COVID-19 pandemic changing how Windsor-Essex funerals are conducted

Religious institutions and funeral homes are finding new ways to help families with the loss of a loved one.

Visitation can now be done through online video

Funeral homes are changing the way they hold visitation, by offering the service online. (Kzenon/Shutterstock)

With large gatherings and religious ceremonies on hold, it's becoming increasingly difficult to hold traditional funerals.

Brian Parent, president of Families First Funeral Home, said instead of welcoming hundreds of people at a time for visitation, they're now just welcoming families in small groups by appointment only. 

"It really depends on the needs of a given family," said Parent. "We try to work individually with each family and find out what works for them."

Families First is also offering virtual visitations through Zoom and Facebook for those who are unable to leave their homes.

Parent added that there have also been requests for public memorials at a later date when families are able to congregate. He said that's given his business the opportunity to put together video messages that people have sent in, along with photos to be used in a slideshow.

"We're doing a lot to get ahead and plan the memorial service with a few extra details that we wouldn't have had time before," Parent said.

According to Parent, more people are also contacting his funeral home to make pre-planned arrangements.

"I think the most important thing is putting information down," he said. "Get some of the statistical type information out of the way and they can focus on the things that are most important, and that is caring of their family."

Parent said many people have not seen their loved ones in four or five weeks because they were in long-term care or in hospital — neither of which are allowing visitors.

"The need for supporting people during the bereavement has never been greater," Parent said. "However that takes place is good and healthy."

Religious ceremonies are on hold, but some are offering smaller, more modest ones if the family requires it. (Submitted by Gerry Lougheed)

Leaders of different faiths in Windsor-Essex are also making themselves available by phone and online video for those who need to talk.

Religious ceremonies continuing in smaller scale

Before the pandemic, funerals at All Saints Anglican Church in Windsor would be able to welcome hundreds. The church would be filled with people and flowers and there would be mass and communion. That's not possible right now, so they're trying to delay as many funerals as they can, and will hold smaller ceremonies if families need them.

"We can do very small and very modest services, so the Bereavement Authority of Ontario has let us know that a maximum of 10 people can be present for a funeral, provided that they can still do the physical distancing," said Rev. Robert Clifford, Rector of All Saints Anglican Church.

Mourners have to be two metres apart from each other inside the funeral home or at the grave site.

Earier this week the Windsor Islamic Association posted a video on Facebook of a funeral service, showing a small group of people wearing masks and gloves praying over the casket and lowering it into the ground.

Those in the Muslim faith will have family wash and wrap the body of a deceased loved one, but now that isn't possible. (Meg Roberts/CBC)

The Muslim faith has a tradition where families would usually wash the body, wrap it in a shroud and then place it in a casket.

"That whole process is being avoided, of course, and if families get together after someone passes, that's usually done for the first three days. But because of COVID-19 none of those would be taking place," said Sinan Yasarlar, Windsor Islamic Association.

The Jewish religion also has a tradition to prepare the body for a funeral called Taharah, where the body is washed. It's conducted by the Chevrah Kadisha, a group of women and men who perform the sacred ritual.

"What's starting to happen around the continent is the rabbis working together with others ... to create a newer ritual that refers back to the traditional ways that we do this but can't," said Rabbi Lynn Goldstein with Congregation Beth El in Windsor. 

In Portland, Ore. some are carrying out the rituals, but without a body present. Another community is choosing to hold a special ritual in a Jewish cemetery for those who died between Rosh Hashanan and Yom Kippur.

Jewish families also have a week-long mourning period, called shiva. Goldstein said some families are choosing to sit shiva at a later date and some are observing it, but will not receive any guests because of COVID-19.

Over time, Jewish traditions have had to adapt to new situations, according to Goldstein.

"Depending on the situations that people have lived under, we've had to be very flexible and to be respectful and to keep the sense of the traditions, but we have always had to be flexible in order to survive," she said. 


To encourage thoughtful and respectful conversations, first and last names will appear with each submission to CBC/Radio-Canada's online communities (except in children and youth-oriented communities). Pseudonyms will no longer be permitted.

By submitting a comment, you accept that CBC has the right to reproduce and publish that comment in whole or in part, in any manner CBC chooses. Please note that CBC does not endorse the opinions expressed in comments. Comments on this story are moderated according to our Submission Guidelines. Comments are welcome while open. We reserve the right to close comments at any time.

Become a CBC Member

Join the conversationCreate account

Already have an account?