MONTREAL -- COVID-19 health guidelines have influenced funeral rituals, leading many families to postpone their final farewells to a loved one or to opt for a virtual funeral.

Worried and wondering about this postponed mourning phenomenon, the Corporation des thanatologues du Québec (CTQ) has launched a research project in order to measure the impact on bereaved people and to better support them.

"We cannot remain helpless and indifferent with this phenomenon. We hope to develop new tools and obtain recommendations to better support bereaved families when the loss of a loved one occurs," said CTQ general manager Annie Saint-Pierre.

In partnership with the Universite de Montreal, the study will be led by professor Jean-Marc Barreau, who has experience in the funeral field, Saint-Pierre said. The initiative will also focus on virtual ceremonies.

The team is looking for testimonies from people mourning a loved one, whether they have died of COVID-19 or any other cause of death.

In addition to families, the project also aims to equip funeral companies with resources to adapt the rituals in the current reality.

"Funerals are more private," said Saint-Pierre. "Fewer and fewer people can offer their condolences in person. We can no longer shake hands or hug each other. Is this going to be a phenomenon that we will observe later, despite the end of sanitary measures?"

In red zones, a maximum of 25 people can currently attend celebrations or ceremonies, forcing families to make heartbreaking choices. Funeral homes offer the possibility of broadcasting the ceremonies online to allow more people to take part.

People who have been unable to accompany their loved ones in their last moments of life find themselves doubly affected by the absence of a typical ceremony they would have attended before the pandemic, said Saint-Pierre.

"We know very well that one day or another, there may be psychological consequences to this phenomenon," she said. "This is one of the reasons why we launched this research project."

The questionnaire is available on the CTQ's website.

The organization can also send a paper form to participants.

-- this report by The Canadian Press was first published Dec. 19, 2020.