By Alessandra Malito, MarketWatch
Funerals are a time for people to gather together, console each other with hugs and kisses and celebrate a person’s life, but they’re not what they were even just a month ago.
Across the U.S., cities and states are requiring Americans to stay at home, or at least 6 feet apart from one another, and large gatherings have been postponed, canceled or strongly discouraged.
The coronavirus crisis is stressful for people worried about their health, job security, families and communities. It becomes even more emotionally taxing when a loved one dies and family or friends can’t pay their respects.
“So many families are being denied the traditions they’re all accustomed to when saying goodbye,” said Diana Duksa Kurz, a spokeswoman for the National Funeral Directors Association and an co-owner of Duksa Family Funeral Homes in Connecticut. “Some of these families are losing loved ones because of the virus and others are just losing a loved one, but everyone is being impacted by all of the requirements set forth.”
Most of the logistics of funeral planning are essentially the same, such as needing to know if the deceased will be buried or cremated and where. But the plans themselves are being done with funeral homes over the phone or video chats in many areas, and people are holding off on having any type of wake or funeral with close friends and families as a result of state lockdowns.
“It’s difficult to plan a funeral in normal circumstances,” said Abby Schneiderman, co-founder of Everplans , a site that helps people organize their estate documents and dictate legacy wishes. “This is a whole other layer of stress.”
The biggest issue, she said — people can’t support each other the way that they may have wanted. People aren’t supposed to be physically near each other right now, unless they live in the same household. “The extra emotional stress of not being able to gather and support each other in person is very difficult,” Schneiderman said. “And that is whether someone has had the terrible situation of being forced to deal with this virus, or they just passed away having nothing to do with the virus.”
The president discouraged groups of more than 10 people together while states are issuing guidelines for how people can conduct large gatherings, including funerals, during the coronavirus crisis. In New York, funerals cannot exceed more than 50 people or 50% of the funeral home or church capacity, according to a statement from the state’s attorney general. Mourners are also asked not to touch the body of a person who has died from coronavirus, although there are no known risks associated with being in the same room as someone who died from the virus.
Other countries have also had to change the way they handle funerals: Ireland published guidelines suggesting all funeral services be postponed and bodies be carried straight to the cemetery or crematorium, for example.
Large gatherings for funerals may not be possible right now, but families aren’t giving up on celebrating loved ones’ lives. “They’re not done yet,” Kurz said. “The families are not done with their grief path and are hardly even getting started. Part of healing after you lose a loved one is having an outpouring of support.”
Instead of assuming get-togethers won’t happen for the deceased if they die during state quarantines, families are planning to hold memorial events in a few months when this is hopefully all over, she said.
Others are taking a more immediate approach, and using teleconferencing software to mourn from afar, Schneiderman said. Some families are using Facebook groups (NAS:FB) to honor the dead, or are live streaming the ceremony. “We are all being forced to do things differently,” she said.
Until family and friends can be united in person, Kurz encourages friends and family members to reach out to one another, especially if an older person has lost someone special recently. This is a hard time for everyone, although the elderly and those who are immunocompromised may be more distressed than their younger or healthier counterparts. The CDC and government officials said everyone should stay at home and avoid contact, but those who are older or have underlying health conditions are at highest risk of complications from contracting the coronavirus and thus advised to stockpile necessary foods and medications and avoid contact with anyone right now.
Sharing stories and memories of the deceased can be therapeutic for people who are otherwise stuck at home while mourning, Kurz said. “Communicating and talking about a loved one’s life is the best way to help someone get through this time, even if the service will be in two or three months.”