On April 8, author Nicole Chung learned that her beloved grandmother had died. Chung lives across the country from both her grandmother and mother, so she got on the phone to make arrangements as best she could.
“No viewing. No service at the funeral home or graveside,” she tweeted. “I can’t even figure out how to get flowers to the gravesite. Ordinarily the funeral home would handle, but they keep saying all they can do is ‘drop the body at the cemetery’ (their words) that morning.”
Of all the social rituals that social distancing and travel restrictions have disrupted, mourning is one of the hardest.
“We were supposed to be visiting my mom this week,” Chung told me on the phone. “I just keep thinking about how if that had gone ahead as planned, if we hadn’t had to cancel because of the pandemic, we’d be there with my mom. It would’ve been some comfort to her. Grandkids would cheer her up.”
Is there anything you can do when you can’t sit shiva, follow a second line, or show up at a rowdy wake? I called Chris Robinson, a board member at the National Funeral Director’s Association, and Lizzie Post, the great-great-granddaughter of famed etiquette authority Emily Post and the co-president of the Emily Post Institute to get some (hopefully) helpful advice.
For a grieving person, nothing takes the place of your physical presence. But you can still show that you care.
What a Family Can Expect
In response to pandemic concerns, Robinson strongly recommends families hold private, immediate-family services, like the ones he currently holds at his own funeral home, Robinson Funeral Home in Easley, South Carolina. Robinson has upgraded the equipment in all three of his funeral home locations so the family can more easily livestream it for remote participants, something that was becoming more commonplace even before the pandemic.
“It’s hard to lose a loved one under normal circumstances,” Robinson says. “This is probably the hardest thing that some people will have to face.”
But these kinds of funeral home regulations will vary from home to home and state to state. For example, Holman’s Funeral and Cremation Services in Portland, Oregon, has recently limited its services to only outdoor graveside services, with fewer than 10 attendees standing 6 feet apart. Visitations are limited to one or two attendees in the room at a time.
“It’s been difficult for families,” says Cameron Holmes, Holman’s funeral director and general manager. “Funeral directors have to accommodate them as best we can, while following the rules.” Holmes also noted that since they don’t have livestream equipment for graveside services, many families are also choosing to stream or record services via Zoom or Facebook Live.
If you’ve been invited to online services, be sure to sign the online guest book. “You can also write a personal message,” Robinson said. “It means a lot to families to be able to view that.”
What You Can Do