The times they are a-changin’

words: Dr Bill Webster, Grief Journey
Dr Bill Webster

In 1964, Bob Dylan penned his classic song containing words considered prophetic by many, both then and now: “Then you better start swimmin’ or you’ll sink like a stone, for the times they are a-changin’.”

The events surrounding the pandemic have threatened so many things we care about and that give our lives meaning. The loss of loved ones to the virus, or risks to our own health; the loss of a job or financial security; or the loss of travel plans to visit family or opportunities to go places and do things.

The situation has triggered an outbreak of emotions and reactions, not merely around those who have been infected or died, but as a result of how our entire lives have been affected and perhaps changed forever. We are grieving life as we knew it, feeling our world has changed and struggling to come to terms with this new reality.

But has the world changed, or is it that the way we see it has changed?

Certainly the funeral profession has been complicated by rules, regulations and restrictions. Families found themselves facing limited numbers at the service, choosing who could and could not attend. Funeral professionals understood these restrictions had to be followed even though it was hard for families. My funeral director friend Jay commented: “We had to tell families that if the rules weren’t followed, the funeral could be cancelled. I am not a law enforcement officer and it is not how I want to serve people.”

All this has left many lamenting: “It felt incomplete. This is not what I wanted for my loved one.” Everyone has been discovering that the times they are a-changing.

But some things have not changed. As with other crises throughout our lifetimes, (Bob Dylan wrote his song after the assassination of JFK) I am not convinced life has necessarily changed forever. What I do see is that attitudes have altered, some perhaps for the better:

  • Many people have discovered a disturbing new vulnerability and are hurting as a result. Again, not because the world has changed, but because circumstances have caused a change in the way we see our world. More people are thinking about their own mortality, and re-examining their quality of life in light of this worldwide tragedy. Sometimes it takes a crisis to ask: “What are my priorities? What is really important in life?”
  • The way people ‘do’ funerals and their attitudes towards ceremonies have changed. Can we find an opportunity to open a conversation about new choices? We need to assist people in designing new and innovative rituals to memorialise loved ones, and we have seen creative and innovative acts of respect. Many are saying because of restrictions at the funeral, they plan a full blown celebration of life at a later date, which is a great thing. The danger is that people may choose to organise that through the golf club or event centre and leave the funeral director out of the deal. Perhaps the first question funeral planners should ask is not about burial or cremation, but: “How would you like to celebrate your loved one’s life?” The answer you get now may be different from last year.
  • While thankfully we have been able to stay in contact with family and friends digitally, many are realising the limitations of virtual love and cyber concern. Over these months, there has been a renewed valuing of relationships. Whether triggered by social distancing that has kept people apart from friends, family and work colleagues; people unable to visit loved ones in hospitals, nursing homes or care facilities; or having no opportunity to get together for funerals, weddings, receptions, birthdays, or even just Sundays, we suddenly realise we have missed each other.

So yes, the bottom line is that the times they are a-changing. But other things have not changed, and that offers opportunities.

Funeral service – pre-need, at-need or aftercare – is always personal. Many people, in general, and even more so those in grief, have realised the need and the reassurance of personal contact – a handshake, a touch or a hug. People are looking for ways to fill the vacuum.

Start swimmin’! And hopefully we will all stay afloat.

May I take a personal moment to say thank you to all who have gone above and beyond the call in the last few months to serve your communities in these difficult circumstances. Frankly you deserve far more credit than you have received in the media, but rest assured that you have made a huge difference to people in these challenging times. You have my respect.

Tags: , , , , , , ,