How Funerals and Grief are Changing During a Pandemic

How Funerals and Grief are Changing During a Pandemic
5 minute read


“When words are inadequate, have a ritual.”
- Anonymous

It’s said one of the most important parts of the grief process is to grieve together, in community.

While grief is a painstakingly lonely and very personal experience, it’s helpful to be felt in the company of other grief. As “Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, one of the most influential end-of-life pioneers once shared: ‘The reality is that you will grieve forever. You will not ‘get over’ the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it. You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered. You will be whole again but you will never be the same. Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.’”

And while this part of grief, the coming together, is made all the more difficult during a pandemic, there are ways to move forward with alternatives to honour our loved ones. As we navigate a world where we’re no longer able to gather (at least for now) it’s been important to re-imagine the ways in which we can come together remotely, memorialize and ritualize the lives of those who have died and provide support for the grieving.

Grief is a time when we want to “hug and huddle and be close,” and that’s simply not possible to do safely at the moment. It becomes increasingly important to acknowledge that the “unknowns of the virus, and all the changes day to day that have happened, as a result of the virus, likely add an additional layer of anxiety to the grieving process.”

And while there is certainly sadness and frustration around these necessary changes, there is also understanding, creativity and innovation. Webcasting, which has been used in the funeral industry for more than a decade, has found a new way to shine because of the pandemic. It is through inventiveness and often in this case, necessity, that we’re able to create new rituals to provide some comfort during an already very difficult time.

At Eirene, we’re here to help. Our online platform allows you to make arrangements, safely from the comfort of your own home and our team of licensed funeral directors is standing by to support you every step of the way.

To learn more about navigating end-of-life during the COVID-19 Pandemic visit us here.

Honouring Your Loved One During A Time Of Physical Distancing

With the advancement of technology, something that wouldn’t have been possible many years ago, there are a number of ways to alter what we know as traditional funeral rituals and find something that suits both the family and the deceased’s wishes. Many are turning to “high tech solutions and new practices to … deal with the loss of loved ones as governments put stricter regulations in place during the COVID-19 pandemic.” Many practices will also need to be updated, “including being able to sign documentation via email and being able to communicate more commonly through Skype or FaceTime.”

As many are faced with what to do when we can’t gather, not only are mourners dealing with death, but also not being able to access what’s needed most: human touch, connection, and community support. While it’s certainly not a substitute for in-person, collective mourning, hopefully it provides some comfort and a meaningful marker.

Live Streaming: Remote Services

During a time when we’re unable to gather many have turned to remote options and there’s even been a rise in businesses like Afterword, “which offers online memorial services and websites for those who cannot gather in person. Costs range from $499 to $999, depending on which services are chosen.”

Online Memorial Pages & Tribute Websites

Includes things like:

  • Obituary
  • Online Guest Book
  • Media (photos, videos etc.)
  • Donation page

Postponing

While burials are going ahead, many have opted to postpone memorial services. In doing so it’s also difficult to know how long that delay will be (here in Toronto, for example we’re in the midst of our 3rd lockdown). At various times throughout the pandemic small gatherings, outdoors and at a distance, have been deemed safe, which have been an option, however depending on when the death occurs this of course might not be possible. As such, some additional considerations, with regards to storing the body etc., may need to be taken into account.

In jurisdictions where a timely burial, cremation, or hydrolyzation are not possible because of frozen ground, lack of facilities, or insufficient capacity, remains may need to be stored temporarily. Temporary morgues or vault space may need to be arranged according to local availability and requirements. The resource needs (e.g. body bags) and supply management for temporary morgues and vault space should also be addressed. The types of temporary cold storage to be considered may include refrigerated trucks, cold storage lockers or hockey arenas.

Sympathy From A Distance

While nothing replaces physical, in-person connection, reaching out with phone calls, text messages, emails etc. lets the griever know they have support and emotional presence from their community. “There is solace in sitting quietly with someone, even if it's over the phone or a video call. Often what grievers need most is to know that they don't have to speak, but that they are safe to speak if they wish.”

Technology Can Help


When we’re unable to gather in person, technology offers opportunities to comfort remotely:

As always, it’s important to consider what’s best for you and what feels approachable, realistic and meaningful. There is no one size fits all with grief and often what feels good one day, might not feel the same way the next.

Other Ways To Offer Support


While we’re unable to physically be together, we can still offer our emotional comfort.

  • Walk at a distance
  • Sit quietly together outdoors
  • Visit the grave, if there is one
  • Volunteer or make a donation to an organization that meant something to the person who dies
  • Bring food
  • Offer a few very specific things—it can often be hard for the griever to ask or even know what they need, so sometimes offering simple options might help:
  • I can come by at 5pm on Tuesdays to take out your garbage and recycling
  • I’d love to order you and your family dinner one day this week
  • And during non-COVID times:
  • I’m going to come over and do some laundry or vacuum
  • I’ll pick the kids up at school every afternoon

Resources

  • To learn more about the city of Toronto’s COVID-19 guidance for Funeral Homes & Cemeteries visit this link.
  • You can also learn more by visiting the Ontario Ministry of Health here.
  • For more on Interim guidance: Death care services and handling of dead bodies during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, visit the Government of Canada’s website here.

A Way Forward: New Rituals


Grief and funerals certainly look a little different these days and in a world where we’ve already had to adjust to so much, finding new and innovative ways to come together in grief is certainly an added challenge.

So, while we may not be able to offer comfort through traditional grieving rituals there are ways we can continue to show up for one another to ensure we’re not facing the difficulty of grief alone and that our loved ones can still be honoured. We hope this post provides some helpful information and a place to begin so you feel less alone during an already difficult time.

We’re here to support you and have made it our mission to unpack difficult conversations around end-of-life planning and navigating the complexities of death care.

To learn more and access additional resources visit www.eirene.ca.