Shifting sympathy practices in the age of coronavirus

Funeral directors and florists have seen the sympathy business completely upended to comply with social distancing efforts to slow the spread of COVID-19. “The outbreak has changed virtually everything for us,” wrote Char Barrett, a funeral director in Everett, Washington, in a recent article for The Washington Post.

Typically, Barrett and her staff meet grieving families to discuss funeral arrangements in person, with warm, fresh-baked cookies and snuggles from a comfort dog. They also personally deliver the death certificate, ready to offer a hug when loved ones receive this emotional document. “All of these touchstones — these moments of connecting with our families — are being replaced by this insidious virus,” she said. Phone calls or Zoom video chats have become the new norm.

The hardest part of her job, though, has been telling people they will not being seeing their deceased family members and reiterating that only 10 people can attend a funeral service. “It’s excruciating,” she said.

In a recent article for The New York Times, investigative reporter Jodi Kantor spoke to a variety of professionals studied in “the art of dying,” including funeral directors, religious leaders and historians, who shared how bereavement looked during tragedies such as Europe’s Black Death, America’s Civil War and the Cambodian genocide carried out by the Khmer Rouge. “When disasters limit mourning, people invent new ways to say goodbye,” Kantor wrote.

Read more at the Society of American Florists (Katie Hendrick Vincent)

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