How to Hold a Traditional Funeral Service After COVID-19

Grief on top of grief. That’s how families describe the pain caused by experiencing loss during COVID-19 stay-at-home orders.

Maybe you can relate to a deepened sense of sadness from being unable to honor your loved one the way you wanted. Maybe it felt like you were letting him or her down when you weren’t able to hold a visitation or gather more than a few of your friends and family. A drive-through service, however well-designed and filled with air kisses and hand hearts, simply didn’t seem the same. A small, socially distanced graveside service may have left you feeling incomplete.

The good news is that you can still have a service with nearly every element of a traditional ceremony.

Funerals have always been an important part of grieving—but for many of us they're more than that. They also:

  • Allow us to pay our respects and say goodbye, imparting dignity and honor on a loved one who has passed.
  • Propel the healing process forward. Many families tell us funerals are an important milestone in processing their grief.
  • Allow the community to gather around the next of kin, comforting the bereaved and offering their support for the long journey ahead.

Now that COVID-19 restrictions are lifting in many areas, it's time to plan a memorial for your loved one with friends and family. We can’t take away your grief, but we can help you hold the kind of funeral you would have liked to have held earlier.

Our compassionate team of experts can provide professional guidance for planning traditional funerals for families from nearly any religious and cultural background. We'll help you honor your loved one in a Celebration of Remembrance that brings together family and friends with the traditions and rituals you hold dear—even long after your loved one's passing.

woman marking calendar date

It’s never too late

A traditional funeral service and burial usually take place within a few days after death, bringing friends and family together to support one another in a time of immediate need. And for some families and cultures, visitation or viewing is an important ritual.

For safety reasons, COVID-19 kept groups of more than five or 10 from gathering and prevented many viewings and open casket ceremonies. In one state, funerals were prohibited all together. But now, with restrictions lifting, the weeks and months ahead offer new possibilities to hold the kind of memorial you wanted.

Though your loved one's body won't be at the service, there are many ways to ensure that his or her presence is felt—and, remember, the love and support of friends and family has no expiration date. Coming together as a community to provide a fitting farewell to a loved one is an important step in grieving and healing.

Read How to Remember a Loved One at a Funeral After COVID-19..

Though you cannot push pause on grief, feelings that something has been left undone can interrupt the grieving process.

Special considerations

  • Religious groups each have their own funeral customs. Some, such as the Hispanic tradition of overnight visitation or the Jewish ceremony of ritual washing, may have not have been possible due to COVID-19. But there's much more that can be observed—and for each group, a Celebration of Remembrance provides a chance to follow traditional rituals and share memories with those closest to your loved one.

Gatherings at churches and funeral homes

Gatherings at indoor spaces like churches, temples and funeral homes will look different while COVID-19 continues to impact our communities. These differences help to ensure the safety and comfort of guests.

  • Alternate pews. You can expect to see chairs spaced 6 feet apart or alternating rows of pews blocked off so that social distances can be maintained.
  • Use of larger spaces. Spaces may limit their capacity to follow local guidelines. Smaller spaces that usually accommodate groups of 50 may be able to include only 25 people at a time. Instead, size up your space to a larger chapel or rotate visitors in shifts.
  • Sing outdoors. Some groups have chosen to move singing outdoors to limit exposure to airborne droplets that can carry COVID-19.
  • Print paper prayers and song sheets. To avoid sharing materials that can't always be cleaned between services, some families are printing single-use prayers and song sheets along with their funeral programs.

Catholic mass or liturgy

For those of the Catholic faith, the funeral liturgy is an act of worship as well as an expression of grief. Catholic families who were unable to celebrate with a funeral Mass may now be able to have one, or consider a funeral liturgy outside of Mass at the funeral home that cared for a loved one.

Catholic priest with hands joined in prayer during Holy Mass in church

Jewish unveiling ceremony

Jewish funeral traditions are very focused on the hours and days immediately after death, and so it could seem a stretch for some to hold a funeral at a later time. However, another tradition presents the perfect opportunity to hold a moment of remembrance with similar benefits as a funeral.

When the grave marker is installed, the family can hold a larger or more formal ceremony for the grave marker unveiling. Involvement of rabbis or cantors is considered optional. The usual order of events can take place, including readings, prayers and a eulogy, followed by the unveiling of the marker. Consider including additional personalized elements in a post-COVID gathering to make the event as meaningful as possible.

jewish grave marker

Buddhist rituals

Reincarnation plays an important role in Buddhist funeral traditions. Many Buddhists believe that between death and rebirth, the family has a chance to influence the rebirth of their loved one through prayers and remembrance ceremonies. Even without their loved one present, honoring traditions and heritage through an altar, offerings, incense burning, meditation and flowers is fundamental to death and life.

