Empty Church for FuneralThe COVID-19 pandemic has significantly impacted social gatherings. Weddings, baptisms, and parties of all kinds have been postponed or severely limited in terms of attendance. Naturally, shelter-in-place restrictions have also affected funerals. With traditional memorials curtailed, both death care professionals and mourners adopt alternative means to celebrate deceased loved ones’ lives.

Professional Guidance for the Funeral Industry

The National Funeral Directors Association provides several resources for industry professionals on several topics such as burials and cremations of individuals who had COVID-19, filling out death certificates, shipping remains, and assisting with visitations and funerals. The CDC’s recommendation to limit public gatherings to 10 people or less also applies to funerals and memorial services. The NFDA comments that this effectively restricts services, burials, and wakes to immediate family only. It also advises directors to ensure that local authorities have not prohibited such gatherings. Connecticut currently limits public assemblies to five people or less, while New Jersey has banned funerals entirely.

In light of the situation, the NFDA suggests that directors offer private viewing options for now and allow families to hold larger memorial services at a later date. Directors can also livestream funerals and memorials, thanks to a webcasting license available from the NFDA. The license handles permissions for copyrighted music, livestreaming software, and streaming platforms such as Zoom, Vimeo, and Facebook.

Effects on Death Care Workers and Grieving Families

Vox’s Alex Ward discusses how COVID-19 health and shelter-in-place precautions have impacted both death care workers and deceased individuals’ families. For many, it’s making an already emotionally difficult time even more challenging. Attendance restrictions mean that many mourners must only attend memorials through livestreaming or not at all. Mourners carefully maintain the recommended six feet of distance between one another, so small physical gestures like a hug, a shoulder pat, or a simple squeeze of the hand are noticeably absent.

COVID-19 has upended life for providers of traditional funerary services. For death doulas like Alua Arthur, it’s introduced a whole new paradigm to delivering care. Based in Los Angeles, Arthur provides emotional support and planning assistance to help people prepare for their deaths. Where Arthur and other doulas provided services in person, they now use video technology. Arthur describes the experience as “grief compounding grief”: the sorrow that comes with death exacerbated by the inability to choose how one dies or ways to memorialize the deceased.

Meaningful Remembrances in Unusual Times

To help industry workers and bereaved individuals, the Order of the Good Death created a COVID-19 Toolkit. Founded in 2011, the Order seeks to minimize modern society’s fears and anxieties about death. With that in mind, it offers several resources to help others find ways to grieve and memorialize their loved ones. “How can we cultivate social and emotional connection without the benefit of being physically present?” the Order asks.

Players of simulation and sandbox games like Animal Crossing New Horizons, Minecraft, and The Sims 4 are crafting cemeteries, shrines, memorial gardens, and even characters based on deceased family and friends. Others host communal meals on Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, and other video platforms: Everyone cooks their own dishes, then gathers on video chat to eat and socialize. The Order’s other suggestions include collaborative playlists, sending care packages, online meetups, and listening parties. Creating virtual altars is another way to memorialize a loved one, and you can host these in private curated online spaces such as a Facebook Group or an invite-only subreddit.

Adapting to New Realities

Community support is vital during the grieving process, and people are finding ways to meet that need while socially distancing. Online platforms are vital channels, but death care industry professionals are also stepping in with solutions. Human ingenuity and determination prove that people will always find new ways to connect.

Category: Funeral

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