How Funerals and Grief are Changing in the Age of Coronavirus

Social distancing, self-isolation and other measures are changing death. Find out How Funerals and Grief are Changing in the Age of Coronavirus.

With all the new regulations coming out regarding social distancing and isolation during the coronavirus pandemic, the way we deal with death and grief is changing. These changes are not limited to people dying from the virus itself – it is affecting how we can respond and react to people in our communities dying from other “natural causes.”

We often turn to rituals during bereavement, including religious observances, public funerals, wakes, viewings or shivas, all of which are now being drastically changed, canceled or postponed.

We talk about the importance of being together and present when someone has died, but what can we do when we are literally banned from being physically present at a funeral or wake? How is self-isolation and quarantining from COVID-19 affecting grief and memorialization?

How Funerals and Grief are Changing in the Age of Coronavirus

Social Distancing and Funerals

How Funerals and Grief are Changing in the Age of Coronavirus

Photograph: Jon Savage

In Canada right now, funerals are limited to 50 people. Some provinces and US states are limiting the number allowed to gather to 10 people, which is expected to soon be restricted to no family or guests in attendance at all. One way funeral homes are dealing with this is to live stream funeral services.

Other places around the world are seeing similar levels of restrictions. In Ireland, where large social gatherings are an essential ritual seen practiced in the Irish Wake, the country is imposing similar strict attendance regulations to Canada and the US.

“People are dying away from their families because hospitals and nursing homes won’t let people in. Death right now is very isolating which in turn is affecting how we grieve.”




In Italy, one of the countries that has been hit the hardest by coronavirus, religious institutions and the government are taking more extreme measures. With the alarmingly high rate of deaths in the country, there are waiting lists for burials, funerals have been fully restricted and shut down by the government, and crematoriums are now operating around the clock. They have even gone as far to close cemeteries as to not tempt mourners to gather at a graveside.

The Impact of Coronavirus on Funeral Service

Photograph: Flavio Lo Scalzo/Reuters

The initial impact of COVID-19 is already clear: we cannot gather together in person to mourn the death of a loved one. Lauren Leroy, funeral director and blogger at Little Miss Funeral, points out that circumstances in the funeral profession are changing on almost a daily basis.

“It started off with us only being able to have half capacity in the funeral home, to now only having private family viewings and family only in churches. A lot of families are opting for cremation with memorials to be held once things settle down.”

This rapid change can also mean that one day a family makes a plan with the funeral home, but then those plans have to be drastically changed.

“You have a family leave the funeral home thinking they’re going to have a certain kind of service and then we call them a few days later telling them that because of the virus we have to change things.” Leroy goes on to add, “It’s horrible. It complicates grief even more so I think. You are losing the sense of community because we can’t gather to support each other.”




Cole Imperi, a thanatologist from Cincinnati, OH – and friend of TalkDeath – spoke to us about the role of community and mourning.

“The act of a community coming together to collectively mourn is something our brains have literally evolved to do and need. It’s powerful medicine to see your family and friends show up for you at a funeral. It’s powerful medicine to cry together.”

The ritual of the funeral plays a large role in how we process our grief because it is how we receive support from our social community. Add to this the fact we cannot visit our dying loved ones, and it becomes even more complex to navigate, as Cole adds:

“People are dying away from their families because hospitals and nursing homes won’t let people in. Death right now is very isolating which in turn is affecting how we grieve.”

So what can we do to help ourselves, and each other, grieve?

Coping With Grief During Coronavirus

Cole has some advice for how we can get through this. As a thanatologist, a central part of her work is to “preserve and prioritize the community connection around mourning rituals.” One of the ways she does this is to encourage people to identify the ways they can still have this community connection.

She advises people to “focus on what you can do, make a list of what you want for a funeral or memorial, and you may discover with some help and ingenuity it can all happen.” This involves being flexible with how you approach different key aspects of a funeral. For example, instead of a viewing you can live stream online.

The way we grieve has changed from the foreseeable future. In this difficult time of social distancing, we need to find other ways to reach out and connect with one another.

Lack of control is our worst enemy right now. This comes from the normal impact of grief, but is made more complicated by the restrictions that are being implemented in our daily lives. These restrictions are for the greater good of course, but if you are mourning and already feeling a lack of control, this just exacerbates the issue.

Cole broke down her advice on how to cope with crisis management and handle our grief in three points.

  1. Know that you DO have agency in your life, and you DO have things in your control. You may need to make a list to really see that, and that’s OK. Our ‘fear’ brain wants to keep telling you that you have no control. Don’t listen!
  2. Freewrite every day. Research shows that the act of putting pen to paper and writing WHATEVER mess out is therapeutic. The act of turning all 100 million of your thoughts into something tangible, into something physical (ink on paper) reduces symptoms of anxiety and stress and decreases heart rate. The best part of this is that kids can do this too. 
  3. Set an intention for this period of time. That doesn’t mean ‘push yourself into productivity’ it just means, assign this period of time a theme word or a simple intention. Setting an intention like this gives you a framework for this period of time that is INTERNAL, which means coming from you, and not from an external source.

By regaining some control within ourselves we can better deal with our grief. But, thanks to our connected world, there are other things you can do now that can help.




How to Stay Connected During COVID-19

Utilize the technology we have to reach out and connect to those who are grieving. Video calls are a great way to connect, or even just picking up the phone to call each other directly. We can also text or email a loved one and let them know you are here for them. Don’t worry about texting and emailing being impersonal! With social distancing being the norm these days, your loved one will not only understand, they will appreciate it. Even a small sympathy note can go a long way. You can also consider joining an online grief forum, or even creating an online memorial.

The way we grieve has changed from the foreseeable future. In the past we would gather together with our friends and family. In this difficult time of social distancing, we need to find other ways to reach out and connect with one another. One way we can do this is by taking advantage of the technological tools at our disposal. Modern technology gives us the option to connect in real time and help narrow the gap between us. Reach out to each other, and be kind.

If you have more questions about mourning, or how funerals and grief are changing in the age of coronavirus, please let us know. You can also check out The Order of The Good Death’s FAQ piece on burials and funerals, though remember these are based on American regulations as set by the CDC.

Posted by TalkDeath

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