This year, families around the world have learned the unique challenges of planning funerals during COVID-19. Funerals have historically been large gatherings where people hug and sing and often share a meal, but 2020 has changed the way we plan and attend funerals. In the midst of coronavirus, some funeral homes face a higher number of deaths and services to manage. With many crematories and cemeteries booked out for weeks, some funeral homes are turning families away while others are doing their best to accommodate both the difficulties brought on by the pandemic and CDC guidelines.
Right now the CDC does not recommend gatherings over 10 people, which makes planning a funeral service tricky. However, there are a variety of funeral service options that will allow you, your family, and friends to celebrate and say goodbye to your loved one—even if it’s not in the traditional way.
Choosing a funeral service
The first thing to note is that COVID-19 has not affected your choice between having your loved one buried or cremated, and there’s really no need to delay having a funeral or visitation unless you’ve decided to wait until after the pandemic to have a memorial service that family members and friends can attend.
Be mindful of changes to the way traditional funeral services operate. Many funeral homes, cemeteries, and crematories are booked weeks in advance, and it’s essential to take precautions when holding a service to prevent spreading the virus.
To eliminate any risk of COVID-19 transmission, you can host a virtual service. Only attend the burial or cremation with those in your home and host an online service later for additional family and friends to honor the deceased by singing songs, sharing memories, performing readings, or participating in any other traditions you might practice.
Though winter weather will make outdoor services more challenging, many families have opted for small, in-person, socially-distanced services outdoors so that they can gather with people from their community to say goodbye to their loved ones.
Most funeral homes are still offering in-person gatherings and services, but any in-person event poses a higher risk of attendees spreading or contracting COVID-19. If you choose an indoor service, practice social distancing with individuals spaced at least 6 feet apart, wear masks and other protective gear, and limit the sharing of items such as programs or religious objects. Eliminating group singing or chanting from your service can also help prevent the spread of COVID-19.
If you opt for an indoor (or even outdoor) service, consider live-streaming it so that you can keep physical attendance low and allow the friends and family of your deceased loved one to attend virtually. Many funeral homes have started offering a Facebook or YouTube Live option, so be sure to check if that’s included in the service you’re planning.
Practice preventative measures while making any arrangements. Consider moving in-person meetings to virtual ones and interacting with funeral home directors or family and friends as little as possible.
During the funeral or memorial service, avoid kissing, hugging, or shaking hands, and consider any changes you might need to make to your normal traditions or rituals. For example, when driving to a graveside service, share a car only with those in your household, or opt for sharing a reception virtually rather than in-person.
Another option is to plan a drive-through funeral or memorial service. Many families host visitations from outside of the funeral home so that people can drive by and offer condolences while maintaining social distancing guidelines.
For example, this funeral home in Murfreesboro, Tennessee had to remodel after a small fire in 1980 and installed a “big rectangle window peering out from the home’s back wall and a cubby big enough to hold a casket” for drive-through funerals. While almost no one has chosen this type of service in the last 30 years, 2020 has brought an influx of drive-through funerals that offer attendees the experience of a traditional funeral without ever leaving their cars.
What to wear to funerals during COVID-19
This probably goes without saying, but if you’ll be attending a funeral in-person, you should wear a mask. If you’re someone who follows the tradition of wearing black to a funeral, you can even purchase or make a black reusable mask to wear.
When it comes to COVID-19, there is no such thing as over-protected. Feel free to wear gloves, a face shield, or any other protective clothing you feel is necessary, and remember to socially distance and sanitize your hands or any other shared surfaces frequently.
If you’re hosting or attending a virtual service, you can still wear what you normally would to a funeral or opt for something more casual—maybe you suggest everyone wears the favorite color of the deceased—the important thing is that you’re comfortable.
Sending condolences to family and friends
If you are a family member or friend of someone who has recently lost a loved one and don’t feel comfortable attending a funeral during the pandemic, you have options for sharing your condolences:
- Send funeral flowers or funeral flower arrangements to the funeral home or directly to your friend or family member’s home. It’s a good idea to wait a week or two until the service is over and the “activity” has died down. This is when the family has a chance to pause and truly grieve.
- Attend a drive-through visitation.
- Gather other friends and family members to line the procession route from the funeral home to the cemetery. This is a great way to socially distance while still showing support. You can even make handmade signs to hold, or wave, blow kisses, and share words of encouragement.
Participate in Hugs From Home: Originally started by the Hall Funeral home in Waldoboro, Maine, the Hugs from Home program allows family and friends to send messages to the funeral home that are later handwritten and tied to balloons around the funeral home’s chapel as a visual representation of support for the family.
Planning a post-COVID memorial service
In addition to, or in lieu of, virtual funerals, many families are planning post-Covid memorial services so that they can have an in-person gathering and celebration of life. Planning ahead offers time to personalize the memorial and allows you to have a more traditional service.
As with making any funeral arrangements, planning a memorial can be a challenging task when you’re grieving. Ask a close family member or friend to help you find a venue, send invites, and arrange any other details of the event when the time comes.
Take this extra time to collect photos, letters, or stories from friends and family. You can even create an online document to share with anyone involved in planning so that you can make arrangements virtually.
There are a lot of options when it comes to planning a funeral or memorial service during COVID-19. Whatever you choose, remember to stay updated on the latest CDC guidelines for funerals and other gatherings.