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COVID-19

Woman applying for reimbursement on computer

Applying for a FEMA COVID-19 Funeral Reimbursement

By COVID-19, Explore Options

So many families across the United States have been hit hard by COVID-19 – emotionally, mentally, physically, and financially. Under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 Fund, FEMA can provide financial assistance to families who lost a loved one to COVID-19. Let’s take a look at how this fund will work, who’s eligible, and what documentation you will need to apply.

Red rose on cemetery monument

Background

Administrated through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), eligible families may receive a reimbursement of up to $9,000 per funeral for COVID-related burial and funeral expenses (up to $35,000 maximum). The program will retroactively reimburse for funeral expenses incurred after January 20, 2020.

On March 13, 2020, the president declared COVID-19 a national emergency. Under the Stafford Act, FEMA can offer funeral assistance for presidentially declared disasters or emergencies. While uncommon, FEMA has provided disaster-related funeral expenses before, specifically during Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy.

Who Is Eligible?

At this time, just about everyone is eligible to apply. However, it’s up to FEMA to determine who receives a reimbursement and how much they will receive.

To apply, families must meet the following conditions to be eligible for reimbursement:

  • The applicant must be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien who incurred funeral expenses after Jan. 20, 2020, for a death attributed to COVID-19.
  • The COVID-19-related death must have occurred in the United States, including the U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.

Woman applying for reimbursement on computer

Reimbursement Amounts

Families will receive varying amounts, as determined by FEMA. For example, all methods utilized to pay for a funeral or cremation will be taken into account before a reimbursement is given.

As for reimbursement amounts, the assistance is limited to a maximum financial amount of $9,000 per funeral and a maximum of $35,500 per application. This funeral assistance applies to funeral services, interment, and cremation.

If given a reimbursement, families will receive a check by mail or a direct deposit. However, if your family is not given a reimbursement, you may appeal to FEMA directly.

How Do I Apply?

Remember, reimbursements will vary, and some families will not receive a reimbursement at all. The intention behind the fund is to assist families who were unable to pay for funeral expenses or took a hard financial hit doing so.

To apply, every family must complete application forms and send in the following documentation:

Official Death Certificate

Applicants must include an official death certificate. It’s best if the certificate attributes the death to COVID-19 and shows that the death occurred in the United States. The death certificate would indicate the death “may have been caused by” or “was likely the result of” COVID-19 or COVID-19-like symptoms.

However, for those with a family member who died between January 20 and May 16, 2020, the death certificate may not have indicated that the death was COVID-19 related (because it was so early in the pandemic and testing was not yet reliable). In addition to a death certificate, these families can submit a signed letter from a coroner, medical examiner, or an official who can certify that their loved one’s death actually was COVID-19 related.

This signed document does not replace the death certificate but is considered an additional document to include in the application packet.

Funeral Expense Documents

Applicants must include funeral expense documents (receipts, funeral home contract, etc.). These documents should include the applicant’s name, the deceased individual’s name, the amount of funeral expenses, and dates the funeral expenses were incurred.

Proof of Funds Received

Applicants must provide proof of funds received from other sources specifically used toward funeral costs to avoid duplicate benefits. In other words, a family can’t receive funding from FEMA while also receiving funding from burial or funeral insurance, financial assistance received from voluntary agencies, federal/state/local/tribal /territorial government programs or agencies, or other such sources.

Person filling out an application

What if Multiple People Helped Pay for a Funeral?

If multiple people contributed toward funeral expenses, everyone should apply under a single application as applicant and co-applicant. FEMA will also consider documentation from other individuals not listed as the applicant and co-applicant who may have incurred funeral expenses as part of the registration for the deceased individual.

If multiple deaths occurred in your family related to COVID-19, you can apply for each one.

Helpful Links

FEMA COVID-19 Funeral Assistance 

FEMA Funeral Assistance FAQ

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will accept applications starting April 12, 2021. If you believe you may be eligible for reimbursements, begin gathering the required documentation. Also, don’t forget that your funeral provider can help you through this process. Additionally, for answers to frequently asked questions, go to the FEMA Funeral Assistance FAQ for even more details.

Finally, remember that FEMA has a dedicated toll-free number for inquiries: 844-684-6333 or TTY: 800-462-7585. They are available Monday – Friday, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. CDT.

Hopefully this information will help you determine whether your family is eligible to receive a reimbursement. While this won’t bring your loved one back, it may assist your family through hard times and give a little hope for the future.

Understanding Your Grief: Hope for the Holidays

By COVID-19, Dr. Wolfelt Videos, Exclude from Top Posts, Grief/Loss, Seasonal, Uncategorized

This Christmas season, with the COVID-19 pandemic still affecting lives, Dr. Wolfelt shares a poignant message of hope and healing despite the unique challenges this year has forced upon us. With compassion and kindness, Dr. Wolfelt shares grieving tips and suggestions that will help you make it through. Click below to hear his message and may you find hope and healing this holiday season.

How to Make Up for the Loss of Human Touch During the Coronavirus Pandemic

By COVID-19, Grief/Loss

My first grandchild was born in early 2020, right as the COVID-19 pandemic was gaining momentum. I got a social-distancing, several-feet-away peek at him early on, but then we were kept apart for three long months out of an abundance of caution that his mom (my daughter), 60-something me, and the healthy-but-vulnerable newborn all stayed safe.

As the shelter-in-place weeks slogged by, I found myself more and more impatient to hold the little guy. I wanted to touch his tiny fingers, nuzzle his rose-petal cheeks, and snuggle up with him for a long, cozy bonding session.

