How Families Grieve During the Pandemic: Home Funeral Ceremonies

4 minute read

By: Sarah Hines

These days, the unfortunate truth is that the rituals and ceremonies that we have traditionally embraced are not available to us. We are used to getting dressed up, wondering if distant relatives will show and seeing the family all together to honour a life lived at a funeral.

Many are feeling the loss of giving grief somewhere to go. We are feeling a deep sense of unfinished business. This incompleteness leaves the door open for our grief to continue and layers on the additional grief of not honouring our person or seeing our family.

While we certainly will still mourn the loss of connection to our family or the hug of a far away friend - we can bring ceremony together to help create space for our mourning and grief. It is important to ensure we can create space for mourning and that it’s created for reflection, storytelling, and belonging that we are so sadly missing.

So, how can we bring these moments of reflection, storytelling and a sense of belonging to a ceremony without being able to stand shoulder to shoulder?

As found in numerous other traditions worldwide, we can create our own ceremonies that could have an extraordinary meaning to us individually or our family bubble. This ceremony has the opportunity to be unique to your whole family unit, including your children. It is actually a gentle way to introduce your children to the idea of death.

Here are a few ways to bring ceremony into your family.

The creation is part of the ceremony

Planning the Ceremony event is actually part of the Ceremony. It is typically overlooked, but the planning is a beautiful journey into ourselves and the person we are grieving. So my first recommendation is to keep this in mind. That as you go through these ideas and wonders and stages, this is your love song back to your person. This energy, time, and thought for them is giving your grief somewhere to go. It could be worth it to you, if you are so inclined, to also include this planning as part of your journaling.

Involving your children in these planning activities and having them see their honouring, love and ideas come to life are core to ensuring they too feel like they are allowed to grieve. They will understand better where your grief is coming from, and they will surprise you. They have this beautiful tender way of saying the most important insightful things when you need to hear them.

The ceremony event

The Ceremony Event is a culmination of all of your beautiful thoughts and gifts, and gatherings. The flowers you picked up at the store, finding a particular piece of music, the pictures, making a special meal as an offering. How it is all brought into focus is the ceremony.

Many will create a little altar in their main living space, create a playlist and cook a favourite meal. While sharing this meal, they will set aside an offering to their person, share stories and care for each other. As a final stage, they will bring their food offering into an outdoor space to bury or burn their offering.

What could a ceremony look like?

  • How can you bring the five senses into your ceremony event (touch, sight, smell, sound, taste)?
  • I have a client who will spritz a little old spice cologne on her wrist when she misses her dad.
  • What earth elements could you include in your ceremony (earth, fire, water, air)?
  • A family hike with a favourite meal
  • A meal that represents their favourite destination
  • A piece of their clothing sewn into a memento (hanky, change purse, on the inside of your jacket) for each of your family members

Following your ceremony

And lastly, the day following the ceremony. This is a sacred day for many. It is a day of gentle nourishment. A day to honour yourself is a wonderful part of the ceremony that can be deeply healing. Sleeping well, bathing, cuddling, eating nourishing foods are all wonderful ways to honour the person you have become because of them. How you care for yourself is how you would care for them if their final day were with you.

I've seen so many wonderful things as part of these ceremonies, so I’ve included a few prompts below to get you thinking.

  • What was their favourite music? Song? Colour? Food?
  • Did you only see them around specific events?
  • Was there a moment you remember seeing the best in them? Is there something that symbolizes this? Was it on a beach, a bookstore?
  • Is there something from your culture or relationship that exudes special exclusivity?
  • Was there a joke they told that you still to this day laugh about?
  • Were they into hiking? Cars? Food? Travel? Is there something you can pick up and incorporate that would be meaningful?

All ideas are yours and are allowed, and there is nothing that can be judged. As some simple guidance, I would not focus on spending significantly. Money and gifts are not the focus of this time, so I would suggest putting some boundaries on purchasing new rather than honouring old.

And lastly, be gentle with yourself and your family. Going for perfection is often the enemy of meaningful moments. So the tears, the laughter, the anger, and the silence are all welcome these days as we feel the grief flow through us and into our ceremony.