From group texts to delayed funerals, Cape Bretoners mourn through COVID-19

·2 min read
Father Bill Burke of St. Marguerite Bourgeoys Parish in Sydney. (Matthew Moore/CBC - image credit)
Father Bill Burke of St. Marguerite Bourgeoys Parish in Sydney. (Matthew Moore/CBC - image credit)

COVID-19 restrictions have changed the ways the funeral process is carried out across all religions and as a result changed the way people have grieved over the last year.

Funerals are now allowed in Nova Scotia, but with restrictions on the numbers of people, group singing, hugging, and wakes or receptions.

Father Bill Burke is a priest with St. Marguerite Bourgeoys Parish in Sydney, N.S. He said because of all the restrictions, the grieving process is now lasting longer.

"The process has been extended into the workplace, into the grocery store, into the streets, and it goes on for months because it was not able to be done at a wake or a reception," said Burke.

'They have to make a choice'

Burke said it is hard for people to process grief when they see relatives or friends and the loss of loved one gets brought up continually.

He said in recent months, he was able to start going into hospital rooms and giving the sacrament, which takes place close to the time of death.

Burke said usually all the family joins in the room for the prayers, but restrictions have limited the number of people allowed in the hospital room.

"Now they have to make a choice of which four go in, and that has proven to be pretty painful sometimes," said Burke.

Within Cape Breton's Muslim community, there has only been one death over the past year and it was not related to COVID-19.

However, restrictions have still changed how the family was able to grieve. Many Muslims like to bathe the body of their deceased loved ones and situate them in the casket themselves, which in most cases is no longer allowed.

Dr. Arsalan Raza is the imam for the Cape Breton Muslim Society
Dr. Arsalan Raza is the imam for the Cape Breton Muslim Society(Submitted by Dr. Arsalan Raza)

Arsalan Raza is an imam with the Cape Breton Muslim Society. He said an important part in their grieving process is prayers from family and friends in the presence of the deceased.

"The people who can come to the home and talk to them and provide that physical and emotional contact that was missing," said Raza.

COVID-19 has limited how many people can provide that support.

Alison Etter is the reverend with Warden and Knox United churches in Glace Bay. She said she has seen many different ways families have tried to mourn during the pandemic.

"One family told me they opened a group text for family members to share memories and that was the best way for them to connect across distance," said Etter.

Etter said some families she spoke with have not yet held a funeral and are waiting to hold a traditional one.

Alison Etter is the reverend at the Knox and Warden United churches in Glace Bay, N.S.
Alison Etter is the reverend at the Knox and Warden United churches in Glace Bay, N.S.(Submitted by Alison Etter)

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