Should I attend a funeral during Covid-19 semi-reopening?
May 28, 2020 12:23 PM   Subscribe

My beloved grandmother died. What are the risks of my attending an out of state outdoor funeral?

My beloved grandmother died a few days ago in a different state. An outdoor funeral will be held for her and I know several family members from around the U.S. will be attending - about 20 all together I've been told. The area I live in initially had a very bad Covid-19 outbreak, shutdown accordingly and is now in the first stage of reopening. The state the funeral is in (and where most of my family live) has been more laissez-faire throughout.

If I went, I'd drive (seems safer than flying right now) and probably bring my husband. It's a long day's drive each way which means we'd need to spend two nights in a hotel room (though I might consider car camping on the way back), once before the funeral and once after. And of course, we'd occasionally have stop somewhere to eat and use the restroom on the way.

We (meaning my husband and I) would only attend the outdoor funeral/burial, maintaining distance and wearing masks. There is supposed to be a luncheon indoors afterwards but I am not comfortable with that and will not attend (my mother is organizing the funeral and I stated my concerns about the safety of the meal to her and left it at that ). My family is politically "mixed" and I suspect that some of them won't be following the same precautions. Do funeral directors enforce them?

This is just such a hard thing - I never thought I wouldn't attend my own grandmother's funeral. To me it would be easier if we were all still on complete lockdown and didn't have a choice in the matter but now I feel like if I don't attend I'm making the choice not to attend and honor my grandmother. What makes matters worse is my other grandmother died just before the crisis began and I flew across the country to be at her funeral. I feel as if I'd be saying by not attending that I loved my other grandmother more. And I hate the idea of my grandfather looking around and not seeing me at her funeral.

On the other hand both of my parents and my elderly grandfather would be at high risk from complications and if they ended up catching anything at the funeral, I would never forgive myself. And of course, even if we went it's not like I would even get to hug anybody or really spend any time with family, which are two of the main points of funerals.

Ugh, this just sucks in so many different ways.
posted by Brain Sturgeon to Health & Fitness (23 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I answer this as a person whose family patriarch died at the beginning of quarantine: don't go. Put your energy into helping with the arrangements to livestream the service. (In our case, the funeral home handled this.) Help organize the tune-in info for others who won't be attending. Write a long, loving letter to your grandfather, and your parents if you want to. Keep your family members safe, keep yourself safe, keep strangers safe (who you'll have to encounter along the way as you road-trip) by not going to this.

When I tuned in to the livestream funeral of my great-uncle, the most beloved member of our family, I expected it to feel meaningless. It wasn't -- it was a powerful service despite that I was watching it via livestream. You can grieve and honor your grandmother without endangering yourself or others.
posted by BlahLaLa at 12:30 PM on May 28, 2020 [27 favorites]

You're making the choice to not potentially infect or kill your family members, not that you don't love your grandmother.

Don't go. Nobody should be going anywhere at all unless they absolutely have to, and a funeral is no longer an "absolutely have to" since weddings and funerals and family gatherings are super spreader events.
posted by jenfullmoon at 12:32 PM on May 28, 2020 [12 favorites]

I'm so sorry for your losses.

ALl I can say is that if you wear masks and observe social distancing you have done the right thing. It maybe harder in future knowing that you did not attend when you could have, so I would suggest you can, especially under the circumstances. You are doing everything you can to minimize spread to others, and that is all any anyone can reasonably ask.
posted by Alensin at 12:33 PM on May 28, 2020 [8 favorites]

If you go, you will be exposing everyone you come into contact with along the way there and back, plus exposing your family to all those exposures from you. Now multiply that by how many people will be there. Think of how easy it is to slip up and be too close, touch something, people will be singing and crying. There is a reason why weddings and funerals have been super-spreader events. Please don't go to this funeral. (And in regards to the other grandparent's funeral -- that was pre-lockdown. Apples to oranges.)
posted by fiercecupcake at 12:42 PM on May 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

Can someone at the funeral do a video conference so that you can virtually attend?
posted by aniola at 12:45 PM on May 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

I would go and would just not be inside with anyone else who wasn't wearing a mask, especially not for an extended period of time. Wear your mask at the funeral and/or keep your distance. If you stay at a hotel, open the windows to air out the room well and bring wipes or spray to sanitize surfaces, knobs, handles, yourself. If you eat at restaurants, get takeout and eat outside. Hand sanitize after using any restrooms or touching any doorknobs.
posted by amaire at 12:49 PM on May 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I'm so sorry for your loss. I genuinely feel your pain - my grandfather passed away two weeks ago (from COVID-19) and I wasn't able to attend his memorial service, despite the fact that it was held in a neighboring state with substantially less stringent restrictions. It was hard and extremely sad. We are young and healthy, and made the decision not to go because we did not want to risk inadvertently exposing family members or anyone else we had incidental contact with en route.

