Pandemic Funeral Guidance Available For Families Who Must Bury Loved Ones

Christopher Lomahquahu

Gila River Indian News


As families across the Gila River Indian Community adapt to life during the COVID-19 pandemic, understanding how to facilitate funeral services for a loved one can be of great importance.


The GRIC Community Services Department has assisted families conducting funerals throughout the pandemic, emphasizing the importance of social distancing to prevent the spread of COVID-19 during such a highly emotional time.


“It’s a difficult time. and it is understandable, [they] would like to have as many family members as possible attend,” said Laurie Thomas, CSD Director. Thomas said her department and the District Service Center assist GRIC families while reiterating the Community’s current guidelines governing large gatherings.


When a loved one passes away and families seek assistance from their District Service Center, the centers provide a funeral guidance packet compiled by the Tribal Health Department. The packet includes a reminder to limiting gatherings to no more than 15 people and to use personal protective equipment like masks in such situations.


“We really try to encourage the funeral services to just the immediate family, the family of the deceased, in making funeral arrangements,” said Thomas.


The emphasis on social distancing and PPE is in place to protect family members and District Service Center workers, Thomas explained, to keep one and all safe during their time of need.


“More people who attend a funeral or (who do) not practice social distancing can put service center staff at risk of exposure to COVID-19,” said Thomas. “We encourage families and staff to use PPE during their time helping families at funerals.”


For those who have attended a funeral in the Community, a common practice is for several family members to gather around the grave of their loved when they are lowered to rest. With the current state of the pandemic and how easy it is to spread the virus, Thomas said this increases the risk of spreading COVID-19 among several members of the family.


Though some social norms and customs are hard to refrain from doing, CSD in coordination with the service centers provides a small tent, 15 chairs and two tables. Families also have the option of utilizing a FM transmitter, which allows attendees to dial into the station from within the confines of their vehicle in order to maintain social distancing.


Thomas said there have been instances where more than one funeral has occurred at the same time. This has required the districts to work with other service centers to get an additional FM transmitter and additional resources.


“The goal is to support the executive orders to prevent the further spreading of COVID-19,” said Thomas. “The district personnel take it very seriously to ensure that everybody is well-educated and aware of the limits and the current processes and procedures. We’re ensuring that we do our part to support the Governor’s executive orders.”


As Thomas explains it, the funeral orders and the education on social distancing has one primary goal: For service centers to ease the burden on grieving families while mitigating the spread of COVID-19.


“We understand and we try to empathize with the families so all of their needs are met and we try to support them in every way [we] can,” said Thomas. “It’s just really hard right now and times have changed. This illness has definitely threatened everyone’s lives and we are adapting to [this] new norm.”


To speak with a district service center staff member in your district, here are the contact numbers:

Community Services Department : (520) 562-9691

District #1 Service Center: (520) 215-2110

District #2 Service Center: (520) 562-3450

District #3 Service Center: (520) 562- 3334

District #4 Service Center: (520) 418-3661

District #5 Service Center: (520) 315-3441

District #6 Service Center: (520) 550-3805

District #7 Service Center: (520) 430-4780