Funeral Guidance during a Pandemic

Grieving the loss of a loved one during the fear and anxiety about the COVID-19 pandemic can be overwhelming. It may be difficult for people to make decisions about how to safely grieve and honor their loved one. This guidance is for individuals and families as they work with funeral directors, community and religious leaders, and others to plan and hold funeral services and visitations during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Guiding Principles to Lower Infection Risk

The more people interact, the closer in distance the interaction is (less than 6 feet), and the longer the interaction lasts, the higher the risk of spreading COVID-19.

The higher the level of community transmission in an area, the higher the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Masks help lower the risk of spreading COVID-19, particularly if social distancing cannot be maintained.

During an in-person gathering, convene in outdoors or in well-ventilated areas, if possible, rather than poorly ventilated, indoor areas to help lower risk of spreading COVID-19.

Outdoor gatherings are safer than indoor gatherings.

Avoid sharing commonly used objects such as religious aids (e.g., religious books, collection plates, programs, etc.,) to help lower the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Reducing the number of people who are engaged in activities like singing or chanting as these behaviors can increase the amount of respiratory virus in the air.

Practice increased hand hygiene, and cleaning and disinfection of frequently touched surfaces and objects to help lower the risk of spreading COVID-19.

Practice social distancing by maintaining at least 6 feet between attendees; facility or lay staff; and clergy or officiants, especially when small, in-person services are held.

Take extra precautions for those at increased risk for COVID-19, particularly those who are older or have pre-existing conditions, to help lower the risk of spreading COVID-19.

The risk of COVID-19 spreading at gatherings and services

Lowest risk: Virtual-only services and gatherings.

Lower risk: Smaller outdoor, in-person services and gatherings in which individuals from different households remain spaced at least 6 feet apart, wear masks, do not share objects, and come from the same local area (e.g., community, town, city, or county).

Higher risk: Medium-sized in-person services and gatherings, either indoors or outdoors, adapted to allow individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart, with some individuals wearing face masks and with some attendees coming from outside the local area. Sharing of items or objects is limited.

Highest risk: Large in-person services and gatherings held indoors and where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart; many attendees travel from outside the local area. Few individuals wear masks and objects are shared.

Strategies to protect yourself and others when grieving the loss of a loved one.

Using technology to connect virtually with family and friends during the grieving process.

Considering modified funeral arrangements, such as limiting attendance at funerals held during shortly after the time of death to a small number of immediate family members and friends; and then holding additional memorial services when social distancing guidelines are less restrictive.

Practicing social distancing by maintaining at least 6 feet between attendees, facility staff, and clergy or officiants when small, in-person services are held.

Considering modifications to funeral rites and rituals (for example, avoid touching the deceased person’s body or personal belongings or other ceremonial objects) to make sure of everyone’s safety.

Wearing masks while around others and outside of your home.

Grieving the loss of a loved one

Grief is a normal response to losing someone important to you. When a loved one dies, it is important for friends and family to be able to share stories and memories of the person and how they influenced their lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the ability of friends and family to come together in person and grieve in typical ways. This is true regardless of whether the person’s death was due to COVID-19 or some other cause.

Given the COVID-19 pandemic, hosting gatherings now could be dangerous to those who would want to participate. Family and friends are finding alternate ways to connect, support each other, and grieve after their loss. They understand the need to possibly plan for additional memorial services when COVID-19-related restrictions are lifted.

Take actions to help you cope with the loss of a loved one

Grief is a universal emotion, but no two people experience grief in exactly the same way. Some actions you can take to help you cope with feelings of grief while practicing social distancing and honoring your loved one include:

Invite people to call you, or host conference calls with family members and friends to stay connected.

Ask family and friends to share stories and pictures with you via phone, video chat, email, text message, photo sharing apps, social media, or mailed letters.

Create a virtual memory book, blog, or webpage to remember your loved one, and ask family and friends to contribute their memories and stories.

Coordinate a date and time for family and friends to honor your loved one by reciting a selected poem, spiritual reading, or prayer from within their own households.

Some cultures practice a prolonged mourning period with multiple observances, so hosting virtual events now and in-person events later may be in keeping with these practices.

Seek spiritual support from faith-based organizations, including religious leaders and congregations, if applicable. People who are not part of a faith tradition or religious community can seek support from other trusted community leaders and friends.

Use grief counseling services, support groups, hotlines offered by phone or online, or seek support from a mental healthcare provider.

Read books about grief and loss. If you have children, read age-appropriate books with them and talk with them about how they are feeling.

Take part in an activity that has significance to you and the loved one you have lost, such as planting flowers or a tree or preparing a favorite meal, in memory of your loved one.

Stigma of losing a loved one to Covid-19

During the COVID-19 pandemic, the family and close friends of a person who died of COVID-19 may experience stigma, such as people avoiding them or rejecting them. Stigma hurts everyone by creating fear or anger toward other people.

Some people may avoid contact with you, your family members, and friends when they would normally reach out to you.

You can help stop stigma related to COVID-19 by knowing the facts and sharing them with extended family, friends, and others in your community.

Making Funeral Arrangements

COVID-19 does not need to affect whether the funeral takes place through burial or cremation. Wishes of your deceased family member or friend may continue to be honored.

In general, there is no need to delay funeral services and visitations due to COVID-19. However, some changes to traditional practices are likely needed. Family members may need to discuss timing of services with funeral service providers, who may be overwhelmed.

COVID-19 is a new disease, and we are still learning how it spreads.There is currently no known risk associated with being in the same room at a funeral service or visitation with the body of a deceased person who had confirmed or suspected COVID-19 after the body has been prepared for viewing.

Take precautions when planning and holding funeral services and visitations to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among those in attendance, including those who may not have symptoms.

Practice social distancing while making funeral arrangements

Consider having virtual or phone meetings instead of in-person meetings with funeral home staff, cemetery staff, clergy or officiants, and others to plan funeral arrangements.

If you need to meet in person, follow everyday preventive actions to protect yourself and others from COVID-19, such as wearing a mask, social distancing, washing your hands often, and covering coughs and sneezes.

Do not attend in-person meetings if you are sick or if you might have been exposed to COVID-19.

Those who have higher risk of severe illness should weigh the benefits of in-person attendance against risk of exposure to a person with COVID-19, especially if recommendations for wearing masks and social distancing may be difficult to follow for themselves or others.

Discuss options for making changes to traditional funeral plans