Covid-19: 'My job as an undertaker gives me purpose'

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image copyrightO'Malley Family Funerals
image captionJack O'Malley said he goes for walks or watches "brainless" TV to wind down

The increase in deaths caused by Covid-19 is putting huge pressure on the undertaking business.

One funeral director has spoken of how "the human cost" of the virus, plus the increased workload he and his colleagues face, is wearing him out.

Jack O'Malley, of O'Malley Family Funerals, in Cannock, Staffordshire, said the firm had recently doubled its mortuary capacity to cope with the number of bodies they were receiving.

"The last two weeks have been really bad, more acute than ever," he said.

Pre-pandemic, the firm would receive about five night-time callouts a month, he said, compared with the three or four a week they get since cases of coronavirus began climbing.

media captionCannock siblings undertake unusual career choice

Adding to the pressure are the rules crematoriums have in place, which often fall to the undertakers to enforce - for example telling a family member they cannot act as a pallbearer.

"Some of the rules, when you see the human side, you can't even put a flower on the coffin outside, when you're saying that on behalf of the faceless local authority, that's the thing I'm finding so depressing," he said.

"It's the real human cost, funerals don't usually affect me as I do them every day, but some of these rules, the whole way bereaved families have to behave now, it's at such a human cost."

Enforcing the rules is hard, he said, as they are set by the local authority and vary in each area.

Rules for funerals in England from 6 January

image copyrightO'Malley Family Funerals
image captionO'Malley Family Funerals expanded its mortuary in April
  • During the national lockdown, people are permitted to leave their homes to attend a funeral as well as other religious, belief-based, or commemorative events that are linked to a person's death, as long as they follow the relevant rules and guidance
  • Funerals can be attended by a maximum of 30 people
  • Up to six people can attend a religious, belief-based or commemorative events linked to a person's death, such as stone setting ceremonies, the scattering of ashes or a wake
  • The actual number of people able to attend will depend on how many people can be safely accommodated within the venue with social distancing and where the funeral venue manager has carried out a risk assessment. In some cases, this may be fewer than 30 people

Source: Gov.UK

At the beginning of the pandemic undertakers were stressed about access to PPE and worried about stock and the supply of coffins, he said, but this time that side of things is not such a worry.

"I don't look at the news, Covid I'm seeing every day, every conversation [at work] is a heavy topic, you have to be able to hold yourself in a certain way, so it's nice to close at the end of the day and just go and deflate," he said.

"I do feel guilty, I'm a funeral director and people say 'oh I bet you're doing well', but we're not raking it in... but my job does give me purpose, I don't know what I'd do without it."

image copyrightO'Malley Family Funerals
image captionJack O'Malley runs O'Malley Family Funerals with his siblings

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