When someone has died: handling the deceased with dignity and respect, safe funerals and alternative goodbyes

Nothing can separate us from the Love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:39) Photo: Elizabeth Perry/Anglican Alliance

In this section:

  1. Safe funerals, including handling the deceased with dignity and respect
  2. Role of religious leaders
  3. When you can’t attend a funeral in person – alternative ways of saying goodbye

All the websites listed below provide similar guidance on both the infection control precautions needed in preparing a body for a funeral and managing the participation of limited numbers of family and friends at a funeral. The principles are all the same: to take care that those preparing the body for burial are not infected with the virus in undertaking this important task, that those attending the funeral are protected and that all of these activities are done with the greatest of care to maintain respect and dignity for the person who has died.

In addition, these web pages seek to help people to pay their respects and remember the person who has died and their close family when they may not be able to attend the funeral in person. Ideas include to light a candle, to say a prayer, to write and send a card to the family of the person who has died and remember some special things about them. These are important elements of the grieving process and help both the family who have lost a loved one, and the mourner who has lost someone special.

Most of the websites provide links to other web sites which include additional information about mental health, grief and bereavement.


1. Safe funerals, including handling the deceased with dignity and respect

The World Health Organization’s interim guidance on infection control and safe management of a dead body in the context of COVID-19 can be found here. Please also refer to your national guidance.

The WHO paper includes important guidance for families and traditional burial attendants on handling the deceased, preparing the body for burial and burying the deceased, where the infected person has died at home (pages 2 and 3). Among the key considerations in the WHO paper, we highlight these points:

  • It is a common myth that persons who have died of a communicable disease should be cremated, but this is not true. Cremation is a matter of cultural choice and available resources.
  • The dignity of the dead, their cultural and religious traditions, and their families should be respected and protected throughout;
  • hasty disposal of a dead [body] from COVID-19 should be avoided.
  • Authorities should manage each situation on a case-by-case basis, balancing the rights of the family, the need to investigate the cause of death, and the risks of exposure to infection.


2. Further information for religious leaders on safe burials

“Faith leaders can help grieving families to ensure that their departed loved ones receive respectful, appropriate funerals and burial rites, even in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. Knowing how to safely plan and perform such funeral rituals and services can both protect and comfort mourners and show respect for those who have died without causing any infectious risk to the mourners.” World Health Organization

See the Safe Burial Practices section on pages 3 and 4 of the WHO’s practical considerations and recommendations for religious leaders and faith-based communities in the context of COVID-19 for guidance for clergy on safe burials. The quote above is from this guidance.

The Church of England has developed some funeral and bereavement resources for ministers, which might be adaptable to other contexts.


3. When you can’t attend a funeral in person – alternative ways of saying goodbye

The Church of England provides information on how to cope and alternative ways of saying goodbye when you can’t attend the funeral of a loved one: here. These resources include a simple reflection you can use at home on the day of a funeral you can’t attend.

Other sources of information on alternative funerals include:

The Quakers: sharing the service with others and if you cannot attend or have a service.

Cruse Bereavement Care: Coronavirus funeral guidance. The initial information is UK-specific, but scroll down the page for more widely applicable ideas on how you can help yourself if you can’t attend, how you can help someone else who cannot attend, when you can, and how you can help someone when you didn’t know the person who has died.

Marie Curie: Goodbyes. Again, the initial information is based on UK rules on funerals, but as you scroll down the page there is useful more generally applicable information, including on how you might feel in these difficult circumstances.