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COLUMN: Saying final goodbyes, attending funerals feel very distant in 2020

In this week's 'Everything King', Wendy gets a firsthand look at how funerals have changed in the COVID era
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It's apparent that 2020 is the year that keeps on taking. So much loss.

I am literally afraid to answer the phone or scroll Facebook in the fear something bad has happened to someone I know.

Another lesson I didn’t want to learn was the “new normal” funeral experience.

I lost a dear friend recently, quite unexpectedly.

It was not from COVID-19, but that doesn’t mean it didn’t have a profound impact.

With the shock came the very real question: “How do you do a visitation in 2020?”

With permission of the family, let me run down some of the things they needed to do when planning a service for a loved one during a pandemic. This is in no way a critique of the funeral director; it is simply a fact of how things are handled at this time.

First of all, all communication with the funeral home was done via e-mail or phone. There was no in-person consultation. There were links to follow to choose options, whether that be for flowers, memory cards, or coffins. The family says there was absolutely nothing personal about the process. Also, if the family wasn’t tech-savvy, it would be very frustrating.

Planning has to be very quick. In this case, the choice was to have it all planned and executed in two days or wait for another week. (Perhaps because another lockdown was pending.)

Understandably, there was no coffee station as nobody was supposed to linger.

As for guests, we had to make a reservation through the funeral parlour. We were given a specific time when up to 10 of us (in a pod) would be allowed inside to pay respects and have 15 minutes to do so before the next group was allowed in.

We waited outside until we were summoned. Masks on. We sanitized going in. We left our names and numbers for contact tracing.

The family was cordoned off by a chain (think velvet theatre rope), which basically kept them at a bit of a distance keeping us from any hugging or touching other than elbow bumps.

What was it like?

There was still a guest book, slide-show tribute and beautiful music.

While I was truly grateful we were allowed to attend, it was difficult.

For me, it was completely devoid of any true emotion. Awkward is the best word I can think of to describe it. 

I found it hard to get in touch with my emotions while worrying the whole time about breaking protocol.

At the most difficult times, what humans do best is express concern through touch. When words fail, a hug or a kiss speaks volumes, but that was not allowed, for obvious reasons.

It just felt odd. We were on a time limit. We felt afraid to do anything inappropriate. 

The following day, the funeral service was live-streamed from a church.

That was another first.

You follow a link provided by the funeral home and log on at the designated time. 

At a time when most people cannot attend in person, this technology really is a great innovation.

The family was so happy that this allowed loved ones from around the world to participate.

It is a static camera usually showing the very front of the church and maybe one row of mourners. It is not intrusive.

I have a feeling the way we do funerals will change post-2020.

Maybe we don’t need the three-day-long events. 

There’s the likelihood more people will opt for something smaller and more simple.

Not that anyone likes a funeral, but I will admit I need the tradition, the closure, the official goodbye.

Lots of people don’t and that’s fine, too, but every single person deserves a dignified and proper goodbye.

I feel like in this time of a pandemic, our loved ones get cheated.

In the case of my friend, crowds would have been around the block for this amazing woman. Instead, numbers were capped at 50.

Afterwards, there was no reception. There was no congregating or sharing of funny stories. No comfort food or meaningful toasts.

As the family said: “We all just stood around together, but separate waving goodbye to each other through our tears.”

I can’t get past the feeling that a life so well lived should have been celebrated in a far grander style.

Goodbyes are always painful but are made moreso when not fully expressed.


About the Author: Wendy King

Wendy King writes about all kinds of things from nutrition to the job search from cats to clowns — anything and everything — from the ridiculous to the sublime. Watch for Wendy's column weekly.
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