Loss Amidst A Pandemic: Grief When Nothing Is Normal

A Guide To Understanding Funeral Planning & Grief During Covid-19 Pandemic

The global pandemic has sharply and rapidly cut away our sense of normalcy. It has brought on waves of loss, marked by financial instability, uncertain futures, and the lonely and devastating deaths of our loved ones.  For those who are at a loss on how to proceed in mourning for their loved ones, we hope that this guide serves as a navigation tool for you.

We discuss how to go about planning funerals, what differences to expect, common questions around ceremonies during this trying time, and ways you can celebrate your loved ones and cope with your grief.

What Is A Pandemic & How Is It Different Than An Epidemic?

While there have been several notable pandemics in our past, the current outbreak and spread of the novel coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, is the first one since the 2009, influenza pandemic[1]. With 10-years separating us from the last pandemic, many have either not experienced a pandemic before or are unsure of what one is.

The term pandemic simply describes the worldwide spread of a new disease. The disease will spread rapidly between people, across regional communities, and international borders. Due to the disease being new to us, we do not have the natural immunity to fight it off, causing hundreds of thousands of people to become gravely ill.

When the disease spreads to at least two countries, it signals that a global pandemic is inevitable. According to the World Health Organization, when the new disease has spread to at least three countries, we are in the “pandemic phase”[2] signaling that a pandemic is well underway.

It is important to note that pandemics are not defined by their growth rate but rather by how far the disease has spread. This is what makes it different from an epidemic. An epidemic is an outbreak of any disease across a community or region over a specific time period. An example of the most recent epidemic is the Ebola outbreak[3] that occurred across Western Africa between 2014-2016.

How The Covid-19 Pandemic is Changing Funerals, Memorials, & Burials

As of October 2020, the world has seen 1.13 million deaths and well over 40 million active cases as of this writing[4]. While the sudden loss of our loved ones has brought on the inevitable companion of grief, the pandemic is altering and interrupting our normal courses of mourning.

Due to the risk of viral transmission in countries and communities that are at high risk, many families and friends are unable to be there for their loved ones as they struggle with this new disease in our hospitals.  This is combined with the anxiety, fear, and loss we are experiencing in other areas of our lives.

Loss Of Employment

The loss of employment in sectors where viral transmission is a high risk. This includes layoffs of individuals in the food industry, retail industry, and any industry that is deemed “non-essential”.

This also includes the loss of financial stability as many may not be eligible for pandemic relief.

Loss Of Support Services

The loss of support services due to employees having their hours cut. This includes workers in developmental services that are considered precarious, low-paying, and non-essential.

This also includes major budget cuts to many state and local jobs such as firefighters, librarians, social services, construction services, and garbage collection.

Loss Of Physical Activity

The loss of physical activity opportunities due to social distancing restrictions. This includes being unable to take part in regular hobbies such as sports and recreation, gym-going, and outside exercise.

Loss Of In-Person Support

The loss of in-person support from friends and family. We are unable to visit those outside of our social bubbles or immediate households, leading to greater isolation and bouts of loneliness.

These waves of these losses combined with the increasing frequency of reminders surrounding illness and loss are happening to many of us simultaneously. This complicates how we cope with our grief and delaying our ability to adapt and recover.

This has left many of us in the dark on how to proceed with funerals, memorials, and the burials of our loved ones.  To help you through this, we are going to outline what type of differences you must deal with when planning a funeral or hosting a gathering for a deceased loved one.

The Differences Covid-19 Has Brought Forward For Visitations & Funeral Arrangements

When one of our loved ones passes away, it is natural to want to celebrate their life with a gathering that brings together our friends and family. It helps us bond over our loss, helps us relive our loved one’s life story, and it helps us heal.

We are able to offer comfort and support to one another, making it easier to cope with our grief. Unfortunately, the unprecedented novel coronavirus pandemic has brought about a lot of changes in how we can mourn our loved ones.

Death & Funeral Changes When A Loved One Dies Of Coronavirus

The death of a loved one is nothing short of painful and devastating. However, if your loved one has passed away due to the novel coronavirus, you may find yourself with unanticipated complications and changes to certain areas of the notification, death, and funeral process. Please expect any of the following:

1. Prepare to follow hospital/nursing home protocol.

If your loved one has passed away in a hospital or an assisted-living facility, you will be notified but unable to collect their belongings right away. These belongings will need to be sanitized to reduce any potential risk of the virus moving outside of the immediate area where they were kept.

This means that the room in which your loved one resided in will also need to be completely sanitized. This will delay how items are released to you.

