When We All Get Through This- How Memorial Services Will Help Heal Following a Death During Social Distancing By Neil Fogarty
Today we find ourselves in an unprecedented time of firsts: social distancing, school and business shutdowns, and stay at home orders have us wondering how to respond to this new normal. With people avoiding large gatherings and funerals discouraged or banned, we face a multitude of trying emotions as well. How will our society deal with this new reality, in a world where we already struggle to confront the loss of a loved one? The answer is, when we move beyond this trying time of required isolation, the need for memorial services will be greater than ever; we will need memorial services to heal.
Address Your Immediate Grief
You may not be able to have the services or the gatherings with family and friends you so desperately need, due to current mandates. However, don’t accept isolation in a critical time of grief. With the social media technologies at most of our fingertips, we need to take advantage of video calls and chats. Use Skype, Zoom, Facebook, or Facetime to keep connected in your time of grief. A good old-fashioned telephone still provides that connection as well. Keep a grief journal so you can put onto paper, your emotions associated with loss. Be honest about your feelings and understand that people will do the best they can to help you in your time of grief. However, understand you will likely get well-meaning comments that don’t help. Take these comments for what the are: expressions from those who love you and don’t know what to say. Be patient with them and don’t hesitate to let them know when their words help and when they do not. Let someone know when you just want them to listen and just be a sounding board to your grief. By maintaining relationships, even remotely, the grieving process can and will move forward.
What Healing Looks Like
Social distancing orders force families to have a loved one’s body prepared (through embalming or cremation) and buried without the benefit of memorial services. Such services provide moments to grieve that cannot happen in our current environment, yet that does not mean we can never have meaningful services once we can gather again. Jewish tradition provides a great example of a delayed, yet meaningful service. Within one year of a loved one’s death and following the granite memorial placement, members of the Jewish faith gather for a memorial unveiling. The memorial is actually “veiled” with cloth or paper, a Rabbi and those close to the deceased gather at the grave, recitations of faith occur, and the veil is removed from the memorial. This tradition offers the community of faith and family the opportunity to come to grips with the reality of their loss and celebrate by viewing the eternal symbol of a life well-lived. In the pandemic environment of isolation, such a ceremony will prove crucial to the ability of families to grieve and heal. Here are similar ideas that can serve the same vital role as a Jewish Unveiling.
What you can do to heal through memorial services
1) Have a virtual celebration – Too often those suffering loss forget the uplifting part of ceremony. Focused on grief, they don’t give space for celebration. Using a popular social media app, create a celebration chat to recount fond memories of the departed. Make sure to encourage folks to tell stories that are humorous, uplifting, and little known. This will provide a fuller picture of the departed for everyone participating and will begin to help the healing process. Remember, we move forward through loss and grief, we never get over it.
2) Utilize the community rooms in your local funeral homes – Too often we assume that gatherings for remembrance must occur within days of a death. Work with your local funeral director to schedule and utilize their beautiful community rooms as a gathering place for family and friends, even if that gathering happens sometime in the future.
3) Plan an outdoor memorial service – Whether or not there is a memorial present, memorial services offer vital emotional healing to participants. Services can be planned at public or private venues once social distancing orders lift. Ideas to include in the service are story times, a butterfly release, a picnic in the park, a message board, live music as a tribute or even a “parade of remembrance.” Do what works for you and what helps reflect on the life of your loved one and remember, planning the service helps the grieving journey continue.
4) Schedule a future service at your place of worship – Churches provide a sacred place to remember and there is no timeframe for a service. Whether in the days following death or a time after stay at home orders, few places provide comfort and hope for the future like a place of worship; take advantage of that even if it is down the road.
5) Purchase a permanent memorial – Quality memorials typically take 4 to 5 months to order, engrave, and deliver to the cemetery. This process gives a timeframe to plan a meaningful service delayed by governmental isolation orders. Furthermore, the memorial is a lasting vision of love dedicated to a life well-lived. It is a permanent record of those we have lost, guarding their memory forever. Please remember that cremated bodies deserve the same consideration of a permanent resting place given to casketed bodies. With Dodds, you can consult virtually; through an appointment in the cemetery; or by limited appointments at our sales offices.
Remember that service is an age-old and critical component to your grief. There is a reason that humans have practiced funerals and celebrations of the dead since the dawn of time. Without ceremony, service, and gathering evidence shows that those grieving a loss may struggle to grapple with their grief. Take time to pause, ponder, and appreciate a life well-lived. Use ceremonies and memorials to accomplish this vital purpose, so we all get through this.