Because grief and the way we deal with the loss is individual and depends so much on so many different factors, families unable to have planned funerals and people unable to attend a farewell or a funeral will have many varied and different responses.
There is no ‘one’ way to support those who are unable to attend or those having a small funeral. A growing body of research points to the absence of rituals in the immediate aftermath of death as a possible risk factor contributing to complicated bereavement. Funerals enables survivors to capture a stable post-death identity for their loved one.
We know funerals are important because they help families and friends support one another, embrace their feelings and embark on the shared journey to recovery. They help people acknowledge death, they give friends and relatives an opportunity to express the love and respect they feel for the person and for the family. And they help celebrate the unique story of a person’s life.
Also attending a funeral helps encourages the sharing of memories and activates support during this time of grief. A funeral also allows outwards grief and a place to express it. They are also important because they have cultural implications and provides social learning on how to grief.
Humans need the touch of others most acutely in periods of crisis like death and bereavement and that is remembering that all those involved in death and grief might need this human contact. This is particularly difficult at the time of Covid. At this time there is also the added factor that sometimes funerals are planned by the person dying themselves and those left behind may not be able to carry out their requests.
Some of the aspects of a funeral that might be important are the music that might help us access our feelings and memories. The readings are important to convey the uniqueness and philosophies of the person and even the greeting of people is important as it recognises their support and allows them to express their love and concern.
So when all these aspects are unavailable to people what can we suggest or offer as alternatives?