And I wasn’t only craving the touch of my grandson. I found myself missing sitting close to friends and loved ones, sharing kisses and shoulder squeezes, hugs and handshakes. Like so many people the world over, I was becoming touch deprived. Even those of us who don’t consider ourselves huggy, touchy people are realizing that we need the physical proximity and touch of other human beings to feel well, especially during times of uncertainty and anxiety.

(Photo courtesy of Dr. Alan Wolfelt)

The power of touch

As a longtime grief counselor and educator, I know that touch helps us feel loved and empathized with. After a significant loss, grieving people who are hugged, touched and visited often report feeling comforted and supported. They also experience that sense of connection that helps them continue to feel meaning and purpose in life.

Since touch is physical, it has bodily effects. When we are touched in comforting ways, our brains are flooded with dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. These feel-good hormones help regulate our mood and make us feel calmer and happier.

When we aren’t touched, on the other hand, our brains suffer from the lack of these chemicals. We may feel depressed, anxious and stressed. We might also have more trouble sleeping.

In addition, touch stimulates the vagus nerve, which branches throughout our entire bodies. Its role is to calm the nervous system, which in turn helps boost our immune systems and can lower our blood pressure and heart rate.

If you’ve been feeling depressed, anxious or stressed; if you’ve been having sleep issues; or if you’ve felt unwell physically, lack of physical touch may be the culprit.

Of course, even before COVID, our culture was becoming more and more socially distanced. Instead of face-to-face contact, we have increasingly relied on technology as a main form of interface. Texting, emailing and posting on social media have become the primary ways of “keeping in touch” — even though, ironically, they involve no touching at all.

The social distancing of the pandemic has only heightened our reliance on technology. We’re grateful, of course, for the electronic means of maintaining connection. Without them, we’d be truly disconnected and utterly separated. But at the same time, we’re realizing their limitations.

Our high-tech, low-touch lifestyles aren’t enough. We need and crave physical human contact. We are skin hungry. We are eye-contact empty. We are touch starved.

Tips for feeding your touch starvation

Tell your family and friends about your need for touch. If you’re sheltering in place with others, talk to them about touch starvation and how you’re feeling. Maybe your roommates are craving touch as well. Depending on your relationships, hugs, shoulder rubs, scalp massages, back scratches, foot rubs, and handholding are possible outlets.

If you’ve been isolated and need a hug, meet up outdoors with loved ones. Then, masks on, share some safe embraces. A 20-second hug is the threshold for alleviating stress and helping you feel calm and safe. Even without hugs, simply gathering outdoors to chat and have distanced face-to-face eye contact for an hour or two can make a big difference.

If you can’t be near your loved ones right now, use video calls as the next best thing. Faces and voices help us feel close and “read” one other. On the calls, tell people how much you care about and miss them. You’ll find that speaking your love out loud releases the same feel-good chemicals that touch does.

Cuddle with your pets. Touch them in the ways they like being touched.

When it’s safe to do so again, consider making an appointment for a massage. Other options: manicure, haircut, or a healing touch or reiki session.

Self-massage also releases feel-good chemicals. Giving yourself an arm rub by rolling a tennis ball up and down your arms a few times a day, or use a foam roller to give yourself a back rub.

Use a weighted blanket when you watch TV or sleep. These 15- to 25-pound blankets press down on the skin, which triggers vagus nerve activity. Choose one that’s about ten percent of your body weight.

Practice yoga. Yoga poses place pressure on lots of different parts of your body, essentially touching you all over.

I’m happy to share that I finally got to hold my grandbaby recently. He’s already a grinning, wriggly three-month-old, and boy did it feel amazing to have in my arms. With my new appreciation for touch starvation, I’m planning on lots of hugs and kisses in the months and years to come.

About the Author

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., is an author, educator, and grief counselor. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is on the faculty of the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. Dr. Wolfelt has written many bestselling books on coping with grief, including Grief One Day at a Time and First Aid for Broken Hearts. Visit www.centerforloss.com to learn more about grief and loss.

Reprinted with permission of Dr. Alan Wolfelt.

10 Freedoms for Using Ceremony During the COVID-19 Pandemic

By COVID-19, Current Events

If someone you love has died during the novel coronavirus pandemic, you have come to grief in an exceptionally challenging moment in history. You may have been separated from your loved one as they were dying. You may have been unable to view or spend time with the body after the death. You may have been prevented from having the full funeral you wanted because of gathering and travel restrictions. And people who care about you may not have been able to be near you to support you in your grief. These and other pandemic-related barriers to the cultural grief rituals we rely on may be making your grief journey especially painful.

I am sorry you have been so deeply affected by this hardship.

As a grief counselor and educator, I know that ceremony helps mourners through the early days and weeks of their grief and can also support their healing in the months and years to come. Funerals are for the living. When funerals are personalized and rich in elements that are meaningful to friends and family, they help mourners set off on a healthy mourning path.

But if you couldn’t have an immediate funeral because of the pandemic, or if the ceremony you were able to have felt incomplete or unsatisfactory, I want you to know that you can still use ceremony to help you and others who are mourning this death. I hope these ten freedoms provide you with affirmation and ideas.

1. You have the freedom to embrace ceremony.

The funeral does more than acknowledge the death of someone loved. It also helps provide you with the support of caring people. It is a way for you and others who loved the person who died to say, “We mourn this death, and we need each other during this painful time.” If others tell you that funerals are unnecessary or old-fashioned, don’t listen. They simply haven’t been educated about all the reasons why humans have relied on funerals since the beginning of time.

