The Need To Gather

In the last few months we have all been affected in one way or another by COVID-19. As funeral home professionals we have stood back and watched how the fear of the unknown and society’s solution to it, social distancing, has changed the structure of our lives and especially impacted the lives of people who have lost loved ones during this on-going pandemic. It has reaffirmed our stance on why funerals are crucial in order to process and heal from the scars left by the death of a loved one. Not being able to have traditional funerals has highlighted how essential funerals are to the emotional well-being of those left behind. It’s important to first understand why funerals are essential and note how they have changed so dramatically due to the pandemic. Then it is paramount that we as funeral home professionals be creative and find unique ways that we can continue to have celebrations in order to heal while adhering to local mandates. East Lawn continues to make our families and their grief journey our number one priority and will continue to do so amidst adverse conditions.

How Do Gatherings Aid Emotional Healing?

People have been gathering to acknowledge a death for millennia. It is an inherent need of human beings to connect with others and this is especially true during a monumental life event, such as losing a friend or family member. It’s during these times that we rely on others when we may not have the strength to persevere on our own. As a funeral director it has been painful watching families go through this experience without knowing week to week if they will be able to gather with their friends and loved ones due to all of the changing restrictions. The reality is people are going to continue to die and we have to be able to process this in a healthy way while complying with current local health orders or it will have great lasting effects. 

Funerals are designed for two very specific reasons. The first is obvious, the need to properly care for the remains, in which there are a variety of ways to do so. The less obvious, but more important , in my opinion is to begin your journey of acknowledging the death and starting your grief journey in a healthy way by having a funeral. Almost ten years ago my maternal grandmother passed away. Our family made arrangements to make sure her remains were properly cared for, completing the first step. The problem was we didn’t do anything else. We missed the second step entirely. Years later I have witnessed the negative emotional impact her death has had on myself and other family members. At the time due to family circumstances many of us didn’t see a need to have a funeral for her. Little did we know then how much it would affect us later. There is good news though, it is never too late to have a funeral. Our family has plans set in play to gather almost ten years later to give our grandmother a proper funeral and to mend the scars many of us have had years later. 

Funerals are essential. Properly acknowledging and processing someone’s death is crucial no matter how great or difficult your relationship was with the friend or family member who died. We must allow ourselves to go down the grief journey and process the associated emotions in order to heal from the sting of death.

How Social Distancing Changed Funerals

In early March we watched funeral gatherings shift from an unlimited amount of attendees to none at the height of local “shelter-in-place” orders. At that point people could merely watch their loved ones be laid to rest from their vehicles, in effort to maintain social distancing and prevent the spread of the virus. While we acknowledge and understand this order was given because it was seen as an essential step to take in order to slow the spread of the Coronavirus we also realize the negative impact it had on people who were losing loved ones. 

Funerals have since adapted and services are beginning to take place on a scaled down level. Although, they don’t look anything like how we remember them a few months ago. No one hugs or sits near each other. Chairs are spaced six feet apart. Families have the added stress of making a guest list and deciding who can and can’t come to the funeral. There are no receptions to go to after where people can laugh and share stories. Instead attendees are going home, alone. Funerals are not meant to be this way. We must find a way to blend social distancing with funerals or else the emotional side effects of our society are in grave danger.

How Can We Gather While Practicing Social Distancing?

How can we fulfill this need to connect during a time where the ability to connect is so limited? We have to find ways to lean on our community and celebrate while maintaining social distancing. Here are a couple that we here at East Lawn have employed since March when the local health order was announced: 

While it will likely be some time before our chapels will be full again, we are grateful to be able to provide a variety of spaces for people to safely gather with the allowed number of friends and family. For times when we are allowed to hold services indoors we have mapped out the maximum number of people that are able to attend services in our chapels while maintaining social distancing and have outdoor areas designated for times when that is what we have to do. Having these options already figured out has been a great relief to many families. 

Due to travel restrictions we know there are a lot of people who wish they could be here for services but are unable. We have set up the ability to live stream services in all four of our chapels and via other web-based programs outdoors so that loved ones across the globe can be remotely present no matter what. We also offer digital guest books so those same loved ones can participate no matter where they are by leaving messages of love & hope as well as photographs. We then print everything for the next of kin to be able to reflect on when they aren’t able to be with their friends and family physically.

We are continuously striving to find even more new ways to help those in need during this difficult time down their grief path. Grief is real and it affects everyone differently but with all of the current uncertainty taking every possible step to be healthy both physically and mentally is more important than ever.

Jessica Harston, Funeral Director FD-4085

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