NEWS
05/21/2020 16:26 EDT

This B.C. Community Found An Unlikely Way To Mourn Loved Ones — With Bagpipes

The performances allow the community to come together and grieve those lost during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Bagpipes have the unique ability to help you mourn a loved one’s death while celebrating their life at the same time.

Nolan Adam remembered this lesson from his grandfather, a funeral director, when the COVID-19 pandemic hit.

The Penticton, B.C.-based managing partner of Providence Funeral Homes was inspired by his grandfather’s wisdom when he launched a new initiative to comfort grieving families under evolving lockdown conditions.

Although the B.C. Interior hasn’t been particularly hard-hit by COVID-19 cases — as of May 20, it had 182 total cases of COVID-19 and two deaths — social distancing measures still mean families can’t come together to grieve in the way they typically would.

The funeral home is still hosting small services — B.C. has limited gatherings to 50 people — and enforcing physical distancing within the home. Immediate families in the same “bubble” sit together and are spaced two metres apart from other groups. They’re also offering to live-stream services, something Adam said has been so well-received that families will likely still request it after the pandemic. 

But the funeral home has still seen a decrease in services. Adam notes that an entire community grieves alongside a family when someone dies, especially with the widespread effects of the pandemic. 

So, remembering his grandfather’s words, Adam reached out to the Okanagan Youth Pipe Band to arrange for a rotating lone piper to play every Friday afternoon for 15 minutes each week, alongside a pastor who gives a prayer.

“It’s specifically to honor those who have passed away in the past week that were unable to have any type of celebration of life or traditional service due to the restrictions that COVID-19 brought upon us,” Adam told HuffPost Canada. 

Providence Funeral Homes and Crematorium/Facebook
Seamus Grant plays outside Providence Funeral Home in Penticton, B.C. on May 15, 2020.

The funeral home is located at a busy intersection, and cars come and park and open their windows a crack to listen. They also stream it on their Facebook, with thousands of views tallied so far. 

Seamus Grant, 12, is one of the three pipers who have been playing outside the funeral home.

“It feels good to do something for my community, and help people know that there’s still hope,” he told HuffPost. 

Grant has been playing the bagpipes for a year and a half, but this is his longest solo performance. In addition to being a meaningful way to serve his community, it gives him a chance to practise at a time when the usual festivals and events are cancelled, his mother Lisa, president of the Okanagan Youth Pipe Band Society, said.

Sometimes it doesn't take much just to let people know that they're not alone in these difficult times...Nolan Adam

“Everybody’s lost somebody. So it’s a nice way to remember … in a way that’s honouring and respectful to those who have passed,” she said. 

There’s just something about the bagpipe that people are drawn to, she added.

“I think the connection between a piper and paying respect to someone who’s passed and to honouring those who are gone, they just kind of go hand in hand.”

Lisa Grant/Okanagan Youth Pipe Band Society
Jesse Buchanan, left, Seamus Grant, centre, and Eli McPhail, right, alternate playing outside the funeral home.

Adam recalls one woman who phoned from a neighbouring community and said she had just lost her daughter. She said, “I can’t have a funeral and I don’t know what to do. Aren’t you guys the ones that play the pipes on the corner of the funeral home?” and asked if she could drive over to their parking lot to listen. 

“Sometimes it doesn’t take much just to let people know that they’re not alone in these difficult times, that we’re they’re thinking of them, that the community is rallying around them as well,” Adam said.

“Although it’s done in a different way, the fact that someone passed away, it’s still important that we commemorate and memorialize [and] pay tribute in some way.”