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Funerals, Grief and Mourning in the Time of Social Distancing and Shelter-in-Place

After the death of a loved one, there’s a need to be physically present with the deceased, as well as with others. Touching, embracing and hugging—it’s an important part of the grieving and the healing processes. In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, with public health experts urging everyone to maintain minimal distances from each other and not to gather in groups of more than 10, the physical contact that’s such an integral part of bereavement can be a risky endeavor. If you are Jewish, there can be even more complications, based on some of the distinct funeral and burial practices of Judaism, such as the time restrictions on burial and the tradition of sitting Sshiva

How can you pay proper respects to a loved one who has died, take the right steps to minimize the risk of transmitting the Coronavirus, and still adhere to Jewish traditions? 

Here are some alternatives to consider:

  • In-person services, but limited to fewer than 10 people (including officials and funeral home workers)—At Gutterman’s, we are not currently holding any services in our chapels or in synagogues. However, some funeral homes and cemeteries are still conducting in-person funerals and burials, but with strict measures to ensure appropriate precautions are taken. Although it’s been commonly discussed that social distancing will allow up to 10 people to gather together, every synagogue and cemetery has its own rules during the pandemic, and we have seen many that are limiting the number of mourners to 4 or 5. As a general rule, it’s been limited to immediate family members. Mourners may also be asked to maintain a distance of six feet; masks and gloves may be required; and attendees may be asked to use hand sanitizer as they enter. 
  • Online memorials—A funeral service and/or burial may be live-streamed on the Internet, through Facebook, YouTube or other live-streaming services. The live-stream can allow mourners to observe a memorial ceremony or burial, but it doesn’t allow for actual participation and it does not allow you to express your condolences or share your grief with others physically present. That can be done, to some extent, through Internet videoconferencing, using platforms such as Zoom. You can participate in a Zoom gathering if you have a smart phone with a camera, and can also use a laptop or desktop with a webcam and microphone.  

In many non-Jewish situations, surviving family members are opting for cremation, with a memorial service to be held at a later date, once social distancing and shelter-in-place restrictions have been eased. One of the unique aspects of the Jewish tradition, though, requires that the body of the deceased be committed to the ground as soon as possible, ideally within 24 hours. Furthermore, cremation is generally contrary to Jewish tradition. 

Another distinctly Jewish tradition—sitting Shiva—can likewise be challenging in the face of social distancing and shelter-in-place orders. Sitting Shiva can be an essential path to closure after the death of a loved one, but it’s also a way for others to pay respects, share memories and provide aide to the family after their loss. Of course, family members may still sit Shiva, provided the number of mourners does not exceed 10. You may allow other mourners to come into your home, making certain that they sanitize before they enter, and that the gathering never exceeds 10. A safer approach may be to encourage mourners to call and express their condolences, and to have the traditional gifts delivered to your door by a third party. You can also schedule a regular daily Zoom meeting, where mourners can see and hear each other online, sharing memories and paying their respects. 

We Are There in Your Time of Loss

At Gutterman’s, we bring more than 125 years of experience in the funeral home profession to individuals and families in New York and Florida. We understand the importance of grief and mourning in times of loss, and we respect the need for social distancing and sheltering in place during the Coronavirus crisis. At the present time, there are no services taking place in our chapels or synagogues. We are available by phone, text message or videoconference to discuss your options for funeral and burial services. Call our offices at one of the numbers provided below. We are available 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.