2. Prepare to not know the person calling you about the loss.

The phone call that you receive notifying you of the death may come from someone who is not known to you. This person may have very little details regarding who was with your loved one at the time of their death, when their time of death was, or have any final message for the family.

It is also likely that they will not be able to answer any questions you have. Hospitals, assisted care facilities, and nursing homes are under siege with the virus and protocols, changes in staffing, and changes to regulations all play a part in how notifications are sent out.

3. Prepare to be tested and isolate.

If your loved one passed away at home and the cause of death was determined to be coronavirus, you will likely be required to take a coronavirus test and self-isolate yourself. Anyone who was in contact with the deceased will be required to isolate.

Please adhere to your country’s guidelines on self-isolation when coming into contact with someone who tested positive for the coronavirus.

4. Prepare to wait to collect personal belongings and possibly the remains.

Personal belongings and the deceased’s remains will not be quickly available if they are available at all.  For families who require the deceased’s body for religious or cultural rituals may find themselves with an additional loss at being unable to retrieve their loved one.

This is simply because the protocols around the transportation and preparation of dead bodies with a communicable disease are extensive to protect funeral service personnel, medical examiners, and coroners.

Frequently Asked Questions About Differences With Coronavirus & Arrangements

For those dealing with the death of a loved one who has passed away from the novel coronavirus, you are likely to have questions about the funeral arrangement, viewing, and touching of a dead body. Here is what you need to know.

1. Can a traditional funeral proceed or is cremation recommended?

A traditional funeral can proceed in accordance with social distancing guidelines. It is a common myth that those with communicable diseases such as Covid-19 should be cremated. Only have the body cremated if this the wish of the deceased or a matter of cultural choice.

2. Can there be a viewing of the deceased individual?

Family and friends may view the body after it has been prepared for burial, however, social distancing measures should be strictly applied. Those who are immunocompromised should not participate in the viewing unless they can maintain an appropriate amount of distance from everyone else and can wear a mask.  Interaction with the body in any way should not occur. This also applies to those who are greater than 60 years of age.

3. Can you touch the deceased?

There is no clear answer as to how long the SARS-CoV-2 can remain infectious on or in a deceased body. It may live in respiratory secretions for several days after the deceased has passed.

The greatest risk for contracting the novel coronavirus from a deceased comes to those who fail to employ proper infection prevention and control when handling or touching the body.  This means that family and friends who are viewing the body should not touch it.

If a family member does touch the body, they should immediately wash their hands with soap and water. An alcohol-based sanitizer is also acceptable. This destroys any pathogens that may have been transferred from the dead body to you.

4. What do I do with their clothing?

Any clothing or fabrics that belonged to your loved one do not have to be thrown out. However, when given the items, wear protective equipment such as a mask and gloves during handling. Immediately machine wash the clothing (do not load with other clothing items), in warm water at 140-194°F or 40-90°C. Standard laundry detergent is fine.

If the clothing is fine linen and cannot be machine washed, it should be soaked in hot water with soap in a large container. Do not directly touch the water or the clothing with your hands and stir it with using a stick of some kind to avoid splashing.  Once the clothing is washed, soak it and the container in 0.05% chlorine for 30-minutes, then rinse with clean, warm water, and hang to dry in the sun[5].

5. Is an indoor visitation or wake permitted?

For a lot of families, holding a wake or indoor visitation either before or after the funeral is customary. It provides social grounding and some time to come together with one another. However, if the deceased has passed away from Covid-19, a wake may not be permitted where you live.

If you are located in the United States, please follow the guidelines based on your state and local health departments.

If you are located in a country that does permit wakes or indoor visitations, please follow the recommended guidelines for social distancing at a funeral. In most cases, countries are limiting social gatherings for wakes to 10-20 people per venue, with personal homes being off-limits and social distancing measures in place.

Please consult your country’s health guidelines and adhere to the protocols put in place.

6. Can food be served before or after a funeral or memorial service?

This is dependent on your country’s guidelines and the established protocols that the funeral home or memorial venue has in place. The answer to this though is generally, a no. Providing food during or after a memorial service with the ongoing pandemic is not considered safe and creates a situation of high risk.

If you have religious traditions that require the sharing of food and beverages as part of the service, then it is highly recommended that you modify the entire process.  Read a bit further down on how to consolidate this practice to make it viable to your memorial or funeral service.

7. Can gifts be brought to a funeral service?

In some cultures, bringing gifts to the grieving family member is a customary response as a way to acknowledge their loss and express concern and care for them.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, it is critical that personal interactions are completely paired down and done by following social distancing guidelines. This means delivering gifts in ways that keep individuals 6 feet apart (2-meters).

