Q: How Can We Grieve Under Quarantine?

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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?)
  3. 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.

Q: Is It Legal to “Weekend at Bernie’s” Someone?

Hello, and welcome to another installment of Dying to Know, the blog where we answer your burning questions about death and dying. So here’s a question: Can you bring your favorite dead person with you somewhere in your car? Prop them up on a beach with a beverage? Can shenanigans ensue?

A: NO.

But let me qualify that. I mean, you as a non-mortician person living in Minnesota, can certainly transport a dead person in two circumstances:

  1. You are the deceased person’s legal next of kin ~OR~
  2. The legal next of kin has asked you to transport the deceased person and they did not pay you to do that

HOWEVER, that’s just the start of the limitations on transporting the deceased in Minnesota. Here’s what else you have to do to legally transport a deceased person.

  • Use “universal precautions” to reduce the risk of transmitting a communicable disease. This generally means wearing latex or nitrile gloves, not necessarily an enormous hazmat suit.
  • Wrap the person in a waterproof sheet or pouch, cover them from view, and place them (flat) on a cot, stretcher, or a rigid tray.
  • Complete a certificate of removal.

Once you have the person ready for transport, the vehicle itself has to meet a few criteria, too.

  • Legally, it must be a vehicle that “promotes respect for and preserves the dignity” of the person
  • Shields them from view
  • Has enough room for the cot or stretcher to lie flat and
  • Allows you to remove the deceased person from the vehicle without “excessive tilting.”

So a clown car is likely out, but a pickup truck with a topper is actually just fine! So is a van with the back seats removed. And these days, most funeral homes are actually using normal vans to transfer deceased folks because no one really wants to see a hearse parked in their neighbor’s driveway. It’s discreet and it doesn’t make people on the freeway freak out.

What About the Beverage? The Shenanigans?

I mean, once you’ve had the fun-filled excursion of donning nitrile gloves, wrapping your friend in a waterproof sheet, and buckling them onto a cot, you might not have much of an appetite for a beachfront Mai Tai. But if you do, could you?

Well, after this point, MN law generally expects that the deceased person will be “decently” buried or cremated “within a reasonable time after death.” And as long as the person has been cooled with dry ice or other refrigerant, they limit this reasonable time to four days from the time of death or release from a medical examiner. The other hiccup is that if you have used dry ice or refrigerant to cool the person, they can only be “publicly viewed” on private property.

So if you happen to find a private beach and the owner agrees, you could theoretically settle in together for a drink. But keep in mind that you had to get them there wrapped up and lying flat on a cot, and now once you’re at the beach you’ll need to unload them, unwrap them, reposition them (good luck with that), put a drink in their hand, catch your breath, drink your drink, and then re-reposition them (good luck again), rewrap them, and load them back into your vehicle. Fun, right? Not the shenanigans you had in mind? Not my idea of fun, either.

So, there you have it. If your last wish is for your family to bring you to the beach buckled into the passenger seat, I’m afraid you’ll need to be in an urn first!