The Advocate Letter:

“Post pandemic, hold the dates for grieving our lost loved ones”

Stephen Sontheimer, June 12, 2020

As a practicing funeral director and consultant serving the New Orleans community for more than 55 years, I have never experienced anything like the COVID-19 pandemic and its effect on traditional funeral practices.

The limiting of social gatherings has hindered communities around the world from properly honoring the deceased and we New Orleanians, who have a unique way of doing most things, have always had a distinct way of mourning the loss of our loved ones.

The last few months have certainly been difficult for everyone and families have faced severe emotional and mental health issues. Those losing loved ones have faced additional burdens.

Since the beginning of time, families have come together to grieve and console one another. Funeral rituals and memorial gatherings are ingrained in our culture and give us the opportunity to honor and celebrate those we have lost. These important life cycle events facilitate healing and lead to acceptance and closure. Unfortunately, the pandemic has restricted many of these basic human needs which have not been met under current restrictions.

As a result of social distancing, technology has enabled live-streaming of funerals and memorial services so that extended family and friends can participate. This has been a revolutionary change for clergy and for the funeral industry.

Over the course of the pandemic, many families have made the decision to hold memorial services at a later date, which has allowed them extra time to plan special and meaningful events. However, I fear that as time goes on, the later date could be overlooked.

While the pandemic has inspired creative ways to celebrate annual occasions such as birthdays and graduations, our society recognizes that the loss of loved ones can be commemorated at any point in time. For those who have lost someone over the last few months, I encourage you to keep that later date on your radar. Consider holding a celebration of remembrance as social distancing protocols are lifting and we are able to reunite with family and friends to mourn — to cry and laugh, shake hands and hug, and share memories, celebrating the lives of our loved ones the way they would have wanted to be remembered.

It’s important that we honor those who we love and not lose sight of traditions that offer comfort and closure.

STEPHEN SONTHEIMER

funeral director-consultant 

New Orleans