Different faiths, same pain: How to grieve a death in the coronavirus pandemic

A funeral director calls relatives of a COVID-19 victim for a virtual viewing before cremation on May 22, 2020 in New York City.

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Editor’s note: Every religion has its death rites, communal practices developed over millennia to honor the dead and console the living. Some of these rituals are unique to one faith, but more are shared – a reminder there’s a common path toward healing. Yet COVID-19 is forcing many people to grieve in isolation. We asked three faith leaders and religion scholars for their counsel on mourning during the pandemic.

Honoring the dead and comforting mourners

Rabbi David A. Schuck

Jewish mourning rituals follow the principles of “k’vod hamet,” honoring the deceased, and “nichum aveilim,” comforting mourners.

K’vod hamet includes sitting and praying with the body, ritual washing and burial within two days of death. At a Jewish funeral, family and friends take turns filling the grave with earth – a final act of love. Focus then turns to the family, who return to their home to observe shiva, seven days of intense mourning in which the community provides meals, prayer and comfort.

With these communal rituals inaccessible during the coronavirus pandemic, the trauma of losing loved ones is profound. For synagogues in the center of this pandemic, there’s collective trauma, too. I live in New York, and each week my congregants receive several death notices of longtime friends, but have no avenue to grieve together.

I’m broadcasting funerals online and coordinating shiva visits through Zoom, but technology will never approximate the comfort of a home full of people. During shiva, our community holds us in our grief until we discover ways to move forward alone again.

A family sits for a remote Zoom shiva, the traditional Jewish time of mourning, New Canaan, Connecticut, April 11, 2020.

The first funeral I officiated during the coronavirus pandemic was for a woman who would have wanted blaring trumpets to announce her death and throngs of admirers to come pay tribute. Instead, four people bid her farewell. As I grabbed earth with my fingers and dropped it onto her casket, I whispered an apology for how the world stole the dignity of her final moments.

Finding solace in the psalms of lament

Prof. Gina Hens-Piazza

In normal circumstances, the death of a loved one taxes the heart and mind with a paralyzing numbness. And, in normal circumstances, the traditional rituals of the Catholic faith – the vigil, funeral mass and graveside committal service – give mourners an occasion to honor the memory of the deceased and provide comfort.

A pandemic is not normal circumstances. The absence of these traditional practices compounds the rawness of grief.

In a recent interview with the American Catholic magazine Commonweal, Pope Francis suggested that this is a time “for inventing, for creativity” within the Church, urging Christians to find new ways to express their faith during lockdown.

A necessarily small funeral at a church outside Toulouse, France, during the coronavirus lockdown, April 2020.

I find examples of this creativity in how U.S. Catholic communities are using technology to accommodate gatherings of friends and family for consoling prayer, recitation of the rosary, online memorials and notes of remembrance. Some Catholic parishes have developed ministries of listening and consolation, with volunteers calling the bereaved or visiting online to offer support.

People are also commemorating their dead loved ones at home, lighting candles in their memory or playing their favorite hymns.

And while memorial liturgies have been postponed, families may find some comforting expressions of loss more immediately in biblical texts. The “psalms of lament” – especially Psalms 91, 121 and 130 – are prayers for help in surviving times of great pain. Such recitations provide words to narrate a pain and suffering so devastating it seems to eclipse words.

Healing begins after the homegoing

The Rev. Dr. Rodney Sadler Jr.

For African Americans of the Baptist faith, death is a communal experience. It is in this coming together of family and friends and associates and neighbors that the healing begins.

As the Rev. Dr. Peter Wherry writes in his book “Preaching Funerals,” black Baptists often call funerals “homegoing services,” denoting the fact that the believer once transitioning is in a better state than when here…they have “gone home to live with [the] Lord.”

When someone transitions, despite the clear suffering attendant to a loss, we celebrate their life. This occasions sayings like “trouble don’t last always,” or “we will see X again.”

Though well worn, these cliches seek to comfort the mourning that their loved one is not really dead, but lives on with God.

Since homegoing services can bring together family from across the world, they usually take place a week or more after death to ensure everyone may participate. There is typically a viewing for people to pay their last respects before the service, and afterwards there is usually a parade to the cemetery. Burial comes with its own mini-service.

Mourners after the funeral of the Baptist pastor James Flowers, a victim of COVID-19, at a cemetery in Landover, Maryland, April 13, 2020.

