Barbara Lee would have had a funeral with hundreds of mourners.

Her husband of 56 years now grieves alone with his daughter, Sarah, unable to give his wife the send-off he feels Barbara deserved.

"It's difficult when you are dealing with the immediate loss," says Bill Lee. "As it is now, we've got Barbara's ashes here and we don't know looking ahead until the movement restrictions come off what the next step will be."

Barbara, 76, died on Sunday at Waikato Hospital.


She was a dedicated, kind and loving wife and mother with eight adored grandchildren, and a much-loved member of the Whitianga community, active in Lions, Cancer Support, the local gardening club and willing helper of the elderly throughout her life.

"She was the centre of our family," said daughter Sarah Pluck. "With the lockdown, we miss being able to spend time and grieve with our family and friends."

Bill had to make the arrangements for her cremation instead of her wishes to be buried in a family plot at the Ferry Landing cemetery where Bill's ancestors, Sarah and William Lee, who arrived in Whitianga in 1868, are buried.

Bill and Barbara Lee. Photo / Supplied
Bill and Barbara Lee. Photo / Supplied

Sarah was able to support her father as he met with the funeral director following the death.

But they dropped plans for a funeral of 200 to a family-only gathering to not even being able to have all the immediate family together under the same roof to mourn.

"We've got 15 in our immediate family ... we can't be together. They have to stay where they are."

Funeral directors are telling grieving families who are unable to host a funeral to postpone rather than not have any memorial service due to the current self-isolation rules.

"There will be no grieving, no embalming, no gathering around a body. I don't know any way around that with the current government regulations," said Twentyman's managing director, Adrian Catran. Twentyman's has chapels in Thames and a viewing room in Paeroa, Whangamatā and Whitianga.


"Our doors are closed and we shouldn't be in lockdown but we are."

Catran is chairman of the New Zealand Independent Funeral Homes Inc which represents 20 funeral homes in New Zealand not owned by overseas companies.

He said he believed it was wrong for the Government to allow people to go to public settings like a supermarket but not gather in small numbers, provided they followed the 2m distance rules, when grieving a death.

"We are an essential industry. But it means you can't even have a gathering of 10 people. They've forgotten about us, we're the lost tribe."

He says it was a difficult situation for funeral directors: "Because our industry prides itself on never saying no." The Government's official Covid-19 advisory website

Funeral homes are discouraging more than two people from arriving to make burial and cremation arrangements and ask that people phone first. They were practising the 2m distance rule in their funeral homes.

Funeral Directors Association of NZ president Gary Taylor said pre-planned and pre-paid funerals should still go ahead once the current lockdown had passed because it was an important part of the healing process for people who lose a loved one.

"As human beings we don't get a choice to opt out of our grief. One way we deal with grief is by coming together, showing support for each other and having some form of meaningful farewell.

"Inevitably the fallout from Covid-19 is going to require professional help for a lot of people and people being unable to adequately emotionally cope with a death will need help," Taylor said.

He said individual funeral directors could decide what was a gathering - therefore could not proceed - and what was a viewing, at which small family groups sit beside the body of a loved one to say goodbye.

Some funeral directors were removing seats from their chapels to ensure distance between those present.

But the advice was clear: gatherings such as funerals could not proceed.

For Bill Lee, of the pioneering family who owned a campground marked by Lee St in the centre of Whitianga, the need to postpone a memorial and isolate to prevent Covid-19 is sensible.

"It seems like we would be probably one of many people in this awkward situation," Bill said from his home where he is in isolation with his daughter.

Bill is worried that the timing of Barbara's death will mean wider family and friends won't get to celebrate his wife's life in a way that brings comfort when it's needed most.

"We are realists and had both prepared what we wanted for our funerals and it hasn't quite worked out how we planned due to the coronavirus.

"The further out you go, people have moved on and it doesn't have the same healing power."