Funeral Planning During COVID-19

How do we approach holding funerals during the COVID-19 pandemic?


Brad Bailey

Lead Pastor, Westside Vineyard, Los Angeles, CA



The following was written to provide guidance to anyone faced with the unique dynamics of gathering people to honor a loved one during this season in which social gathering is limited.

Consider what may best serve two needs at different times.

When we lose the earthly presence of a loved one, there are two things that are generally most important: First, connecting with the support of those who can share in the loss with us. Second, gathering in a more formal time of honoring the life of the loved one. It is helpful to realize that these do not generally need to be done at the same point.

Unless there are unusual circumstances, we hope that those who must go through such a loss will embrace the first season of connecting with the support of those closest to the loss through appropriate, safe means, and allow that larger formal gathering to take place at a time in which that can be done freely. As a pastor, I strongly encourage people not to dismiss the significance of an open memorial, even if it needs to be held two or more months later. When we gather with the community who shared a relationship to the loved one, it provides the opportunity to do what we do best with others: be united in the reality of the loss, remember and honor the life of the one whom we have lost, and join around the hope that endures.

In the meantime, while that open memorial gathering may have to wait, the immediate season is one in which those who have lost a loved one can still connect to the support of those who share in the loss most personally. We encourage that person to make a list of the family and friends in whom they find the most comfort, either because those individuals know them personally, or knew the one who passed. That person should not feel obligated to manage every person their loved one has known, but rather focus first on those who are truly a source of support for them personally.

With this circle identified, that person can begin connecting at a pace that is within their emotional capacity and comfort. This may involve inviting some or all of this circle to a graveside gathering, which can be done with appropriate physical distance. Most funeral homes are limiting the size of gatherings to as few as ten individuals and requiring strict distancing, particularly when their staff attendants are present. This will feel a bit awkward as it is usually a time in which our ability to embrace is such a valuable part of our human expression of bonds and care. However, the communications or invitation sent in advance of the funeral can help by acknowledging the awkwardness beforehand. In the meantime, the usual process of a broader email, posting on social media, or the posting of an obituary can communicate to a wider circle about the loss and the choice to wait on a memorial gathering for a future time. The individual could simply conclude this wider communication with a statement such as: “A celebration of life will be held at a later date.”

Know that technology can help others connect to any gatherings.

In addition to this general advice, there are ways in which technology can provide connections for those limited by social distancing, travel, or any other reasons. Should someone desire to hold some form of graveside gathering or celebration of life gathering, these events can be streamed over the internet in such a way that any and all should be able to join online. Currently about 20% of all funeral homes offer a live-streaming option. Special media services such as TribuCast, OneRoom, FuneralOne, and others may be able to offer a more intimate and engaging personal experience by including video of personal memorabilia, photos, a family tree, and a link to the obituary. These can offer very meaningful ways to hold immediate graveside services or memorials in which many cannot be present due to restrictions on gatherings, travel, or for personal health conditions.

Don’t let the limited circumstances limit what matters most.

There are many things which simply cannot be done as freely at this time. From travel to hospital visitations to gatherings to physically embracing all those we care about, these restrictions may cause some to feel that they will be grieving alone or that they are not honoring their loved one as they should. It is important not to allow limitations to dismiss what matters most. We can still communicate with those we care about and even still honor those who have passed on.

To those who may be faced with such a time, a good first step can be to identify a friend who can help navigate this process and seek their support. To those who know individuals facing the loss of a loved one, reaching out to them as they grieve could be a greater source of comfort for them as it has ever been.

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3-4, NIV)

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Brad Bailey is the Lead Pastor of Westside Vineyard in Los Angeles, CA.