Grieving together, but apart: How funeral homes are handling the pandemic

Gathering in the First Memorial Funeral Service’s cemetery is not recommended now due to COVID-19. (Kendra Crighton/News Staff)

In times of death, coming together allows many people to grieve but due to the pandemic, funeral homes have shifted the way services are performed and people are changing the way they grieve.

Trevor McCall, president of McCall Gardens, says Victoria isn’t “what you’d call a very traditional market,” with many residents opting for celebrations of life – which he says is more of a social gathering with food and drink – instead of a funeral.

“Coming together during a tragedy or a death and getting the support of others during that time is so important for the mental well-being,” he says. “Hugs are so important and right now hugs can’t happen.”

Since the pandemic hit, McCall says a number of changes have been made to the way services are delivered, most notable is the limit on the number of people allowed to attend.

In addition to the 40 person limit, most services are being live-streamed for those who can’t be there physically and catering services have been stopped.

READ ALSO: Vancouver Island hasn’t seen a new homegrown case of COVID-19 in two weeks

McCall says a number of families have opted to postpone their family member’s service until they’re able to have more than the 40 person limit.

“One of the families I served, [one person] made a comment – there’s no good time to die, but to die during COVID-19 is by far the worst time,” he says.

Ryan Mclane with First Memorial Funeral Services, says they’ve made similar shifts in regards to capacity and virtual services. Mclane says work is being done now to allow for people to call into zoom and have their faces show up on a screen during the service, along with implementing food boxes in place of catering services.

READ ALSO: Rate of unclaimed cremations related to opioid crisis triples in Greater Victoria

“Gone are the days where people walked up to a buffet table and shared a conversation about the deceased,” he says.

Staff at Dignity Memorial also wear masks and created new name tags that show a picture of the person’s face. “Sometimes it’s the facial expressions that show support and all you have to speak to the family now is your eyes and your words.”

Laura Van Sprand, manager of Sands Victoria Funeral Chapel, says technology has helped bring people together throughout the pandemic but especially in times of grief.

Along with live streaming services, people are being screened at the door and are asked to arrive in staggered times to protect guests and staff.

“The hardest part for us at the funeral home, is having the bereaved leave without the supportive hugs we have all become so accustomed to giving,” she says. “Everyone is so understanding and we show our support through heartfelt looks and kind gestures.”

Catherine Costigan, professor of psychology at the University of Victoria, says it’s important to have something that marks the passing of a loved one, although it might not be a traditional ceremony.

“[People need] something that allows the person the time and opportunity to honor the relationship that has been lost, and have some kind of concrete marker of this important life transition.”

She adds that while grieving is already an isolating process, the pandemic can make people feel “isolation on top of isolation.” Costigan recommends finding other ways to connect with loved ones during this challenging time such as letters, social media, or phone and video chats.

“To process some of that loss, even if it can’t be done in person, is as important as ever so, the challenge is to not let the current circumstance eliminate the ability to share with others in the grieving process,” she says.

As of the morning of May 25, Vancouver Island has confirmed 127 cases of COVID-19 and has seen 121 people recover from the virus. Five people have died, and though 25 have been hospitalized, only one person remains in hospital care.



kendra.crighton@blackpress.ca

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