• Jonathan Rudnicki

Over a year without funerals

Isolated and exhausted: How families and friends grieve during pandemic

When Michael Brown’s father, Leslie Brown, died just over a year ago, his family thought they would have a bigger, normal funeral once COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. But now Brown and his family are unsure about whether grieving a second time would help.


Leslie Brown (second from left), who died in June 2020, with his sons (from left) Michael, Jason, and Nicholas Brown at Jason’s wedding. Low Down file photo
Leslie Brown (second from left), who died in June 2020, with his sons (from left) Michael, Jason, and Nicholas Brown at Jason’s wedding. Low Down file photo

During the pandemic many families were unable to grieve the way they wanted to: with friends and extended family. Funerals were postponed and funeral homes adapted the best they could to provide some sort of service to help people process their loss.


Leslie Brown, who lived in Wakefield, died in June 2020, and was unable to have a normal funeral. Instead, the family had a small, informal ceremony with close family and friends.


Michael Brown said his family told themselves they would do a bigger ceremony when the time was right, but over a year-and-a-half later the opportunity hasn’t arrived yet. “It’s in the back of our minds. It’s just a matter of when and how,” Brown said.


However Brown and his family said they got closure with their small and intimate ceremony, and Brown said he isn’t sure about having a second larger ceremony even if regulations permit.


“My father’s friends want to have a bigger ceremony for him. I felt bad; so many close friends weren’t able to take part in saying goodbye. I feel bad about that,” Brown said.


Sharon McGarry, who owns and operates Hulse, Playfair & McGarry funeral homes in Wakefield along with Patrick McGarry, said that, while the pandemic has changed the way things are done, their mission to help families stayed the same.


In an effort to continue their services, the funeral home made it possible to leave condolences online, create video tributes, and sign legal documents electronically.


McGarry admitted that they had to adapt to using new technologies and that there was definitely a learning curve.


“People have been very understanding,” McGarry said.


Some people went ahead with socially distanced services outdoors, McGarry said, while others opted to postpone their loved one’s funeral until a later, safer date.


But it can be difficult to have a second funeral once a person has already gone through the grieving process.


Winifred Trowsse’s husband of 60 years, Leyton Woods, died in early 2020 and was unable to have a typical funeral.


Leyton Woods died in June 2020. There was a small, outdoor, socially distanced service. Low Down file photo
Leyton Woods died in June 2020. There was a small, outdoor, socially distanced service. Low Down file photo

“We couldn’t have a proper send off. It was only a small family gathering,” Trowsse said.


Trowsse said it all went okay, but lamented that she was unable to say goodbye to her husband the way she wanted. “We would have liked to have it at the church,” Trowsse said, referring to Grace United Church in Rupert.


The minister administered the service at Rupert Union Cemetery where 30 people were invited. Friends drove by the cemetery in cars to offer condolences from a distance. “You couldn’t have the same support,” Trowsse said, “it was different, but I don’t know if it was more difficult.”


As families and friends mourned any way they could for loved ones they lost during the pandemic, many others had no choice but to grieve in isolation.


Michael has a brother who lives in Ontario with his wife and baby, and they are understandably cautious about COVID-19 and so have been unable to see their extended family.


And Brown’s father died in California, so his family in Canada was unable to be with him in his final moments.


Still, his family made do with the situation and mourned their loved one with a small and intimate gathering. Grieving takes its toll, and closure for families is an important step that a second post-pandemic funeral might undo.