Consider mailing care packages instead of hand-delivering.

8. Are large funerals permitted?

No. To help prevent the spread of SARS-CoV-2, communities are being asked to change how funerals, visitations, and memorials are held, including limiting attendance to only immediate family members and friends. Additional memorials can be held in the future for those who cannot attend the funeral when social distancing guidelines have been loosened.

It is recommended that immediate households that do attend the funeral (if there is more than one), socially distance by maintaining 6 feet between each household and everyone else in attendance. This includes facility staff, clergy, and officiants.

It is also suggested that additional ways of including others in the funeral or memorial service be considered. This includes live-streaming the service, having dial-in numbers, or creating video recordings for those who are unable to attend.

9. Can out-of-state visitors attend the funeral?

A large social gathering like a funeral, wedding, or party is considered high-risk, as are sporting events, concerts, parades, and being on cruise ships. The answer to this is dependent on the state, local, and tribal laws in the United States.

Some state, local, and territorial governments have strict restrictions on those who can travel and what is required if you do travel. You may be required to self-isolate for 14-days after traveling.

However, it is not recommended for individuals who are out-of-state to travel to attend a funeral.  Travel increases your chance of contracting Covid-19 and it also places others at risk by spreading the virus to airports, bus stations, train stations, and rest stops.

If you do travel, you must take steps to protect yourself and others from the novel coronavirus. This includes wearing a mask in public settings, avoiding close contact with anyone who is not from your household, washing your hands or using hand sanitizer, avoiding those who are sick or immunocompromised, and avoiding touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

10. What are the protocols around physical touch at funerals, memorials, or burials?

When interacting with anyone who is not in the same household as you, a mask must be worn.  Ideally, you should not touch anyone and instead nod, bow, or wave instead of hugging, kissing, or shaking hands.

Those who are in the same household are allowed to comfort one another through physical touch, such as hugging, holding hands, and embracing one another.

How to Consolidate The Intricacies of Holding a Funeral, Memorial, or Burial

When holding a funeral, memorial, or burial, it is extremely important to consolidate any type of action that would otherwise increase the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus. This applies to social interactions, the sharing of items, and limiting the number of individuals in attendance.

Wake & Indoor Visitations

With regards to wakes or indoor visitations, it is recommended that the venue is well-ventilated. If the venue is not well-ventilated or you cannot confirm that it is, then we recommend that you have the wake in an outdoor area.  If you cannot secure an outdoor area where social distancing measures can be adhered to, then consider not having a wake at all.

While we understand that the decision to not hold a wake can be devastating and further the feelings of isolation and loneliness, it is critical to only participate in safe gatherings where the spread of Covid-19 is minimal or low risk.

Funerals & Burials

It is recommended that a small outdoor service is completed for immediate family members where social distancing protocols can be enforced. We do not recommend inviting anyone outside of the immediate household as this increases your risk of contracting Covid-19.

Food, Beverages & Gifts

We recommend avoiding food service altogether and not providing it at funerals, memorials, or wakes. When we are emotionally distraught, it is very easy to disregard or forget about unfamiliar protocols and guidelines. The touching and sharing of food, beverages, or gifts puts everyone at risk.

If you do decide to serve food, do so in pre-packaged boxes or bags. Do not share utensils, plates, or cookware and do not host a potluck, buffet, or family-meal style food service.

Sharing Of Ceremonial Items

Do not pass around worship aids, prayer books, or collection plates.  If a member of the clergy extends a collection plate out to you, do not touch it, grab it, or touch the hand of the individual. The same goes for any cremation urns present - do not touch them.

Activities That Increase Respiratory Droplets

While we understand how heartbreaking it is to not be able to engage in activities that would be uplifting in times of sorrow, it is important to limit the number of respiratory droplets that get into the air.  This means that activities like singing or chanting when indoors, should be limited to individuals who are wearing masks.

Video Streaming & Webcasting

If you are holding a wake, funeral, or memorial for your loved one and want out-of-state or immunocompromised individuals to be a part of the service, then it is recommended that you employ the use of video streams. You can ask the funeral home about webcasting services for guests who are unable to attend the service.

This provides you with the opportunity to invite a larger pool of people virtually from the comfort of their own homes.

Virtual Collections

When planning a funeral, many families choose to hold a collection of funds, typically as a way to give something back. Sometimes, this is done in the name of a charity that was important to the deceased.  Typically, this is done with a collection plate, but with social distancing measures, there are plenty of online alternatives for doing this.

How To Plan A Funeral During A Pandemic

As the novel coronavirus cases continue to rise, many regions in the United States and other countries have completely banned or discouraged public gatherings, including those surrounding large funerals. If you have been wondering if a funeral or memorial service can be postponed to a later date when social distancing guidelines are not as restrictive, the answer is yes.