2. You have the freedom to hold an immediate private ceremony.

If you were not able to have a bedside ceremony, funeral, committal, or any form of service shortly after the death, you can choose to have a private ceremony right now. Ask a spiritual leader, officiant, family member, or friend to help you plan a simple online meeting using Zoom, Teams, or another tool. You can also hold a small candle-lighting ceremony at your dining-room table.

3. You have the freedom to plan one or more ceremonies to be held later.

Especially if you couldn’t have the ceremony you wanted at the time of the death, you can still hold one or more memorial ceremonies in the months to come, when gathering and travel restrictions are lifted. Remember that a delayed ceremony is a much healthier choice for your family than no ceremony.

4. Yes, you have the freedom to have more than one ceremony!

Ceremony helps grieving people heal. And multiple ceremonies are especially helpful in supporting families through complicated loss circumstances such as yours. For example, you might have an online ceremony now followed by a full ceremony and gathering later this year and then a smaller graveside or scattering ceremony on the anniversary of the death. You will find that each time you hold a ceremony, your grief softens and integrates into your ongoing life a bit more.

5. You have the freedom to plan a ceremony that will meet the unique needs of your family.

Keep in mind that any ceremonies you plan can and should be customized to honor the unique person who died as well as meet your unique family’s needs and wishes. There are no real rules about what you should or shouldn’t do, and your ceremony can be spiritual, religious, or secular—whatever you wish.

6. You have the freedom to feel all of your feelings about the circumstances of the death as well as any ceremony difficulties you may be having.

Because of the challenging and limiting circumstances in which your loved one died, you may be experiencing heightened anger, anxiety, guilt, regret, helplessness, despair, and other difficult feelings in addition to your normal grief. Remember that your feelings are naturally complicated because the situation is complicated. Talking out your feelings regularly with a trusted listener will help.

7. You have the freedom to make use of memories.

You may feel “stuck” in this pandemic moment, unable to carry out all the actions you would like to in honor of the person who died, but you still have the freedom to lean upon your memories. During this dormant time, gathering photos, video clips, memorabilia, and life stories will help you acknowledge the reality of the death and honor the life that was lived. Sharing memories with others will help everyone as well. Then, when it comes time to have a memorial service in the coming months, photos and memories will already be prepared.

8. You have the freedom to reach out and connect.

The isolation you may be experiencing as a result of the pandemic is not conducive to healing. You need and deserve the support of others during this challenging time. Others mourning the death need support as well. So, even if you can’t gather in person with others right now, you can still reach out for and accept support. Talk openly and honestly with the people in your home and be as empathetic as you can. To communicate with others outside your home, video calls are probably the best substitute for face-to-face conversations. Voice calls come second. After that, emails, texting, and social media work too. And don’t forget the power of the handwritten letter! The point is to stay connected as much as possible AND to be open and honest in those communications about whatever it is you are feeling or struggling with at the moment.

9. You have the freedom to ask others to be involved in any ceremonies you plan.

Funeral and memorial ceremonies can have lots of moving parts and may require a good deal of planning. Many hands make light work. You can ask several people to help with the planning and carrying out of tasks. In fact, ceremonies in which many people take part are often the most meaningful to everyone involved. You do not need to do this alone.

10. You have the freedom to move toward your grief and heal.

When it comes to grieving the death of this precious person, you may feel somewhat in limbo during the pandemic. An immediate ceremony will help you feel a degree of progress. In addition, you can move toward your grief by acknowledging and expressing your feelings (see number 6, above), doing memory work (number 7), and reaching out to others (number 8). Giving attention to your natural and necessary grief in all these ways is essential.

Thank you for entrusting me to teach you about the ten freedoms for using ceremony during the pandemic. Despite the restrictions, I hope you will find ways to use ceremony to befriend your grief and begin to heal. You are in my thoughts and prayers. Godspeed.

About the Author

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., is an author, educator, and grief counselor. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is on the faculty of the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. Dr. Wolfelt has written many bestselling books on coping with grief, including Grief One Day at a Time and First Aid for Broken Hearts. Visit www.centerforloss.com to learn more about grief and loss.

6 Ways to Use Photos to Honor a Loved One

By COVID-19, Meaningful Funerals, Memorial, Technology and Grief

With the current guidelines on social distancing, we must find ways of honoring and memorializing a loved one other than gathering together for a funeral or memorial service. Consider these ideas for using photos to honor and remember your loved one’s life together, even if you have to be apart for the time being.

1. Personalize a Memorial Website with Photos

Sometimes, we aren’t all able to come together to honor a loved one’s life, which is why online options are perfect for those who can’t attend a funeral because they live far away or are dealing with unexpected circumstances. With a memorial website, you can personalize the look with meaningful photos and invite others to leave comments, stories, and their own photos of your loved one. If you’d rather not create a memorial website, you can create a memorial page on Facebook (or another social media platform) instead.

2. Make a Tribute Video

With a tribute video, you can use photos, audio clips, video clips, favorite quotes, and so much more to create a truly personal account of your loved one’s life. Whether at a memorial website or other social media platform, a tribute video adds a meaningful element. A video allows family and friends to reflect on their memories, receive comfort, and laugh or cry as they remember a loved one. Additionally, a tribute video can be a special keepsake to be watched for years to come.

3. Distribute a Sharing Link for Photos

Another way to include others in honoring a loved one digitally is through a photo-sharing site. In other words, create a place where people can view your photos and share their own. For instance, you can use Flickr, Dropbox, Facebook, or even Instagram (using a personalized hashtag) to facilitate photo viewing and sharing. By sharing photos in this way, you invite others to discuss their own memories of your loved one. As an added bonus, you get to see moments of your loved one’s life that you may never have known. Together, everyone will have a more complete view of your loved one’s life and can honor its significance.