Following that is the repast – a meal expected to feed the guests and to allow for fellowship, storytelling, reuniting with distant loved ones and meeting those known only by name. This, though quite reverent, is also festive. It facilitates the resolution needed to progress after a loss.

I have presided at many such services, though not during the coronavirus pandemic. One piece of advice I would offer to those who mourn now is this: In the coming months, stay in close contact with those who also mourn. Call someone whenever you feel longing for the departed – share a sorrow, a song, a funny anecdote or a recollection of their quirks.

Share your grief. When you feel the urge to cry, let it out. Emotions are best handled not with reason, but by allowing yourself the freedom to feel them fully. And remember, the nadir of your grief is not a curse – it is an indication of how deeply you loved.

Complete Article HERE!

Mexican families struggle to send virus victims back home

By CLAUDIA TORRENS, GISELA SALOMON, and PETER PRENGAMAN

When Crescencio Flores died of coronavirus in New York, his parents back in Mexico asked for one thing: that their son be sent home for burial.

The 56-year-old construction worker had been in the United States for 20 years, regularly sending money to his parents but never going home. Since he died in April, Flores’ brother has been working with American and Mexican authorities to have the body transported to the town of Huehuepiaxtla in the state of Puebla.

So far, his efforts have been in vain. His brother’s embalmed remains are still in a U.S. funeral home.

“I am trying to do this because my parents, 85 and 87 years old, live there,” Francisco Flores said. “They are rooted in their customs. They want a Christian burial for the remains of their son.”

The family’s situation is common. More than a thousand Mexican immigrants have died of the virus in the U.S., according to the Mexican government, and many of their families are struggling to bring dead loved ones home.

Returning a body to another country is never easy, but the coronavirus has added extra bureaucracy and costs, all at a time when many Mexicans have lost jobs in construction, retail and restaurants.

For grieving loved ones on both sides of the border, the challenges are many: overwhelmed funeral homes, delays in paperwork because government offices are not working at full capacity and limited flights.

The process has become so difficult that the Mexican Consulate in Los Angeles is encouraging cremation instead of repatriation and burial, said Felipe Carrera, a consular official.

“In a situation like this, we are encouraging our community to have an open mind,” Carrera said, explaining that cremation allows a loved one to return to Mexico in a week or 10 days. He declined to say how long it takes to return bodies. Family members who have opted for cremation say sending ashes home takes several weeks to months.

Cremation is a hard sell for many Mexicans, who are by far the largest immigrant group in America and deeply rooted in Catholicism. They are fiercely proud of their homeland despite problems that pushed them to emigrate, and they carry with them a constant hope to return one day, at the very least upon death.

And because many of them — particularly those who are in the U.S. illegally — have not been home in decades, returning in death is that much more important to their families.

For Mexican Catholics, having the body of a deceased relative is essential to giving them a “good death,” said Dr. Kristin Norget, an anthopology professor at McGill University in Montreal.

“Wakes are really important events in which the person is there, the casket is open, people go and bid that person farewell. They touch them. They kiss them,” Norget said. “It’s that tactile relationship with the body, representing the person.”

For over a month, the family of Javier Morales, 48, and brother Martin Morales, 39, who both died in New Jersey during the first week of April, tried to send the bodies to Santa Catarina Yosonotú, a village in the Mexican state of Oaxaca. The brothers had both left the village as teenagers, and family wanted to bury them there.

But after complying with U.S. and Mexican regulations, relatives said they hit roadblocks with health officials in Oaxaca. They eventually gave up and had the brothers created. Now they are working to have the ashes sent back, a process they estimate will take several weeks.

Between the lengthy stay in a funeral home and cremation, the family spent more than $12,000.

“It’s really sad,” said Rogelio Martin, a cousin who was close to the brothers. “We wanted to send them home, but it wasn’t possible.”

Felix Pinzón’s family went through a similar process. Pinzón wanted to send the body of his half-brother, 45-year-old Basilio Juarez, a construction worker, back to Cuautla, a city in the state of Morelos. The consulate warned him that the effort would be fraught, he said.

Juarez’s wife and two children back in Mexico “wanted to see the body,” Pinzón said. “They asked me to bring it back. At first, my niece did not understand that it was not possible. She did not want to accept it.”

Even though he chose cremation, Pinzón won’t be able to send the ashes back any time soon. The cremation cost $2,100, which he had to put on a credit card because as a construction worker he has been out of a job for more than two months.

