How one diocese is doing it, from Catholic San Francisco:
As people enter a fifth month of social distancing during the pandemic shutdown, the isolation from loved ones at their death adds another painful layer of grief to the trauma of loss.
“It’s very, very hard for people and there’s a strong level of grief for that, so if someone should pass away there’s an emptiness at not being able to be there,” Mercy Sister Toni Lynn Gallagher said.
Gallagher, the bereavement ministry coordinator in the Archdiocese of San Francisco, said many cannot visit friends and family who are dying or be present at their last moments. In some cases, there’s an additional guilt that someone else, like a nurse, takes on that bedside role.
Hospital policies have prevented many people from gathering at the bedside of their loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic, due to the risk of spreading the disease and the shortage of protective equipment. iPads or smartphones held by nursing staff have provided closure for some families as a way to say goodbye, but can be unsatisfying.
…The challenge of doing grief ministry now for Deacon Chuck McNeil at St. Dominic is that “people in grief support need to be seen.” Video conferencing technology like Zoom can partly address that but cannot help the need to share space.
Many of the people he has talked to have seen their grief at the loss of their lifelong companions deepened by the enforced isolation of the pandemic shutdown, or the inability to attend Mass and find activities to engage themselves in.
Deacon McNeil, who recently put together his first bereavement support group since the pandemic began, said he has questions about how the ministry will go when conducted entirely online. The technology can be challenging for older users, it could be harder to build up trust and confidence in the group when everyone is separated, and some of the activities that draw people out of their depression will not translate easily to an online forum.
“But it’s important, and I have to start it,” he said.