When it all began, we had no way of knowing that COVID-19 would be with us for so long. In a recent post, we introduced board member, Nicole Smith. As our guest blogger, Nicole shares her perspective from her work in a funeral home. We are grateful for the supportive people who assist in a very difficult time. Thank you for your work and for sharing these thoughts, Nicole.
COVID-19 has made an impact on all our lives but has also affected grieving families in a unique way. Most of us cannot fathom grieving a loved one during a pandemic that requires social distancing and limiting the size of gatherings. As funeral directors we have had to adjust quickly to ensure families could still honor their loved ones. Funeral homes are working to curate creative ways to have “attendance” at funeral and memorial services, allow for religious practices to be honored, and ensure safety of our community as a public space.
While we were learning more and more of the impact COVID-19 had been making, and what ways we needed to take extra precautions, we had to stay privy to governmental guidelines. We became creative by offering ideas that complied with ever-changing required regulations. One practice that seemed to be preferred was allowing a small visitation, not in the funeral home itself, but a private moment in which family members were allowed to view their loved one through the double doors of the funeral home entrance. Each part of the family would pay their respects and then step back to allow other family and friends to have their opportunity to stand next to their deceased loved one.
When it came to coordinating services for the cemetery, we requested families to stay in their vehicles and watch their loved one’s placement from afar. Once the placement had been made in ground or in the mausoleum, the family members could get out of their vehicles to pay their final respects before the closing of the grave or crypt took place.
For the families who chose cremation and made the decision to take the remains of their loved one home, we have had to adjust how we release urns back to the family. We ask family members to wait in their vehicles, as we come out wearing face masks to welcome them as best as possible with the smiles that show through our eyes. Some families stay in their vehicle and request their loved one to be slipped through the passenger window into the seat for comfort, others will get out of their vehicles to meet us and receive their loved one into their arms.
Funeral homes across the country have been sharing stories of how they are helping families remember and honor their loved ones. A funeral home in Minnesota created the idea to have folx, that would normally be attending the memorial service for their loved one, call in to share a message they would like to be written on a balloon that would be tied to individual chairs in the chapel of the funeral home. The messages would reflect memories of their loved ones or thoughtful messages for the immediate family. A chaplain from Washington conducted intimate family gatherings via Zoom to allow a space to laugh, cry, and share stories of their loved one. Although these options do not necessarily replace holding a traditional memorial or funeral service, it allows those of us in the funeral profession to be creative and innovative with varying ideas that could be implemented to help facilitate the healing process for families. We may have even sparked or engaged families to use platforms like this moving forward. Sharing these stories of hope and healing is only one little glimpse into what the world of grief looks like for families who have lost a loved one.
We have also experienced a great deal of tragic situations. This year a family was left with the feeling they were not able to perform the proper send off for their teenage son who died tragically in a motorcycle accident. Another family lost their daughter to suicide. We hold space and walk side by side with them through the process. However, having the difficult and realistic conversation with the family and explaining that they cannot have their community gather to pay their final respects is a nearly impossible concept to grasp. How could we blame a family for not understanding, as they still may not even understand why their child has died? Telling a mother who just lost her son to a drug overdose that she cannot see him one final time before his cremation takes place is not a situation we ever have imagined we would be required to share with a grieving mother. We can never truly understand their agony. We can empathize with the pain of not holding your child one more time, being able to kiss their forehead one more time, or being able to caress their sweet face or precious hair one more time.
Losing a loved one is never an easy process for any person to experience. In the middle of a pandemic, we know the process of grieving has been forced to change in a direction that was unimaginable and quite possibly for the foreseeable future. As funeral directors, it is our continued duty to ensure families are cared for in the best possible way while we attempt to navigate these uncertain times together.