When Marta Ramos, 63, died in New York, daughter Juanita Ramos, who lives in Bakersfield, California, hoped to fulfill her mom’s last wish, to be buried in Mexico. Since returning her mom’s body would be difficult, Ramos looked into cremation, figuring she could at least send the remains home quickly and have them buried there.

But the funeral home told her that a backlog of bodies meant that her mom would not be cremated for a month. Feeling that was too long to wait, and worried that her mom’s body could be lost, Ramos decided to have her mother buried at a cemetery in New York. Her aunt, Agustina Ramos, 55, died just ahead of her mother and had already been buried there.

For the Flores family, the long wait for Crescencio’s body has been painful, said Gerardo Flores, his oldest brother, who is in Mexico. But relatives feel strongly about bringing him home.

“We believe that in the moment my brother is buried, even as painful as it will be, in this sad moment, it will be the last chapter. We will turn the page. My parents will know where their son is,” he said.

Complete Article HERE!

Refusing to give death the last word

Between the coronavirus and police killings, Black communities are coping with seemingly endless grief. The absence of funerals during the pandemic has been particularly devastating to a culture in which collective mourning plays a vital role.

Flag dancer Tinah Marie Bouldin performed at the memorial service of Kenneth O’Neal Davis Jr., 70, at the Whigham Funeral Home

By Nyle Fort

But the death toll only tells one side of the story. The other side is the anger of being unable to see or touch your deceased loved one for the last time. It’s “a different type of grief,” says Carolyn Whigham, my mother’s longtime partner and co-owner of Whigham Funeral Home in Newark, N.J. “This is where you snot. Cry. Stomp. Shout. Cuss. Spit.”

I asked Carolyn and my mom, Terry Whigham, about their experiences as Black undertakers during the coronavirus outbreak. The stories they shared speak to the scandalous nature of the pandemic. We’re not only grieving our dead. We’re grieving the inability to properly grieve.

This is not our new normal. This is the death of normal.

Terry Whigham (center) and Carolyn Whigham (left) worked with funeral home assistant Vernest Moore at the Whigham Funeral Home.

THERE WAS NEVER a dull moment growing up in a Black funeral home. After school, my brother and I played hide-and-seek between and inside caskets. Our chores included rolling old Star-Ledger newspapers used to prop up bodies for wakes. In the summers, when I wasn’t at basketball camp, I passed out peppermints and tissues to family members of the deceased. I knew I didn’t want to make a living burying the dead. But I was spellbound by the way we mourn.

Service after service I witnessed the electricity and elegance of Black grief. The adorned body laid out in an open casket. Elders dressed in their Sunday best tarrying and telling stories of the good ol’ days. Teenagers with a classmate’s face emblazoned on R.I.P. T-shirts. A spirited eulogy followed by a festive repast where soul food is served and family drama unfolds.

It’s a ritual of death transformed into a “celebration of life.”

For Black communities, who have been disproportionately affected by the coronavirus, bans on funerals have been particularly devastating. I understand why. Not only did I grow up in a Black funeral home, but I’m currently finishing my dissertation on African American mourning.

Burial traditions have long animated African American culture, politics, and resistance. During slavery, insurrectionists like Gabriel Prosser and Nat Turner plotted rebellions at slave funerals. A year before the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Mamie Till held an open-casket service for her slain son so “the world could see what they did to my baby.” The publication of the images of Emmett Till’s mutilated body, many historians argue, was the match that sparked the civil rights movement.

Ruthener Davis at the memorial service of her son, Kenneth O’Neal Davis Jr., who died from complications related to COVID-19.

Three years ago, white supremacist Dylann Roof walked into Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., and slaughtered nine black parishioners. The day after President Barack Obama eulogized pastor and state senator Clementa Pinckney, activist Bree Newsome scaled a 30-foot pole at the South Carolina State House and removed the Confederate flag. “I was hoping that somehow they would have the dignity to take the flag down before his casket passed by,” she said in an interview after her arrest.

What does this have to do with the coronavirus? Black grief does not begin or end at the funeral procession regardless of how someone has died. Our dead live on in the food we eat, the songs we sing, the children we raise, the ballots we cast, the movements we build, and the dreams we struggle to make real. But how can African Americans work through the psychological wage of unfathomable grief without the sound of a Hammond B-3 organ, or tender touch of an auntie, or the smell of cornbread and candied yams, or the sight of our loved one’s beautified body?

