Funerals in the Time of COVID
Since the first case of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) was reported in Washington State in January of 2020, our lives have changed at light speed. As it turns out, so have our deaths. Funeral services have ground to a halt and the way we honor the lives of those who have passed has been altered dramatically. Gatherings, now limited to 10 or fewer people, if permitted at all, make holding a traditional funeral or memorial service nearly impossible.
Truth be told, no one looks forward to planning, attending, or being the guest of honor at a funeral, even a good one. But we do look forward to gathering with friends and family to share our grief and our memories. We yearn to unite in a shared experience as we reflect on the life of someone we cared about. We want to get a hug, sing a song, tell a story, and maybe shed a tear as we take a pause to say goodbye. And that’s the tough part. We can’t really do that now, at least not the way we want to.
With so many restrictions in place, many people are opting to wait until the COVID crisis has passed before holding a service. This is far from ideal since most of us want to mark out loved one’s death right away. When we can’t we feel empty and that we haven’t yet closed the circle. Fortunately, there is a way you can do both.
The important thing to remember is that just because you are having the burial or cremation now, you can still honor your loved one with a memorial service when restrictions are removed. As for now, there are many inventive ways you can celebrate a life. Here are a few popular and meaningful ideas.
PRIVATE SERVICE NOW, PUBLIC ONE LATER
While it may mean you have to make some difficult choices as to who can participate, it is possible to have a private service now, and a public ceremony later. That way, you’ll be able to provide your loved one with a respectful interment and still gather together for a proper send-off when the time is right. In most places, you can still hold a small graveside service that complies with social distancing requirements. A member of your clergy, a funeral celebrant, or a funeral professional can officiate.
HOLD A VIRTUAL REMEMBRANCE
It has never been easier to hold multi-person calls with video. Not only can these be set up so that you can see each other, but you can also share your screen. Videos, photos, and other memories can be included. If you do plan to hold a virtual event, it’s best to do a little planning. Let people know ahead of time how they can participate, and craft a schedule so people know what to expect. It’s a good idea to do a little practice just so you know what to expect.
CREATE AN ONLINE TRIBUTE/MEMORIAL WALL
There are a variety of online platforms designed especially for creating tributes. These range in price from free to a one time fee of $100. If you will be handling the tribute site yourself, something simple is all you need. If you’d like to have others also participate you may need something a bit more sophisticated.
Many people choose to turn their loved one’s Facebook page into a tribute site. This works particularly well for those who are established users of social media. You also have the option of creating a website using one of the free website tools that are available to consumers.
PLANT A TREE
While you are waiting to hold a formal memorial service you can memorialize your loved with a living tribute. Planting a tree in his or her honor is a great way to do that. If your loved one was a gardener, adding a special selection to the garden can also be a great way to create a memory. If you’d like to mark a special spot in the garden to commemorate the person, and engraved brick or stone can be a wonderful touch.
If you have chosen cremation, there are unique products that enable you to incorporate some of your loved one’s remains with the planting mix. This provides a great option for those who are passionate about the environment or who avid outdoors people.
CREATE A MEMORIAL BOOK, MEMORY BOX, OR SCRAP BOOK
While you are waiting to hold a formal ceremony, it’s a great time to gather stories and memories from those whose lives your loved one touched. To create a memory book, ask multiple people to create pages for the book. There is no limit to what can be shared—stories, messages for the family, memories, photos, or anything else they’d like to capture. Your final product can be displayed when you have your memorial service. Memory boxes and scrapbooks are other great ways to capture snapshots of your loved one’s life for posterity.
WRITE AN OBITUARY
You can craft an obituary even if you don’t plan to publish it in the newspaper.
The process of reflecting on your loved one, gathering stories, and putting the life well lived in perspective can be greatly rewarding. Once you are done, you can post it on social media, email it to friends or family, or simply keep it to yourself. If you plan to hold a memorial service or celebration of life later, the obituary can be used as part of your ceremony.
As we keep hearing over and over again, we are living in unprecedented times. Funeral homes are trying hard to help families cope with these unusual circumstances but they are limited in what they can do. Nevertheless, do not hesitate to talk with the funeral director, if you are working with one, to come up with a solution that will honor your loved one and help you and your family work through your grief. You can also speak with your place of worship for suggestions on how to proceed. Another option to help you if you are struggling with ways to pay tribute is to contact a Funeral Celebrant in your area to discuss your options. These professionals are trained to help families navigate the complex feelings that are associated with grief while planning a memorial ceremony.