Despite the inevitability of our final passing, talking and thinking about this stage in our life is rarely without distress and grief. The reality of the COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded these pressures.
We want to provide insight into what to expect from the influence of the pandemic on burials and funerals. But we really want to help instill hope. Each of us needs an infusion of optimism these days - rarely more so than when dealing with the passing of a loved one. There is still hopefulness to hold onto in remembering and honoring through our funerals, remembrance ceremonies, and memorials.
The importance of memorials
It is only natural and healthy for us to desire that the cherished people in our lives be celebrated while saying a proper farewell. Our funerals, burials, and memorials offer us this chance. We can share our memories and stories, provide a sympathetic ear or shoulder, and express our thoughts and feelings. All of these aspects are important in the grieving process. These processions give us the chance to formally acknowledge and begin our grieving.
Some academics specialize in the rituals of humans at the end of life. They resoundingly agree that these practices are vital for our mental and spiritual health.
Glenys Caswell, a scholar in end-of-life care at the University of Nottingham, says, "For those who have been bereaved, the funeral ritual is but one part of the process of acknowledging and learning to handle the grief.”
The pandemic has halted or dramatically altered the way we engage our varying traditional practices for end-of-life ceremonies.
All around the world, there is a vast diversity of cultural impact on how we orchestrate this most critical stage in our life’s journey. Many hospitals and care facilities have been forced to shut their doors to outside visitors, including family, friends, and clergy members. Priests in Italy and the United States have had to forego their traditions of praying with a person for their last rites. In Hinduism and Islam, family and faith leaders commonly pray with people in their final moments, but this has been impossible because of the pandemic's restrictions. In the broader culture, standard practices of gathering around the deceased before burial or attending a funeral gathering have either been altogether ceased or dramatically reduced.
People from all walks of life are experiencing the influence of this exhaustive reality in the pandemic.
What to expect
The pandemic requires funeral professionals to negotiate their desire to fulfill their crucial duties and long-held values with a variety of new priorities. They must safeguard the health of funeral staff, clergy or celebrants, attendees, and reduce the spreading of the virus through community events and gatherings. As a result, any funeral director will likely be adhering to guidelines from the National Funeral Directors Associate and the Center for Disease Control (CDC).
You can expect a few things if you are planning a service during these times. The number of attendees allowed at gatherings varies significantly from one location to the next. Maximum amounts may range from 10-50 or more, depending on where you are planning. Regardless of location, though, there remains a highly recommended practice of social distancing, to reduce the risk for everyone involved.
There are some standard practices in place for attempting any larger gathering, as is typical for burials or funerals. It is recommended to eliminate or reduce any handshaking, hugging or kissing, or general touching. Spacing out any available seating to at least six feet apart can help minimize risk, emphasizing the distance between people who do not live in the same household. Encouraging attendees to wear masks will also cut back on potential harm. And it is most highly recommended that any service take place in an outdoor setting or very well-ventilated space.
Cremation and further considerations
The World Health Organization issued a recommendation to avoid embalming during the pandemic. Embalming is a common practice for traditional burials, but the WHO states that avoiding this method can reduce the spread of viruses.
Though the popularity of cremations has been growing in recent years (mainly due to a lower cost of cremation, among other factors), they have become an even greater resource during the pandemic. Even outside the extraordinary circumstances of a pandemic, cremation offers practical advantages. The ashes of a loved one can be shared amongst family members who live a distance from one another, or the ashes can be carried along as a person moves throughout their life.
At The Living Urn, we also provide some further optimism for your desires and needs to celebrate and remember your loved ones. Our Memory Forests offer ample space to hold safe gatherings for a service. And because it is difficult to predict how long the pandemic will last or how restrictive it will be on our lives, Memory Forests also provide a safe place to visit your loved ones. Even more, The Living Urn is working to take advantage of technology to increase flexibility and accessibility. Using QR codes and video, we will be bringing a new, multi-dimensional experience to visiting the memorials of family and friends. You will also soon be able to remotely view your loved one's tree in a Memory Forest in real-time online using your computer, tablet, or phone.
We hope this article has helped prepare you for the unique challenges during this time. And more, we hope it has instilled some optimism and comfort amid this challenging period.