4. Order a Memory Book

Memory books can be easily created online using apps that lay out your photos into a book format. You can either request that the photo book service arrange the book for you or you can personalize it yourself. Whichever option you choose, a memory book is a wonderful keepsake gift. You can create it simply for yourself or you can make it available to other family members who would enjoy it. A few popular services are Shutterfly, Snapfish, and Mixbook. If you’d prefer to create a scrapbook instead, feel free to do that as well!

5. Print Photos on Canvas

Another wonderful option for a memorial keepsake is to print some of your favorite photos on canvas. There are many services that will create a personalized canvas print for you. Simply put in the order online and wait for your print! Once the print arrives, you can place it in a special place in your home. Also, you might consider printing photos on canvas as a wonderful memorial keepsake or gift for loved ones.

6. Frame a Collage of Prints

Alternatively, you can order prints online and frame a collage of photos of your loved one for yourself or for a family member. This special remembrance will help you continue to honor the memories of your loved one in a very special way. And again, you can present the collage to family and friends as a keepsake item. Or, you can get together, in person or online, and each create your own photo collage. In this way, you can honor your loved one’s life while also sharing memories with those you love.

Whether you implement one or all these ideas, photos are an excellent way to personally and meaningfully honor a loved one’s life. After all, your loved one’s life is as completely unique as every photo that records their extraordinary life.

For ideas on how to use photos to personalize a funeral service, click here.

6 Ideas for Holding Funeral Services While Practicing Social Distancing

By COVID-19, Meaningful Funerals

Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen how important funeral and memorial services are to the grieving. Funerals serve two very important functions. First, they honor the life of the person who has died, and second, they bring comfort and solace to the grieving. With social distancing restrictions in place, many families feel an extra blow after a loss. They not only lose someone they love, they also lose their chance to grieve surrounded by the comfort of family and friends.

The news is now riddled with heartbreaking headlines telling the story of these difficult days:

However, all is not lost. Across the nation, families and funeral homes have been working together to implement innovative and creative ways to navigate our grief with meaningful ceremonies. Let’s take a look at a few ideas for holding a meaningful funeral service while practicing social distancing.

Online Arrangements

After the loss of a loved one, the family sits down to plan a meaningful final tribute. Now, families can meet with the funeral home staff virtually through video conferencing technology like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, or Skype. By going virtual, the family can stay within the safety of their own home while getting the details of a service taken care of. And with the addition of technology to sign contracts online, the family can sign all the necessary documents without ever leaving home.

Drive-thru Viewing/Visitation

The viewing or visitation can be one of the most meaningful parts of the grieving process. But with social distancing restrictions, friends and family are not able to attend these types of events. To fill the need, funeral homes are now offering “drive-thru” and “walk-through” viewings and visitations. In this way, mourners can pass by a window to view the body of the deceased and pay their final respects in person. Some funeral homes have offered “walk-through” visitations, where supporters can wave to immediate family members from a window or from a safe distance.

Stand-in Supporters

Grieving without the presence of loved ones is one of the most painful results of experiencing a loss during the coronavirus pandemic. So, several funeral homes have come up with ideas for helping the grieving family feel that their friends and family are with them in spirit. Some place long-stem roses in the empty chairs and some chapels have started offering a “Hugs from Home” program, which gives family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors the opportunity to submit a message of love, support, and encouragement for the family’s private service. Then, the funeral home prints the messages and attaches it to a white balloon. When the grieving family comes to the private funeral ceremony, the chapel is filled with white balloons. These messages of support show the family that friends and relatives are there with them.

Livestream Services

Another way that families can include their extended network at a funeral or memorial service is to livestream the event. More and more funeral homes have added livestream services so families can easily request this service. Families can also use services such as Facebook Live to stream events from a tablet or smartphone. Using these services allows family and friends to view a service from the safety of their own home. Also, in some cities, funeral homes have set up drive-in funeral theaters in parking lots and cemeteries, allowing mourners to come together within the safety of their vehicles to watch the livestreamed service together.

Processions

Funeral processions are a powerful symbol of solidarity and support for a grieving family. Thankfully, they are one aspect of the funeral that allows mourners to maintain social distancing. Some funeral processions during the coronavirus outbreak have become more elaborate, including 50 tractors for a local farmer who died.

Sympathy Gifts and Messages

Many friends, coworkers, and extended family are unable to attend funeral or memorial services, so they are showing their support through an abundance of flowers and memorial gifts, not to mention sympathy cards, phone calls, texts, and social media messages. All of these thoughtful actions create a sense of support. This way, the grieving family feels the presence of friends and family, even though they cannot be there in person.

As each day passes, families and funeral directors are collaborating to come up with innovative ideas for grieving. If you have lost a loved one and need to plan a service, contact the funeral homes in your area. They can share with you how they are helping families stay safe and grieve well during this COVID-19 crisis.

Funerals in the Time of Coronavirus: Thoughts for Families

By COVID-19, Meaningful Funerals

Needless to say, the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 is a challenging time for everyone. But if someone you love has died, it is likely that the current social distancing orders and travel restrictions are making funeral planning especially difficult for your family.

Losing a loved one is hard enough. Losing a loved one at a time of unprecedented upheaval and limitations may seem overwhelming. I am sorry you have been put in this position, and I hope this article will help your family find ways to meet your mourning needs and honor the person who died while making any necessary adjustments to keep everyone safe.

Spending Time with the Body

Before cremation or burial, spending time with the body of a loved one who has died helps mourners truly and fully acknowledge the reality of the death. It also provides a precious last chance to say goodbye “in person.” When possible and culturally appropriate, I always recommend at least a few minutes of private family time with the body, both at the place of death, when possible, and at the funeral home. Public visitations for all mourners are also very meaningful, as are funerals in which the body is present (in a casket or urn) during the ceremony.