Based on your previous questions, I think we live in the same city. It is true that we are starting to open, but we still have a large number of cases, and daily deaths in our state have not leveled off. Having experienced the horror of losing someone I loved very much to COVID-19, I would strongly encourage you not to attend.

My grandfather's memorial service was streamed on Zoom - it was surprisingly meaningful. I would gently suggest that you explore similar options in this case.
posted by cimton at 12:55 PM on May 28, 2020 [11 favorites]

Best answer: If you could ask the funeral director about having a virtual presence, and let your family members know you will attend in that fashion everyone will be safer. It's awful, but this is happening to families all over the country.

Your parents and grandfather should understand. You can make loose plans to visit in the future when it is safer, when the pandemic threat is more reliably quantifiable, and hopefully less acute. Then you can visit your grandfather and hopefully hug him without danger. I'm sorry, I lost a beloved aunt recently and it was painful to be separated from everyone in this way that seemed "artificial", but none of the family became infected, and we are all, separately, spending time at her grave when we can.
posted by citygirl at 1:02 PM on May 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

It’s a heartbreaking question (Guardian), and I am very sorry for your loss, and for the additional hardship the pandemic has brought to mourning rituals. I recently outlined some links related to the general uncertainty of trying to assess risk, particularly in the US right now, which may be helpful to consider.
posted by katra at 1:05 PM on May 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I would consider whether you would find it more challenging to attend and maintain strict social distancing or stay home and watch a livestream (if any).

Funerals aren't inherently "superspreader events." They often facilitate spread because of common practices at funerals. That is, we hug people, cry on them, talk to them intimately, often pray loudly or sing, and all in crowded enclosed spaces. All of those seem, as far as we can now know, to encourage spread. Attending a funeral where you are outside, with everyone masked, and stay six feet feet away from everyone is little different from going to a park and sitting down apart from people. But that's only if you stick to that. Will you have the strength of will to back up from sobbing Aunt Sally seeking a hug? Only you can know that.
posted by praemunire at 1:42 PM on May 28, 2020 [11 favorites]

With family members who won't take the same precautions you plan to, will they be unhappy or try to prevent you taking those precautions? Or will they try to encourage or force you to be close, and remove the mask?

Lots of this depends on your relationships with the living. If I was not going to go I would lean on saying that you'd be coming from a state that has been very badly hit and you couldn't live with yourself if you accidentally infected anyone. This at least avoids implicit criticism of other people's decisions.
posted by plonkee at 2:24 PM on May 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

I wouldn't want to be the 20th person at a funeral for a grandparent, unless they had been a parent to me. My county is currently capping funerals at 10, and that seems about the right ballpark. As praemunire says, the risk is in all the little behaviors at a funeral. I have been physically at work a few times and it's hard to get used to using the elevator by myself, let alone changing behaviors with dearest family under a peak stress situation. Information on this is hard to come by, but health officials in Santa Cruz noted that in their county "all known transmission is associated with close contact between households during family gatherings", including a "multi-generational Mother’s Day gathering and a large gathering involving individuals who travelled from out-of-state".

If I went, I would stay outside at all times, as you are planning. Unless you get very close to people, that appears to be low risk. Indirect (person-object-person) contact also seems pretty low risk. A luncheon (extended time, close quarters) indoors is madness.

If you go I would also think in detail about restrooms and gas. Do you need additional sanitary equipment? Sorry about the awful situation you find yourself in.
posted by wnissen at 3:57 PM on May 28, 2020

Best answer: I’m not advocating a plan either way, just wanted to comment on this aspect:

I feel as if I'd be saying by not attending that I loved my other grandmother more.

Other people’s views do not determine how you felt about your grandmother. You know how you felt and she knew how you felt. She is not with you any longer, and (to cover all bases), to the extent she can look down and see who’s at the funeral, she could also see the feelings in your heart about her.

I understand the worry about hurting your grandfather, but he will likely be focused on how much he misses your grandmother and noticing the people who are there, not figuring out who’s absent.

If you do not attend, you could send some beautiful flowers or print out and mail some nice pictures you have of your grandmother to be displayed.
posted by sallybrown at 4:30 PM on May 28, 2020 [3 favorites]

I think it would be really stressful to attend an event like this and not hug my family members. It would be hard to keep apart, especially if one of those family members approaches me to hug.

