Experts say it is important to grieve a loss even with pandemic restrictions. Manitobans continue to experience loss but current restrictions demand more flexible funerals.

In the Winnipeg Metro area, gathering sizes are restricted to five people, which is tricky for those hoping to have funerals.

"I think, the membership in general, their hearts go out to them. Funerals have been around for as long as civilization has been around," Kevin Sweryd, the president of Manitoba Funeral Services Association says. "Right now what everybody is used to is very different."

A counsellor says funerals are a time-honoured grieving ritual.  



Dr. Brent Roussin, the chief public health officer says losing a loved one is always hard on families and understands the added strain of a pandemic makes things even more difficult.

"My heart goes out to people who have lost a loved one, whether it is to COVID or otherwise and then now have to navigate these restrictions on top of already a really tough situation," Roussin says.

As the restrictions continue, some families are choosing to wait to have funerals.

"We are definitely seeing a lot of families holding off on memorial services or services in the hopes that gathering sizes will be increased."

In the first wave of COVID-19 in Manitoba some families held off until the fall, which Sweryd says was disappointing for them because of the new restrictions in place.

For those waiting, Sweryd says many funeral homes are holding remains for families, free of charge until they can make arrangements the families are happy with.

Sweryd says funerals can happen in a number of ways, finding many Manitobans opting for live-streamed services. He also says if following the 30 per cent capacity guide, some families can have larger, but still small, services.

"Gatherings involving more than five persons may take place if the number of persons attending does not exceed 30 per cent of the usual capacity of the place or premise where the gathering is held," Sweryd reads from the latest health orders. 

kevin swerydThe funeral process is looking different for Manitobans. (Kevin Sweryd/Facebook)

He says if the family is using the 30 per cent capacity rule, they must be physically separated into groups of five people or less and must not come into close contact with people from other groups.

The President adds that some families are opting to have multiple funeral services. 

The five-person limit is trickier when there is a casket. Because caskets often require six pallbearers, it exceeds the current limit.

"Some of the funeral staff can step in and assist the family or they can hire all six of us to be pallbearers. We can carry the casket farther apart from the family, place the casket, and then step away so that they are not limited in their numbers because they had to have somebody carry a casket."

Sweryd says funeral home staff and clergy members do not count in the five-person limit in this instance.

Because there are so many ways to have a funeral, Sweryd says it is very important for families to tell funeral homes what they want in their services. 

"The main takeaway I would want people to have is: do not be afraid to ask your funeral director what options you can explore to make the service as personal and meaningful as possible."

Sweryd says a funeral home may need to clarify with the province if a certain element is allowed under the current public health orders. He is asking people to be patient with funeral homes, as rules in Manitoba are constantly changing.

The President says the changing rules have an emotional impact on those grieving. 

Grieving looks different during the pandemic as well. Terry Warburton, Clinical Director of Recover of Hope, says it is important to acknowledge the changes. 

Terry WarburtonTerry Warburton says that COVID-19 is adding an extra element to the grief process. (Terry Warburton Counselling and Parent Consulting/Facebook)

"Clients who have experienced death and the challenges around being able to have a funeral or have some kind of memorial or some kind of gathering and it certainly, for some people, has created some challenges," she says.

Warburton says people use funerals as a way to grieve, but when they look different than expected, it can be difficult to grieve.

"We have this wonderful cultural ritual in our society of when somebody dies that we gather and we mourn together."

She says these rituals are important because they give people a sense of what to do next when many do not know what to do after a loss. The loss of a loved one during a pandemic can create additional grief as people lose some of their rituals

"They want to gather. They want to remember their loved one together and there are restrictions being put on this."

The Clinical Director says while funerals are different right now, people still need their loved ones. She says people grieving will need to remind themselves about what is really needed for them during difficult times. 

"We need the support of those around us and we can gather in small groups and we can gather virtually, which I know if not ideal, but it is a way of connecting."

Warburton says people need to be able to talk, gather, and cry together even if it is in small groups. 

"We need to be able to feel. We need to be able to feel out grief, cry, laugh, all those kinds of things."

While the shift is not ideal, Warburton says it is important. She says having specific people to walk through the grieving process with them will be important.