During the pandemic, you may encounter hurdles, however. If visitor or travel restrictions made it impossible for you to be with the dying person at home or in the hospital or nursing home, I urge you to spend time with the body at the funeral home if you can (again, whether before burial or cremation). If the person died of COVID-19, you may wonder if it is safe to spend time with the body or have an open-casket visitation. Rest assured that at the time of this writing, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has stated that because the virus spreads by exhaled or sneezed droplets, there is no known risk associated with spending time with the body after death, though out of an abundance of caution, they have advised families not to touch, kiss, or handle the body. The funeral home you are working with has the expertise to manage this situation safely.

Planning the Funeral

First let me say that funerals are meaningful, essential rites of passage. We have had funerals since the beginning of time because they help us:

  • acknowledge the reality of a death
  • remember the person who died and share those memories with others
  • support one another in our grief
  • express our inner thoughts and feelings
  • mark the significance of the life that was lived
  • embrace the wonder of life and death

I realize that many people today, through no fault of their own, have never been taught these reasons why funerals are so critically important. And so, especially during this strange, stressful time, you may be tempted to simply skip the funeral altogether. It may seem an easier and more practical choice. Yet for you and for the other mourners, this would be a lasting mistake. When no ceremony is held, I have learned from many mourners that in the months and years after the death, they often feel a surreal sense that the death didn’t really happen. They commonly feel lonely and unsupported, and they also tend to feel regret over not having adequately honored the life of the person who died.

Yet while funerals are extremely important, I also understand that funeral planning may be much more difficult right now. I hope the following ideas will help you find ways to address any hurdles you may be encountering.

Try to have an initial funeral service in a timely fashion.

Because funerals are so effective at helping us embark on a healthy mourning path, anything that delays the funeral also delays the natural healing process. I recommend having a service shortly after the death if at all possible. Keep in mind that you can have more than one service for a loved one, however. If pandemic gathering and travel restrictions prevent you from having a larger ceremony, consider having a small, brief service right now (possibly a graveside committal service or a brief service preceding cremation), with the closest mourners present, followed by a larger memorial service later on. If there are more than ten people in your group of primary mourners and it would be wrong to exclude anyone from this small initial service, please talk to the person officiating the service about holding it more than once. I personally know families who have done this in recent weeks. When asked, their officiants were gracious enough to recognize the need to accommodate more than ten mourners and simply held two services back-to-back, with a short break in between.

Consider having a small ceremony wherever you are.

If you cannot be close to the person who died, it is still helpful and healing to hold a small ceremony right now wherever you are. Simply gather a few close friends or family members, display photos of the person who died, light a candle, say a prayer or read a text aloud that is meaningful to you, play music if you’d like, and share thoughts and memories. You will find that this informal “funeral” will help you mark the occasion of the death, pay tribute to person who died, and feel that sense of acknowledgment, remembrance, and support.

Leverage technology to foster closeness and participation.

At a time of great loss, we want our loved ones close. If the pandemic is making this impossible, the next best thing is to use technology to reach out to the people you care about to share news of the death, support one another, and discuss funeral planning. Video calls are probably the best substitute for face-to-face conversations. Voice calls come second. After that, emails, texting, and social media work too. And don’t forget the power of the handwritten letter! The point is to stay connected as much as possible AND to be open and honest in those communications about whatever it is you are feeling or struggling with at the moment. Your candor will encourage others to be honest as well, creating the opportunity for mutual support and kindness.

Technology can and should also be used to help overcome any limitations of the funeral service itself, of course. Services can be webcast or recorded and made available online later. Obituaries, guest books, and video tributes can be (and often are) placed online. Mourners can video themselves talking about the person who died, recording their condolences, or even recording themselves reciting a poem, playing a hymn on a musical instrument, or singing a meaningful song. Social media is also very effective at helping keep everyone up-to-date about details and providing chances for far-flung friends and family to support one another. And turning to technology is also a good way to involve others in the funeral-planning process. People always want to help—and that is especially true right now, when many are stuck at home, feeling bored and helpless. Tech-savvy friends and family members can all pitch in to help create those videos, edit and upload those photos, write those social media posts, etc. The more people who participate, the better.

Plan a larger service and/or reception when pandemic restrictions have lifted.

The social distancing restrictions have made us all more aware of our human need to be with and touch the people we care about. When death affects our social circle, we naturally feel the need to congregate and support one another in person. Even if you must delay a larger public gathering, those who want to support you will still be happy to attend months from now. Don’t assume that there’s a time limit on holding this larger public gathering. Everyone understands that the pandemic is affecting public events. Again, I encourage you to hold a small initial service right away and then schedule the additional service down the line.

As you make final plans for your loved one during this historic pandemic, you will probably come up with other innovative ideas to pay tribute, foster community, and share hope. If you do, I hope you will tell me about them by emailing me at drwolfelt@centerforloss.com. You and all families touched by death during the coronavirus outbreak are in my thoughts and prayers. Godspeed.

About the Author

Dr. Alan D. Wolfelt is an author, educator, and grief counselor. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition in Fort Collins, Colorado, and is on the faculty at the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. Among his many bestselling books are Understanding Your Grief, Grief Day by Day, and Creating Meaningful Funeral Ceremonies: A Guide for Families. To order Dr. Wolfelt’s books and for more information, visit www.centerforloss.com.

