Last updated: May 28, 2020
It goes without saying – we are living in an incredibly surreal and uncertain time. For those who are in a vulnerable population or have a family member or friend in a vulnerable population, our hearts go out to you. We know the fear and sadness that is coming up right now, as we feel it too. As a cemetery, COVID-19 has a direct impact on what we do. Below is an outline of how we are currently handling burials at Carolina Memorial Sanctuary. We emphasize currently because the landscape is changing constantly, and what we are doing today can literally change tomorrow. We are referring to the CDC Guidelines to inform how we conduct burials during the pandemic – NOT the federal or state government (i.e. if North Carolina expands gatherings to 25, we will still only allow 10, per the CDC). We will update this webpage to reflect our current practices, but know that what you read below may be different next week or even tomorrow.
Can I reserve a spot?
Yes. One of the most important steps before reserving a spot is seeing the Sanctuary in person. The best way to do this is through a guided tour so that you can learn more about the project and ask questions. We are offering in-person tours again with everyone wearing masks and maintaining social distancing. If you prefer to explore on your own first, you are welcome to visit any day of the week during daylight hours. We do not recommend purchasing a spot until you’ve been to the Sanctuary in person. Visit this page to book a tour online or to submit a contact form for us to follow up with you.
Is a green burial still possible?
Yes, it currently is.
How many guests are allowed to attend?
The CDC recommends a maximum of 10 people for burials. To protect our guests and our staff, guests are limited to 7-8 individuals depending on how many of our staff will need to be present (this will be assessed during the burial planning phase).
How are you conducting burials and keeping everyone safe?
Attendance + Social Distancing – Limiting the number of attendees is one of the most important steps we’re taking to keep everyone safe. The only way we’re going to beat this pandemic is by stopping its spread, and the only way to do that is to severely minimize contact with others. In addition, we require that all guests maintain a 6 foot distance from all other individuals. [Related Article: ‘Days After a Funeral in a Georgia Town, Coronavirus ‘Hit Like a Bomb’]
Masks, Gloves + Hand Sanitizer – All individuals attending a burial are required to bring a mask to wear. Our staff will also be wearing masks. We will have gloves and hand sanitizer available during the burial.
Lowering – Because it requires such close contact, we have changed our process for lowering the deceased into the grave. Normally we encourage guests to assist with the lowering; under certain circumstances we may still be able to offer this, but in most cases, Sanctuary staff and funeral home staff will lower the deceased into the grave while wearing masks and gloves, prior to the burial service.
Closing + Decorating the Grave – For the closing of the grave, we have shovels that are designated for guests to use. Hand sanitizer and gloves will be available for guests to use prior to handling shovels. We only allow one person to approach the grave at a time. Guests may still decorate the grave but, as with closing the grave, only one person is allowed at the grave at a time.
What if someone dies of COVID-19?
Although it pains us greatly, if someone dies of COVID-19, only the Sanctuary staff and funeral home staff will be allowed during the burial. It’s simply too unsafe to have family members present as there is a high likelihood that they may have come in contact with the virus. The exception is if the family has gone through a full quarantine prior to the burial.
In the event that no family/friend can be present, our staff will still hold sacred space for your loved one. If there is music you want played, a letter you want read, etc. – we will do what we can to bring meaning and love to the ceremony even if you can’t be there.
For those who can’t be present, how do we create ritual and sacred space?
Livestreaming/Video – A video recording can be an option to capture the burial for those that can’t be present. Livestreaming may also be an option, depending on your cell carrier as to whether the internet connection will be strong enough.
Delayed Celebration of Life – When this pandemic is behind us and when it’s safe to gather again, we encourage you to host a celebration of life here at the Sanctuary at the gravesite of your loved one, allowing as many guests as are desired to attend.
Written/Recorded Words of Love – In the event that only a limited number of guests can attend, for those that cannot attend, you can have them write their message of love to be read (if desired) and placed into the grave. You can also have them record a voice message to be played during the burial service.
Other ideas can be found here (these are also helpful if you can’t be with a loved one who is dying):
- Funerals & Dying in Absentia: Inspiration & Tips During Covid-19
- Postponed Funerals
- Creative Rituals for death in the times of COVID-19
If lots of people end up dying, how will CMS handle that? Will you be relying on mass graves?
We are taking steps now to prepare for the possibility that there may be mass fatalities and that we may need to perform multiple burials in a short time frame. We are going to pre-dig 5 graves to have available for at-need burials. You probably know that we dig all of our graves by hand. In the event of mass fatalities, that will not be possible. We have purchased a tractor (which we were wanting to do anyway to maintain our trails) and a backhoe attachment to dig graves. We will still do what we can to treat the earth with care. We do not do not plan on using mass graves.
Is a home funeral still possible?
As heartbreaking as it is, home funerals are not recommended at this time. Home funerals require close contact between individuals, which puts everyone at risk. That being said, it is still your legal right to have a home funeral. In addition, we have to be realistic about the possible outcomes from the pandemic; in the event of a pandemic spike where a number of people are falling ill and dying at once, our loved one could die at home from COVID-19 and the funeral home might be delayed in picking up the deceased. In that event, home funeral practices will be instrumental and there are things that can be done to minimize transmission. Our sister organization the Center for End of Life Transitions has home funeral guides who can help you over the phone. Learn more about home funerals practices during a pandemic.
What about people who have been financially affected by the Pandemic?
The pandemic is causing an incredible financial toll and to support families and individuals who don’t have the means to purchase a spot, we have created a Community Relief Fund, to help assist those in need. Please consider donating here.
We will continue to offer a payment plan to help those that want to budget their payment. Details about the payment plan can be found here. We are willing to extend the terms of the payment plan to work for your budget.
Let’s Support Each Other
This is not an easy time and we are heartbroken about how burials must be conducted. We know the power and beauty of gatherings and how beneficial it is to be hands-on. But we are living in a very unusual time and must do whatever we can to keep one another safe and prevent the spread of COVID-19. We are here to support and care for you during these precarious times. We are always a phone call away. We ask that you please support us by adhering to our current burial practices. Please know that we are doing the best we can and truly have your wellbeing in our hearts and minds. Knowing this, we cannot bend the rules or make exceptions. We ask that you grant us this grace.
We wish you the best of health and extend to you deep gratitude for supporting Carolina Memorial Sanctuary.