Boat trips and drive-bys: Dutch think outside the box in funeral send-offs

Funeral boat on the Herengracht in Amsterdam Photo: Olivia Caarten
Funeral boat on the Herengracht in Amsterdam Photo: Olivia Caarten

Dutch people are coming up with innovative ways to say goodbye to their loved ones that still respect coronavirus regulations, according to funerals experts.

‘I think that in these extraordinary times you see beautiful initiatives where we are really thinking outside the box,’ said Anita van Loon, director of Uitvaartschichting Hilversum, which manages the Zuiderhof cemetery and crematorium, the Noorderbegraafplaats and Bosdrift cemeteries.

‘We also see a kind of drive through: we put the coffin somewhere near the road so that people can pay their last respects from their cars. In this way, you can make a beautiful procession: everyone sits in their own car, respecting the 1.5 metre rule.’

In mid-March, the Dutch government limited funeral service numbers to 30 people as part of social distancing measures to limit the spread of the coronavirus. However, many people are thinking of unusual ways of letting more people say their goodbyes in a ceremonial way, while respecting the obligation to keep at 1.5 metres from others.

‘In our burial grounds we see that people are thinking of really lovely ways to say an intimate goodbye,’ added Van Loon. ‘Yesterday, we had someone with a flute who walked alongside the procession, playing. We have offered catering-to-go as you can’t offer catering on site. Some people take it away, and some sit in the graveyard in the sun to sit and contemplate.

‘Sometimes two funeral services are held one after the other, to make the goodbye as meaningful as possible. Livestreaming is also happening, and it’s great that we have these techniques available.’


Another type of funeral procession has also become more popular, according to Vincent Horbach, owner of Rederij Prinsengracht – which transport coffins via boat through the canals to the burial or cremation place.

‘In the Netherlands, a funeral now can have a maximum of 30 people, and 10 on the boat,’ he said.

‘Of course, more people can stand alongside the water at 1.5 metres distance, but not in a collective, according the rules. We see that a lot of people stand along the sides of the canal and on the bridges and throw flowers onto the boat. That’s very beautiful as you can still pay your respects.’

He said that while he normally has up to seven funeral boat processions in a month, he currently has four in the space of a week. Funeral numbers are also up at Van Loon’s burial places: last year in the whole of April there were 55 funerals, and so far this month there have already been 44.


Rinske Wieman, a spokeswoman for the mayor of Amsterdam, said that families are advised that they still need to keep to the distancing rules when paying their last respects. ‘Funerals by boat are quite common in Amsterdam, for example: we do have the beautiful cemetery Zorgvlied along the riverside Amstel,’ she said.

‘In these times of the coronavirus this still can go on but only with 30 people attending the funeral. Everybody has to keep a distance of 1.5 metres minimum. Of course, this is painful but unfortunately (until the 1st of June) necessary in our battle against the coronavirus.’

Van Loon added that people are reluctant to put off a funeral for months, and so she sees people responding to times of adversity in very moving ways. ‘We have grounds in front, and when the family walks behind the coffin, people stand there to make their final farewells with a hand on their heart,’ she says.

‘In the last few days, I’ve really stood there and admired how we are coming together in such a beautiful way, with love and care and respect for other people.’

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