COVID-19: Of remote funerals and virtual comfort

Tona Cherrissa’s father was “a very social gentleman” who “never spent a moment alone.” But the memorial service of Captain (Rtd) Steven Seka following his death last week was not a social affair.

It was carried out in small attendance of very close relatives, while others followed the ceremony online.


“People who come to your wedding are in your life forever, in a strange way, and it’s sort of the same thing with funerals. These people came together around a death in your life, which is really a sign of solidarity during such challenging times,” says Dickson Butera, a counsellor at Lighthouse Counselling House.


In a bid to mitigate possible risks of spreading COVID-19, the government has banned gatherings at funerals of more than 30 people.


“It is tragic to lose your beloved; you need family, friends and society to support you emotionally which motivates you and gives you courage to move on. So when they aren't able to come and be near, the hope is nearly gone and it takes a long time to recover,” Cherrissa says of the situation.

James Ndahindurwa, 20, who lost his sister two weeks ago, also says that the move is understandable to curtail any possibility of the virus’ transmission, but it is still too hard for people to get used to.

“To be honest, one of the worst things on earth is to miss the burial of your loved one. Particularly in my family, we have cases of relatives who fainted for like two days and others who are traumatised till now,” he recalls.

These people’s experience is quickly becoming the ‘new normal’ which aims at curbing the spread of the coronavirus across the country. They include the stay-at-home orders for unnecessary services and banned gatherings of large crowds, including funerals.

Counsellors, psychiatrists and clinical psychologists share advice on how people can grieve together using scientific tools, among other ways.

Online funeral

With the limited number of people allowed to attend the sad ceremonies during these times, most people have no other choice but to stream the burial ceremonies online.

The videos often attract more people (viewers) including friends and family of the deceased, with several viewers sending messages of sympathy.

Some tech players have transitioned the funeral industry’s services as they can now offer broadcasting and live streaming platforms to keep the mourning families together during this era of social distancing.

Lighting a candle

Some people who can’t attend light a candle in front of a photograph of the deceased at the same time the funeral is taking place. It helps to create an emotional connection. Or you could set up a memorial altar for them and offer up thoughts or prayers.

Group chats

Group chat to share memories and talk about who the person was, with a defined start and end. Online forums can allow groups to share positive memories of the departed.

Reaching out

Counsellors are of the view that calling and sending messages of comfort are necessary during these times. Perhaps you can even write a letter to the bereaved people, it is very encouraging to those who lost their loved ones, that they are not alone.


Do not spend a lot of time on phone, take time to think and meditate. It is okay to be alone and think because sometimes taking time alone relieves depression.


Talking is important as well, sharing feelings with someone. That is why people who are going through hard times need to have others who can listen to them. This can relieve the distress.

Shift the memorial

Consider having a memorial service later, after the pandemic. Another way to mourn lost loved ones is to schedule services for later, perhaps the one-year anniversary of their passing when, hopefully, the COVID-19 pandemic is under control and social distancing restrictions are a thing of the past. But you don’t need to decide when the sense of loss is still fresh.

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