Love in the time of Coronavirus

It’s not just weddings that are in crisis thanks to COVID-19: funerals are too.

For the foreseeable future, all my family meetings will have to be conducted over the phone, Skype or FaceTime and it’s likely that very soon people like me won’t be allowed to conduct ceremonies of any kind at all.

Oddly enough, this isn’t entirely a bad thing.

A funeral is the ultimate distress purchase. Choose a funeral director, pick a coffin, decide on the kind of ceremony and the venue. Choose a date and a time, find a reception venue, choose the flowers and a caterer.

And then there’s the bureaucracy: register the death, speak to the solicitors, find the will and sort out the estate. Clear the house, cancel the papers, contact the utility companies and – these days – the social media ones too.

In the sleepless, numbing frenzy of organising the funeral, the most important response to the death of your loved one – the creation of a meaningful tribute to their life – can get overlooked. One of the few positive outcomes of the truly awful situation in which we find ourselves is that may change.

Designed by Barnbrook

David Bowie died in 2016, and as was his way in life, he set a precedent in death when he insisted that his body was privately, and anonymously cremated, which is why the phrase, ‘doing a David Bowie’ entered the somewhat arcane language of funeral directors.

I am fortunate to have worked several times with Jonathan Barnbrook, the designer who collaborated with David Bowie on his last releases, one of which was the album Black Star.

In an article in Dezeen, Barnbrook said, “The black star graphic also carries deeper meanings. The idea of mortality is in there, and of course the idea of a black hole sucking in everything, the Big Bang, the start of the universe, if there is an end of the universe. These are things that relate to mortality.”

Life follows art.

In the newspapers, funeral notices are increasingly saying ‘Private cremation: family only. A public memorial ceremony may take place at a future date’.

When someone dies, we need to do two things: deal with the body and celebrate the life. They don’t have to happen at the same time or even in the same place, and if that separation were to become more normal, I think that would be ‘a good thing’.

My hope is that this de facto divorce that has been forced on us by circumstance will give us much-needed time to reflect on how and when we are ready to remember a life.

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