“Could your big mama cook? Did you save any of her recipes?” Carolyn asks a family friend whose grandmother, who was known for her peach cobbler, passed away from COVID-19. “No, because it was all in how big mama did the crust,” the granddaughter explained.

“Well, maybe grandma couldn’t write down how to do the crust but did you stand over her shoulder and watch how she kneaded that flour?” Carolyn asks. She wants to make sure that what remains in the wake of loss doesn’t pass away with grandma.

The great poet and activist Amiri Baraka, whom my family funeralized in jazzy splendor, spoke to this in his book “Eulogies”: “I want to help pass on what needs to live on not just in the archive but on the sidewalk of Afro-America itself.”

How do we keep that tradition alive amid deserted sidewalks and overcrowded morgues? Hell, how do we keep ourselves alive as we witness, once again, Black death go viral?

The memorial service of Kenneth O’Neal Davis Jr., 70, who died from complications related to COVID-19, was live streamed at the Whigham Funeral Home.

I HEARD ABOUT the killing of Ahmaud Arbery the day after my friend’s father died of COVID-19. Then I heard about the killing of Breonna Taylor by police officers who burst into the wrong home to look for a suspect who was already in custody in Louisville, Ky. Then 21-year-old Dreasjon Reed and 19-year-old McHale Rose, two Black men killed by Indianapolis police within an eight-hour stretch. Then, before I could finish writing this story, George Floyd, another Black man, was killed by a white police officer, who pinned him to the ground for eight minutes as he pleaded for his deceased mother and yelled “I can’t breathe,” echoing Eric Garner’s last words.

I refuse to watch the videos of the killings of Ahmaud, Dreasjon, or George. I’ve seen the reel too many times. Different city, different cop, different circumstances. Same horror story. But when I heard that a detective in Indianapolis said “it’s going to be a closed casket, homie,” evidently referring to Dreasjon’s funeral, I lost it.

Unfortunately, I’m used to police playing judge, jury, and executioner. But this officer had the audacity to assume the role of an undertaker, too. It’s nauseating.

Black people are not only dying at alarming rates from the virus. We’re still dying from pre-existing conditions of racial injustice. There is no ban on police brutality during this pandemic. We are losing jobs and loved ones. Police are dragging us off buses for not wearing masks, while prison officials are withholding personal protective equipment to our loved ones behind bars.

Truth is: The pandemic is unprecedented but all too familiar. The endless grief hits close to home. In one year, my family buried my brother, father, and grandmother. My mom visits my brother’s crypt almost every day. Between funerals, she steals away and sits with his remains. For Thanksgiving she brings him pork chops smothered in gravy. His favorite. On the anniversary of his “transition,” as she likes to call it, she gives his shrine a makeover and sings Sam Cooke’s “A Change Gon’ Come.” Chad had an old soul.

A casket in a viewing room dedicated to Sally Alexander, Terry Whigham’s mother.

I last saw my brother on his 32nd birthday, four days before a heart attack took his last breath away. My memory of his funeral comes in shards. I remember the sound of the drums and the look on my mom’s face and me laughing quietly to myself at the idea that he had won our final game of hide-and-seek.

In the midst of our own grief, my family has provided dignified memorial services to Black people in New Jersey, including Sarah Vaughan, Amiri Baraka, Whitney Houston, and the countless beautiful lives whose names and stories don’t make national headlines. Like the daughter of the woman who banged on the funeral home window. A week later, the woman held her shirt still as my mom, standing a short distance away in personal protective equipment, pinned a brooch that contained a photo of her daughter who’d just been cremated.

The woman wept and said, “It’s the little things that mean so much.”

She’s right. A spirit of care and compassion sits at the heart of our heroic efforts to stay alive, too.

Organist and singer Joshua Nelson performed during a memorial service.

In the midst of all of the death and violence, Black people continue to fight back, risking our lives to save others. I witnessed hundreds of protesters wearing face masks chanting “Whose streets? Our streets!” at the intersection of West 62nd Street and Michigan Road in Indianapolis, where Dreasjon was shot and killed. I thought about the residents of Canfield Drive in Ferguson, Mo., who, before Mike Brown’s blood had dried, planted flowers between teddy bears and empty liquor bottles to commemorate his death. I pictured Bree bringing down the Confederate flag, and the heartaches and heartbeats of Black joggers as they “ran with Ahmaud.” Today, I marvel at the bravery of people across the country protesting George’s killing and resisting patterns of police violence amidst the deadliest pandemic in over a century.

