With Large Funerals Banned in Pandemic, Livestreams Offer ‘Next Best Option'

The CDC has said social distancing at funerals is necessary and even recommends live-streaming funerals to prevent crowds from forming, which could potentially cause the virus to spread

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Venessa Hinchcliffe never thought she’d say goodbye to her grandmother over FaceTime.

“When I saw her on the iPad...that look will haunt me forever,” Hinchcliffe said.

The mother of two from Plymouth, Massachusetts, said her 80-year-old grandmother, Francella McFarlane of Brockton, was quarantined and alone before she died of the new coronavirus in a nursing home more than two weeks ago.

More than half of the COVID-19 deaths in the Bay State have been in residents of long-term care facilities like McFarlane.

Many nursing homes across Massachusetts are dealing with coronavirus outbreaks, and some families say they're being kept in the dark.

Hinchcliffe lamented that the funeral her gran, as she affectionately calls her, received is not what the family wanted.

"We don't get a wake, or anything like that," Hinchliffe said. "We're only allowed to have 10 people at the gravesite."

McFarlane's funeral was held at Conley Funeral Home Director in Brockton, and its director, Anne Roan, confirmed that only 10 people at a time are allowed into each funeral.

Roan agreed that social distancing during mourning doesn't provide everyone with closure.

"It just extends the mourning and the anxiety for them," she said.

This new reality is hitting home for families who have lost loved ones to COVID-19.

However, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have indicated that social distancing at funerals is necessary. The agency even recommends live-streaming funerals to prevent crowds from forming, which could potentially cause the virus to spread.

Some people are streaming their loved ones' funerals on social media.

Jim Dolan, of Dolan Funeral Home in Chelmsford, hires a private company to provide those streams. He said that 80% of the funerals at his facility are now live-streamed so that mourners can pay their virtual respects. 

“What you want to do is to come together to hug and to comfort one another, but this here is the next best option,” he said.

It is also a sign of the times during this pandemic, one that Hinchcliffe says has left her with only memories of her gran.

“Her hugs, her smile, her cooking,” Hinchliffe said.

Despite national social distancing guidelines, the National Association of Funeral Home Directors advises mourners to check with local health officials about regulations specific to their particular area. 

Dolan believes that means, even when social distancing guidelines are relaxed, virtual alternatives to funerals may be with us for some time to come. 

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