Hundreds sometimes gathered at Rocky Funeral Home when a well-known person died.
Now, only 10 are allowed to gather to pay their last respects because of pandemic-related health restrictions. After pallbearers only a handful of loved ones can say their final goodbyes.
That can be especially hard in rural areas where it was common for neighbours from miles around to come to show their support for the family of the deceased, said Laurie Wade, business manager at Rocky Funeral Home. Huge turnouts are also common when a younger person dies.
With the new restrictions, who to invite to the funeral has become another hard decision at a time that is already so difficult.
“Especially with the large families out this way, who do you cut off?” said Wade. “It’s awful.
“I think it really does hurt, especially for those people whose loved ones were really community-minded or out and about in the community or had lots of friends.”
Some felt they were snubbing their friends by not inviting them.
“Now I think it’s getting easier as time goes on because they realize it’s not safe for anybody to be out and about.”
As sad as it is, Wade understands why mourners numbers have to be limited while coronavirus is infecting more and more Albertans.
“I fully understand why (the limit on mourners) has to happen because there are way too many emotions and way too much crying and touching your face and touching and feeling.”
How can you tell people at a funeral not to hug and console each other, she asks.
Wade said she suggests to some that a larger funeral ceremony could take place later when the health risk has been reduced — but she doubts that many will happen.
To help others participate, the funeral home has used technologies, such as Zoom, to allow mourners to watch from home. The spotty broadband performance in the area has made that challenging and she has recently upgraded her internet service to improve performance.
The funeral home also offers to record the service and the video is put on a USB stick for the family to take home and share.
While that allows some consolation it cannot replace the outpouring of support and love a traditional funeral provided.
“When you’re not here with the family it’s still not the same.”
Parkland Funeral Home and Crematorium owner Gordon Mathers has also embraced technology to help those during such a difficult time.
“Absolutely, our families need to be able to grieve,” he says.
Parkland continues to offer funerals and life celebrations while observing the only 10 attendees regulations.
Services can also be live-streamed.
“This option also provides a lasting legacy to their loved one as we record the service and then permanently post it on our website.”
The live-streaming option allows others to watch from anywhere they have an internet connection.
Mathers said it is very important that families have the opportunity to say goodbye to loved ones, even in the midst of a global pandemic.
“Grief needs to be expressed, and it is very important to the healing process. Delaying this process, only increases the emotional strain on families.
“They need to grieve, before they can heal.”
Alberta Health Services has four pages of regulations for funerals on its COVID website.
There are detailed instructions on everything from how pallbearers can safely bear caskets to how to handle gifts from attendees or other family friends and family. Usual safety measures, such as the use of face masks, frequent hand sanitizing and maintaining physical distancing are also covered.
Physical contact, such as hugging, is discouraged.