Even Carolyn and my mother — who don’t consider themselves activists — provided a hearse for a funeral procession protest honoring the memory of the 45 inmates who have died from the virus in New Jersey prisons.

My family’s funeral home embodies the incredibly essential work before us all today: burying our dead while refusing to let death have the last word.

Complete Article HERE!

Thousands of New Yorkers Are Dying.

What Happens to Their Bodies?

Amy Cunningham

A conversation with Amy Cunningham, Brooklyn’s environmentally-friendly funeral director.

by Grace Gedye

On a Brooklyn neighborhood forum, funeral director Amy Cunningham put out the call. Could anyone contribute items, like flowers, to an upcoming funeral? An elderly woman had died of coronavirus in a nursing home and had no family in the area. Florists in New York are closed, so one resident contributed lilacs from her backyard, the Associated Press reported. Another embroidered “Mom” on some fabric that would be placed on the casket, with the deceased woman’s family watching via livestream.

More than 16,000 people have died of Covid-19 in New York City, the epicenter of the outbreak in the U.S. Just as hospitals have struggled to keep up with the influx of sick people, the city has also struggled to accommodate all of the dead. The state has relaxed environmental regulations to allow crematoriums to operate around the clock, and the city has dispatched a fleet of mobile morgues. Burials on Hart Island, New York’s mass grave for bodies that aren’t claimed, or whose family cannot afford a funeral, have increased five-fold.

Funeral directors like Cunningham have been forced to adapt ceremonies and services around the contagious disease. Cunningham, the founder of Fitting Tribute Funeral Services, specializes in environmentally friendly burials. She and I talked about how funerals have changed in New York.

This conversation has been shortened and edited for clarity.

How is your work different since the coronavirus outbreak started in New York?

Well, my firm specialized in earth friendly burials, home funerals, and witnessed cremation services, and none of those services are currently possible in exactly the same way I was delivering them. Because of the novel coronavirus, families are saying goodbye—on a good day—with nursing assistants holding the cell phone to the ear of the dying person in a hospital that the family hasn’t even been able to enter.

I’ve got four caskets in my living room right now. That’s a little unusual.

The funerals I’m managing now involve the transporting of the deceased person in a white plastic body pouch to protect the funeral home personnel from any risk of the virus passing to them in the hours after death. That bag isn’t coming off at the funeral home. While it’s believed that the coronavirus expires within the body at the time of a death, there is said to be some risk to individuals in the hours immediately afterwards, perhaps because the lungs of the dead person still hold a bit of air, and as we move them they actually can exhale a little bit after death. Plastic body bags are a fact of life for now, but they are upsetting to me. They’re hardly eco-friendly, not remotely green. I’ve got folks looking into how we could develop something just as sturdy and kinder to the planet.

Another thing that’s different is that previously, if a death occurred on a Tuesday I could arrange for a burial or cremation two days, three days later, sometimes even the next day if the paperwork went smoothly. Because of the sheer number of dead that we’re managing, cremations are now being scheduled at the end of May.

Are there any basic things you need in order to provide your services that are either hard to get ahold of or that you’re running out of?

It seems likely that there will be a casket shortage eventually. I’ve personally solved that issue by bringing caskets into my living room at home. I live in a two-story limestone row house and I’ve got four caskets in my living room right now. I went ahead and had the casket company deliver them, and had my son and husband carry them in so that at least I’d have some caskets that were clean and ready to move when I needed them. That’s a little unusual.

Have there been an influx of families that are in need of death care services but can’t afford them? If so, what are their options?

Yes, I’m hearing from people who need a funeral, and are disappointed that the wait time for an affordable cremation is so long. Some have lost their jobs, have no money, and need to plan a funeral with a burial now that might cost $1500 to $6000. It’s pretty devastating. There was a time when the deaths were occurring so quickly that some funeral homes weren’t able to manage the sheer volume of the work and were referring people out to other firms. Those firms were helping us New York City funeral directors cremate the dead by taking them to other states. There’s so many deceased people, our crematories are overwhelmed. So, there are people driving deceased folk up to Pennsylvania, New Jersey, other areas where the crematories are a little less overwhelmed.

In the coming month, that’s going to ease up. Today in New York as you’re interviewing me, I’m not hearing the same sirens out in the streets that I was two weeks ago. So it could be correct that, as Governor Cuomo says, we’re leveling this off. But people out of work are still struggling and starting GoFundMe pages to help them with the cost of the funeral.

