Since Britain’s battle with Covid-19 began, bereavement has become more common, with many families continuing to experience heart-breaking losses despite the daily death rate dropping.
Not only has bereavement become more widespread, but it also became harder to cope with due to restrictions on meeting loved ones, and limitations on how many people can attend funerals earlier in the pandemic.
When the government warned us that it was unsafe to lift restrictions, help to deal with this tragedy came from an unexpected place- Britain’s longest running soap opera, Coronation Street. And as lockdown lifts, it is clear that this support from the street is set to continue.
Earlier this year, Coronation Street unveiled the latest addition to their set, Shuttleworth’s Independent Funeral Services. The funeral parlour will provide more opportunity to integrate difficult storylines about bereavement into our regular TV viewing, while remaining entertaining and light-hearted.
Such storylines will help viewers to spot the signs of unhealthy grieving, and subtly signpost to organisations to support anyone who is struggling in a similar way to the memorable 2018 storyline about Aidan Connor’s suicide which charities praised for saving lives.
Alex Bushill, Head of Media for the mental health charity Mind says that ‘this year, lockdown and restrictions have meant that people are watching more TV than ever, and a huge number of us are seeing soaps and dramas featuring mental health problems.
At a time when it’s harder to see loved ones and look after our own mental health, these stories are helping people to recognise when they’re struggling and prompting them to seek help.’
Kathleen Whelan, psychotherapist and author of Grief Episode Guide for Teens, also welcomes the funeral parlour, saying it has the potential to make the taboo subject a bigger focus on-screen, which will help our nation to process grief and bereavement in a healthy way.
Kathleen explains that ‘healthy grieving is talking to others, connecting, and following through with the shared experience of grief.’
Kathleen hopes that Coronation Street’s scenes in the new location will help to start these healthy conversations, warning that if grief is held onto, and not shared it ‘can inhibit everyday functioning from a psychological and a physiological point of view.’
There is a concern among experts that unhealthy grieving has become commonplace during the pandemic, providing a partial explanation for why mental health struggles have increased in frequency.
Praise for introducing the undertaker’s is extensive and does not just come from the experts, as those bereaved during the pandemic also welcome this latest addition to Coronation Street’s set.
Lobby Akinnola, who recently lost his father has confessed to not being a regular Corrie viewer, but upon hearing about the inclusion of the funeral parlour has been converted, saying that watching the soap with friends will create a point of reference for their own conversations about grief as the English lockdown lifts and they are able to come together unrestricted. These conversations with friends will undoubtedly become an important source of support and comfort for Lobby, while simultaneously being a step towards destigmatising grief in his community.
Lobby agrees with experts who state that grief is harder to healthily process without discussing it openly, adding that in his experience ‘trying to hide that [grief] is like trying to hide yourself, it is very isolating.’ He also shared his belief that there is a huge potential for the soap to provide support in the long term, saying that ‘by having the funeral parlour as a permanent feature of the set, Coronation Street is providing a permanent place for dealing with grief on the show and, thus, giving an equally permanent avenue for viewers to explore their own grief.’
The scenes aired on Monday 12th July were particularly worthy of admiration for shining a light on a rarely discussed difficulty that many bereaved families are forced to face- finding the budget to lay their loved one to rest.
The episode saw a homeless character’s funeral paid for using donations from local binmen, normalising struggles to finance funerals, which can make bereavements more challenging to cope with, leading to unhealthy grieving. A recent survey found that over a third (34%) of people had notable financial concerns when planning funerals.
Raising awareness of this issue could encourage viewers to plan for the future, discuss what they want when they pass away, and erase some of the shame that bereaved families feel if their finances force them to scale back send offs and find themselves unable to meet their loved one’s final wishes.
Despite the lifting of lockdown in England, restrictions continue in other parts of Britain, and many worry that England is scurrying out of lockdown too soon. Due to this many Britons will continue isolating.
Luckily, Coronation Street’s inspiring dedication to tackling the taboo of grief is unfaltering and the funeral parlour is here to stay.
If you have been bereaved during the pandemic and are in need of support contact At a Loss for free to talk to a specially trained bereavement counsellor. This service is available Monday to Friday, 9am to 9pm.
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