While it may be difficult to choose a specific date in the future, just knowing that there will be a memorial event of some kind held in honor of your loved one can help with the grief process.

You may want to discuss how everyone will come together to support one another and how you all want to say goodbye to your loved one. You may want to hold a religious ceremony that is traditional in manner or you may want to choose a less formal option, such as a walk, a meal, or meeting in their favorite place.

If you decide to postpone the funeral or choose to have a remembrance ceremony at a later date, consider planning out the details now to take your mind off things.

Factors To Consider When Planning The Funeral

If you do decide to go ahead with the funeral or memorial service, there are several factors that you will need to consider during the planning of the funeral.


Masks should be worn as they help lower the risk of spreading the novel coronavirus. This is especially true if social distancing cannot be maintained or where the guidelines may not be taken seriously.

Social Distancing Guidelines

The funeral venue will need to maintain social distancing guidelines, including maintaining 6 feet (2-meters) apart between all individuals in attendance. This includes anyone not in the same household as one another, facility professionals, and officiants.

Outdoor Vs. Indoor Venues

It is recommended that an outdoor funeral or memorial service is held. Indoor venues are not always well-ventilated and can cause issues for maintaining the 6 feet or 2-meter recommendation for social distancing. An outdoor venue will allow you to host a small, in-person event where attending households can remain spaced apart.

Add wearing masks, not sharing objects, and only inviting from the local area ensures a lower risk of transmission.

Out-of-State & Immunocompromised Individuals

It is recommended that out-of-state  individuals do not travel for the funeral but instead tune in via a live stream. This is also the recommendation for immunocompromised individuals who are unable to maintain proper social distancing measures either at or on their way to the funeral venue.

Sending Flowers

When it comes to flowers, some individuals may want to send you flowers, but is it safe? According to the World Health Organization, commercial goods represent a low risk of infection, permitting that contactless delivery is made  and it comes from a trusted and reputable supply chain.

It is recommended that if you do receive flowers, wash your hands immediately after placing them in a vase and do not touch or smell them repeatedly.


The average cost for a traditional in-person funeral is between $7,000-12,000 for the viewing, the burial, service fees, casket, embalming, preparation, and transportation of the body to the funeral home[6].

For those who are cremated, the average cost is between $6,000-$7,000 for an in-person event[7].

For those choosing to go virtual, the average cost is between $1,000-3,000 depending on how many people are in attendance and what type of services need to be included in the package.

Reading Of The Will

Given the current pandemic, individuals that are involved in the reading of the will or the handling of affairs of the estate such as financials, there will be special protocols and guidelines that you will need to adhere to due to social distancing rules.

To ensure the proper execution of all estate planning documents where in-person meetings are not practical or recommended, there will be other creative solutions put in place.

This can include any of the following:

  • The reading of the will may take place over a videoconference, where all those named in the will must partake.
  • Any drafted documents that must be finalized, will need to be properly signed and witnessed, otherwise, they may not be accepted by government agencies or financial institutions.  In-person, drive through, signings which are done through a glass door, window, or car may be required.
  • In some cases, you may be able to ask friends who are not beneficiaries to witness any required signing process via a videoconference or through a socially distanced environment. 
  • A physical signature is still required.

Viewing Options For The Funeral Service

You may want to discuss what the viewing options are with the funeral home. Depending on the size of the funeral home and the technology available, options can differ greatly.

A lot of funeral homes will offer the option for an online funeral which allows people to tune into a hosted ceremony online through videoconference technology.  These types of online arrangements can be made quickly and can feature a welcome screen, slideshow presentations, pre-recorded messages, live music, and a chat window for sharing your experience with one another.

Another potential option would be to broadcast a graveside service through AM/FM transmitters. This allows households to stay within their cars and listen to the ceremony through their radio. This limits in-person interaction but still allows everyone to come together to one venue and drive by the casket.

Inviting Out-of-State Family Members & Friends to a Funeral Service

With many areas of the United States in partial re-opening phases, it may be confusing as to whether out-of-state family members or friends can come to an in-person funeral service.

The CDC recommends checking your state, territorial, or local public health websites about travel restrictions from state to state or region to region, as some areas require individuals to wear masks when in public or quarantine for 14-days after traveling. You can read more about travel protections to take during the pandemic, here.

If your out-of-state friends or family members do decide to visit for a funeral service, you will need to figure out who they are going to stay with or where they are going to stay.

