Dealing With a Death at This Difficult Time

Friday, March 27

We are currently facing unprecedented circumstances leading us to alter our daily lives. The modification to spiritual and momentous experiences have had significant impact on the Jewish community. Synagogues have canceled services and other weekly gatherings, Bar Mitzvahs are being rescheduled, and weddings postponed. While many of these ritual and joyous milestone events are being avoided during this challenging time, the one occasion that continues to carry on is funerals.  

When a death occurs amid this period of distancing or isolation, the requisite steps for Kavod Ha-met should be carried out as usual, beginning with the necessary communications in order to plan for the funeral and burial. Once preparations have been initiated, continue sharing the news to relatives and friends so they are aware of the situation. Typically, details for the funeral and shiva would be shared, but now there will be alterations to what people will do to remember the deceased and provide solace to grieving family members. 

Due to gathering restrictions, funeral services taking place now should be composed of a small group of immediate family members. It is advised that elderly or sick individuals do not attend. If preferred, the family can have someone live stream the service for those who could not be there in person (check to be sure that this is permissible). For those who attend, contact should be limited and the distance between mourners should be a minimum of 6 feet. Although this will be difficult, refrain from physical contact like handshakes, hugs and kisses. Hand sanitizer should be used upon entrance and exit. If anyone outside the immediate family will be showing their respect, recommend that they join the burial only to lessen contact. Outdoor guests should be limited and practice social distancing as well.  

Of course it is upsetting that many will not have the opportunity to pay their final respects to the decedent or extend their sympathy to the family in person due to travel restrictions and gathering limitations, but according to Jewish law, the preservation of life is more important than anything else.  Despite all the changes, the deceased will still have a dignified, compassionate, and meaningful funeral. 

A traditional shiva amongst the immediate family is fine, but elder, immunocompromised, or those with underlying conditions should be discouraged from attending and outsider visits should be replaced by phone or video calls. Additionally, throughout this time of crisis, it may be possible to do a virtual minyan if all participants can see and interact with each other.  

If your concern is about extending sympathy to a friend dealing with a death at this time, call the family to express condolences. The most important thing is to be there in some way to provide emotional comfort and support. A greeting card can be sent, but if unable to physically obtain one due to restrictions, a sentimental email is sufficient. In the absence of a formal shiva, delivery of sympathy meals is also appropriate. Making a donation to a charity of the family’s choosing or planting a tree in memory of an individual remains a heartfelt and significant way to preserve their loved one’s memory or show that you care.  

We are here to make this confusing and difficult time easier on you. Please contact us with any funeral questions or guidance.  

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