Nova Scotia

Halifax's graveyards are closed, but there are other ways to navigate grief

Roy Ellis, a Halifax grief therapist, said these closures could be difficult for people grieving a loved one. But while graveyards are closed, Ellis says there are creative ways people can feel close to their loved ones.

All municipal graveyards in Halifax are closed to reduce the spread of COVID-19

The gates are closed at the Camp Hill Cemetery in Halifax. (Taryn Grant/CBC)

The ritual of visiting the final resting places of loved ones is on hold for some.

All municipal graveyards in Halifax are closed indefinitely to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

"In compliance with the province's State of Emergency Order, all municipal cemeteries are closed, except for interments," read a notice posted on the city's municipal cemeteries page.

The Fairview Lawn Cemetery, Camp Hill Cemetery, Mount Hermon Cemetery, Saint Peter's Cemetery, Dartmouth Common (Park Avenue) Cemetery and Saint Paul's Cemetery are affected.

Roy Ellis, a grief therapist in Halifax, said the closures could be difficult for people in grief.

"A lot of the reasons things have been closed right now are about the health and safety and well-being of people, including grievers," he said.

"So I don't think there's an exception there, but I think what we can say is it will create added stress, added complications, potentially, to people in grief."

Roy Ellis is a Halifax grief therapist. (David Maginley)

For those dealing with loss, Ellis said visiting a graveyard can help them feel closer to someone who isn't there anymore.

"Going and standing next to a physical place can be very powerful," he said.

"Where we can actually locate the loved one in time and space, and stand there and either speak words or pray, or just be close to their remains."

But while graveyards are closed, there are creative ways people can feel close to their loved ones, said Ellis.

This can mean creating a memorial at home, writing letters to the deceased or even just imagining a visit to the cemetery.

"We're incredibly adaptive creatures with huge hearts," said Ellis. 

"We're creative, and throughout time have shown ourselves ... to be able to rise to special occasions, and to challenging ones."

'A really new landscape for grief'

Ellis said experiencing grief during the pandemic is more complicated than ever. There are more sudden deaths, which can be traumatic for people, and reduced access to support networks or loved ones who may be dying in hospital.

"I think we're looking at a really new landscape for grief," he said. "That's not to say that humans can't handle it, that we're not going to be able to manage it, but I certainly think that we're all aware … we're going to have to feel our way through it."

All municipal graveyards in Halifax are closed to reduce the spread of COVID-19. (Taryn Grant/CBC)

COVID-19 is already forcing people to adapt the way they grieve. From virtual funerals to mourning together over video calls, Canadians are finding new ways to support each other. 

People can also postpone funerals and life celebrations until restrictions are lifted, said Ellis.

"It's going to be very hard on people, but we're very good at bracketing certain experiences and putting certain kinds of emotional experiences or needs on the shelf," he said.

The most important thing is to be there for others who are experiencing loss, since they might need that support now more than ever.

"People aren't dropping by with lasagnas, people can't come over and they can't access their usual avenues for help," said Ellis.

"I'm trying to be thoughtful and generous with my time, and trying to show up in people's lives in any way I can, and I think that's something we can do to be extra thoughtful and extra kind right now."

About the Author

Alex Cooke

Reporter/editor

Alex is a reporter living in Halifax. Send her story ideas at alex.cooke@cbc.ca.

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