COVID-19 and Saying a Final Farewell at Funerals

By: Gary Horseman, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Four-Town Journal
COVID-19 has definitely changed the way we live, how we interact with each other and how we ultimately say good-bye.
Social distancing has become a commonly recommended approach, so it is not recommended to utilize goodbye handshakes when greeting someone or ending a business arrangement; also, no it is recommended there are no hello or goodbye hugs for that close friend as you bump into them on the street.
But what about that final goodbye? What do we do during this pandemic when someone we have cared about has passed away?
Since Christmas, this reporter alone has been unable to attend 3 funerals for some pretty important people in his life; a birth mom, a close uncle in the adopted family and now a very special aunt on the in-law’s side who all will be dearly missed.
Normally, we all would have gone to the funerals of such close individuals to help the grieving process to be able to say that final goodbye, but our current situation has other recommendations.
With this pandemic, the government and health authority have given these strict guidelines for accommodating worship;
Guidelines for Accommodating Worship
Places of worship may resume services providing physical distancing of two metres can be maintained between each individual household.
Delivering services virtually or through remote delivery such as drive-in service is recommended.
All places of worship must reduce capacity to 30 people (not including clergy and staff), including wedding, funeral and baptismal services.
Services must be held in their usual location. Concurrent services in other rooms within the facility are not permitted.
No food and beverage may be present or served (food and beverage as part of a faith-based ceremony or ritual are not restricted).
To help ensure safety, individuals must be separated by two metres, unless they are part of the same household group.
These guidelines do not apply to receptions or non-ceremonial gatherings.
Where possible, registration of participants is encouraged to effectively manage the number of individuals attending. Registration should be facilitated to discourage attendees from common-use items such as pens and pencils.
Use visual cues to support physical distancing.
Implement one-way traffic flow to promote physical distancing (i.e. enter through one door and exit through another).
Attendees who are medically vulnerable are strongly encouraged to delay their return to services and continue to participate in services online, where possible.
Attendees, employees and volunteers are required to stay home if sick or symptomatic.
Places of worship will be required to identify measures by which entry and exit are managed to ensure physical distancing is maintained.
Promote physical distancing by marking the directional flow of people through buildings and areas. Mark seating areas and post visual reminders to observe physical distancing.
Individuals from the same household may be seated together and should remain in place once they are seated.
Seating (or designated worship space) must be arranged so that physical distancing can be observed at all times. Consideration must be given to how people enter and exit pews and other seating areas. A minimum of two metres must be maintained between household groups.
If multiple gatherings are held on a single day, the start and end times must allow those who attend one gathering to exit safely, avoiding contact with those arriving for the next gathering. Time is needed to clean and disinfect common surfaces between services. They must not be held concurrently.
Dismissal of gatherings should be done in a way that supports physical distancing.
All ancillary events, such as social events, should be postponed for the immediate future.
Where possible, consider managing parking lot assignments to ensure physical distancing is maintained.
Everyone in attendance at a place of worship must wear a mask except clergy members or religious leaders who are leading a service or ceremony while speaking from a podium, lectern, platform, stage, desk or other standing or seating area dedicated to speaking.
While unmasked and speaking, clergy members and religious leaders should increase their physical distance from others to at least three metres.
Experiencing grief and loss during COVID
Whether it is the loss of a job or the loss of a loved one, grieving is especially challenging when we cannot physically gather with friends and family.
Try finding ways to continue doing the things that you normally do to cope with grief and loss safely while abiding by the current restrictions. If you are unable to cope or do the things you normally would, it is important to reach out and seek help if the feelings of grief and loss become too overwhelming. (Mental Health and COVID-19, Saskatchewan Government)
Alexandra Froese a Saskatoon psychologist, said that makes an already painful process more difficult.
“It is heartbreaking to see your family member out there, not being able to reach out and show care and love in your regular ways,” Froese told Global News. There’s no simple solution to that, really, right now. We’re trying to all be resilient and creative.”
Finding closure can be challenging without an in-person farewell, she said, but there are other ways to say goodbye.
She recommends sending a conversational video or letter.
“Just to show that you’re still with them [and] they’re not alone,” Froese said.
“You’re with them with your heart, with your mind and … extending your care in that way. It looks a little bit different, but it’s still caring.”