AMONG the restrictions implemented throughout the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, there's no doubting among the most heartbreaking was the limits on numbers allowed at funerals.
In Leeton many families had to forego having big numbers at their loved ones funerals, making the grieving process even more difficult.
While most understood the need for the restrictions, it didn't make the pain any easier for those who had to miss out in saying a formal goodbye.
Leeton's Andrew Luff from Watkins Funeral Directors and Monumental Masons said losing a family member or friend was always a traumatic time, but the COVID-19 uncertainty added another layer of tension and anxiety.
"Where a funeral notice would normally be an open invitation to family and friends, now it is restricted to immediate family only," Mr Luff said.
"This can be extremely upsetting for some families, particularly when extended family members, including grandchildren, great grandchildren, siblings, cannot physically attend a loved one's funeral.
"As a community, we must applaud the families who have adapted to the new way that funerals are being conducted.
"As we conduct more funerals in a COVID-19 environment, we are gaining more experience and learning how to deal with certain situations and coming up with innovative ideas to share the funeral experience for people who, in normal circumstances, would have wanted to attend."
Different tribute ideas emerge
An example of this is the livestreaming of some funerals through the business' Facebook page for people to view from home.
While this is not the same as attending in person, Mr Luff said it had provided some comfort.
He said families were also coming up with their own innovative ways to ensure the loved one has still had a proper send off.
"Just recently we were able to conduct a funeral service at a local sportsground where immediate family gathered in one area and the extended group of family and friends gathered along the sidelines of the sporting ovals to pay their respects," Mr Luff said.
"It was a powerful tribute.
"It was arranged in co-operation with the local council, which approved the arrangements in advance. It demonstrated that everyone wants to try to make things work, while ensuring the health and safety of the community."
NSW restrictions for funeral services have been lifted on compassionate grounds, but people must adhere to the four-square-metre rule. If indoors, the number of attendees allowed is dependent on the size of the church.
If outdoors at the cemetery, the numbers of attendees is unlimited though still adhering to four-square-metre rule.
Staff resilience has been key during pandemic
Working in the funeral industry is no doubt a different experience to the typical "nine to five" work.
It takes a certain type of person to work in the industry - someone who can show compassion and empathy, but also be organised, a good listener and ready to help.
Staff at Watkins Funeral Directors have also had to adapt to not just a different workplace, but a "new world" to live in.
"All of our employees take great pride in their work," Mr Luff said.
"We are known for taking the extra step to get things right and the COVID-19 backdrop hasn't changed that commitment. It's been a challenge, there's no doubt, but we recognise these rules are in place for a reason - to protect the health of the Leeton community.
"So we just have to work as best we can within the rules to deliver a respectful and dignified farewell for the families grieving the loss of a loved one."
Staff are up-to-date with the latest vaccinations, hygiene measures and use PPE where appropriate as they often visit hospitals, nursing homes and medical centres.
What has COVID-19 taught the funeral industry?
Like all others, the funeral industry itself has had to change the way it operates to some degree.
At first, the experience seemed daunting, but as time has gone on, resilience has one again been the key.
"The whole COVID-19 experience has reinforced the notion that no matter the challenge, the people in this town and in this community always work together to get it done," Mr Luff said.
As a community, we must applaud the families who have adapted to the new way that funerals are being conducted.Andrew Luff
"I've seen it many times over the years and the community response to coronavirus demonstrates how pragmatic everyone is.
"The COVID world emphasised why we always value flexibility and a willingness to adapt.
Every funeral experience is unique, so we are always prepared for anything and the COVID restrictions emphasised that there is never one way of doing something to ensure we get it right."
Rules still in place
The NSW Health Department has introduced a "mass gathering attendee record".
Any person attending a funeral service needs to provide their name, contact details and their COVID-19 contact history.
A funeral home retains these details for 28 days to help with contact tracing.
Any information is only released to the health authorities if a confirmed case among attendees is identified.
There are on-the-spot fines for individuals of up to $1000 for not following social distancing guidelines and funeral services can be stopped if certain rules and guidelines are not enforced.
"I can't see that happening in our community as we have been doing so well with adjusting to the rules," Mr Luff said.