Expert: Canadians seeking closure are finally holding funerals delayed by COVID-19

Published: 22 June 2022

The mandates may be lifted, but COVID-19 continues to shape how families across Canada mourn. Funeral directors say the COVID-19 pandemic has so altered what it means to mourn that it might be a while before there is any community consensus of how and when to have a funeral. While many families feel the time is right to finally mourn, others feel like too much time has passed, and they no longer plan to hold a service. (CBC News)

Here is an expert from McGill University that can provide comment on this issue:

Mary Ellen Macdonald, Associate Professor, Faculty of Dental Medicine and Oral Health Sciences, Division of Oral Health and Society

While the pandemic has increased the numbers of grievers, it has not fundamentally changed grief. Language suggesting that mourners have ‘paused’ or ‘suspended’ their grieving in the pandemic misrepresents their experiences. Certainly, mourning practices have been interrupted in the pandemic – grief has not. Grief is ongoing; it’s under, in, through our lives. It does not ‘close’ after a funeral. The message that a funeral is needed to ‘un-pause’ grief, or to bring ‘closure,’ reproduces unhelpful messages. Grievers are already surrounded by stigma (e.g., that grief should not be seen in public spaces; that grief should follow linear stages). While honouring the dead and celebrating a life (such as through a funeral or shiva) will always be important, suggesting that a delay ‘suspends’ or puts grief ‘on pause’ is too simplistic to be helpful.”

Mary Ellen Macdonald is a medical anthropologist with postdoctoral training in Pediatric Palliative Care. In addition to her appointment to the Division of Oral Health and Society as part of the Faculty of Dental Medicine and Oral Health Sciences, she is affiliated with the Biomedical Ethics Unit, the Departments of Pediatrics, Oncology and the Ingram School of Nursing. Her main research interests include oral health in vulnerable populations, palliative care and bereavement research, cultural aspects of health and illness with Indigenous communities, and health professions education research.

mary.macdonald [at] (English)

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