OTTAWA -- Losing a loved one is difficult at any time, but during the COVID-19 pandemic, families are faced with additional challenges when arranging a funeral.

In unprecedented times, new rules have taken effect immediately for funeral homes in Ottawa and across Ontario.

“When a loved one dies, there’s a little bit more of a time constraint than there was before,” says David Brazeau of the Bereavement Authority of Ontario.

“What’s changed today, is we have an expedited death response plan... It’s a one hour period for the funeral home to come to the hospital once they’ve been contacted by the hospital. It’s a three hour period at long-term care facilities.”

Under the new rules, a funeral home will need to pick-up the body of a deceased loved one from a hospital within an hour of being contacted, and within three hours from a long-term care facility. This is to prevent a back-log at the facilities during the pandemic.

To help adhere to those timelines, Hulse, Playfair and McGarry is asking families to be prepared.

“The hospital will be informing the family that they should be thinking of which funeral home they will be utilizing, should their loved one pass away,” said Patrick McGarry of Hulse, Playfair and McGarry.

Funeral homes have already had to adapt to new provincial rules introduced in March.   

“We’ve certainly made a lot of accommodations and trying to find different ways that people can still recognize the passing of their loved one in a healthy way; both immediately and in the future.”

Funerals are limited to a maximum of ten people attending.

“Death brings grief, mourning is that outward expression of grief, and that’s what’s being compromised right now.”

McGarry has adapted to the changes. Hulse, Playfair and McGary is encouraging a celebration of life at a later date, as well as using video chat software for everything during the arrangement process.

“We’re doing most of our meetings with families remotely; so that means first by telephone and then through video things such as this.  The signing of documentation is mostly being done remotely as well.”

During a funeral, Hulse, Playfair and McGarry is offering to stream the service for loved ones who can’t attend..

“Sometimes people wish to have that full service that they’re having privately to be streamed to those by invitation.”

McGarry says it’s important to allow family and friends who are unable to attend to still participate

“We’ve always had obituaries with a dedicated page for each person in our care, where people could send a message; well now, they can also send a video message”

“When somebody dies, a person’s life is turned upside down and one of the things that visitation and funerals do, is it provides some structure for people to acknowledge their loved ones death, and also receive that support and celebrate that person’s life.”