Grieving a Coronavirus Death: Help for Special Circumstances

By COVID-19, Grief/Loss

If someone you love has died of the novel coronavirus, it is likely that you are facing a number of challenging circumstances. Grief is always difficult, but it is especially difficult whenever a death is sudden, unexpected, and unfolds in ways that violate our expectations and put up barriers to the cultural grief rituals that help us through.

I have been a grief counselor and educator for over forty years, and this pandemic is unlike anything I have encountered. I am sorry you have been so deeply affected by this hardship.

First, it is important to understand that grief is always normal and necessary. It is part of our love. But in complicated loss situations, the grief that follows often gets complicated, too. It is essentially normal grief in an abnormally challenging loss situation.

If this is where you are finding yourself right now, I hope this article will offer you some affirmation, comfort, and hope in the weeks to come.

If you couldn’t be with the person who was dying, or if you couldn’t view or spend time with the body after the death

In most cases, infectious-disease protocols are keeping loved ones apart from those who are critically ill or dying. Whether you were across the country or just down the road, you probably felt frustrated and maybe even distraught that you couldn’t be by your loved one’s side. While the enforced separation may have been necessary, you may understandably feel cheated of precious last moments and goodbyes.

Sometimes hospital caregivers have been able to use technology to help families communicate with loved ones dying of COVID-19 (or other causes during this period of restrictions). I hope this was true for you, but I also realize that these measures are not the same as being there.

Holding the hands of the dying and spending time with the body afterward are ways that we as human beings acknowledge the reality of a death and begin to embrace the pain of the loss. These are two essential mourning needs that will be naturally more difficult for you to meet in the weeks and months to come.

I encourage you to talk out your thoughts and feelings about these circumstances with people who are good listeners. When the time is right, I also encourage you to reach out to the hospital and/or funeral home staff who cared for your loved one and ask them to tell you anything they can. If you can reconstruct what happened even a little bit, you will likely feel better. Often our minds are searching for a few details and assurances, and when they’re provided, we can rest a little easier.

If a funeral wasn’t possible or has been delayed

Funerals are essential because they help us begin to meet all of our mourning needs. The mourning journey often takes years, and a good funeral sets us off on a good path.

Funerals help us acknowledge and accept the reality of a death, share memories, convert our relationship with the person who died from one of presence to one of memory, give and receive social support, express our grief out loud, consider the meaning of life and death, and help us start to think about how to live life forward with meaning and purpose.

Yet I realize that in this pandemic, many gatherings have been rendered impractical or impossible. I’ve been encouraging funeral directors and families to try to have a brief immediate ceremony, even if only by Zoom or Skype, followed by a larger memorial service once the restrictions are lifted. Some people have also been holding an informal, intimate service in their own homes to mark the death and honor the person who died.

Please know that it’s never too late to have a ceremony, and especially if you weren’t able to be with the dying person or the body afterward, holding several ceremonies is a good idea. Ask a clergyperson, celebrant, or friend to help you. You will find that people who were unable to support you at the time of the death will want to provide you the support you need and deserve. And inviting friends and family to support one another is something you will always be glad you did. To achieve the goal of multiple ceremonies, you might have an immediate candle-lighting service in your home, a graveside or scattering service as soon as possible, and a tree-planting ceremony on the anniversary of the death, for example.

Essentially, ceremony and ritual have the power to partially fill some of the holes created by the COVID-19 death circumstances. And it’s never too late to use them.

If you’re separated from your support systems

While most of us are sheltering in place, we’re apart from the people we would normally talk to, hug, and hold close during a time of great loss.

If this is true for you, I urge you to use all the technology tools you can to reach out to the people you care about. Video calls are probably the best substitute for face-to-face conversations. Voice calls come second. After that, emails, texting, and social media work too. And don’t forget the power of the handwritten letter! The point is to stay connected as much as possible AND to be open and honest in those communications about whatever it is you are feeling or struggling with at the moment. Your candor will encourage others to be honest as well, creating the opportunity for mutual support and kindness.

In addition to creating a lifeline in the time of separation, these tools will help you maintain and build your important relationships so that when gathering and travel restrictions are finally lifted, you will have the strong connections and good momentum you need. Everyone will be on the same page and ready to support one another in person. You can even use this homebound time to plan ceremonies, build online memorial pages, and gather photos, video footage, and memorabilia of the person who died.

If you’re angry, anxious, self-blaming, or feeling guilty

In complicated grief circumstances, these feelings are especially common. They’re normal! Feelings aren’t right or wrong—they just are. Please don’t make it even harder on yourself by judging your feelings or thinking that you’re abnormal.

Maybe you’re angry about how the person who died contracted coronavirus or was cared for while ill. Maybe you feel anxious that you or someone else will get the disease (and perhaps die), or maybe the death has given rise to anxiety about finances and other life realities. Maybe you blame yourself about some aspect of what happened. And maybe you feel guilty that you are still living while your loved one is not.

Again, these and other feelings are normal and common in grief, and especially in complicated grief. Whenever you’re having an uncomfortable or “stuck” feeling, the key is to express it as much and as often as it takes for it to begin to soften. You express it by sharing it with a friend, writing about it in a journal, or talking about it in a support group or to a grief counselor, for example. Expressing your grief is called mourning, and mourning is how, over time, you step one day at a time toward healing.

I understand that right now, the traumatic nature of your loved one’s COVID-19 death and your thoughts and feelings about it may color every aspect of your grief. It is part of your grief, but it is not the totality of your grief. Other factors that contribute to your grief include the nature of the relationship you had with the person who died, your unique personality, your religious and cultural backgrounds, your gender, your age, your previous experiences with loss, as well as others. Your grief is a complicated blend of thoughts and emotions, most of which stem from your love for the person who died. Over time you will come to find that your grief is as much or more about the life than it is about the death.

