Government Department of Health's Advice for Funeral Doctors, published on March 22, open-casket viewing is still allowed, however, attendees are to avoid any contact and kissing of the deceased body.

The document states that the highest risk of transmission for funeral directors is from family and friends of the deceased rather than the deceased themselves.

While funeral restrictions as a result of COVID-19, whether it was last week's 100-person rule to this week's 10-person rule, place added stress on an already impossible situation, Ash says that the world we're currently living in could foster a larger support network during grief.

"This current climate may give people more of a reason, time or space to connect with and support each other through their grief. We are in very strange times, where many people are grieving for different reasons - depending on how a person places their grief and makes sense of this in the current climate, this may actually help them feel less alone," Ash said.

Whitney Meldrum-Hanna is an employee of Pedestrian Group, the publisher of Business Insider Australia.