Buddhist monk's hands holding prayer beads

How to gather together and make your guests feel safe

Each of our locations has implemented rigorous health and safety procedures that exceed local, state, provincial and CDC guidelines. We're committed to ensuring that you and your guests feel comfortable with us. We'll keep your environment as safe as possible and help ensure that your guests observe the recommended precautions.

Some safety measures will be yours to decide—and we can offer creative alternatives to tradition in order to help you feel more comfortable.

 

Olinger Chapel Hill Mortuary & Cemetery
man wearing mask

Here are some things to think about:

Indoor or outdoor gathering? Many traditional services are held in churches, synagogues or temples, which will often be large enough for a sizable group to gather and observe social distancing even when legal operating capacity is reduced. However, because you may have fewer guests than would have attended a service due to ongoing travel restrictions, you may not need all the space of the largest venue. The funeral home that made your loved one’s final arrangements likely has a chapel or a reception space and can tell you the capacity according to your city or state rules.

Regardless of venue size, if you're not comfortable with an indoor funeral, we can design an outdoor experience. Some funeral homes have outdoor reception areas or accommodating lawns; some are affiliated with cemeteries that may have open-air structures built for committal services or gardens where tents can be set up for services of any size.

Traditional receiving line or greet guests as a group from the front of the room? In some locations, you and your family may opt to greet guests as they arrive, shake hands and hug. But you may not be comfortable with that. An alternative is to wait until guests are seated and thank them for their attendance from the front of the room. Your funeral director or clergy person can be nearby and ready to assist if you feel you need support to speak to a group during an emotional time.

Strict social distancing or is physical touch the whole point? Some people find tremendous comfort in hugging, kissing and holding hands. You can ask guests ahead of time to observe strict social distancing guidelines—and even wear masks—or make it a personal choice.

Streaming services for those who cannot attend? Even though the funeral service has been delayed, travel restrictions or health conditions may still prevent some from attending in person. Technology can bring those people closer and allow them to participate in important rituals. If the family chooses, the funeral home can offer live video streaming of a loved one's service.

Read 10 Things to Think About When Planning a Funeral Service After COVID Lockdown.

hand placing white flower on grave headstone
people dining at a picnic table outdoors at night in celebration of remembrance

Visit the cemetery or share a meal after the service

A procession to the cemetery for burial or entombment or the placement of an urn typically takes place after a traditional funeral. Whether it's driving across town with headlights on and a police escort or walking arm-in-arm from the funeral home to your loved one's permanent cemetery resting place, the custom of the funeral procession spans many religions.

Though the usual reason for a procession is to transport the body to the cemetery, even if your loved one already has a permanent memorial at the cemetery, a Celebration of Remembrance can include this custom, too.

Guests may want to take flowers to place on the grave, and gathering with a group of your family and friends for a brief graveside ceremony with a toast or prayer can help the day feel complete—and your heart feel more at peace.

Similarly, coming together for a meal after a funeral allows people to have time to reflect, remember and share fond memories. Members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints popularized a casserole now know far and wide as funeral potatoes, but gathering to eat during a time of mourning is nearly a universal practice. In fact, Buddhist tradition calls for a last meal in honor of the deceased. In Judaism, the meal after a funeral is call the "meal of consolation" and includes symbolic foods such as boiled eggs and lentils. Guests of a Muslim funeral usually go for a meal at the home of the family of the deceased and stay all day. 

For many, food provides a strong sense of comfort. To make your gathering with family and friends more complete, your Dignity Memorial® provider can arrange a caterer to provide a heart-warming breakfast, a simple lunch or a full-service dinner. We can incorporate symbolic foods or family favorites. Regardless of the menu, we'll fill your plate and comfort your spirit with the tradition of sitting down together for food and fellowship.

Plan a Celebration of Remembrance

Planning a service for a loved one is so important for those left behind. It's a chance to gather and remember a special person and special times, and to hold the type of service that reflects your religious and personal beliefs. Your Dignity Memorial provider can help you plan a fitting and unforgettable tribute. We offer multiple options for making arrangements, including in-person and remote planning at a funeral home or your own home. Contact us and we'll work to ensure your comfort—and help you to truly honor your loved one's life.

Ready to get started?

Speak with a Dignity Memorial planning advisor today.