I will say this, however: I’m really impressed with the local funeral directors that are reducing their prices for families in that situation. How can you charge them the full rate? It just can’t happen. So, we’re offering people our services at a reduction.

What does your typical day look like right now?

The heavy lifting and placing in the casket is done by amazing folks I employ to help me at the funeral home. My day is mostly on the telephone with grieving families, trying to schedule and arrange these burials and cremations in a timely way. I’m spending a fair amount of my time explaining to families why only 10 family members can come to the cemetery. We’re trying to educate folks about the possibilities and Zoom memorials and new ways to grieve remotely so that we can have some sort of commemoration of the life as we manage the very very basic down-to-earth matter of a simple disposition right now.

What has been your advice to people who have lost family or friends to coronavirus? Either practical advice, or different advice you’re giving on how to grieve?

I had already been thinking that we place too much emphasis on the hour-long funeral service. Saying farewell to someone is really the task of a lifetime, and something that you do most intensely over the period of the first full year. So I’ve been coaching families to see that, yes, we’ve lost the gathering we’re most familiar with, but you will be able to find a way to mourn, and find community, and relate to your other family members in a way that will be new but restorative in surprising ways.

When I do have a casket in my car headed for a burial, we’ve been replacing traditional chapel gatherings with doing these outdoor block parades. I drive the car with the casket in it onto the actual block where the deceased person lived, and people can acknowledge the death as a neighborhood. I had one death caused by a heart attack. We have to remember that other sorts of deaths still occur in the age of the novel coronavirus. I drove to the man’s block, opened the car, and allowed people to approach the car while maintaining a safe distance from each other. They placed flowers in the car, and then the immediate family drove to the cemetery and stood at the lovely graveside service 6 to 10 feet apart. Good funeral, lots of love expressed.

I know you specialize in sustainable, or greener burials. Are you still able to do those kind services?

Yes. My real contribution as a funeral director in this moment is personally driving people upstate to eco-friendly cemeteries that will just bury simple caskets in the earth. The only problem is that there is this plastic body bag inside there that I never used to have to use. Most of the eco-friendly cemeteries are saying, “well, God, what can we do, we know it’s a crisis in our country, and a time of considerable suffering.” So, they may take that plastic bag for the short term as we work it out. In other words, the green burials I’m managing are just a bit less green than they used to be but we’re doing the best we can.

Do you think the pandemic will lead to any lasting changes in the funeral industry?

I hesitate before mentioning this because it doesn’t feel like a great time to criticize the conventional funeral industry. The men who have been in the business 40 years and were nearing retirement have flung themselves into this crisis and been so courageous.

However, maybe when we catch our breath, we’ll evaluate where we’re headed as an industry and how we might provide better services to more people, and take the drive to profit from the funeral out altogether by looking at cooperative funeral home structure, which is operating very successfully in the state of Washington.

In the old days prior to the Civil War, before the American funeral industry was formed, communities took care of their own. And it feels to me like we could attend to that kind of care again and find ways to make deaths less of a medical event, and more of a community-based experience. So, as I work hard and admire the conventional guys I know and work around, I’m at the same time thinking, “Gee, there must be a better way to give funeral services to people at an affordable rate, and in a loving way.”

Complete Article HERE!

How to plan a remote funeral or memorial and grieve during the coronavirus pandemic

If someone you know has died from complications due to COVID-19, these resources may be helpful.

By ,

More than 238,000 people around the world have lost their lives to COVID-19, and the death toll is growing as the full effects of the coronavirus play out in hospitals and communities. The nature of social distancing means patients are denied visitors in their final hours and families can’t congregate in person at funerals and homes to bury their dead and mourn.

Enforced distance during a time of traditional togetherness can deny people the physical comfort of a hug, a shoulder to cry on and a sense of finality that’s part of the grieving process when someone close has died.

Online resources and tools are no replacement for a gathering of loved ones and friends, but they can help families organize online memorials, memory books and donations made in your loved one’s memory. We present some resources to help plan a remote funeral or memorial and otherwise honor those who have died as a result of COVID-19.

Remember that performing a physical act can sometimes help you regain some agency during a situation you can’t otherwise control. Here are additional tips to help manage anxiety during the pandemic.

Have a Zoom, Skype or YouTube funeral or memorial service now

The coronavirus restrictions prevent us from holding a funeral in person to honor the memory of those who we’ve lost. If you’re affiliated with a religious institution, reach out to see what kind of support your organization can supply in the short term — for example, literature on grief, individual video chats with you and your family members or online prayer meetings.

