10 Considerations for Attending a Funeral During COVID-19

Updated

The current global pandemic truly affected the way people grieve and come together after a loss. While not having a funeral is occasionally an option, it’s understandable for families to wish to honor their loved one in a traditional, meaningful way. 

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If you’ve been invited to a funeral during COVID-19, it’s not always easy to know what steps to take next. Not only are there travel restrictions to consider, but you might be unsure about attending any type of gathering, even if it is to honor someone’s life. 

Though there are many ways of paying respects from afar, it’s very possible and likely that you’ll want to attend a funeral during COVID-19. There are simply some instances where you must attend, and it can also be beneficial to your own healing process. That being said, here are the top considerations for attending a funeral during COVID-19, plus how to do so safely. 

Should You Go to a Funeral During COVID-19?

There is no simple answer to whether you should go to a funeral during COVID-19. The reality is that this decision can be difficult and multifaceted. While you might naturally wish to be there to support the family, you’ll need to consider all of the following:

  • Your relationship to the deceased: If you weren’t close to the deceased, it might be best to honor them in another way from a distance. The family might choose a more intimate, private funeral as a way to stay safe.
  • Your health: If you’re immunocompromised or particularly at risk, it’s likely safer not to attend. Additionally, if you’re feeling unwell, erring on the side of caution is the best protocol. When in doubt, talk to your doctor about your own health and risk level. 
  • Distance: Traveling for a funeral is complicated during the best of times, but it’s particularly difficult right now. There are local travel restrictions and advisories to worry about, so keep this in mind if you need to quarantine in place. 
  • Hybrid service: Many families are offering a hybrid or virtual funeral as a way to include those who don’t feel comfortable coming in-person. This is a great way to pay your respects without risking your health and safety. 

There is no clear path to take during an unprecedented global pandemic. It will come down to your personal health and comfort level. For additional resources, visit the CDC’s guide to COVID-19 and funerals

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What Should You Be Aware of If You Choose to Attend the Funeral During COVID?

If you do choose to attend a funeral during COVID, there are ways you can keep yourself safe. While any gathering poses a risk, you can lower this by taking preventative action to keep yourself and others safe. 

1. Wear a mask or face covering

The first step is to wear a face covering. While this might not be necessary if the service will be held outside and you can maintain enough distance, you should most definitely wear a mask when indoors. 

When you’re sharing an indoor space with others outside of your household, a mask keeps you from exposing others to your own viral particles. Though it might be a bit uncomfortable, wearing a face covering is the best way to keep all the guests safe. Encourage others to wear a mask if you can, and bring an extra in case your first mask becomes uncomfortable. 

2. Don’t share food

Many funerals include a repast or reception, and it’s common for food to be served to the group. While food is a powerful form of togetherness and healing, it’s also a way to expose yourself to germs. 

Don’t share any food with others outside of your household. If possible, bring your own food or eat at a later time. When eating, find a space where you can keep a proper distance between yourself and others, or eat outdoors. 

3. Send a gift in advance

If you choose to send flowers or another gift for the family, try to send it in advance. If possible, use a qualified, COVID-safe provider. You’ll want to limit the exchanging of objects and goods between yourself and others as much as possible, and this includes gifts.

4. Avoid close contact and hugging

Hugging is a natural way to offer condolences during a funeral service. While it’s weird to maintain social distance, it’s important not to touch those who are outside of your household. 

Even if you feel well, avoid hugging anyone, shaking hands, or getting too close. If someone offers a hug, politely decline and let them know you would love to connect later when it’s safer. In addition, you can offer condolences through your words and by sharing a memory of the deceased. 

5. Follow funeral home guidelines

Many funeral homes are offering their own guidelines on how to stay safe. Frequently, this includes some type of limitation on how many people can enter the service space, seating arrangements, and time spent inside the venue. 

Always follow these guidelines, even if they seem inconvenient. You might need to wait outside for your chance to go indoors to pay respects, or you might need to remain in your vehicle. Be patient and understanding. 

What Can You Do If You Can’t Attend the Funeral?

Sometimes, it’s simply not safe or practical to attend the funeral service. This is nothing to feel bad about, though it can be difficult at the moment. Recognize that it’s still possible to pay your respects, no matter where you are, with the steps below. 

6. Attend a virtual or hybrid funeral

While some are delaying the funeral after death until things are safer, other families are offering virtual or hybrid funeral services. This is when the family livestreams the funeral or has a Zoom call for friends and family to share support. This could exist on its own or in addition to an in-person service.

If the family is offering something online, be sure to take part. This is a powerful form of remembrance even if it’s digital. 

7. Call the family

While a sympathy card is always a good idea, calling can be even better. Especially in the pandemic, hearing someone’s voice is a powerful form of support. Ask how they’re doing, offer sympathy, and remind them that the deceased was loved and will be missed. 

When you call the family, let them know you won’t be able to attend the funeral. You don’t need to go into complicated explanations. Most are understanding that COVID-19 makes travel difficult. However, let them know you would love to support them any way you can. 

8. Send flowers or a gift

If you can afford to do so, send flowers or a gift. Flowers can be sent to the family’s home or to the funeral venue. Other gift ideas that may work well during COVID include:

  • Food delivery
  • Food gift card
  • Care package
  • Sympathy note
  • Family photos (especially if they include the deceased)
  • Cleaning service gift card
  • Memory album

These types of gifts not only help the family during a difficult time, but they’re a reminder that they’re not alone. Losing a loved one is always challenging. It’s especially hard during a global pandemic. 

9. Make a donation

The family might request donations in honor of the deceased. This can be in place of or in addition to flowers and other gifts. 

It’s common to donate to a cause that was important to the deceased. If they died of a specific health challenge, donating to research is a great tribute. Additionally, the family might ask for donations to fight COVID-19 or to help cover the costs of the funeral. 

10. Sign an online guestbook or memorial

Last but not least, take a moment to sign any online memorials or guestbooks. Many families create online spaces to share memories, photos, and kind words about the deceased. These have only become more common as the pandemic makes it challenging for families to grieve in person. 

Taking a few moments to leave a personal message is a part of someone’s digital legacy. It shows that you’re thinking of the family in their time of need, and you can do this from anywhere in the world. 

Being There During a Pandemic

The COVID-19 pandemic has adjusted our ideas of what it means to come together after losing someone special. While it’s not always possible to grieve with family and friends in person, that doesn’t mean you can’t still support the family and pay tribute to someone’s legacy from afar. Thanks to the internet, it’s never been easier to offer condolences virtually and even attend funerals virtually. 

If you feel comfortable and safe attending a funeral in person, that’s a great way to be there in a time of need. If not, that’s also OK and understandable. These are difficult times. It’s up to each person to determine their own comfort level and risk factors. Still, life goes on, and we can adapt how we show support when it matters most. 

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