Funerals and COVID-19: An update for you and your family

Published 1:45 pm Sunday, July 5, 2020

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By Courtney N. Gallop, founder and president, Gallop Funeral Services, Inc.

It’s official: as of Friday May 22, 2020 at 5 p.m. funerals are exempt from crowd gathering restrictions. Executive Order 141 specifically exempts funerals from mass gathering restrictions.  Many families who experienced the loss of a loved one during the months of the COVID-19 crisis were forced to cancel or postpone funerals and memorial services.

These services can now be held in full compliance with North Carolina Safer At Home rules. The following, however, are some things to consider as you work with your funeral home in planning that long-awaited tribute to the life of a precious friend, mother, father, sibling or grandparent who has died:

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1) The funeral is exempt – not the reception before or after the service. Expect for the funeral home staff to conclude the service promptly and disperse family and friends immediately following a service to avoid crowding and possible exposure – even if guests are masked. Do not plan on a meeting and greeting time before the service; the funeral home will usher and seat friends right away to avoid a crowd before the service.

2) Funeral and memorial services are exempt, however your church or funeral home may have specific policies or rules limiting attendance.  Ask in advance if the church, hall, club or chapel is comfortable hosting the service after you give them a rough idea of attendance.

3) Even though funerals are exempt, many friends and family members will not be comfortable attending. Try not to be disappointed if turnout is not what you were expecting or if friends reconsider and do not show for a service. They are probably still feeling cautious or need extra time to feel comfortable in public. Also, travel is still difficult and may be impossible for some family members or friends.

4) Be creative and be open to other ways to honor a decedent. Maybe a small funeral service can be augmented with the publishing of a detailed, well-written, personalized newspaper obituary. Run the piece for a couple for days perhaps and include a great picture. This can be extremely comforting. Consider using technologic or photographic tools such as streaming, ZOOM and videos to share memorials with friends and family. Consider a home or yard funeral or memorial service. Perhaps the beach, a park, ship or a marina might accommodate the service and make people more comfortable attending. Perhaps an extended viewing or visitation time may work instead of a funeral to accommodate more people but less crowding. Choose a funeral home that is receptive to new ideas and making unique accommodations.

5) Warn friends and family in advance if masks and or gloves will be required for entry into the funeral. Ask the funeral home staff to enforce this for your family and let them know if exceptions will be permitted.

6) Wait it out. Consider setting a date further out into the future to have the funeral service.  Crowd restrictions and travel difficulties may be lifted so that full indoor funerals and receptions will be easier to attend with fewer if any restrictions. Stay updated and flexible incase compliance is still an issue.