Going to a funeral doesn't say you loved a person. Funerals are for the living. But in this case, attending a funeral can mean hurting the living. If you don't go, you are saying that you love your family enough to be safe.
posted by bluedaisy at 4:37 PM on May 28, 2020 [2 favorites]

All the funerals at the place where the majority of services I have attended for late family members have been live-streamed for years. This shouldn’t be a brand new things for any place that routinely holds funeral services. I’d stay home. Your willingness to travel during a pandemic is not a measure of the love you felt when this person was alive.
posted by 41swans at 4:52 PM on May 28, 2020

Best answer: Planning to observe social distancing and actually observing it are two different things, I’ve learned firsthand. Even the staunchest believers and most careful planners have a social drive, especially around family you haven’t seen in months, and it’s easier than you think to throw it all out the window and hug or converge or remove your mask.
posted by kapers at 5:01 PM on May 28, 2020 [5 favorites]

What makes matters worse is my other grandmother died just before the crisis began and I flew across the country to be at her funeral. I feel as if I'd be saying by not attending that I loved my other grandmother more.

I understand that you feel this way. I will gently suggest that deciding not to attend will in no way diminish your feelings for her. Love just doesn’t work that way. You will choose what to do, but please be kind to yourself and try your hardest not to make this part of your decision.

I’m so sorry you’re going through this.
posted by bookmammal at 5:02 PM on May 28, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I'm going through this right now. My grandma died overnight. Like you I never thought I wouldn't be able to attend her funeral. I never thought I wouldn't be able to hug my mom who took care of her for the past 20 years. I never thought any of this would be happening. But it's just not safe right now. I hope my grandma would understand why and I believe she did. It's just an awful situation all around. I'm going to watch the livestreamed service and I'm going to try to mourn as best I can given the circumstances. And when this is done I'm gonna give my mom the biggest hug ever and not let go. But I have to make sure my need to mourn doesn't put anyone else at risk. And the best way I can do that is to stay home. You have all my love. If you need to talk I'm here. And I think this community will be here for you during this difficult time.
posted by downtohisturtles at 7:25 PM on May 28, 2020 [4 favorites]

I'm sorry for your loss. In the before times, my grandmother died while I was on the other side of the world, with no possibility of getting back to the funeral. I made peace with it by understanding that funerals are for the living.

While your family needs support right now, it sounds like you can give it in other ways? Food hamper, phone calls, a promise to remember your grandmother together, soon.

My family also recorded the service for me so I could watch it in my own time, I found that very cathartic.
posted by teststrip at 1:07 AM on May 29, 2020

The only way I would do this is car camp both ways and poop outside, which means you’d wind up being under slept and unwashed at the funeral, and could compromise your safety driving home. If this is doable / safe / legal for you both ways, go for it. If not, don’t.
posted by The Last Sockpuppet at 3:12 AM on May 29, 2020

I'm sorry for your loss. Given that other people likely won't be following precautions, I don't think this is a good idea. You are adding a fair bit of risk for yourself (not just the drive, but being there with relatives who might enter your physical space, etc.) that goes beyond what is currently considered good practices.
posted by Dip Flash at 6:31 AM on May 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry for your loss. This is an especially difficult time to be dealing with death. I am also sorry that there's been a decision to have a funeral where people will be flying in and gathering from far-flung places. 20 isn't an insignificant gathering and I think you'd be showing the greatest love to those still here if you didn't attend and maybe also gently suggested others not attend. COVID is no small thing and it would not be honoring your grandmother for her funeral to be putting other loved ones at great risk.
posted by quince at 11:14 AM on May 29, 2020

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for your kind and thoughtful answers. I marked a few as best but really I appreciated every single one. This has been an agonizing decision to make and the answers with concrete steps I could take instead of attending in person, as well as the ones that reminded me just how hard it would be to maintain social distance in the moment were especially helpful.

I've decided to stay home and watch the livestream with my husband at my side (it turns out it would have been nearly impossible for him to attend in person due to his employer requiring an unpaid quarantine after out of state travel), frame a photo of my grandparents on their wedding day that I've been meaning to get framed for years, use the money I would have spent on a hotel to donate to a charity in honor of my grandmother, write a letter to my grandpa, and make plans to visit him and my grandma's grave once it's safer to travel (hopefully that day will come soon).

I also reiterated my reservations about the luncheon to my mom. If my family ever listened to my opinion on anything, this would be the first time. All I can do on that front is pray that things really are as safe right now as people seem to want to believe.
posted by Brain Sturgeon at 9:58 AM on June 3, 2020 [4 favorites]

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