Families cautiously scheduling funerals delayed by COVID-19

WINNIPEG — Families who put funerals on hold under COVID-19 restrictions are beginning to hold services for their loved ones.

With capacity limits expanded and health measures loosened, the Manitoba Funeral Service Association is beginning to see an increase in demand, according to its president Kevin Sweryd.

“I think you’re starting to see people make their first cautious steps toward having normal services again,” Sweryd said.

The increased capacity limits have allowed some families to hold the services they want.

Indoor funerals in Manitoba can now have up to 50 people or 50 per cent of a venue’s capacity, whichever is greater.

Outdoors, up to 1,500 people can gather to say goodbye but if a venue has a capacity limit, attendance must be capped at 50 per cent or 150 people, whichever is greater.

“We’re starting to see some of the delayed services get scheduled,” Sweryd said. “Of course everybody’s still cautious though because you don’t want to schedule a service for a month out only to find we’re back where we started.”

A delayed funeral can make it harder to heal but it’s something researchers at the University of Manitoba are still trying to better understand.

“If we think of grief as a gaping wound, the fact that people have not been able to hold community rituals of mourning just inhibits the ability of that wound to heal well,” said Harvey Max Chochinov, a distinguished professor of psychiatry at the University of Manitoba.

Chochinov and a team of U of M researchers are studying the long-term effects of the pandemic on bereavement.

Part of their work includes looking at what impact attending virtual memorials has had on people who are grieving.

“The funeral and community rituals of mourning are really opportunities for people to be able to honour that individual, to invoke their memory in a community setting,” Chochinov said.

He said it’s important to remember grief doesn’t follow careful timelines.

“Because grief lingers and our need to honour the deceased lingers, even if you haven’t been able to hold a funeral in proximity to the time of their dying, finding some way of honouring your loved one is important and is a healing part of your grief,” Chochinov said.

It’s been more than nine months since Glenn Baillie died in Winnipeg after contracting COVID-19.

The pandemic has delayed his family’s plans to hold a celebration of life.

“With the pandemic, with mourning it’s really tough,” said Larry Baillie, Glenn’s son. “How do you put off mourning for so long?”

Baillie had a celebration of life planned later this month in Canmore, Alta. for his dad and brother Bill who also died during the pandemic.

Despite most guests being fully vaccinated, it’s been delayed yet again due to concern over a rise in COVID-19 cases in Alberta.

“This is like the song that never ends,” said Larry. “And the thing is, do you have something because you can have it, despite the health of your friends. I couldn’t live with it.”

Baillie knows he’ll eventually be able to have the service he wants for his dad and brother but that doesn’t make it any easier.

“I am absolutely devastated,” he said. “Dad wants to be back to join Mom and my brothers.”    

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