Funerals in the coronavirus age: How to mourn safely when family gatherings are off limits

Grieving, like so many other parts of life, is different now.


Sandy Brown knows the horrors of COVID-19. Both her husband and son died of it.

She could not comfort them, and mourners could not comfort her at the recent funeral near Detroit.

With more than 80,000 novel coronavirus deaths in the U.S., many are asking whether the social distancing precautions are truly necessary in such a time of grief. Those who have lost a loved one to the virus, or believe that fear is a real possibility, must also wonder whether it is safe to be near their loved ones as they mourn.

Grieving, like so many other parts of life, is different now.

This COVID-19 guide from the National Funeral Directors and Morticians Association advises funerals be held now with no more than 10 people, and maybe less depending on the state.

"It was initially a very scary thing," said Walker Posey of the National Funeral Directors Association. Posey owns a funeral home in North Augusta, South Carolina. He says more services are now being live-streamed, with no chair covers at grave sites, greater spacing between seats, and more sanitizing.

"The way it feels is different," said Posey. "The process is different. But the elements that are important for healing are still there."

Fewer people are seeking life-saving help during the pandemic.

With a rising number of COVID-19 deaths outside of a hospital, many wonder how to safely care for the remains of a loved one who dies at home.

But are coronavirus-infected corpses still contagious after death? Will bodies be required to be cremated to reduce the spread? Dr. Stephen Blatt, an infectious diseases physician with Cincinnati-based TriHealth, says cremation shouldn't be necessary.

"Well, probably the virus does live in deceased bodies for some time after the patient passes away," Blatt said. "The embalming process will kill the virus, though. Certainly cremation would be one way, if that's what families want to do. But there's no requirement for cremation."