Providing care through funeral restrictions during COVID-19: strategies for supporting families, enabling connection and preventing complicated grief

The Covid-19 pandemic and associated physical distancing rules have presented many challenges for how we do life together. One of the current challenges is the restriction on funerals. This creates difficulty on who to invite and who not too. Some funerals are running with only closest family to make this choice easier. With this restriction, many mourners are left to participate via livestreams or recorded services, or to find other ways to mourn the death of a loved one and celebrate his or her life.

The purpose of this document is to provide some suggestions for pastors and chaplains presiding over funerals as to how family members and friends can honour someone’s life and grieve the loss without being able to physically attend a funeral.

Why are funerals so important?

“As bereaved individuals, families and communities mark the experiences of death, these [funerals and memorial services] ceremonies can assist in the transition to a meaningful ‘new life’ for the bereaved. A growing body of research points to the absence of rituals in the immediate aftermath of death as a possible risk factor contributing to complicated bereavement.” 1
Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement

“…funerals are meaningful, essential rites of passage. We have had funerals since the beginning of time because they help us:

  • Acknowledge the reality of a death
  • Remember the person who died and share those memories with others
  • Support one another in our grief
  • Express our inner thoughts and feelings
  • Mark the significance of the life that was lived
  • Embrace the wonder of life and death

When no ceremony is held, I have learned from many mourners that in the months and years after death, they often feel a surreal sense that the death didn’t really happen.” 2

For the Christian who has died, the funeral is an opportunity to witness one final time to their family and friends of their security in Christ and their transition to His presence. If the death isn’t sudden, getting the person to write a letter of what they would like to say to their family, grandchildren etc. is a great way for their witness to be enduring.

 

Suggestions for people who are not able to attend a funeral

With Technology
  • If the funeral is being livestreamed, you can participate online.
    • It may be helpful to send a note to be read at the funeral in your absence.
    • Young children can draw a picture of their favourite memory with the person.
    • At a point in the service, all those attending on the livestream can light a prearranged candle.
  • If  the funeral is being recorded, you can watch it at a later date and follow it up with an online video meet-up or phone call with friends.
  • Many pre-record video their condolences.3 This is very effective. Is there someone who could compile these messages and video recordings to be played at the funeral?
  • Ask if there is an online guest book for friends and families to sign and leave messages.4
  • Create a social media post with a picture of the person and their favourite quote. Invite friends and family to share on their social media pages to commemorate the life of the loved one who died.
    • Canva is a helpful online tool for creating these posts and you can create a basic account for free at www.canva.com
    • The deceased person may already have a Facebook site. This can be used to collect condolences, reflections and support. It can also be used to give information of the livestream service. See Facebook Help for information on how to do this.
    • Create a playlist of your loved one’s favourite songs and play it when you want to remember the person and reflect on his or her life.5
Without Technology
  • Hold a small service at home with the people in your household. This service can be led by a pastor or chaplain who are classed as an essential service provider. Display a picture of the person who died, light a candle, read a passage from Scripture or from a beloved book, play some music.6 Having an unattended cremation and a service at home can significantly reduce funeral costs.
  • After holding your home service, reach out to a friend via phone to talk about your experience and to share a memory of the person who died.
  • Write a message to the deceased.7
  • If you are able to leave the house for a walk for some exercise, you could visit a stream or body of water and place flower petals in the water. Say a prayer, read a poem, or passage of Scripture to honour the person who died. You could also read out a message written to the deceased.
  • Plant a tree or a favourite plant in your garden.
  • Consider cooking the person’s favourite meal and reflecting on your favourite memories while you eat it. Invite another person to share the meal with you.8

    Many people will find it helpful to hold a larger memorial service once the physical distancing restrictions have lifted.

Bereavement Support

If you need assistance through your grieving process, there are people who can help.

References

1. Australian Centre for Grief and Bereavement. Accessed on 27 April 2020 at: www.grief.org.au/ACGB/Bereavement_Suppor t/ACGB/Bereavement_Suppor t/Bereavement_Suppor t.aspx

2. Funeral Basics. “Funerals in the time of Coronavirus. Thoughts for families.” Accessed on 27 April 2020 at: www.funeralbasics.org/funerals-in-the-time-of-coronavirus-thoughts-for-families/ 

3. Ibid

4. Ibid (1)

5. Love lives on. Accessed on 28 April 2020 at: https://www.loveliveson.com/100-best-celebration-of-life-ideas-2/

6. Ibid

7. Ibid (1)

8. NSW relaxes its social distancing rules a little. Accessed on 28 April 2020: www.canberratimes.com.au/story/6737395/nsw-relaxes-social-distancing-rules-a-little/