Hello again, and welcome to another installment of Dying to Know, the blog where we answer your questions about death and dying. In these uncertain and unprecedented times, we are all muddling through to keep everyone safe and healthy, but we are already feeling the effects of isolation and the rapid response to the Coronavirus. How will this affect funerals? Can we still attend? What can we do to support those who are grieving? Let’s walk through some of these questions. Please note that this advice is based on current CDC advice, which will likely change over time.
A: Keep Yourself and Your Loved Ones Safe
Currently, the CDC is recommending avoiding gatherings of 50 or more people. Obviously, many funerals are attended by 50+ people. If you’re not a close relative, try to stay home from funerals in the near future. I know it’s heartbreaking, but you can still offer support to the grieving, or get support for your grief. Here are just a few options for adjusting funeral services:
- Hold a small service for immediate family now, and plan a larger celebration of life later on down the road. You can choose a date like their birthday, an anniversary, or just a special date they loved. (My dad was always partial to the convergence of his birthday, Juneteenth, and the summer solstice.) Additional planning time can be freeing while allowing you to work through your early feelings of grief. Pivoting from the pain of loss to embracing happy memories can help us process grief and truly feel our feelings. And time can also offer clarity to plan a special event that encapsulates the essence of our irreplaceable loved one.
- Work with a funeral home who can offer remote funeral attendance through webcasting. Services like Tribucast help people from around the globe attend a funeral live, and even rewatch the service later. Like watching a broadcast of a church service or attending a webinar, remotely attending a funeral allows you to “be there.” If your funeral home doesn’t have access to a webcasting service, tap a Millennial or Gen Z person in the family to help with services like Skype, FaceTime, or even YouTube. (Maybe not TikTok or SnapChat, though, okay guys?)
- Offer your love and support in a month or two, when family really needs it. When someone dies, it’s common to have an outpouring of support right away. But over the following weeks, the phone calls, letters of condolence, flowers, and casseroles start to disappear. This time can be very hard on grievers and your love and support can make a meaningful difference. Reach out and connect with them when they’re trying to “return to normal” and realize how hard that is. Offer concrete and real help by offering something tangible: Do they need errands run? Do they need their lawn mowed? Do they need a babysitter so they can escape for a few hours? How are they coming on settling the estate? Can you call and cancel utilities to spare them these phone calls? The more tangible your help, the more real support you can provide.
What Else Should We Prepare For?
Visit Limitations at the End of Life
In the last few days, I’ve talked to several families who were barred from spending time with their loved ones at the end of life. It is my sincere hope that medical facilities adapt their visitation policies to allow families to spend time with their loved ones at the end of life. If it means gowning up and scrubbing out at the end of the visit, so be it, but I strongly believe families should be allowed time with their loved ones at this sacred time of transition.
If family is unable to make it to the bedside of a dying person before they die, I encourage them to coordinate time with their loved one at the funeral home rather than at the medical facility. Funeral homes are well equipped to care for the dead and keep families safe, and they can ease burdens on medical facilities that are focused on caring for the living.
Changes in Care for the Dead
What is true today may very well not be true tomorrow. If deaths continue to rise, we may see significant changes in our care for and treatment of the dead. I know many dedicated and caring morticians, and I believe we will be well equipped to care for decedents as numbers rise, avoiding situations that arose in Italy. But funeral homes could be taxed, so we might see new recommendations on safe burial of the deceased. During the Ebola outbreak in West Africa, the WHO established a safe and dignified burial protocol for victims of the disease. Flu virus is harder to transmit between the dead and living, but there might be new recommendations about safe care for the dead.
Our Connection Transcends Quarantine
Mitákuye Oyás’in–We Are All Related, now just as before. We are showing our love for each other by keeping our distance, because we want the best for one another. Our grief is shared and will continue to be shared, even if it looks different from the outside.