Family members only sign outside a funeral in Revelstoke. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)

Death in a time of COVID-19

Funerals are a time for the community to come together. However, the pandemic has changed that.

COVID-19 has changed not only the way we live, but how we die and mourn.

“We can no longer have a funeral in a traditional manner,” said Gary Sulz, a funeral director in Revelstoke.

While weddings and christenings are on hold during the pandemic, death has continued.

According to the obituary section of the newspaper, since the novel coronavirus became a pandemic on March 11, eight people have died in Revelstoke.

Previous to the pandemic, funeral directors were not considered an essential service. (Liam Harrap/Revelstoke Review)

Sulz said some of those funerals, pre-COVID-19, would have been filled an entire a church.

Instead, they had less than 10 people attend.

READ MORE: This is what happens when you die in Revelstoke

Sulz said funerals are a rite of passage and a time for the community to come together. By nature, funerals focus on touch with hugs and handshaking.

“But those days are gone.”

He said removing the embrace makes it more difficult for families to come together.

“It’s heart-wrenching to watch.”

Instead, it’s time to show love in a distant way, such as an imaginary hug or Skype call.

“Technology is great but to a point. We are social creatures. An embrace lets people know we care,” Sulz said.

According to Dr. Marilyn Mendoza, psychiatry department at Tulane University Medical Center, touch is one of the most powerful means of communication.

She writes in one article that a simple embrace can wordlessly say “I love you,” “I am here for you,” “I care about you,” and “I want to be with you in this time of need.”

Mendoza continues that touch can help ease the transition from one chapter in someone’s life to the next.

READ MORE: Bereaved facing ‘double loss’ amid pandemic: Kelowna funeral home owner

However, some Revelstokians are deciding to postpone funerals and have them at a later date.

“When it is safe to do so,” reads one obituary from last month.

Theresa Hamilton, one of two death doulas in Revelstoke, said the pandemic is making people reevaluated what’s important to them.

With the provinces’ daily news conferences on COVID-19 and updates on how many people are becoming sick and dying, Hamilton said people are beginning to question their own and other’s mortality.

“Perhaps they never realized before how many of their friends have compromised immune systems,” she said.

“Everyone’s bubble has burst.”

One aspect of grief that many people experience after their loved one dies, said Hamilton, is the need to ensure the deceased’ legacy lives on.

“And that’s difficult to do when we’re in isolation.”

READ MORE: Canada to do millionth COVID-19 test but numbers still falling short

She said grief needs attention.

“We are not meant to grieve alone. We’re built to withstand a lot but we need friends and neighbours to remind us we are loved.”

Yet, during a time of physical distancing, Hamilton said some new funeral practices are forming.

She’s heard of some funerals doing drive-by visitations in the cemetery. For others, live-streaming the ceremony is becoming a popular option.

Hamilton said there is a huge benefit to live-streaming a funeral as it might allow people to join the ceremony who might not have been comfortable to attend in person.

If anything, COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of focusing on the simple things.

“It’s important to show people we love them, but without touching. That’s necessary to save lives,” said Sulz.



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