Funerals in the time of COVID Part 2
There’s an old saying about taking things for granted that goes something like, “you don’t miss something until it’s gone.” If nothing else, COVID-19 has put an exclamation point on that. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we’ve discovered a lot of things we’ve taken for granted. You can probably reel off several: sit down meals at restaurants, going to a movie or sporting event, and simply hanging out with a group of friends. There’s another one, though, that you might not have thought of—funerals.
Pre-Coronavirus, most of us didn’t give much thought to funerals unless a family member died. When someone passed, we’d get the details about the service and we’d show up to say goodbye and offer our condolences. We would provide support, and grieve with others who were touched by the life of the person being honored.
These days, if we’re lucky, we can have a group of 10 people gather to commemorate the person who died. Forget having a large traditional funeral. That means no family members sweeping in from out of town, no pot luck gatherings where we tell stories and commune with others who, like us, are grieving and, worst of all, no hugs.
Funerals and Grief
Funerals are an essential part of our journey through grief. According to noted grief expert Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt, “Healthy grief means expressing our painful thoughts and feelings, and healthy funeral ceremonies allow us to do just that. People tend to cry, even sob and wail, at funerals because funerals force us to concentrate on the fact of the death and our feelings, often excruciatingly painful, about that death. . . .To their credit, funerals also provide us with an accepted venue for our painful feelings. They are perhaps the only time and place, in fact, during which we as a society condone such openly outward expression of our sadness.” (Griefwords)
This can be especially hard on families whose religious customs include caring for the body of the deceased. Funeral directors do the best they can to accommodate the family’s needs, but there’s not much they can do. For now, we have to work around the difficulties the pandemic has brought for those experiencing the loss of a loved one.
You Can Still Say Goodbye
Even though regulations due to the pandemic make it difficult to conduct the funeral and burial traditions in which we find so much comfort, we are adapting. As we discussed in our recent article, “Goodbye for Now. We’ll Celebrate Later,” it is still possible to memorialize a loved one now and save the big send-off for later.
For some, technology saves the day. With Zoom, Facebook, and other group messaging tools, you can have a virtual funeral. With the help of a funeral home, a traditional service can be streamed so that loved ones can tune in from anywhere. While an in-person repast isn’t possible, you can raise your glass and toast a life well lived while everyone logs in to a video call from home. It may not be a perfect solution, but it does give you a way to say goodbye without being totally alone.
Use of Cremation Continues to Grow
Industry watchers began to notice an increase in the use of cremation in the early 2000s. There are a lot of reasons for that growth. Among these are the increased mobility of society and cost advantages over burial. With or without the pandemic, the trend in the use of cremation would likely have continued at a steady pace. COVID has accelerated that increase.
In a recent press release, the National Funeral Directors Association reported that “In 2020, the projected burial rate is 37.5% (down 7.7% from 2015) and projected cremation rate is 56.0% (up 8.1% from 2015). This preference is predicted to only strengthen, with projections for 2025 indicating that the burial rate will be 30.6% (down 14.6% from 2015) and the cremation rate 63.3% (up 15.4% from 2015).”
It’s easy to understand why cremation is an attractive choice right now. Travel is out of the question for most people and for those who want to hold a celebration of life after the pandemic, the ashes can be kept on hand. And then there’s cost. A bare-bones cremation can be a fraction of the cost of burial.
The culture and attitudes surrounding the way we memorialize the dead are long-standing and have developed over generations. The stark way we have had to change our practices due to the pandemic will no doubt make an indelible mark. In the long run, we’ll all welcome back the in-person funeral since it offers us such a critical link in the process of navigating grief, but many of the adjustments we think of as temporary will likely become part of the way we pay tribute to those who are no longer with us.
In the short term, we will continue to do what we can to offer our loved ones the send-off they deserve under difficult circumstances and to find ways to say goodbye. We’ll lean on technology, opt for cremation, and delay our big celebrations. In short, we’ll just keep doing the best we can.