More than 18 months after his death, the family and friends of Ronan Power filed into St Columba's church on Iona Road, Glasnevin, Dublin for his funeral Mass.
Rather than the restrictive 10 mourner limit placed on thousands of families at the height of the Covid-19 pandemic, there were people sitting - socially distanced - along nearly every pew.
Ronan (52), who worked as a porter in the National Maternity Hospital, Holles Street for 24 years, died on April 2nd of last year during the first Covid wave.
Due to the uncertainty and fears around the disease at the time, the family did not have a funeral Mass and his body was cremated at Glasnevin Cemetery.
On a mild Tuesday earlier this week, the Power family, friends and former colleagues gathered for the much delayed farewell.
Fr Paddy Jones noted how the days after a loved one’s death were often filled with “tears and laughter” as people came together and shared memories.
“We have lived through times when the numbers at funerals sometimes did not cover extended family,” and in some cases where the “key moment” of a funeral was not even possible, he said. Reflecting on the restrictions on funerals, Fr Jones said: “We lost something”.
Speaking to The Irish Times, Ronan’s father Jack described him as a “quiet lad” who was well liked by his colleagues.
“He was more than a porter,” he said.
Ronan was admitted into the Mater Hospital complaining of chest pains and later had a heart attack. He died that night.
“When you lose somebody who is your child, it doesn’t matter how old they are, it is really difficult,” Jack said.
On the day when Ronan’s body was cremated, his brother Declan’s colleagues from the Dublin Fire Brigade formed a guard of honour at Glasnevin, and neighbours lined up along the road where the family live in Drumcondra.
A priest said some prayers at the crematorium but the funeral Mass “was missing”, Jack said. Over the year that followed, having the chance to hold a funeral service for Ronan remained “utmost” in the family’s minds.
Ronan’s ashes have since been kept in the family home in a small wooden casket, and are now to be buried in a plot at Dardistown Cemetery. Jack said that while he was “not a huge church goer”, he took a lot of comfort from the funeral.
“It didn’t matter how long it was going to take, we were going to do a Mass, it’s closure,” he said.
‘A huge issue’
Dr Vincent McDarby, president-elect of the Psychological Society of Ireland, said funerals have a huge place in Irish culture.
“People will drive two or three hours across the country, even just to shake hands for two seconds and say ‘sorry for your loss’,” he said. “It’s one thing we do well in Ireland, we support people in the times of bereavement...When that stopped it was a huge issue.”
Funerals, even those delayed for months due to Covid-19, were an important part of the “grieving process” and helped provide a deal of closure, he added.
Donal Forde, president of the Irish Association of Funeral Directors, said many grieving families had in the early weeks of the pandemic posted death notices saying memorial services would follow later.
The expectation then, he said, was that the pandemic would last “a couple of weeks, a couple of months”. When that proved not to be the case, some of those families opted to have small private events, rather than funeral services.
Mr Forde said the cap of 10 on funeral attendances was “very difficult for families”and sometimes did not even cover all those in an immediate family.
“Hopefully we never have to go back to that, hopefully that’s in the past,” he said.