If you are able to muster the courage to actively mourn and use ceremony, over time you will find a path to a renewed life of meaning and purpose. Remember, you are not alone, and there are no rewards for speed. I hope you will share your coronavirus story and grief tips with me at drwolfelt@centerforloss.com.

About the Author

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., is an author, educator, and grief counselor. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is on the faculty of the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. Dr. Wolfelt has written many bestselling books on coping with grief, including Grief One Day at a Time and First Aid for Broken Hearts. Visit www.centerforloss.com to learn more about grief and loss and to order Dr. Wolfelt’s books.

The COVID-19 Mourner’s Bill of Rights

By COVID-19, Grief/Loss

The pandemic has created unusually complicated death and grief circumstances for many people personally affected by COVID-19. If someone you love has died from the novel coronavirus, you have certain “rights” that no one can take away from you. This list is intended both to empower you to heal in ways that work for you, and to decide how others can and cannot help.

1. You have the right to experience your own unique grief.

While many people are experiencing COVID-related loss, no one else will grieve in exactly the same way you do. So, when you turn to others for help, don’t allow them to tell what you should or should not be feeling.

2. You have the right to talk about the death and your grief.

Talking about the death and your grief will help you heal. Seek out others who will allow you to talk as much as you want, as often as you want, about what happened. If at times you don’t feel like talking, you also have the right to be silent.

3. You have the right to feel a multitude of emotions.

Shock, disbelief, confusion, anger, fear, and guilt are just a few of the feelings you might experience as part of your grief journey. Others may tell you that some of your feelings are wrong or not helpful. Don’t take these judgmental responses to heart. Instead, find listeners who will accept your feelings without condition.

4. You have the right to be tolerant of your physical and emotional limits.

Your feelings of loss and sadness will probably leave you feeling fatigued. Respect what your body and mind are telling you. Get daily rest. Eat balanced meals. And don’t allow others to push you into doing things you don’t feel ready to do.

5. You have the right to experience “griefbursts.”

Sometimes, out of nowhere, a powerful surge of grief may overcome you. This can be frightening, but it is normal and natural. Find someone who understands and will let you talk it out.

6. You have the right to make use of ritual.

Death rituals such as funerals not only help you truly acknowledge a death and express your necessary feelings, but they also bring friends and family together to support one another. Funerals are especially important in circumstances in which you could not be with the dying person or view the body. If pandemic restrictions prevented a meaningful funeral shortly after the death, you have the right to have one or more gatherings in the months to come.

7. You have the right to embrace your spirituality.

If faith is a part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If you feel angry at God, find someone to talk with who won’t be critical of your feelings of hurt and abandonment.

8. You have the right to search for meaning.

You may find yourself asking, “Why did he or she die? Why this way? Why now?” Some of your questions may have answers, but some may not. And watch out for the clichéd responses some people may give you. Comments like, “It was God’s will” or “Think of what you still have to be thankful for” are not helpful, and you do not have to accept them.

9. You have the right to reach out for support.

During the pandemic, many families and close friends have been separated from one another. This has made death and grief even harder than they already are. You have the right to reach out for support with video calls, phone calls, and other forms of technology every day. You also have the right to gather in person as soon as it is safe.

10. You have the right to move toward your grief and heal.

Your grief has been complicated by extremely difficult circumstances, and reconciling it will not happen quickly. Be patient and gentle with yourself, and avoid people who are impatient and intolerant with you. The more you actively embrace and express your grief—bit by bit, day by day—the more momentum you will achieve toward healing.

About the Author

Dr. Alan Wolfelt is an author and educator on the topic of healing in grief. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is on the faculty at the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. Dr. Wolfelt has written many compassionate, bestselling books designed to help people mourn well so they can continue to love and live well, including Understanding Your Grief, The Mourner’s Book of Hope, and Grief One Day at a Time. Visit www.centerforloss.com to learn more about the natural and necessary process of grief and mourning.

The Coronavirus Challenge: The Wonder of Waiting

By COVID-19, Grief/Loss

Have you noticed a number of people are saying some variation on, “I just can’t WAIT until these restrictions are lifted”?

The trouble is, in our fast-paced, hurry-up culture, we’re not good at waiting. Waiting for a streaming movie to buffer, waiting for the light to turn green, waiting to see how the coming months will unfold—staying calm in the midst of all this waiting does not come easily.

While we are all acutely aware of the life-or-death crisis affecting essential workers and families affected by COVID-19 right now, and our hearts and prayers are of course with them, most people are sheltering at home. In this scenario, this time of stasis for the homebound is both a luxury and a challenge.

Sadly, waiting is often perceived as wasted time, a kind of liminal space in which we are “betwixt and between.” But the truth is that if we learn to perceive and use this time mindfully, we will see that each moment of our fleeting lives is precious—and the concept of “waiting” itself is something to reconsider.

Creating a new relationship with “waiting” demands acknowledgment, desire, and practice.

Acknowledging impatience

Ask yourself if you feel impatient when you have to wait. You can do this by exploring past situations that have required waiting. How have you felt impatient waiting for food at a restaurant? What has it been like when you’ve had to wait at the doctor’s office? Has waiting in normal times been a challenge for you? If so, this period of waiting is probably even more of a challenge for you under the current COVID-19 restrictions.

Desiring to change

After you acknowledge that waiting is a challenge for you, you have the opportunity to reframe it into a positive experience. Developing a desire to bask in what I call a “quiet calm” can have a major impact on five areas that impact your quality of life— your physical, cognitive, emotional, social and spiritual selves.

