Lifestyle

Life goes on, even during a pandemic. Unfortunately, so does death. Honoring the dead, often with funerals, is an important part of all of our societies, communities, and religions. In the current COVID-19 crisis, families are grieving the deaths of loved ones and having to honor their lives in ways that look different from normal.

Even if it’s not in the traditional way, it’s important to honor our deceased loved ones in some way, even during a pandemic. Grief expert David Kessler reminds us that it’s important to grieve, and that following traditions of honoring loved ones is essential. Even if the traditions have to be carried out a little bit differently – maybe online or with fewer mourners – it’s important to carry them out as best as we can.

But funerals look very different right now. Some areas have banned funerals outright. The Archdiocese of New York and the Archdiocese of Newark forbid funeral services and allow only small graveside services of ten people or less. Cemeteries may have their own rules about how many people can be present at a gravesite and try to limit contact between mourners and cemetery workers. Handshakes, hugs, and large funeral dinners can’t happen right now. However, religious leaders and funeral home directors and staff are adapting and finding ways to honor the deceased.

Small Services

Even if your area allows funerals, most states have placed limits on how many people can attend an event, and these guidelines include funerals. One option is to hold a very small service, with only close family and friends in attendance. Many states are limiting gatherings to ten people, but remember that funeral home staff who must be present at the service count for some of those people. Make sure to check with local guidelines before planning a service and inviting mourners.

Even with a small service, anyone who is feeling sick should stay home. All guests must practice healthy hygiene, including washing hands often and covering coughs and sneezes. The social distancing guidelines are still in effect at a funeral service, so mourners are advised to stay at least six feet away from each other. Members of high-risk populations, like the elderly or immune-compromised, may be advised to stay home.

Online Services

Broadcasting, or streaming, the service over the Internet is another option. While watching a funeral on a computer may seem strange and impersonal, it does ensure that everyone who wishes to honor the deceased can attend the service. Some funeral homes use specialized funeral broadcasting software and their own business websites, but others use videoconferencing software like Skype, Zoom, or Vimeo. When a member of his temple died recently, Rabbi Craig Mayers of Temple Beth Sholom in Melbourne, Florida, encouraged mourners to sit shiva via Zoom instead of visiting the deceased family at their home.

Jackie Brown, of Serenity Funeral Home in Huntsville, Alabama, says that she has conducted several virtual funeral services during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that families have responded well to them. In addition, people can watch the service from anywhere in the world, meaning that some mourners who may not have been able to travel to attend the funeral service can attend a virtual one.

Postponed Services

Another option is to postpone a service and hold a celebration of life ceremony at a later date. While burials may have to happen within a certain time following a death – usually 24 hours in Jewish and Muslim traditions – the ceremony can usually be postponed. Family members can get together to share stories, enjoy a meal together, and honor the deceased when stay-at-home orders are eased or lifted.