Helping people say farewell under COVID-19 restrictions

By Doris Zagdanski, Author & Educator


While “social distancing” regulations have had a major impact on funerals, we can still create meaningful farewells by using special ways to include people who can’t attend in person.

Funerals always matter but now they matter more than ever because people may not have had the chance to visit or say goodbye to a family member or friend before they pass away.

So they enable us to say what needs to be said, allow our grief to be expressed and also allow us to connect with people who would normally reach out.

And it’s not just adults who are affected. Being able to say goodbye at a funeral is also important for children.

There are several ways the funeral industry is helping families and friends say goodbye to a loved one while the current COVID-19 restrictions are in place:

  • Technology is available to live-stream funerals, allowing people to view the ceremony from all over the world. It enables eulogies, readings, music etc to be included from those who can’t be there in person. Funerals can also be recorded or filmed so they can be shared on social media. It’s quite acceptable to use your iPhone to film or record the service yourself or you can give permission to your funeral director to take photos or make a recording on their phone for you.
  • At the service, empty chairs can be placed to represent family and friends who can’t attend. The name or even a photo of the person who is absent can be placed on the chair. A flower can also be placed there to represent the missing person and at the end of the service, those flowers can be placed on the coffin for the journey to the crematorium or cemetery. When there are several grandchildren unable to attend, a chair could be placed for each one and a photo, drawing or special memento placed on it to represent their presence. 
  • Collect Facebook, Instagram and email messages and ask the celebrant to read them at the funeral, to represent those who can’t attend. These could also be printed and displayed on a photo board at the funeral or compiled into what would have been the “order of service” booklet. 
  • Many funerals these days include a DVD photo presentation. Family and friends of the deceased can still create one but ask each family member who cannot attend to send their favourite photos to be included, along with some of the words from friends’ text messages etc. The DVD can be uploaded to social media and extra hard copies can be made as keepsakes for family members. 
  • Photos and messages from people who can’t attend the funeral can be placed in or on the coffin by the funeral director. Children can be encouraged to draw or write special messages, which can be placed in the hands of the deceased or sealed in an envelope inside the coffin. These messages could even be placed during the viewing, which could also be filmed, photographed or live-streamed. 
  • Use the death/funeral notice or Facebook to tell friends what time the funeral is and ask them to join you at that time by doing something special to remember the deceased. They could light a candle at home, raise a toast, play a special song, say a prayer together, cook their favourite meal, wear their favourite colour or do whatever feels right for them. 
  • Flowers can be sent to the funeral to represent those who cannot attend. They can be arranged around the coffin or displayed prominently and card messages can be read aloud as part of the service. 
  • You can organise a drive-by of the family home by the hearse, so people who can’t attend the funeral can be the front garden to pay their respects. The hearse could stop to allow a minute’s silence and flowers to be placed on the coffin by family members. 
  • The viewing of the deceased can also take on special significance, especially if family or friends were not able to see them before their death. A viewing can be held with or without a funeral ceremony.
    You can speak with your funeral director about an extended viewing time so people who cannot attend the funeral still have an opportunity to say a personal goodbye.
    The viewing can be a time to place photos, cards, mementos on or in the coffin (especially from those who can’t be there) while favourite music is played in the background. A family iPad could be set up to record the viewing for others to see later or watch while the viewing is taking place. 
  • Family or funeral staff can carry the coffin from the viewing to the hearse, making this part of the farewell ritual. The procession can be photographed or filmed to share with those who can’t be there. 
  • Consider inviting two groups of people to the funeral – one group for the viewing and another for the funeral ceremony, so that more people have the opportunity to be part of the farewell.

For more advice on coping with the impact of loss and grief, including factsheets, book lists, videos and links to grief related support services, go to


About Doris Zagdanski: Doris has been involved in the funeral industry for 30 years, helping families arrange funerals as well as volunteering in bereavement support groups. She is the author of seven books on the subject of grief and empathy.