Editor’s note: This is the second in a two-part series on grief, especially as it relates to the COVID-19 pandemic.

When a death occurred in a family one often found out based on how that person’s loved ones were attired. Donning black often meant an individual was mourning, and, according to tradition, that was not only recommended.

It was expected.

In fact, it was considered disrespectful not to wear black, and when funerals were held it was a fashion faux pas to be wearing anything else.

No one knows for sure when the tradition of wearing black began, as most would say it has just always been done. In the days of Ancient Rome there are records that indicate people mourning a loss would wear a black toga as a way to express their grief.

Today is much different, as people are often found not in black even at the funeral itself. Days may even go by before others even know that a friend or a neighbor is grieving.

That has become more of a reality in times of social distancing, as people are not able to communicate as easily. Even those who want to grieve in the more traditional funeral service ways are not allowed because of the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, how does one approach the grieving process today?

That often begins with those who are working with families on a regular basis in their time of loss. When a death has occurred, there are typically two people who are called in to serve the family – the family’s pastor and a funeral director.

While families have always had options related to how they want to, or don’t want to, celebrate the life of their loved one, at this time some of those options have been limited. Yet, there are still options which are available.

According to Al Hillestad of Nelson-Hillestad Funeral and Cremation Services the communication begins with what type of service they want.

“We are encouraging families to have a private family viewing and a service to help with the healing process and to also have a public service in the future to help both the family and general public in the healing process and showing support to the family,” explained Hillestad.

Bryant Kaden, Gloria Dei Lutheran Church pastor, indicated that gatherings have taken place at the funeral home and graveside, adding plans have also been added to host some form of memorial service in the future once people are able to meet in larger groups once again. Guidance related to funerals comes from the Minnesota Department of Health, which has restricted the size of any public gatherings. 

Chris Schmitz, Redwood Falls Youth for Christ director explained that he thinks the best antidote for grief is presence even if that means a digital presence.

“Presence helps us process,” Schmitz added.

According to Nathan Stephens of Stephens Funeral Service, “people are finding new ways to manifest their grief during these times. Fortunately, social media has made it easier for everyone to remain connected during these difficult times. We share electronic condolences through Facebook, Twitter, funeral home Web sites or e-mailing and calling a family directly.”

According to Hillestad, “technology has been extremely beneficial during this time. On our Web site we have a ‘Family Collaboration Center’ that allows families to begin working on funeral arrangements anytime, anywhere, from any Internet-connected device. Family members can invite relatives, friends, hospice nurses and clergy members to collaboration an interactive, online environment that is convenient for everyone.”

Stephens said as the weather gets nicer other options may become available for families including drive through visitations.

“During these times, it is important to allow family members to celebrate the life of their loved one and create a meaningful ceremony that will aid in the grief process,” added Stephens.

According to Tony Hesse, St. Catherine’s Catholic Church pastor, “sometimes God relieves us of our suffering, but sometimes he allows the suffering to continue, either that we grow in it, that it might be redemptive for us or others, that we might learn from it or that we might use it as an opportunity to invite others and their ministries to minister to us. As we have been hearing so often during this pandemic, ‘We are all in this together.’ That includes each of us and our God. Remember, the bottom line is that we pray and that we know that God and his church are there for us.”

- Photo courtesy of the Internet Public Domain