Alberta funeral homes offer different ways to grieve during pandemic restrictions

·3 min read

Gathering restrictions in Alberta have prompted funeral homes to offer friends and families more options to remember loved ones.

Live streams and video recording of funeral services weren't popular options for grieving families before and some funeral directors say the service may be here to stay.

On Jan. 8, the family of Donna Burkoholder held her funeral service near Tofield, Alta. Due to the COVID-19 restrictions, only 10 people could attend in person.

It made for a tough decision for the family.

"How do you pick which family can come to a family member's funeral? So we didn't have my children or my little brother's children," said Lorne Burkholder, Donna's son.

"That's going to be the loneliest moment ever you're going through."

Working with family members, community members, and the funeral home, the family held a service with 10 people beside the casket outside Salem Mennonite Church.

Travis McEwan/CBC
Travis McEwan/CBC

A minister led the services, while nearly 100 vehicles lined the parking lot and neighbouring road. Those in the vehicles listened to the service as it was streamed over an FM transmitter.

Their presence meant a lot to the family; Lorne Burkholder described it as a touching moment that made him feel like he was surrounded by people who loved his mother.

"You just feel the love and the support," he said. "You're going through a hard moment and when you're mourning and they're showing their support and their love to you, they're caring and they and they want to honour my mom."

Video of the service was posted on Weber Funeral Home's website along with Burkholder's obituary.

It's an example of one of the many ways funeral homes have helped families to reach more people during the pandemic.

Some have offered options for live video streaming, video production services, and even encouraged family members to record funeral services themselves.

Through most of December and January, only 10 people were allowed to attend a funeral in person, though on Monday the province raised that number to 20. Funeral receptions are still not allowed.

Tyler Weber, president of the Alberta Funeral Service Association, said some funeral homes in the province could help with video requests prior to the pandemic, but with strict gathering restrictions it was necessary to offer the option to families had to decide who could attend the service in person.

"That was extremely heartbreaking to see as a funeral director and for families to have to endure throughout this time," he said.

Submitted by Tyler Weber
Submitted by Tyler Weber

While Weber doesn't expect to drive-by funeral services to become a permanent fixture after the pandemic ends, he does see interest for video recordings or live streams to continue to be a part of funeral services, though he still expects attendees to prioritize being there in person.

"There's no substitute for being present. For actually physically being there and to have the ability to actually look someone in the eye and give them your condolences," he said. There's no camera good enough to replace that."

More comfortable

At Parkland Memorial Funeral Home in Edmonton, video streaming or recording requests were only made once or twice per month. Now it's happening for every second or third funeral. Parkland president Kirstie Smolyk said he idea of live streaming a funeral service wasn't something grieving families were interested in and it may have not seemed appropriate for some.

"I think people have been reacting to the changes of using live streams," she said. "I would say people were uneasy about live streaming funerals before, but now, because we haven't had a choice, people are certainly becoming more comfortable with it and I think that's a very good thing."

She, like Weber, also expects that service to continue to be offered in the long term.