COVID-19 has changed the funeral industry in Canada and how families can grieve
Limitations on group gatherings and social distancing restrictions across Canada have made the grieving process especially difficult for those experiencing the loss of a loved one during the pandemic.
The maximum is five in Nova Scotia and 15 in Alberta, while in Newfoundland, a complete provincial ban on funerals was ordered after the majority of the province’s cases was linked to a funeral in March.
Brett Watson of Funeral Services Association of Canada says funeral homes have been working hard to accommodate bereaved families through live webcasting funeral services, as well as holding multiple funerals for the same person.
Those at funeral visitations must also still maintain the regulated six feet of social distance and avoid physical contact, which Watson says can be exceptionally difficult in a funeral setting.
“We're social beings and when we suffer the loss of a loved one, we like to have that emotional and physical support from our family and friends and in this environment we're not permitted to do that,” he explains.
Social worker and grief therapist in Toronto, Esther Rhee Carnat says this new reality doesn't allow mourners to process grief in the same way as before the pandemic.
"[These changes] can leave those grieving feeling amplified experiences of loneliness, isolation and lack of support," Carnat said. "In addition to grieving the individual that has died, there can be an additional layer of grieving how they wanted to pay tribute to the person."
Since many are unable to hold the funeral they want for their loved one, Watson says most families are choosing to delay a formal gathering until a later date.
Diana Robinson, funeral director and CEO of Celebrations of Life, a memorial-planning service in Toronto, helps grieving families plan special tributes for their loved ones.
Robinson takes care of all the details that are part of planning a memorial while involving the family by getting them to gather photos, home videos and music for the future service, as well as write eulogies.
"We can't control that someone dies, however prior to COVID-19 we could control the funeral, and pay our last respects - through the planning of the event itself and providing a point of congregation for all our loved ones to support one another," she said.
"Hope exists however to have a gathering in the future and to start planning now for what that looks like."
Robinson says planning a tribute to hold once physical distancing restrictions lift will give family and friends a chance to fully mourn and remember the life of their loved one.
“One of our most healing touchstones is the ability to mourn together with family, friends and community to support one another, say goodbye and physically comfort one another,” she explains.
“It’s often where we mark the importance and legacy of our loved one and reflect on their impact on our lives.”
Carnat agrees that after-death rituals such as memorials are important for those who are mourning and their experience through the grieving process.
"Planning what can be done during COVID-19 and continuing the planning for what can be done when people are able to gather again can bring comfort in continuing the process for mourners," she said.
"The grieving process has no set end date and neither does the opportunity to celebrate the life of a loved one who has died."
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