Planning a Funeral in the Midst of COVID-19

If you lose a loved one now, there are novel ways to pay tribute.

Susan Greer


The coronavirus pandemic may be compromising funerals as we know them, but novel options have surfaced to help families pay tribute to their loved one, even if we can’t hug and come together. These are difficult times calling for different ideas. Whether it’s a small funeral, a live-streamed memorial service, or a mix of gentle gestures now while we wait for the COVID-19 cloud to lift so we can hold the perfect tribute later, families have meaningful options.

These are innovative ways to safely pay tribute to a loved one.

Have a small funeral

Some states permit funerals of up to 50 people, but funeral homes and places of worship aren’t risking it, limiting the number of people to 5 or 10. Still, this might be the most comforting option if you have a regular place of worship. You’ll find solace from the familiar rituals and the coffin or urn will be there with you in the sacred space. You could also have an intimate (distanced apart!) gathering for the burial or scattering of the ashes. When life returns to normal, a celebration of life or memorial can be held, giving everyone in the community a chance to offer their condolences and pay tribute.

Live streaming funerals

Resourceful churches, synagogues, and mosques have quickly rallied to offer live-streaming funeral services as a safe alternative. Funeral homes are also live-streaming. In real-time, family and friends view the service from the safety of their homes. If you’re planning a funeral online, typically, up to one hundred people can follow the service. Technology is prone to glitches and not everyone is comfortable in the digital world, but this option ensures many family and friends can participate in the ceremony.

Contact a celebrant

Despite their title, celebrants look beyond ceremonies to create meaningful ways for family members to create a legacy and nurse their grief. Even with social distancing restrictions, celebrants can help families fill today’s void.

Share memories: A good celebrant creates each ceremony from scratch, so it’s personalized. The first step is meeting with family and friends to learn all about their loved one. That meeting, even while staying home (it can be online) brings comfort, as stories, photos and memorabilia are shared and those in mourning can focus on their loss.

Pay tribute with gentle gestures: Grief is complicated at the best of times, and even more so during the pandemic when we can’t get together to hug and console each other. You may be anxious that you can’t do anything now to pay tribute to your loved one. A celebrant can help you find meaningful gestures, such as planting a tree, designing a photo album or collage, creating an online memorial or a shrine in your home, writing a story, a tribute or a poem. There are unique ideas, as unique as the person you’ve lost.

Hold a virtual gathering: It’s tough that the timing of this pandemic is so indefinite. To pay tribute in the interim, a celebrant could guide a virtual celebration of life, over a video chat platform like Facebook or Zoom. You’d be surprised how intimate it can be. It’s not the same as getting hugs, but it can fill the empty hole that grief at a time of isolation brings. With planning, there could be several participants, readings, music, and even ritual.

Hold out for when you can host your ideal ceremony: You may want to postpone the funeral until the pandemic is over, knowing that one day you can host a ceremony that meets your every wish. Then you can celebrate the essence of your loved one and bundle those memories to take away forever, without the distractions of a pernicious virus.

Mix and match the options: If you decide to wait until you can hold a full-fledged funeral, you may find comfort in doing something in the short term. That could be a virtual memorial, or live-streaming a service or burial. There are memorial tasks that will soothe you within your own home. Funerals are for the living. Let your feelings guide you in your decision; don’t let convention dictate your decisions unless it makes sense for you. Chat with a celebrant, who will help you make the right decision for you and for the memory of your loved one.

Hopefully, you and your family and friends remain safe and healthy through the pandemic, and you don’t need any of the above tips. Let’s look out for each other. If you know someone who has lost a loved one during, or because of the pandemic, remember they had to bear that loss in isolation. Save a hug for them.

Susan Greer received her Life-Cycle Celebrant® certification from the Celebrant Foundation & Institute (New Jersey). She is also a director of the Green Burial Council.