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How to hold a safe funeral

By Connie Cone Sexton
A female mourner with a loved one's ashes in a cremation urn. Des Green, Getty Images/iStockphoto

Covid-19 has changed funerals dramatically. Would-be funeral goers are staying home, faced with not wanting to jeopardize friends or family. On top of the traditional challenges of managing grief and making arrangements is a new one: holding memorial services while keeping everyone safe.

The traditional expressions of support – giving an embrace or lovingly taking a mourner’s hand – are on hold. But funeral directors are doing what they can to create an environment that still reflects that reverence and reflection for the person who has died – even if it means at a distance.

Across the country, funerals are underway with attendees wearing masks, donning face shields, separation between spaces in pews.

Melissa Sullivan, executive director of the Ohio Funeral Directors Association, says she’s seen increasing numbers of live-streamed funerals, outdoor services and drive-through visitations. “We published the route for a procession, giving people the chance to line the route with signs, balloons and so forth,’’ she says.

Sullivan says one family embraced the open air and brought a cooler to the graveside, hoisting Blue Moons, the grandmother’s favorite beer.

And then there were the friends and family members who couldn’t attend a service who emailed pictures of themselves with or without the deceased and had the funeral home place printouts of their faces on seats they would have occupied.

“The pandemic has certainly caused tremendous obstacles and emotional stress on decedent families, but it also spurred touching and creative opportunities for individuals to grieve, acknowledge and celebrate their loved ones,’’ Sullivan says. “Each life lived is unique and should be remembered as such.”

Some families are opting to delay services until a larger memorial can be held.

In other cases, families are holding multiple sersvices to give more people the opportunity to pay their respects, says Randy Schoedinger, chairman and chief executive officer of Schoedinger Funeral and Cremation Services serving Columbus, Ohio.


Schoedinger’s business has worked to adjust seating to safely allow up to 50 people to attend a single service with proper social distancing.

“We require a mask for everyone and we frequently disinfect,’’ he says. “Human beings have a need to gather and support people in a time of need. We’re trying to do this in the new normal.”

The Centers for Disease Control offers the following suggestions for holding or attending funeral services:

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