Passing away from coronavirus: what does it mean for the funeral?

Currently, 276 people in the Netherlands have passed away from the consequences of the coronavirus. When someone passes away from this virus, only a modified funeral can take place. Nowadays, families deal not only with a painful loss, but also the need to practice social distancing.

Morticians in our country follow the guidelines of the Rijksinstituut voor Volksgezondheid en Milieu (RIVM) about how funerals must be held at this time. A week ago, my granddad passed away, and the funeral was governed by various measures. For example, there was no gathering after the funeral, and large groups over 100 were no longer permitted to gather for the memorial service. Furthermore, our mortician did recommend to wash our hands after contact with my granddad. However, viewings of bodies in caskets are still allowed in the Netherlands, and my family was able to say their goodbyes and honor my granddad.

Additional measures for the staff of funeral services have also been taken. It is required that the staff wear protective equipment, including gloves and a long-sleeved apron. Furthermore, our mortician told us that it was not allowed to shake hands anymore. Morticians are becoming more alert to preventing the virus from spreading during a funeral service. The next of kin may not be present at the funeral if they show symptoms of the virus, such as fever or cough.

Further measures have been taken for funeral services in other countries. In parts of Italy hardest hit by the virus, funerals without one’s relatives last just five minutes with just a blessing from the priest. In hard-hit regions such as Northern Italy, the mortuaries are full and the crematorium is working around the clock. The benches have been removed in the crematorium to make room for caskets. And in front of the cemetery there was a traffic jam of hearses.

The only thing all families hope for, including my own, is that the coronavirus will be controlled. No one knows how that will take shape or how long it will take. But when that moment arrives – in a month, in two months or maybe until the summer – all the families will get their farewell with all the respect due their loved ones. This can include extensive memorial services with a choir, and people from the village in attendance.

But for now, the church bells remain silent in many countries.

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