While there is no hard or fast rule on this, they should not stay in a crowded home where socially distancing is difficult to maintain, should not stay in a home with children, or stay in a home with older adults or individuals who are immunocompromised.

6 Ways To Involve Those Whom Cannot Attend The Funeral

For a lot of individuals, going to the funeral service is an important step in the grieving process. It allows you to say goodbye to the individual, impart any last words to them, and share stories with others about their life and the impact they made on you. In not being able to attend a funeral, healing and grieving may be delayed, causing you to feel angry, annoyed, frustrated, guilty, or unsupported.

To help those who are not able to attend, regardless of the reason, you can do the following.

1. Send Recordings Of The Readings

If you are planning on making recordings of the readings done at the funeral, take time to send them to the individual so that they can listen. This also includes the readings of any poetry or any music played during the ceremony.

2. Involve Them Even If They Can't Attend

If the individual who cannot attend was an important person in the deceased’s life, consider having them record a message to be played at the funeral or have a reading done on their behalf.

3. Light A Candle

Consider lighting a candle, placing flowers, or reading out the names of those who cannot attend as a tribute to them. Ask those who cannot attend to light a candle or say a prayer on the deceased’s behalf as a memorial tribute to their life.

4. Livestream The Funeral

Record or live stream the funeral so that they can partake. You can learn more about live streaming a funeral here.

5. Gift Them A Memory

Consider purchasing cremation jewelry or fingerprint jewelry of your beloved and mailing it to all those who were close to the deceased. This is a fantastic way to connect with those who were unable to attend the funeral and bring everyone closer together through a physical memento.

6. Create An Online Memorial

If you are looking for ways to help you remember your loved one, you can create an online memorial page through a virtual memory book, webpage, or blog that allows individuals to share their stories, and memories of the beloved individual.   You may also want to consider holding a virtual conference meeting between a larger group of family members as a way to share photographs, stories, and grief with one another. There are plenty of virtual conference video platforms available like Apple’s FaceTime and Zoom.

Dealing With Grief With Limited In-Person Support

As we experience so much loss in our lives amidst the Covid-19 pandemic, it is important to take actions that help us cope with the grief that we feel, whether it is about the loss of a loved one, the loss of our jobs, or the loss of our in-person support networks. We are in a time where restrictions that are designed to stop the spread of infection, are only isolating us and making our sadness more devastating and hard to heal from.

If you are struggling, please reach out or take some action. Here are some ideas that may help.

Seek Out Counseling

Seek out grief counseling or mental health services from accredited counselors, support groups, or from hotlines.  There are plenty of therapists and counselors willing to take you on, hear you, and help you move through the loss you are experiencing.  Video counseling & phone counseling are available.

Consider Books About Grief

Consider reading books about grief and loss. Doing this will give you someone to connect with, whether it is the author or the characters in the novels. Reading is all about the journey of discovery and of story, and it can help you process yours by giving you a fresh perspective on scenarios of loss.

Get Outside

Make sure you are getting outside enough. Keep social distancing guidelines and mask wearing in check, but go to a quiet place where you can remember your loved one. Perhaps there is a stream, a lake, or a rock outcropping that overlooks their favorite place. Go there, remember, and make peace.

Create A Closure Ritual

Create a closure ritual for yourself. This could be creating your loved one’s favorite meal, planting a tree in their name, or painting rocks and leaving them at their favorite destinations.

Reach Out To Church

If you are spiritual, seek online support from faith-based organizations and church congregations in your local area.

Lean On Friends & Family

Lean on your friends and family. Request that you have virtual video calls that are designated for the sharing of positive memories about your loved one. Reminisce with these individuals to help you feel close to your loved one again.  You may want to do this through Zoom or FaceTime, but keep regular phone calls open as an option too.

Recreate A Memory

Light a candle in their name, paint scenes from your memories, or create a memorial box of their favorite things.

Acknowledge that you may be experiencing numerous types of loss at the moment and that grieving may be harder because we are uncertain as to what our future holds due to the pandemic.  It is important to recognize and understand the hardships you are going through but do not judge yourself or your emotional response at the challenge of our current circumstances.

In doing this, you open up the window to care for yourself, because right now, that’s exactly what you need.

Surviving Grief In A Pandemic

In a world where we can no longer host warm, comforting in-person events, meetings, and support groups that allow us to bond and grieve for our losses, we must find new ways to take care of ourselves.

There are ways that we can still show our love and our dedication to those that passed away during the pandemic and find ways to grieve that a loss and begin to move forward.  We hope that this guide has given you some ideas on how to proceed with a funeral, memorial, and burial service and some answers on what to expect in this unprecedented time.

October 26, 2020 by Frances Kay