Funerals During a Pandemic

Funerals During a Pandemic

Saying goodbye is harder during a pandemic. Having a wake, celebration of life, or even a visitation is no longer possible with stay at home orders, limited gatherings, and indoor restrictions. Loving a loved one during a pandemic has cast a shadow over grief, mourning, and bereavement. Traditional ways of managing death are not able to comfort those who are grieving.

Restrictions on funeral homes, churches, dining, and even grave site services make it exceedingly difficult to honor our dead or to celebrate their life. Those who have been in hospitals or nursing homes are not allowed to have visitors because of the pandemic. Those who mourn their loss have the added burden of not being able to spend time with them before they die or to comfort them at the end of their life which adds to their grief.

In some communities, singing is not allowed due to the possible spread of the virus by singing. Death is hard enough to manage without having to deal with the added complications that came with COVID-19. Many families are delaying cremation, burial, funerals, wakes, celebrations of life, and even just saying goodbye.

The pandemic has stressed not only hospitals and other caregivers, but also funeral homes, clergy, hospice workers, families, ambulance workers, embalmers, obituary writers, and so many more! Private services do not do justice to a life well-lived. Many were able to watch the John Lewis celebrations, lying in state, funeral, and eulogies. Even in a time of pandemic, it is still possible to celebrate the lives of our loved ones.

Coping with loss, disappointment, feeling lonely, not able to share with those that we love how we felt about our lost loved one, and not knowing what we can do to share and gain support from those who love us, can add even more grief to our loss. While we may not be able to hold what is our image of a proper funeral like the one that John Lewis was given, we can be creative and make one that suits our needs.

Those who are members of traditional religions can work with clergy to approximate the traditional funeral rituals. For Catholics, the wake can take place in the Church or funeral home with the priest officiating. The family can use zoom or other media to include as many as they wish. Many parishes are videotaping not only wakes, but also the funeral, the gravesite rituals, and even the flowers or other images present for all to see and be included as a part of the process. Having several months to learn the best ways to make daily and Sunday Masses available to parishioners, the priests have learned the technology necessary to make funerals and other rituals more accessible to those that they serve.

For those who are not comfortable talking on zoom or other forms of media, they can write stories, journal, draw pictures, play music, engage in prayers with others, meditate, creating art projects in honor of the deceased, develop a garden or other outdoor memorial for the deceased, or volunteer in the community or Church in honor of the deceased.

Our communities provide needed support. Those with whom we worship, work, play, or live are the same people who are there when we grieve. Not only do we need rituals, but we also need the support of the communities of which we are a part. While we are not able to have dinners or luncheons with our friends and family, we can still interact with them, share our feelings, share our losses, and share our love for each other. The pandemic has forced us to be creative in managing our losses. Try to find the ways that will work best for you!

About the Author


Gerry R. Cox is a professor emeritus of sociology at University of Wisconsin–La Crosse. He served as the director of the Center for Death Education & Bioethics. He has over one hundred publications including books. He has served as editor of Illness, Crisis & Loss and for The Midwest Sociologist. He is a member of the International Work Group on Dying, Death, and Bereavement; the Midwest Sociological Society; the American Sociological Association; The International Sociological Association; Phi Kappa Phi; and the Great Plains Sociological Society.

Oct 13th 2020 Gerry R. Cox

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