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The impact of COVID-19 on our last farewells
22 July 2020
 

Funerals are rituals that are as old as humanity itself. They are not only an opportunity to show your emotions and to grieve, but they also help to grasp the reality of loss and the meaning that your loved one had in your life. COVID-19 has deprived people of these precious last moments of a farewell in many ways due to the nature of the virus and the regulations implemented to contain its spread. However, it has also made thinking and talking about death far easier than in the past. 

 

Delayed Grief 

The impact of being unable to say goodbye to your loved one on their deathbed, during quarantine, can never be underestimated, and family members will most probably be left with a feeling that they have not done enough for their loved one towards the end. They will feel cheated and deprived of their last moment with the deceased. Complicated grief may result in some cases, caused by delayed mourning due to the bereaved not getting sufficient closure. 

 

It is human nature to grieve, and holding a dying loved one's hand and spending time with the body after death helps to absorb the reality of death and to start upon the journey of the pain of loss. If people are deprived of this final goodbye, they will continue to grieve over it in the weeks and months that follow, which can cause severe feelings of guilt and post-traumatic stress. The current pandemic restrictions produce feelings of utter helplessness in the presence of grief. Denial becomes a reality with the expectation that the deceased is not really dead. 

 

Why Funerals are so Important 

It is challenging to mourn during this "new normal" in which we find ourselves. People want to be able to accept the reality of death and share memories of their loved one with others. They want to be able to express their deepest emotions and require comfort and assistance to bring them through the grieving process. This is why funerals are so important; they are the introduction to the mourning process. 

 

Funerals are also a uniting factor which brings many people together to pay their final respects to the deceased and provide the bereaved with emotional and physical support. The restrictions placed on funerals mean that hugs, night vigils and comforting hands are no more. Even the endeavour for families to wash and prepare the body of a loved one has been curtailed. 

 

Funerals are social events where the deceased’s entire community can gather together. Death has also always been a reunion for long-separated relatives. Tents, cars, refreshments, and the gathering of multitudes of people are synonymous with how death can bring people together, irrespective of distance and relationships. 

 

The ”New Normal” of Funerals 

Although different cultures have different rituals, funeral practices are deeply ingrained into each culture and reflect beliefs and values. However, these events have now been reduced to the attendance of no more than 50 guests. It is heart-breaking to see people masked and seated in a church, two meters apart from each other due to social distancing measures, when there is such a deep need for touch, solace and togetherness. 

 

The current disaster management legislation unfortunately, takes precedence over existing cultural practices in order to protect all attendees. Large “Celebration of Life gatherings are prohibited, and it may no longer be possible to honour the last wishes of the deceased in the manner in which they requested. 

 

Who May Attend a Funeral? 

With the restrictions on the number of people who can attend a funeral, comes the question of choosing who to invite. This inevitably causes tension amongst the bereaved, as the uninvited will feel deprived of an opportunity to pay their respects. 

 

The only option left is to mourn online. But, it raises more questions such as; can it really bring comfort and is a virtual funeral a respectful option? Although experts agree that live video and online social connections may undoubtedly help, they acknowledge that people have different needs. 

 

Some people may believe that it is easier and more practical to postpone the funeral. However, this is not advisable since it can have serious consequences in the months and years that follow. Besides it feeling as if the person had not really died, the bereaved may feel abandoned - as if there is no support, and self-reproach or guilt may thrive because it feels as if the life of their loved one has not been appropriately honoured with a ceremony. 

 

Sonja Smith Funeral Group, which offers expert and elegant personalised funeral services, provides several suggestions to assist families with the grieving process during lockdown restrictions. 

 

Saying Your Final Goodbyes 

  • Write a letter. The nursing staff will readily assist with reading messages to dying patients. 

 

  • Engage with the nursing staff. When the time is right, reach out to the hospital staff who looked after your loved one and ask them to share everything they can remember. 

 

  • Plan a small ceremony for the closest family. This is vital to bring closure for the bereaved, and a larger memorial service can be held at a later stage. Play some beautiful music, light a candle, say a prayer, have a photo tribute or read a comforting text passage. It is necessary. This can all be shared online with friends and family members, if possible. 

 

  • Use technology to communicate. There are many options, which include Zoom and FaceTime for video calling. This technology can be used by the family to say their goodbyes during the patient's last hours. Although they may not be able to touch physically, they will be able to see their loved one. 

 

  • Live-stream the funeral. Professional funeral service provider, Sonja Smith, live-streams funerals worldwide in a tasteful manner. These services are recorded and available for viewing afterwards. It is worth bearing in mind though that live-streaming may bring some challenges in terms of data connectivity and download speeds, depending on the location of the cellphone towers. Although live-streaming may mean that there is a lack of a personal touch and connection, it still enables family and friends to be brought together, even if it is through virtual means. 

 

Some parting advice from Sonja Smith Funeral Group, when your dearest cannot be near you, don't be afraid to use technology to talk about your loss and be honest about your feelings with each other. Follow the Active Grief Community https://www.facebook.com/activegriefcommunity/ for more information on Monthly Grief support groups. Facilitated by Dani Donald and Atishca Makan, this is a safe, interactive platform created with the intention of providing a supportive and compassionate space to learn, share and connect with others on a similar journey.   

A ceremony and ritual are crucial to close the rifts created by COVID-19. Sonja Smith Funeral Group will help honour and commemorate your loved one in safety and with love and care, no matter the circumstances created by the current pandemic. 

 

For more information on our Sonja Smith Funerals with Care, Compassion and Dignity, please visit https://sonjasmith-funerals.co.za/branch-locator/ for your nearest office or contact us on 079 895 4414. 

 
 
 
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