British Columbia

Funeral industry develops new ways of coping with loss as loved ones struggle with isolated grieving

The executive director of the Memorial Society of British Columbia said the funeral industry has had to adapt to help people process their grief amid physical distancing rules and is developing creative ways of providing a sense of communal grieving that can get lost in a digital landscape.

Industry experts agree postponing a funeral or celebration of life can impede the grieving process

The side view of a funeral casket.
Under physical distancing restrictions, the funeral service industry has been forced to shift online. (Kzenon/Shutterstock)

Workers who help others with the end of life say the industry in B.C. is working hard to meet demand and has turned to virtual tools to help people find closure when a loved one dies.

So far in the province 114 people have died due to the COVID-19 pandemic. According to statistics from the B.C. government around 730 people die each week in the province from all causes.

Stephen Garrett, executive director of the Memorial Society of British Columbia, said his industry has had to adapt to help people hold funerals and process their grief amid physical distancing rules currently in place.

"People whose loved ones have died are struggling with a lack of ability to gather together with family and friends to grieve the loss," he said.

Offering intimacy through a screen

As much of the world shifts online in its efforts to prevent further infection, so too has the funeral industry. Now, instead of holding a service at a church or cemetery, the ceremony is offered through a virtual video setting.

But how do you maintain the intimacy and vulnerability at a funeral when it's attended from a computer desk or a living room couch?

Garrett said his industry is developing creative solutions to provide that sense of communal grieving that can get lost in a digital landscape.

He encourages his clients to develop a physical ritual, such as doing something at the same time, during the ceremony even though no one is in the same room together.

"Sometimes that's enough for people to at least honour their loved one intimately, in their own way, in their own home," he said. "We can do little things that can be enough to get the natural grief cycle moving and allow us to plan, in the future, for a more full celebration of life."

Officials at Seeking Ceremony, a company that helps people mark significant moments in life like death, say that small rituals play a crucial role in a digital setting.

Megan Sheldon, the company's founder, said that could be taking a deep breath together as a group, drinking the same tea, or having everyone lighting a candle at the same moment.

"It's not just about doing the exact same thing as before and putting up a camera," she said. "We're having digital fatigue right now...having everything be in that two-dimensional world."

Megan Sheldon works with people to create virtual ceremonies during the COVID-19 pandemic that maintain the intimacy of communal grieving. (Megan Sheldon)

Sheldon said it's important to create a tangible experience during the ceremony that intimately connects the community, as well as to tie it to the person whose life you're honouring.

'Grief doesn't wait'

Some people are choosing to postpone their loved one's funeral services until physical distancing restrictions are lifted, but both Sheldon and Garrett agree that a delay to dealing with grief can come with consequences. 

'Grief doesn't wait. If you lose someone, you need to start walking through that grief," said Sheldon, adding that ceremony can help find meaning in the loss.

Garrett and Sheldon say small rituals like the lighting of a candle can create of sense of community while grieving the loss of a loved one virtually. (candle-canva)

Garrett said when you put off the grieving process, which often begins with the funeral, that grief gradually gets tucked away, unresolved.

"We collect all this grief and we don't often afford ourselves the opportunity to express it as fully as we need to," he said. "And that can cause some issues down the road."