Funeral homes are increasingly promoting live-streamed memorial services for families grieving a loss during the COVID-19 crisis in an effort to curb the spread of the virus.
The province included funeral homes on a list of essential services released this week, but physical-distancing measures and the risk of COVID-19 have prompted businesses to get creative to support families through the grieving process.
Laura van Sprang, manager of Sands Funeral Chapel Victoria, said video-streaming services give families a chance to honour a loved one while reducing the risk of COVID-19.
“The death of a loved one is exceptionally tough, even more so during a pandemic,” van Sprang said. “We’ve seen them embrace live streaming to feel connected without coming together in person.”
Van Sprang said some families are opting for a combination of a private family service and streaming for extended family and friends.
The funeral home is screening people for symptoms of COVID-19 or recent travel for those who do visit the funeral home in person and closely following updates from public-health officials.
Staff are encouraging guests to avoid personal contact, such as hugs and handshakes. Van Sprang said it’s hard for staff to not be able to provide comfort in the ways they’re used to.
“We always reach out with a handshake to welcome [people] into our facilities,” said van Sprang, adding it’s hard to have people leave “without giving the supportive hugs that we’ve all become so accustomed to after connecting with the families we serve, but everyone’s so understanding.”
She said they’ve replaced hugs and handshakes with “heartfelt looks and kind gestures.”
The funeral home has accommodated some small services. Van Sprang said they ask guests to stagger arrival times to adhere to the two-metre physical-distancing rule.
Van Sprang said people who are navigating the death of a loved one are anxious about whether they’ll be able to commemorate a person’s life, but even if Canada goes into a full lockdown, the funeral home will adapt.
Some families have opted to postpone services to a later date, when they can gather without the threat of COVID-19.
Trevor McCall, president of McCall Gardens Funeral and Cremation Service, said having to postpone a service can add stress for families who are already grieving.
Even if they postpone a public service, McCall still recommends that families have a private family service. “We know how important it is for families to have that closure.”
McCall said they have removed chairs in their facility to ensure adequate distance between guests and are recommending immediate family only.
Like Sands Funeral Chapel, McCall Gardens is making arrangements with families online as much as possible.
McCall said they’ve offered live streaming of services in the past for out-of-town family who can’t attend, and they’re expecting requests for such services to increase.
“It’s a way for people to still have the service and move forward without delaying things,” he said.
A public-health order prohibits gatherings of more than 50 people, but provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry has repeatedly said smaller numbers are better.
“Things like funerals, we need to be able to do those important rituals — those important measures — in our lives in a way that’s safe for everybody,” she said Monday. “I know a friend of mine was attending a funeral of a loved one this weekend and most of it was virtual. And people were able to come in, be part of the conversation and the celebration of this person’s life without being physically together.”
Henry has repeatedly stressed the need to remain connected socially while staying apart physically.