Your family and friends can also hold a memorial service using Zoom (change these settings to prevent unwanted guests) or another video chat service like Skype broadcast, Google Meet or even a private YouTube channel. Sharing a eulogy or other prepared tribute, readings, poems and personal stories — even discussing the hardship of being alone — can provide a chance to mourn together in a virtual community.

You can also record the memorial service to play later or to share with others who couldn’t attend online.

Set up a vigil your community can see from the street

To honor the memory of the family member who has died, you might light large candles on your porch or windowsill and allow others to drive past and honk to offer support. Set up a large box on your driveway for those in your neighborhood to drop off letters, flowers or other items they may want to share as a sign of their support and grief — at a distance from others.

As you collect items, make sure to handle them cautiously, and wash your hands after touching them. If you yourself are in a high-risk group, ask for deliveries, physical mail and email instead. These gestures could mean a great deal to others who never got to say goodbye and who want to support you.

Ask your religious institution for advice

Although most churches, mosques, synagogues and other places of worship are closed to help prevent the spread of coronavirus, they can still be used as a way to help you grieve. If you’re affiliated with a religious institution, reach out to see how they can provide relief during this time.

One church is live-streaming funerals and services for its congregants. A synagogue is also holding virtual prayer using Google Hangouts. One mosque is live-streaming the sermon and prayer, while another outside the United States is broadcasting the prayer over a speaker.

Ask your institution how they’re helping those in need. See if you can speak with the religious leader, like a priest, imam or rabbi when you need someone to pray or grieve with during this time.

Plant something in your garden or in a pot

The act of planting a flower, ornamental bush or even a fruit-bearing tree in the yard could provide comfort as a symbol of life, of hope or even simply as a way you’ve chosen to honor the deceased.

Reach out to online support groups

If someone close to you has died, seek a Facebook or other online group to share your thoughts and experiences, ask for ideas and even just read to know you’re not alone.

Live and Work Well, a website for well-being and behavioral health, suggests looking into online support groups for grief and loss. You can find others in your area that are grieving through websites such as Grief Support. At this time, the groups are meeting online.

Complete Article HERE!

We are a funeral people who can no longer have funerals

Robbed of obsequies for those we love adds an unconscionable burden

At present only 10 people can attend a funeral Mass or a graveside and are expected to follow the rules about social distancing. File photograph

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The famous spiritual writer Henri Nouwen, as a young man back-packing through Ireland, watched a burial in Donegal, fascinated by a group of men filling in a grave as the grieving family watched in silence.

What struck him was the way, when the task was almost complete, the men used the backs of their shovels to tap down the clay. The ritual, he felt, was saying to the bereaved: “This person is dead, really dead. There is no doubting now this obvious truth.”

In recent years the ritual of filling in the grave is not as common as heretofore but, as with other rituals, we often don’t aver to the purpose behind them, or why they developed. They are part of a pattern, a background against which we measure our way of dealing with death.

When death occurs in Ireland, we move effortlessly into funeral mode. There’s a familiar template for family, community and necessary services

Strangely, for some like Nouwen from other cultures, they are signposts of a comfort zone that in faith and in family we have successfully created around the difficult experience of grieving those we love.

We are a funeral people. Funerals, unlike in some other cultures, are huge events in Ireland. A friend told me once about working in an office in Scandinavia when a colleague broke down at work. It emerged that he had buried his mother that morning and was back at work that evening.

It would be unthinkable, unimaginable, even shocking in Ireland.

When death occurs in Ireland, we move effortlessly into funeral mode. There’s a familiar template for family, community and necessary services. It’s a kaleidoscope of respect, mood, attitude, support systems and rituals that resonate with the need to create a platform for dealing with such an earth-shattering experience.

Community support

A key element is support offered by the community. People gather and individually offer their condolences. It may be no more than a brisk shake of the hand and a cliched formula of words but it’s fundamentally about respectful presence in solidarity with the grieving.

The coronavirus has robbed us of many things but the experience of dealing with the death and funeral obsequies of those we love adds an unconscionable burden at the present time.

Grieving brings with it a variety of responses, some reasonable to the outside observer, others part of the blame game we play to lessen the pain of loss

Stories emerge of family members watching from the distance as a loved one faces into what must be the loneliest experience of all and not be able to hold a hand or give a hug or a kiss seems almost beyond human endurance.

