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A Day in the Life: Tom Navin

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PERFORMER Tom Navin (left) pictured on stage with Joe O’Malley during Westport’s St Patrick’s Drama Group’s production of Makem and Clancy are coming. The renowned thespian has missed stage and sport during Covid-19 while his undertaking business has been utterly transformed. Pic: Michael McLaughlin

Factfile
Name: Tom Navin
Occupation: Undertaker
From: Westport
Age: 65

Undertaking is not like any other business. You could start at any time of the day because we get a phone call as soon as a person dies. If someone dies in a nursing home at 12 o’clock at night then you’re working. Our job is 24/7. You’re always on call. I’ve often been at football matches and got a phone call and had to leave. Doctors have weekends to themselves with Westdoc, we don’t have that.
Before the pandemic, you’d have an evening where people would come to the funeral homes to pay their respects. That’s gone now.  What happens now is the body is brought home and you’d go from the house to the church privately or else you’d have the body privately in the funeral home. Everything is for family only now.
Myself and the other local undertakers, Seamus Moran, Peter Sweeney and Adrian McGing, have all worked together. This was new to us all. The four of us came together at the start of the pandemic and talked about how to deal with this and how we could best look after families. The priests have been great as well. We’re all working together to help the families that are bereaved.
It’s really hard being in the business at the moment. Most undertakers do everything they can to facilitate a family. If the family wants something, we’ll do it. If the family wants to go a certain way or bring the body home we’ll do it. Nowadays you’re telling them they can’t do this and they can’t do that. That’s very hard for any undertaker to be telling families that people can’t come to the house, funeral home or graveyard. It’s all alien stuff that we wouldn’t be used to.
The day of a funeral mass if it’s at 11 o’clock we’ll be at the house at 10am and take the body of the person from there to the church for burial. Ceremonies are shorter nowadays because there is no communion. Normally a member of the family will give a eulogy. In fairness to the priests locally they’ve tried to make it as close to what it was. It’s not a huge change only that the numbers of people at the funeral are restricted.

Getting used to it
In the last while it has gotten easier, but back in March it was all very weird. All of April was terrible but by May we were getting used to it. The problem we had is we were getting guidelines from the HSE and we were told to treat everybody as if they had Covid. Back in March, we didn’t know who had the virus and nobody knew because nobody was being tested. We went into houses, nursing homes and hospitals to remove bodies of people who hadn’t been tested. But we still had to do the job as best we could. You can barely even get in the door of a doctor’s surgery now.
What families are telling me is they find that people lining the streets to pay their respects is a great comfort. They miss the shaking hands but the way people turn out along the footpaths and roadways is a great comfort.
I don’t know when things will get back to normal. We have to deal with it the way it is. There will be no long queues outside funeral homes. I could envisage that funeral homes could be used if it was open for five hours during the day. We could open at 12 o’clock and leave it until six in the evening.
The funeral home has been closed since March 9. Some families miss the shaking hands but people are going to have to get used it because it’s not going to happen this year. The ‘new normal’ is people lining the roads as the body is being taken to the graveyard.
I’d call myself ‘semi-retired’ at the moment. I miss the football. I love going to games and GAA matches. It was a great relief if you had a very sad funeral you could go down to the match and shout at the lads and have a bit of craic and banter. You’d miss that.
I’m also involved with the drama club. That was great as well. We were rehearsing John B Keane’s ‘Many Young Men of Twenty’, but we had to call it off because of the lockdown. We were all enjoying ourselves and then we had to pull the plug. Hopefully, we’ll get it back on track later in the year.
In my spare time, I’d go out walking with my wife Mary or out on the bike. I love going back to the beach at Old Head just to clear the head. Westport House has been a saviour. It’s only two minutes from where I live on James Street. I go there every day of the week. You’re in a different world back there, so you are. Fair play to the Hughes family for leaving it open.

In conversation with Oisin McGovern