The coronavirus pandemic has endangered the lives of millions worldwide, putting the elderly, in particular, at risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Website, eight out of 10 adults in the United States who have died from the virus were 65 years old or older.
The pandemic has deprived families from being able to physically grieve with each other at funerals. Instead, people have had to mourn from safe distances, requiring patience until it is safe to grieve in-person.
Various Northern California reverends have found that their congregations are waiting until it is safe to hold in-person funeral and memorial services.
The Rev. Keith Inouye of the Wesley United Methodist Church in San Jose’s Japantown told the Nichi Bei Weekly in a phone interview that during the pandemic, the church has been connecting with people who are mourning their loved ones by phone and through Zoom, a video conferencing platform.
“I think trying to provide some kind of closure, at least through some kind of conversation and time of prayer is important,” Inouye said. “I am, as a pastor, willing to do that under the present circumstances that we’re in.”
Inouye said community members want to gather with family, friends and their fellow community members. He said the last in-person memorial service he conducted at the Oak Hill Funeral Home and Memorial Park chapel in San Jose was in mid-March during the Bay Area’s first week of shelter-in-place orders. Everyone had to maintain social distancing, he said.
The Rev. Joanne Tolosa of the Konko Church of San Francisco echoed Inouye’s sentiments.
“The other families, they prefer just to wait, to be able to do it in person because they don’t want to limit the people,” Tolosa said.
Tolosa said she will hold an in-person memorial service at Colma Japanese Cemetery later this month, with the nine attendees and Tolosa observing social distancing. Tolosa said a couple of other services are on hiatus because the families would like larger groups of people to attend.
Tolosa said the church also holds virtual monthly memorial services, and since June 1, they have started doing face-to-face mediations, one family at a time. All participants must wear masks, and have their temperatures taken.
“The mediation is basically when a person comes and we acknowledge their grief,” Tolosa said.
The Rev. Matthew Hamasaki of the Buddhist Church of Sacramento said his church is not holding in-person funeral or memorial services at this time. He said a couple of families have taken him up on his offer to hold virtual funeral services.
Similarly to Tolosa, Hamasaki hosts a virtual monthly memorial service, during which “anyone can send in the name of their loved one” and he’ll read it during the service.
“This time (is) for people to have the opportunity to remember their loved ones and also work through wherever in the grieving process that they are,” Hamasaki said.
Hamasaki said he is comforting grieving church members through phone calls, but he added that “it’s been difficult” for people to reach out.
“I understand completely why there would be hesitancy or difficulty and I hope we can work through it together as a community,” he said.
Lia Kozuki-Huynh, a licensed marriage and family therapist and psychotherapist, who practices in Milpitas, Fremont and San Jose, encourages people who are grieving to seek support groups online.
She said if a person feels stuck, she’d encourage them to seek out a therapist.
“Part of it is understanding the nature of grief and that grief takes time to heal,” Kozuki-Huynh said.