How to cope without funerals, tangi and spiritual services

One of the hardest parts of living through COVID-19 restrictions is missing important events, such as attending a funeral or tangihanga, as well as regular and special spiritual occasions, such as Easter and Ramadan.

Key points

  1. Losing someone we love is one of the hardest things we go through in life, and to not be able to use our usual rituals of grieving makes that loss even harder.
  2. Spirituality or taha wairua is one of the 4 cornerstones of mental wellbeing. Not being supported by our usual spiritual gatherings is also particularly hard as we go through one of the biggest global events of our lives.
  3. There have been many creative responses to all aspects of this pandemic, including finding different ways to grieve and connect spiritually.
  4. We’ve gathered some of those ways people are finding to grieve and honour their dead and express their spirituality in connection with others.
  5. Many people have missed other meaningful moments too, such as the birth of a child or grandchild, celebrating a milestone birthday or anniversary and delaying a wedding. These tips are for you as well.

Losing someone you love

When you lose someone, if you have a cultural, religious or spiritual tradition to draw on it can give you strength to get through. The rituals and practices can help you make meaning of loss as well as resourcing you to cope with it. 

But COVID-19 is changing how we do those things.

Not being able to sit with someone in hospital through to not being able to hold a tangi or funeral in Alert Level 4 noho rāhui, and only with small numbers in Alert Level 3, are some of the restrictions we are living with.

You may choose to delay some of the ways you would like to farewell the person who has died until the restrictions are lifted. But you can’t delay grief. So you need to find ways to express that.

Talk to those close to you, cry and share memoires and feelings with them.

You may also like to contact your kaumatua, minister, priest, pastor, rabbi, Muslim cleric or other religious leader to talk to about your loss.

Rituals and other activities are how we more formally give expression to these feelings, and even though the usual funeral or tangi can’t be held, finding some other way of taking a ritual action to honour your loved one can help you adapt to your loss.

You might like to gather the people in your mirumiru/bubble and create your own farewell. You can put a photo up of your loved one, say a karakia/prayer, light a candle and share memories of that person.

The small number of people who can be there may choose to livestream your time at the funeral home, cemetery or urupā to include whānau and friends who are not able to attend.

You can also create other rituals with family outside your bubble by using the internet. When a family member died in the UK, one Indian family used a video-conferencing app to bring together members of their family around the world for the 13-day period of grief observed in their faith. Different family members led the ritual for each day. This enabled the family to share in their grief, support each other and memorialise and celebrate their loved one.

The Funeral Directors Association has more suggestions on how to farewell your loved one during COVID-19.

The Ministry of Health has more detailed guidelines for tangihanga during COVID-19Te Rōpu Whakakaupapa Urutā also has advice for when someone dies, including a short karakia that can be used to bless and honour your loved one.

Read more about grief and loss.

Missing regular spiritual gatherings

For most religions, gathering together on a regular basis with other members of the community is a key spiritual practice. It may be for a church service or Mass, Friday prayer at a mosque, a Shabbat service at a synagogue or a puja at a Buddhist temple.

Although it’s not the same as gathering in person, most faiths are offering online ways to attend regular services. Some examples are as follows:

  • For Roman Catholics, Shine TV is broadcasting Mass every Sunday at 2pm on Freeview TV channel 25 or SkyTV channel 201.
  • The Anglican church has many online options for services.
  • The Presbyterian church also has online services.

Missing key spiritual events, such as Easter and Ramadan

Easter falling within the Level 4 lockdown was hard for Christians, and now Ramadan falling within Level 3 is just as difficult for Muslims.

The government advice encourages Muslims to hold iftar (breaking the fast at sunset) and isha (the last prayers of the day) within your bubble. If Eid (the end of Ramadan) occurs during Alert Level 3, you must remain in your household bubble. 

In a public statement, the Ulama Council of New Zealand (the National Organisation for Religious Scholars) said there had been questions raised about following an Imam streaming prayers online, but this was not allowed.

Al Noor Mosque Imam Gamal Fouda has said that although having a physical connection was not possible, using Zoom while preparing food at the end of the day, and social media throughout the day, are just some of the strategies to make sure Muslims don’t feel alone during the month.

"Whether we are physically connected or not, still we are socially and spiritually connected," he said.

Here are some ideas for celebrating Ramadan in a COVID-19 world.

Spirituality is a cornerstone of our wellbeing

The Māori holistic model of health, te whare tapa whā, is a reminder to take care of all aspects of your life to support your wellbeing. 

The 4 dimensions are: 

  • taha tinana (physical wellbeing)
  • taha hinengaro (mental wellbeing)
  • taha wairua (spiritual wellbeing)
  • taha whānau (family wellbeing). 

With it being harder to honour your usual communal spiritual practices, make sure you take care of the other aspects of your mental wellbeing during this time. Read about taking care of your mental wellbeing during COVID-19 and our COVID-19 care package.

Other ways of connecting spiritually

Even when you can’t gather in the same way with your spiritual community, you can still connect to the sacred while in your bubble. You can still pray, chant, meditate, sing hymns and waiata, read sacred texts. You can do kind things for those in your bubble and reach out by phone or online to people you know might be lonely.

Nature is also always available ‒ look at the night sky, the birds you can hear on your daily walk or the trees and flowers in the gardens you pass. If you can, plant a garden or have a few pots of herbs and veges on your balcony or patio.

Even if you can't get outside, watch the clouds passing in the sky, notice the seasons changing out the window, tend an indoor plant or two. 

Let these small moments fill you up with a sense of connection with something greater than yourself.  

Try this mindfulness practice as a way to help you connect with the bigger picture.  

What we learned from ANZAC Day

Anzac Day is one of the most important national occasions for New Zealanders. In 2020, for the first time in history, Anzac Day Services across New Zealand were cancelled due to COVID-19. But that didn’t mean that the tradition of remembering and commemorating our veterans and service personnel was cancelled too.  

Instead, Kiwis stood at dawn at the end of our driveways in another creative and moving adaptation to honouring those who have died, and keeping the sacred alive in these times. See more at Stand at Dawn.

Support 

Grief counselling is available online and by phone. For more information and to find a counsellor contact one of these organisations: 

Learn more

The following links provide further information about grief and loss during COVID-19. Be aware that websites from other countries may have information that differs from New Zealand recommendations.    

Grief and loss during COVID-19 Level 3 Mental Health Foundation, NZ, 2020 
COVID-19: Deaths, funerals and tangihanga Ministry of Health, NZ, 2020 

References

Covid 19 coronavirus: Muslims enter the holy month physically separate but spiritually connected NZ Herald, 23 April 2020
COVID 19: Ramadan 2020 – effects on NZ Muslim faith Scoop, 18 April 2020

Credits: Health Navigator Editorial Team.