A wife, now a widow, told a newspaper about how she had expected her husband to die at home and how she might have lain beside him to comfort him in his dying but their last moments together were supervised by health authorities as she watched him through a window.

Rites and rituals

The other, added weight to bear for the grieving is to be deprived of the comfort and consolation of the rites and rituals of a funeral. At present only 10 people can attend a funeral Mass or a graveside and are expected to follow the rules about social distancing.

And the community response is limited to neighbours and friends sitting in their cars outside the church or in towns, lining the streets as a mark of respect. Interestingly the Government, knowing the limits to human endurance and the place burying the dead has in our culture, didn’t seek to ban funeral Masses.

Grieving brings with it a variety of responses, some reasonable to the outside observer, others part of the blame game we play to lessen the pain of loss. If a priest, undertaker or doctor gets it wrong at the time of our funeral it becomes an enduring family memory that festers for years.

With death and dying, the ground we stand in is a sacred space.

That said, our obligation to the living has to take precedence. In boring but necessary repetition, the warnings keep coming from the authorities – social distancing, hygiene etiquette, stay at home – and they need to.

The sun may be shining but the journey towards the promised land of something approaching normality is far from over. And if grieving families have to accept the present difficult arrangements around death and funerals, the rest of us should be prepared to accept our more marginal sacrifices.

Complete Article HERE!

These Are The World’s Oddest Funeral Traditions

(Still In Practice Today)

When it comes to dealing with the dead, some countries have traditions that are a bit stranger than most.

by Vanessa Elle

Unique traditions help to preserve the history and identity of a particular culture. From Halloween practices to funerals, every culture has its own traditions when it comes to dealing with the dead. Keep reading to find out about some of the world’s oddest funeral traditions that are still practiced today.

Indonesia: The Funeral Takes Place Years After Death

In many countries, funerals are held only a short amount of time after someone passes away. But in eastern Indonesia, funerals amongst the Toraja ethnic group are sometimes held years after a person has died. The primary reason for this is that they are often larger-than-life events lasting anywhere from a few days to a few weeks and it sometimes takes a family that long to save up enough money to afford such an affair.

Between the moment a Toraja person dies and the moment they have their funeral, they are still kept in the family home rather than in a morgue. They are referred to as someone who is sick or sleeping rather than someone who has passed away and is even cared for, laid down, and symbolically fed.

Ghana: People Are Buried In Fantasy Coffins

Ghana has made headlines in the past for the fantasy coffins that are so popular in the African nation. The idea behind fantasy coffins is that people get the chance to rest forever after in a casket that represents something they were passionate about or something they achieved. For example, a fisherman might be laid to rest in an oversized fish while a businessman might choose a casket shaped like a Mercedes.

It’s common across many cultures to invest a lot of money into the ideal coffin and this tradition just takes the idea one step further. After all, a coffin serves as someone’s final resting place, so it only makes sense that it represents them properly.

Tibet: The Body Is Exposed To Vultures

Sky burials are common amongst the Vajrayana Buddhist communities of Mongolia and Tibet. After a person has died, their body is cut into pieces and left on a mountaintop, where it is exposed to vultures. The underlying belief behind the tradition is that the body becomes an empty vessel following death and must be returned to the earth while the soul moves on.

The practice dates back years and is still the most popular method of burial in Tibet today. Other cultures across the world have also been known to expose a corpse rather than bury or cremate it, including the Zoroastrians, a religious group that today is mostly found in India but can be traced back to pre-Islamic Iran.

Madagascar: Having A Last Dance With The Body

Amongst the Malagasy people of Madagascar, a person’s burial isn’t a singular event. According to the traditional famadihana ritual, the body is exhumed every five to seven years to take part in a celebration. During the ritual, the bodies are sprayed with wine or perfume and family members dance with them while a band plays.

Some take the opportunity to update the deceased person on family news or ask for their blessings. More importantly, during famadihana, people remember the deceased person and tell stories of them to keep their memory alive.

New Orleans: A Jazz Band Funeral Procession

Of course, a jazz funeral could only ever take place in New Orleans! This tradition involves a brass band that accompanies a person’s funeral procession. The idea behind it is that the streets are filled with music and the deceased person’s life can be celebrated in addition to their death being mourned.

The procession typically begins at the church or funeral home and marches all the way to the cemetery. The music steadily becomes more upbeat as the march goes on and people begin to dance, with passersby also encouraged to join in on the dancing.

Complete Article HERE!