The COVID-19 pandemic and current health orders are leaving an often-ignored industry to grieve: the funeral industry.

Manitoba Funeral Service Association's President Kevin Sweryd says while funeral homes are doing their best to follow the health orders, it is difficult to help a family celebrate a lost family member when they are not all about to be in the same room.

"Families are heartbroken. I personally had the eleventh granddaughter call me one day saying 'is it really true I can't come to my grandma's funeral?" Sweryd says.

kevin swerydSweryd is the President and Funeral Director of Bardal Funeral Home. (Kevin Sweryd/Facebook)

The President says the biggest issue the funeral industry has is understanding funerals are under different regulations compared to other businesses and industries. 

Sweryd says he does not understand why on Sunday, up to 100 people can be in a chapel for a service, but the next day only 10 can be in the same space for a funeral.

Dr. Brent Roussin and Dr. Jazz Atwal say the reason for the limited number of people is because of the emotional nature of the event, but this is the reason why Sweryd wants gatherings to increase.

roussinRoussin says on Thursday there was a potential COVID-19 exposure at a funeral in Winnipeg. (Screenshot: Government of Manitoba/YouTube)

"These types of gatherings are where the fundamentals are difficult to maintain," Roussin says.

Sweryd says emotions are the point of funerals, pointing to them to being important ceremonies in many religions.

He is finding it difficult to communicate with the province to express the disconnect between what families need to grieve and what the province is allowing. Sweryd says the province will not talk with them.

"I keep asking them for protocols for funerals. They would not give me any," Sweryd says, saying he wrote the province creating their own protocols, hoping it would help.

"I did not even get the courtesy of a reply that was anything other than a platitude with a link saying 'we are all in this together."

Libby Siebold is the owner and director, among other roles, at Sobering Funeral Chapel in Beausejour. She says they have been trying to host video calls, have multiple funerals, and even transmit services through radio, but that it is not enough.

"It is very difficult in terms of a lot of things, in terms of negotiation the ever-changing health regulations," Siebold says. The director says the constant change had made it difficult to plan for funerals. 

"It has been hard on families. It has been hard on us as a business. It is exhausting, to be honest with you, and it is exhausting for families."

Siebold says people have lost their usual grieving rituals and are unable to lean on what they know. (Sobering Funeral Chapel)Siebold says people have lost their usual grieving rituals and are unable to lean on what they know.

Siebold has found what normally is a one-hour meeting to discuss funeral plans turns into three-hour visits. She says this is because people need someone to talk to, something that is lost when communities can no longer gather to mourn.

"They were a community event," Siebold says. "It is that getting together, the going for the lunch, sharing stories, kinda rallying around each other. It is just gone."

A common issue how families not only cannot have their usual grieving ceremonies but even before that. many are not allowed to say goodbye to loved ones in person. She says they are advising families on other ways they can honour their families without traditional funerals such as enjoying the person's favourite meal together over a video call.

"It is that human connection. reach out. Set aside some time with your immediate family, say in your home, to not just make dinner, but really be present."

Both are frustrated to see crowds in big box stores but no more than 10 people inside a chapel.

"I think for a lot of people, there is a lot of anger towards the Public Health Orders," Siebold says, often hearing people express confusion over why large stores can operate at a much higher capacity, but families cannot be in the same room to say goodbye to a loved one.

"It is really hard on people... it is just devastating for a lot of families. It is crushing to not be able to say goodbye, to not be able to share in their grief."

Sweryd is frustrated by the constant change in the health orders as they walk with people trying to make plans during a loss. He is hoping for increased gathering sizes at funerals such as immediate family only, but overall wants better communication between the province and the industry.