How do we say goodbye to someone we love when we are unable to carry out our traditional funeral rituals?
Not being able to hold a service and burial within the early days or weeks after a death is yet one more aspect of our lives that is thrown off course by the COVID-19 virus. Funerary rituals and customs play a vital role in many traditions as a way to honor our deceased family members and friends. Without the opportunity to say goodbye in the presence of community, we are isolated from our support system and secluded from the hugs and gestures of sympathy that bring comfort to our bereaved lives.
Creative attempts to customize cultural customs and traditions in this surreal time can provide some measure of solace. Perhaps you will design a private ceremony to be held at home now, complete with music, flowers, and prayers. You may want to take time to write a eulogy, prepare a photo collage, look at photos or meditate quietly and allow for a period of self-reflection.
Look to the future. Once we are able to gather with others again, consider holding a memorial celebration to commemorate your dear one. Memorials are often held weeks or even months after the death. One advantage of a memorial is that you can take time for planning and schedule it when out of town friends and family can be present, on a significant date like their birthday, or when you are ready to place the headstone on their grave, or scatter their ashes.
For today, remember to reach out to others and ask for the virtual support you need. Accept their offers to drop off meals. Float a Styrofoam lantern with a candle and a message in a pool or tub of water. Post your thoughts on social media. Make a donation in their honor. Paint, draw, journal your feelings.
And, if you are supporting someone who is grieving today, please reach out and let them know you are with them in spirit. Tell stories, share memories, express how much you care.
Fredda Wasserman, MA, MPH, LMFT, CT is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, Certified in Thanatology: Death, Dying and Bereavement.
She established the OUR HOUSE Medical and Clergy Education programs and presents trainings and workshops throughout the country on end of life and grief. Fredda is the co-author of Saying Goodbye to Someone You Love: Your Emotional Journey Through End of Life and Grief which has been selected by the Library Journal as a Best Self-Help book.