As we get further into the COVID-19 pandemic, how are funerals changing? According to the World Health Organization, there have been over 2.4 million deaths worldwide. It’s clear that the funeral industry must rapidly evolve to meet today’s new challenges.
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When someone you love dies, it’s natural to want to come together with friends and family to honor their life. A funeral is a tribute to their life, legacy, and memory. Unfortunately, because of the COVID-19 pandemic, this is no longer a simple process.
Luckily, technology steps in to make this a bit easier for the bereaved. With a rise in virtual funerals and online memorial sites, people are inventing new, effective ways to honor the ones they love.
What exactly are funerals during COVID-19 like? How do they compare to pre-pandemic times, and how will they likely be affected in the long term?
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The Rise of Virtual and Hybrid Funerals
The most significant change during COVID-19 is the rise of virtual and hybrid funerals. While these have always existed to some extent, especially in cases where the family is separated by distance, they have become more popular than ever before.
What is a virtual or hybrid funeral?
- Virtual funeral: A virtual funeral is a memorial event that’s entirely online. Though close friends and family might be present at a funeral home venue, it’s common for these to be entirely online on a streaming service or with a video conference tool like Zoom.
- Hybrid funeral: On the other hand, a hybrid funeral generally has elements of both in-person and online events. Close friends and family might gather in person, but other elements will be streamed on Zoom, YouTube, Facebook, or another platform for those who aren’t able to attend.
Virtual funerals are both practical and safe. They offer a good compromise for families and friends to gather and honor someone’s life without needing to meet in person. Thanks to new streaming software, it’s also easier and more affordable than ever to arrange a virtual or hybrid event.
These are likely to continue being popular even after the pandemic has passed. They’re a good solution for families that can’t afford a large event space or even families that aren’t able to travel long distances to be together in person.
Though these funerals are online, they still incorporate many of the familiar elements we know from in-person gatherings. They can include religious and cultural elements, speakers, and even video or photo presentations. For example, more Jewish rabbis are offering to guide families through remote shiva versus in-person gatherings. Small or private funerals can now be attended by others, no matter the distance.
New Funeral Home Precautions
Besides virtual and hybrid funerals and memorials, it’s imperative to pay close attention to funeral home guidelines. These precautions are sometimes set by the individual state, but they’re also often set by the funeral home themselves.
These precautions are taken to protect the staff, families, and guests. Each state has created its own guidelines for funerals during COVID-19. These can vary greatly depending on local outbreaks, but they generally include some of the following:
- Limited guests: Funeral homes are being told to limit guests to close family and friends. In some states, this number needs to be 10 or under. In others, there is no specific restriction.
- Outdoors: It’s also common for states to require medium to large gatherings to take place outdoors, weather permitting. The risk of spreading the virus outdoors is much lower.
- No contact: Funeral homes are also asked to reduce direct contact with friends, family, and guests. This means no touching, hugging, kissing, or shaking hands.
- Social distancing: For attendees who don’t live in the same household, funeral homes and states recommend keeping a distance of at least six feet.
- Illness: It’s also common for funeral homes to ask anyone who feels unwell to stay home. They might also check temperatures before entry.
- Body handling: Finally, if the deceased died of complications related to COVID-19, they are required to take extra precautions when handling the body to prevent the spread of the virus.
It’s important to talk to your particular funeral home about how they’re enforcing COVID-19 guidelines set by your city and state. You will want to learn more about their expectations for the service and how they’re keeping their staff safe.
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Focus on Outdoor Venues vs. Indoor
Another change seen during the COVID-19 pandemic is the push for outdoor events. While it is not as possible during the winter months, more families are choosing to hold funerals and memorial services outdoors.
Because the risk of spreading the virus outdoors is reduced, this can be a safer alternative. Many funeral homes have outdoor spaces, but the family might also choose to hold a service in a family member’s backyard or in a local park.
Even after COVID-19, outdoor venues for funerals are likely to stay popular. Not only does the return to nature feel comforting to many families, but it is a safer choice overall.
No Sharing of Food or Religious Aids
Food has commonly been a large part of the funeral and memorial services. It’s important to share a large meal with friends, family, and the local community in some cultures. Unfortunately, this is something that’s no longer safe during the COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s also common in many cultures and religions to share religious aids like books, collection plates, and programs. Instead, many funeral homes and places of worship are using virtual aids and downloads to limit the sharing of common objects.
It’s still possible and often encouraged for family and friends to bring or send food or gifts to the grieving family. This can be done through local delivery, leaving food at the loved one’s home, or sending an e-gift card for local takeout. While evolving, food and culture are still a big part of the grieving process even during the global pandemic.
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New Ways of Digital Mourning
Digital mourning is also evolving during this time. There are so many tools that help friends and family come together virtually leading up to and after the funeral or memorial service.
New ways to mourn digitally can include:
- Social media sharing: More friends and family are reaching out and sharing support on social media platforms.
- Online memorials: An online memorial lets families create a dedicated memorial page for their loved ones, and it’s easy for others to collaborate with messages, photos, and more.
- Digital counseling: For those in need of extra support, digital counseling may be a more feasible choice. There are more online support groups, therapists, and resources than ever before.
- Calls, texts, and emails: Lastly, it’s easier than ever to get in touch with someone without needing to visit in person. By calling, texting, or emailing, we can ensure our loved ones feel supported and heard.
These new options for digital mourning aren’t going away any time soon. They’ve been slowly but surely gaining in popularity, and now they’ve earned a place within modern mourning practices.
The Same Togetherness and Support
Some things truly never change. Togetherness and support are two things that will continue to exist no matter what’s happening globally. Though a pandemic might have families and friends further apart physically, it’s also drawing people together across newfound shared experiences.
Coming together doesn’t require people to visit in person. It’s about so much more, and the adjustments mentioned above don’t get in the way of what’s really important.
Though we might not be able to gather together for a while, we can still honor our loved ones through the same rituals, practices, and memorials as before. They might appear a bit different, whether people are staying six feet apart or connecting on a Zoom call. Still, the heart of these funerals and memorials remains unchanged.
Connecting in New Ways During COVID-19
The COVID-19 pandemic presents new challenges to daily life, family dynamics, and everything in between. It’s hard for those who lose loved ones during the pandemic to know what steps to take next to come together and grieve this loss. While it’s true funerals are changing to adapt to new dangers and health concerns, they still embody what’s important — togetherness.
No matter whether you choose to grieve at a small personal memorial or virtually, remember that it’s not the size of the funeral that matters. It’s how you remember and honor your loved one each day, even after the funeral is over. Remembrance isn’t something tied to the funeral or memorial. It’s a part of life, and no pandemic can take that away.
- “WHO Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) Dashboard.” World Health Organization: Global Dashboard, World Health Organization, covid19.who.int