Planning a Funeral or Memorial During COVID-19 (Coronavirus) Outbreak

Educational Articles

Posted on May 18, 2020 by

During these unprecedented times where many states and local municipalities have issued shelter-in-place rules due to the novel coronavirus outbreak (aka COVID-19), the thought of having to plan a funeral or memorial for a loved one can be extra overwhelming.

Restrictions on Funeral & Memorial Services

You may even be wondering whether you can have a funeral or memorial during this time. The answer isn’t straightforward as the rules are changing all the time and differ on a regional-basis. That being said, a good guideline is that most states are not allowing gatherings of more than 10 people at a time, while enforcing the 6-foot social distance protocols with personal protective equipment (PPE), like face masks, for all in attendance.

Some states, like New Jersey, may not allow for any service, requiring an immediate burial or direct cremation. In less restrictive states, when a graveside burial is permitted, it will most likely be restricted to 10 people, including any professionals that are assisting with the event. That includes the funeral director(s), clergy, and/or cemetery personnel. That leaves room for 5 to 7 family members at the maximum with all personal protective equipment, regardless of the cause of death

Your local funeral director will have the latest information on what’s allowed for a funeral or memorial service in your region. 

Keep in mind that rules and restrictions may also vary depending on the funeral home and the cemetery you choose, as they are able to operate with greater restrictions. Be sure to inquire what their current policy is and clarify how many family members will actually be allowed to be in attendance. If you’re not happy with their answer you can always shop around (you should do this anyway) to see what other local funeral homes and cemeteries are allowing.

Tips for Planning a Funeral During COVID-19:

  • Funeral Homes:

    • Shop around! Funeral homes are making their own rules about what they will and will not do. They are also very busy which means they are less inclined to be flexible.

    • When possible, arrangements should be made by phone, email, Skype, FaceTime, etc. to limit exposure to other people.

    • Make sure funeral homes emails you a copy of their general price list (GPL) and email you the estimate after discussing arrangements.

    • Strongly consider Direct Cremation now and a memorial service later. If cremation is absolutely not an option, consider Immediate Burial and a memorial service later.

    • If you are not allowed to have a real viewing or can only have 1-5 people see the body:

      • Do not give permission for the funeral home embalm the body. It is not needed and is an additional expense ($800 national average).

      • Insist on a reduced charge. Ask for the charge for an identification viewing or private family viewing since a viewing of this size is a fraction of the time and effort typically required. 

  • Religious Institutions: Most churches, synagogues, mosques, etc are closed and not available for services. Call and check in with your clergy to see if they are available for graveside services or other memorials.

  • Military and Veterans:

    • National cemeteries are closed to visitors but open for burials.

    • Veteran’s cemeteries are open for burials for veterans and eligible individuals but are not allowing services or military honors and are only allowing immediate family members (fewer than 10) to be present.

Keep in mind, that for both burial or cremation, a memorial service can be held at a later date when restrictions are lifted. Since the actual burial or cremation would have already presumably taken place, you are not limited to using a funeral home for any such ceremony. 

You can have a graveside gathering, for example, or host a memorial in a park, or a backyard barbecue, or a gathering in their favorite restaurant. Don’t feel pressured to purchase a memorial service from the funeral home and pay for it at the time of planning the funeral or memorial. There is absolutely no need to do that since you can have the flexibility to have that when and where you want it at a future date.

Attending a Funeral or Memorial During COVID-19

In line with CDC guidelines, anyone that has any symptoms of illness is required to stay home. Likewise, if you’ve been around anyone that’s symptomatic, you’re being asked to stay home as well. 

If you are in a high-risk group, either over 65, have a chronic illness, or immuno-compromised in any way, you should also refrain from attending any public gatherings and should join in a virtual way, if available. 

Virtual Funerals and Memorials

As public gatherings are limited, many people are turning to video streaming technologies such as Zoom, FaceTime, Google Hangouts, WhatsApp, Facebook Chat, or Skype to both live-stream the ceremony, as well as create a recording to share with others that are not able to be in attendance. 

One piece of advice - keep it simple and try to use apps that people are already familiar with. Still not sure which video conference software right for you? Here is a fairly comprehensive list of current video technologies: Tech Radar - Best Video Conferencing Software

What About Sympathy Gifts and Flowers?

Many local florists have been restricted from keeping their businesses open and/or fulfilling orders. If you typically send or drop off flowers, you could be limited to what you find at a grocery store which might have a limited selection based on what’s available through reduced distribution. 

Consider other gifts that would show the family that you’re thinking about them:

  • A simple yet meaningful sympathy card

  • A gift certificate to a local restaurant (for when they open again - support local!)

  • Organizing a Meal Train to encourage others to make and drop off food for the family if they are accepting of that

  • Send a video message or put together a video montage to show that you’re thinking about them

  • Create or participate in an online memorial (FREE at Funerals360)

  • Dedicate a tree planting in their memory

Additional Resources on COVID-19 and Funerals

For the latest information on national and local public gathering guidelines, check with the resources below:

It’s “weird times” in the USA and worldwide, but don’t let that stop you from grieving, honoring, and celebrating your loved ones if they pass away during the restrictive coronavirus times. There are a number of ways to plan a loving funeral or memorial - it just may be a little different than you’re used to.

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