Now that COVID-19 has gripped the nation and limited travels around the globe, it’s not always easy to know what to do to keep yourselves and your loved ones safe. In many areas of the country, public gatherings have been banned or discouraged, while practicing social distancing and staying home as much as possible seem to be more the norm. But what happens to a loved one when they pass away during the pandemic? How do you plan their funeral, and if so, what are the avenues to take in the event everything remains shut down? It’s hard to know how to go about funeral planning during COVID-19.
As life includes all the everyday deaths that happen from all the regular everyday causes, it’s no wonder that everyday deaths raise the ultimate question: What do current health precautions during the coronavirus epidemic, such as limiting or restricting large public gatherings, mean for holding a funeral? Options For Funeral Planning
There are several options that families and funeral professionals can employ to make it safer for families to mourn and grieve at a time when communities worldwide are being encouraged not to engage in unnecessary close contact. These include:
Livestream funerals so people can attend remotely
One option available to families right now is streaming live video of the funeral online. Granted, it doesn’t hold the same kind of feeling as being in person, however, this is a flexible solution that allows you to have the closest immediate family members at the funeral service in person if you wish, while other people can participate from home.
Some virtual services have been around since before anyone ever heard of COVID-19, but it will surely be increasingly useful now for anyone who can’t get to a funeral because they are quarantined, are uncomfortable with traveling long distances, or any other reason. You have to be able to grieve and mourn collectively, even though you’re not in the same place at the same time. Several funeral homes and parlors offer options for friends and family to watch the funeral remotely on their own devices — and to participate, too.
Live chat can be included for anyone who may not have a webcam at home but still wants to be actively involved in the funeral service. Multimedia offerings can also be provided to remote attendees, including the funeral program, written eulogy, and family photos and videos. Today, it’s even easier because with your mobile devices, you can really watch from anywhere.
Live streaming funeral services are very useful right now, and they will continue to be useful to people who can’t make it to a funeral for whatever reason. You may be sitting in your living room, shedding a tear, remembering the good times you had with that person or what that person taught you, good and bad, and then being able to let that person go. It’s the safest avenue during the pandemic.
If you’re planning a funeral at a time like now when public gatherings are discouraged or restricted, ask your funeral director about remote options. If they’re not already offering the service, research a company that can help you get set up with it easily and quickly. Or you may take a more DIY approach and have someone on site with a webcam invite remote mourners to join, using a common video conferencing app like Google Hangouts or Zoom. This is a technology that’s useful any time, but right now, it can give families peace of mind that they can still gather to mourn together, even if it’s only a virtual gathering.
Consider outdoor locations
Many experts are recommending that you stay at least six feet apart from others to ensure you’re not affected by a cough or sneeze. If having a group of mourners together in person is important for you, but it’s risky for health reasons to put them all together in a crowded room, the alternative is more graveside events. In this case, you’re not confined in a building and you’re outside where it’s a little bit less contact.
You can take this idea beyond the graveside, as well. If you want to hold a memorial service with nobody present, consider hosting it at a public park, outdoor worship area at your church, or the beach–which could be the best location for a memorial service offering a less confined experience. The larger the outdoor area you choose, the easier it is for attendees to avoid close contact.
Postpone services until later
For some families, the right decision will be to plan a memorial service for a later date, after the COVID-19 pandemic has subsided. You can do this whether you plan to have the body cremated or buried. If you’re planning on burial, you might choose to have a small, private graveside service at the time of burial, with just your closest family members in attendance. Then you can plan a larger public memorial service for later, when it’s safer to gather publicly.
For a cremation, you can have a small, private family gathering at the crematorium or funeral home if you wish, or you can skip that step and simply plan for a later memorial service. It’s hard to say when you should plan for the service as scientists don’t know exactly when COVID-19 will subside like the flu in the warmer months of the year. You might even consider tentatively planning memorial services for a summer date, while remaining flexible regarding rescheduling if that date and public gatherings still don’t seem like a good idea.
Play it by ear and let family and friends know there will be a memorial service at a date to be determined, as the pandemic situation develops.
Keep contact to a minimum
You can still help keep the spread of the virus to a minimum if you encourage funeral attendees to express their love and sympathy without any physical touching. Ask attendees to refrain from hugging, kissing, or shaking hands. A simple smile and nod of expressed sympathy will be all that is required. Another option is to use your obituary to offer some words of advice on how to get through this hard time with love and compassion.
Call up your friend to offer words of love and support and a virtual hug, or drop off a home-cooked meal by the house for a very brief visit, maybe leave a condolence on the funeral home website. You can also send a card or have a service at church in their memory. The key is to remain in touch and above all else, say prayers for the deceased and their family and the world during this difficult period.
Whatever you decide is the best option for your loved one’s funeral, you’ll want to make sure anyone who needs that information can find it. The obituary is typically the official source of funeral details, as well as the written tribute to your loved one’s life story. Social media and direct messaging are excellent links to access during the pandemic.
However, if you’re planning on offering livestream services, you can note in the obituary how family and friends can get that remote access. Or if you’re postponing services until a later date — or a date to be determined — you can also mention that in the obituary. If you’re having just a small gathering of close family right now, you should consider omitting the time and location from the obituary, saying that services will be private.
If you already planned a service that you later decide needs to be changed, you can put that new information in the obituary by updating the online version. If you need to make a change to an online obituary, you should contact the newspaper you placed it in. Either way, inform family and friends of your funeral plan during COVID-19. Everyone will appreciate it.