Grieving loved ones from a distance amid COVID-19 gathering limitations

Gatherings have been severely limited by state officials and "stay-at-home" orders are making funerals and the grieving process very challenging.

"My mom was a wonderful gal, 83 years old," said Erich Muellner. "Just a sweet, sweet mom who always cared about other people more than herself."

June Muellner recently died of natural causes and planned to donate her body to science. Now due to restrictions in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus, her large family who lives in Chicago and in the northwest suburbs cannot get together to grieve due to the stay-at-home order.

"Since we can't gather in groups, we aren't going to have a memorial now," Muellner said. "We'll just wait until the times are better and maybe we'll do an outdoor activity with friends and family."

"There is a lot of disappointment in some ways if they can't observe religious observances or practices, or have their friends and family there to support them, or what their loved ones would have wanted," said Michael Schimmel, CEO of eCondolence and Shiva based in Northbrook.

Schimmel's companies, and others, like them are helping people navigate funeral challenges during COVID-19 pandemic.

He and others in the industry are suggesting giving condolences via thoughtful emails, a long letter or card in the mail.

Some family, friends and funeral homes are also turning to technology.

"There is video streaming taking affect, there are phone conferences and arrangements being made," Schimmel said.

Video streaming can also help seniors who are unable to travel or others who should avoid being in groups due to virus outbreak.

Even though the new guidelines and restrictions may go against wishes of those who passed, Schimmel said families are understanding.

"Mourning and grieving is an isolating time to begin with," said Rabbi Lizzi Heydman of Mishkan Chicago. "To compound that with being physically isolating is really hard and we all have to try harder."

Rabbi Heydman suggests putting your hand on your heart if you cannot put it on a mourner's shoulder when reaching out to them virtually.

"Of course it's not the same thing as being in the same physical space but its surprisingly comforting to be in a virtual room with people who all have a hand not heir heart," Rabbi Heydman said.

The mourner's prayer is an important part of grieving in the Jewish community. The Jewish Learning Center offers this virtual mourner's Kaddish that people can join.

"It's different to say amen to a recording. It has to be in real time, with real people checking-in and seeing one another, and taking comfort in the fact that all of us are here in this moment together even though we aren't in a physical space together," Rabbi Heydman said.

If people still want to plan a large gathering what should they do?

"This is a time when there are smaller groups required, this would be a time when - with their family they can plan, and honor, and memorialize their loved one once COVID-19-gathering restrictions are removed," Rabbi Heydman said.

Two of the biggest things to remember if you are in this situation and you recently lost a loved one: you should ask the funeral home if they have FaceTime or Skype options so other people can be part of the services; or you can also check with them and see if they are able to help you plan a larger memorial in the future.
Copyright © 2020 WLS-TV. All Rights Reserved.