Can you befriend any fear you might have related to waiting? Can you give yourself permission to do nothing, to simply BE? Obviously, being still is the opposite of needing to focus on being busy and accomplishing something. Waiting reminds you to counter any potential work addiction you might suffer from and to value yourself for being in contrast to doing.

If you do not learn to slow down and wait, you put yourself at risk for fall-out symptoms such as alcohol and drug abuse, psychosomatic symptoms, breakdown of your immune system, and, in particular, debilitating anxiety and depression.

I believe that you can learn to live these in-between days and weeks in a state of “quiet calm” while also respecting your yearning to return to your former pace, but only if you allow yourself to be humbled. Only if you don’t perceive this temporary time-out as a waste of time. Only if you see it as an opportunity to relax, have meaningful conversations, rest, and even rediscover your true priorities in life.

If you would like to develop this ability to live in the present, then you have the desire you need to move into practicing your new way of being.

Practicing quiet calm

With acknowledgment and desire as a foundation, you are ready to begin practicing the skill of living each moment in a state of mindful presence. There are many ways to work on learning how to inhabit quiet calm. Here are just a few.

– Mind the gap

Train yourself to notice the space between stimulus and response. When something happens that makes you feel impatient, before you respond with your usual thoughts or gestures of anger or annoyance, stop and choose a more mindful, quiet-calm response.

– Nurture your spirit

Use the time to give attention to your spirituality and your underlying beliefs and values. Pray, read spiritual texts, watch spiritual videos, and contemplate the eternal.

– Sit in stillness

Learn to sit in stillness and simply observe what is happening around you. Pay attention to all the amazing things you can experience with your five senses. Meditation is an alternate method of sitting in stillness. In meditation, you go inward instead of observing the outward.

– Stay connected

Reach out to other people. This strengthens the bonds of love that make life worth living.

– Love yourself

It is a gift to be alive, and you are a unique human being capable of giving and receiving love. Use moments of quiet calm to silently affirm this to yourself.

– Journal thoughts and feelings

Journaling creates a safe place of solace, a place where you can fully express yourself no matter what you are experiencing.

– Allow yourself to sigh

When you sigh, you resign yourself to something; you are accepting what is.

– Banish worry

Worry tends to find a foothold in moments of waiting. If you find yourself worrying, that means you are thinking about future “what ifs” instead of experiencing this moment.

– Engage your body

When you find yourself slipping into worry or impatient waiting, do something active. Go for a walk. Grab a broom and sweep. Putter in the garden.

– Cultivate kindness

Mindfulness and kindness go together like soil and seed. In this moment there is no baggage, which lives in the past, there is only empathy and appreciation. Expressed empathy and appreciation is kindness.

– Be generous

Use this time to practice generosity. You can give away possessions you no longer need but someone else can use, for example. You can gift someone with a book you believe may help them. “Do good things, and good things will follow” is the mantra I try to live by.

– Elevate the ordinary

It doesn’t matter what you are doing. If you are doing it mindfully, you are living in the now, and you are experiencing quality time. Mindfulness makes all your day-to-day tasks more special.

– Be more intentional about little decisions

The next time you pick up your phone to mindlessly scroll, for example, or the TV remote control to mindlessly channel surf, stop and ask yourself about your intention in that moment.

– Appreciate slowness

Impatience with waiting is, in part, impatience with slowness. But the profound truth is that slower is often better. A meal prepared and eaten slowly is a sensual feast. A book read aloud is a memorable experience.

– Be childlike

Children may not be good at waiting or spending time in quiet calm, but they are masters at living in the moment. When they’re at play, they’re completely engaged. In fact, play is mindfulness in motion. So, play like a child.

–  Breathe

If you find yourself anxious or impatient, pay attention to your breath. Breathe in to a count of five, and breathe out to a count of five. Do this as many times as it takes to find your sense of quiet calm returning.

– Daydream

Daydreaming, wishing, and hoping are all precursor activities. They help us imagine and clarify our best futures. Making a vision board is an in-the-now activity to capture and set your intentions to realize your dreams.

– Embrace humility

Entering a moment with humility means trying not to judge or stress, preplan or control. Subdue your ego, and instead be open and receptive to whatever the moment brings.

– Choose effectiveness over efficiency

Efficiency often means getting things done quickly but mindlessly. Effectiveness means first reflecting on why we are doing what we’re doing, then choosing the best, most mindful path.

– Heed your divine spark

I believe our spirits know why we’re here on earth. All we have to do is notice what makes our divine sparks grow stronger or weaker, then make choices about how to spend our time accordingly.

In this dormant period, many of us have extra time to spend on these quiet-calm activities. And in doing so, we will discover that the wonder of waiting is that there is no such thing as waiting—there is only ever living each moment as it arises. It turns out that the very concept of waiting is a myth constructed by the ego. In fact, with the exception of the significant reality that we may be temporarily physically separated from loved ones, this rare opportunity to practice living in the now is a taste of life at its best.

The wonder of waiting is that if we use this hiatus to practice quiet calm, when restrictions are lifted we will be equipped to return to our “old normal” as changed people. Life will never be the same, but in a good way. And imagine what this world can be if even a small percentage of the seven-and-half billion of us are transformed into more patient, mindful, kind, and humble people.

Right now, I invite you to use the next moment to call someone you care about and let them know that you love and miss them, but until you can see them again, you are putting this waiting period to the best possible use.

About the Author

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., is a respected author and educator on the topics of companioning others and healing in grief. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is on the faculty of the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. Dr. Wolfelt has written many bestselling books, including One Mindful Day at a Time: 365 Meditations on Living in the Now. Visit www.centerforloss.com to learn more.

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