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March 20, 2020 Beyond The Dash

Mourning in Isolation: How to Handle Funerals, Grief and Condolences During COVID-19

Adjusting our cultural practices to the new reality of Coronavirus

Mourning in Isolation: How to Handle Funerals, Grief and Condolences During COVID-19
Humans are social creatures, but we all must make a concerted effort to be physically distant from each other to stop the spread of COVID-19. Funerals are, unfortunately, no exception. (Getty Images)

In recent weeks, life in North America has changed dramatically to slow the spread of COVID-19. Governments, health experts and businesses are urging everyone to wash hands frequently, stay home when sick, and practice social distancing. These measures are necessary in order to flatten the curve, and prevent widespread outbreak that could leave many patients who need hospital beds and ventilators without. 

But life goes on, and so does death. This leaves many families asking, "How do we mourn our dead, if gatherings are prohibited?" It's a unique question in the age of Coronavirus. The answers are unclear, as there is no blueprint in a crisis that is currently escalating every day. So, what is the state of mourning during this time of social distancing, based on the information currently available?


Funerals are social events that bring communities together to mourn following a death. It is comforting to have loved ones and other members of the community together to share memories, give words of encouragement, or offer a hug.  

Unfortunately, social gatherings put everyone in society at great risk at this time. Physically creating distance is a key component in the overall strategy to defeat COVID-19. This requires adjustment by everyone, and funeral directors have been quick to limit funerals to small groups, sometimes going as far as making memorial services 'immediate family only', and still others canceling in-person services altogether. The situation is evolving rapidly, so it's likely best to take the most conservative measures recommended in your area to stay safe. 

Do not attend a funeral if you are sick 

If you have any symptoms of COVID-19, follow the advice of medical experts and stay home. A 14-day period of self-isolation is recommended for anyone experiencing symptoms, and in some countries also for anyone who has returned from traveling abroad. 

This is not just limited to funerals, but all kinds of social situations which may put you within 6 feet of another person.  

Mourning rituals during COVID-19

Even though we must all keep distance from one another, it is still important to conduct mourning rituals, offer sympathy and begin the grief process individually and communally. Here are some ways you can participate in bereavement rituals, while also working with your community to flatten the curve during the Coronavirus outbreak.

Remote funerals 

Using technology, we can now gather digitally from around the world to watch a funeral ceremony remotely. In fact, remote funerals have been used long before the COVID-19 pandemic, by families wishing to connect from across borders. Now is the perfect time to put our robust technology to use and stream funeral ceremonies.

Facebook, Instagram, Youtube and other online services offer the ability to live stream for free at the touch of a button. On some streaming platforms, people watching the live stream can request to join as a live streamer. This may be particularly useful if you want multiple speakers or eulogists in the ceremony.  

Digital memorials and guestbooks 

Obituaries are used to memorialize those who have passed. Paying tribute to the life and accomplishments of the deceased person is still important, despite the pandemic we are facing. Fortunately, it is easy to publish a paid or free tribute online. Many digital memorials include a guestbook for loved ones to share memories with other mourners. Engaging with loved ones online is the perfect way to ensure a loved one's life is honored, while keeping everyone in the community safe and healthy.  

Delayed memorials 

Delaying a funeral more than two weeks usually isn't recommended. Bodies need to be buried or cremated soon after death. This is the case in a pandemic as well. However, more and more families are facing the possibility of having to delay the memorial ceremony until a later date.  

For those who do not want to hold a remote funeral, it may be best to have the burial or cremation done soon after death, and let loved ones know that the funeral service will be held in the future. If we are able to flatten the curve through social distancing and vigilant hand washing, the restrictions on socializing may be lifted sooner. At that time, a memorial service may be held in order to truly allow everyone the chance to grieve together as a community.  

Families opting for a delayed funeral ceremony often note this in the obituary, as it is a centralized place for those who knew the deceased person to get accurate and up-to-date information on events being planned. 

Send flowers to the bereaved 

When someone dies, sending flowers is a traditional way to express sympathy to those who are grieving. This practice is the perfect way to offer condolences during this period of social distancing due to COVID-19. 

Keep in mind that flower delivery does depend on those who make the deliveries. If non-essential services are closed, it may not be possible. Act in accordance with local directives.

Many sites offer the ability to plant a tree in honor of the deceased, in lieu of flowers. This may be a more viable and safe alternative to sending flowers, if non-essential delivery is restricted in your area. 

Send recorded messages 

Sending pre-recorded messages can remind those who are bereaved and socially isolated that they have support, and that the death of their loved one is being acknowledged. It's normal to feel that others are 'moving on too quickly' after a serious loss. While we are being asked to create distance between each other, it's nice to know that there are people who care.

A recorded message can be played and replayed as times in isolation get tough. Making phone calls, sending text messages, and connecting over social media can also help keep loneliness at bay, while giving those who are grieving a chance to connect.

Stay connected

Share your thoughts on the COVID-19 Community Wall

Social isolation is not good for those who are grieving. Though we must practice physical social distancing to curb and stop COVID-19, we cannot stop talking, being there for each other and having social lives. In 2020, we can stay in contact with others without physically being around them, which gives us more freedom than ever in a flu pandemic. 

Participation in these important bereavement rituals does not need to stop. It's important for those who are bereaved to be able to reach loved ones for support, but it is also crucial to work together to stop COVID-19 before more lives are lost. 

Staying connected via phone and the internet prevents panic, depression and loneliness during this difficult time. Make time to reach out to those who experience losses during the pandemic, and consider thinking of creative ways to pay tribute to those who have passed. 

Your loved one had a remarkable life. Tell their story, and we’ll publish it online for free.

After creating an online memorial, you can also publish in print in any of over 6,000 newspapers across North America.

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