While death care professionals are deemed an essential service in British Columbia, funeral proceedings have been required to make drastic changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to Lynda Gawryluk, owner of Cherished Memories Funeral Services Ltd., following the recommendations of federal and provincial health authorities along with the BC Funeral Association and the BC Coroner’s Service, funeral homes are currently limited to small, private family services of no more than 10 people. Various funeral services have also implemented a number of hygiene protocols such as the wearing of gloves, using hand sanitizer, and removing chapel pews to ensure distancing during services and visitations.
As mentioned by Gawryluk, COVID-19 has greatly impacted the way in which people grieve and mourn. With social distancing measures in place, families are prohibited from being with loved ones in their last moments, regardless of the cause of death. Distancing protocols have also changed the ways in which people can mourn together, with usual gestures of comfort like hugging, touching, and being close with one another no longer being acceptable. As a result, arrangements for burial or cremation have become far less personal, and coping with death from a distance has made embracing the pain of loss difficult for many.
Alternative funeral options have surfaced, such as the live streaming of services to involve more participation, but for many it’s not the same. At the moment, some families have also opted to follow through with private services while postponing public services until after the pandemic. Other families have even opted to postpone all services until gathering bans are lifted.
“It is human to want and need the support of family and friends that would normally be provided through rituals such as funerals, memorials, and celebrations of life. Coronavirus is complicating the grieving process even more. Not only are we grieving the loss of loved ones, we are also grieving the loss of job, loss of income, loss of routine,” said Gawryluk.
Andrea Brennan, Priest of Christ Church Anglican and Minister of Knox United Church in Fernie stated that churches are not currently permitted to hold services in church buildings, so local funerals must be carried out at Cherished Memories. Churches can however preside over a graveside burial of a casket or ashes, so long as pandemic regulations are maintained.
“We won’t be able to gather in large groups for quite some time. And while it is difficult not to hug those we miss, we must stay the course to ensure we stay safe, especially for those who are vulnerable like the elderly, those with chronic conditions, and those who are already ill,” said Brennan.
Major Linda Green from the Salvation Army Community Church mirrors those sentiments, stating that while they have not yet had to deal with a funeral procession, in the event of one occurring they will likely have to conduct it at an outdoor grave site.
According to Shawn Barden, lead pastor of Mountain Side Community Church, families of their congregation currently have two options: suspending gatherings until some indefinite time in the future, or carrying out a live streamed service
“We would probably lean [towards the virtual service] because even though it isn’t the same as being face to face, it does allow families to mark that critical part of grieving and that critical part of honouring and celebrating the life. Without those funerals, it seems like part of the grieving process gets stalled,” said Barden.