Grieving the loss of a loved one during the fear and anxiety about the COVID-19 pandemic can be overwhelming. It may be difficult for people to make decisions about how to safely grieve and honor their loved one. This guidance is for individuals and families as they work with funeral directors, community and religious leaders, and others to plan and hold funeral services and visitations during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Help lower the risk of spreading COVID-19 by following these guiding principles.
The risk of COVID-19 spreading at gatherings and services is ranked as follows, from lowest to highest:
Lowest risk: Virtual-only services and gatherings.
Lower risk: Smaller outdoor, in-person services and gatherings in which individuals from different households remain spaced at least 6 feet apart, wear masks, do not share objects, and come from the same local area (e.g., community, town, city, or county).
Higher risk: Medium-sized in-person services and gatherings, either indoors or outdoors, adapted to allow individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart, with some individuals wearing face masks and with some attendees coming from outside the local area. Sharing of items or objects is limited.
Highest risk: Large in-person services and gatherings held indoors and where it is difficult for individuals to remain spaced at least 6 feet apart; many attendees travel from outside the local area. Few individuals wear masks and objects are shared.
In some situations, many people have become sick with COVID-19 after attending a funeral service. To help prevent the spread of COVID-19 in communities, changes need to be made to the way funerals, visitations, and memorials to the deceased are held. This guidance provides strategies to protect yourself and others when you are grieving the loss of a loved one, supporting each other, making funeral arrangements, and participating in funeral services and visitations. Some examples include:
Grief is a normal response to losing someone important to you. When a loved one dies, it is important for friends and family to be able to share stories and memories of the person and how they influenced their lives. The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the ability of friends and family to come together in person and grieve in typical ways. This is true regardless of whether the person’s death was due to COVID-19 or some other cause.
Given the COVID-19 pandemic, hosting gatherings now could be dangerous to those who would want to participate. Family and friends are finding alternate ways to connect, support each other, and grieve after their loss. They understand the need to possibly plan for additional memorial services when COVID-19-related restrictions are lifted.
Grief is a universal emotion, but no two people experience grief in exactly the same way. Some actions you can take to help you cope with feelings of grief while practicing social distancing and honoring your loved one include:
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the family and close friends of a person who died of COVID-19 may experience stigma, such as people avoiding them or rejecting them. Stigma hurts everyone by creating fear or anger toward other people. Some people may avoid contact with you, your family members, and friends when they would normally reach out to you. You can help stop stigma related to COVID-19 by knowing the facts and sharing them with extended family, friends, and others in your community.
Familial and cultural expectations might put pressure on you and others to participate in or hold or schedule funeral services and visitations. During the COVID-19 pandemic, those expectations may need to be relaxed to protect the safety of those who would have participated. People continue to get exposed to COVID-19 at funeral services; the people giving it to others were not feeling sick at the time and did not know they were carrying or spreading COVID-19.
Consider the following modifications to funeral services and visitations to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. These modifications are recommended for events held in any setting, including funeral homes, cemetery facilities, places of worship, private homes, and other venues.
Discuss with the funeral home director, clergy or officiant, and your family any potential changes that might be necessary to protect all of the participants and attendees. Consider options for modified or new practices that would be acceptable to you and your family and friends, such as:
If some traditions, such as certain religious rituals, sharing rides to the gravesite, or having food and beverages, are considered essential to you and your family and friends, consider modifying them.
In some cultures, bringing food or gifts to grieving family members is an important way to express care and concern. During the COVID-19 pandemic, consider expressing care in ways that do not involve personal interactions. Consider delivering food or gifts to grieving family members in ways that keep people at least 6 feet apart, mailing care packages, or giving families gift cards for food delivery services.
There are many different cultural traditions involved in the bereavement process, including some that involve touching the deceased person’s body before preparation. Though we are still learning more about how COVID-19 spreads, it may be possible that you could get COVID-19 by touching the body of a deceased person who had confirmed or suspected COVID-19 prior to the body being prepared for viewing. After the body has been prepared for viewing, there may be less of a chance of the virus spreading from certain types of touching, such as holding the hand or hugging.
Take steps to protect yourself, such as:
If the deceased person had confirmed or suspected COVID-19, avoid kissing, washing, or shrouding the body before, during, and after the body has been prepared, if possible. Take precautions if participating in these activities is part of important religious or cultural practices.
If desired, you may retrieve the belongings of a loved one who has died of COVID-19 outside their home (for example, in a hospital setting). Depending on local rules and regulations, family members may retrieve these belongings at the funeral home or the healthcare facility.
You should use gloves and practice good hand hygiene when handling your loved ones’ belongings. Depending on the type of belongings, such as electronics, you should also follow the household item-specific cleaning and disinfection guidelines when handling these items.