The Virus Is Taking Away Our Homegoings

Services, repasts, and second lines are empty since the ’rona stripped our funeral traditions

Biba Adams
Published in
9 min readMay 1, 2020


A photo of pallbearers carrying a casket at a homegoing in 2012.
Paulbearers carry the casket during a jazz funeral held for local bass drummer Lionel Batiste July 20, 2012 in New Orleans, Louisiana. Photo: Sean Gardner/Getty Images

In December 2020, my grandmother would have turned 90 years old. From the dawn of this new year, my family had already started working on her birthday party. By March, we had picked a venue and a caterer and were having a hard time narrowing down the guest list to 100 people.

But due to Covid-19, we went from planning a big birthday party to planning her funeral. And that guest list? We could barely convince 10 people to attend.

My family and I would have loved to send off our beloved Mother Minnie Head in a big beautiful way. This virus has taken that from us. A titan of Detroit’s New Testament Church of God in Christ, her pre-Covid-19 homegoing service would have brought out hundreds of people. It would have been magnificent, spirit-filled, and anchored by the serenade of a full gospel choir. Instead, my grandmother was laid to rest by a handful of her grandchildren wearing masks and gloves in an empty church.

My family is not unusual. Covid-19 has changed the way we send our loved ones home. A funeral is one thing; a homegoing — well, that’s something else. In the Black community, the tradition of laying a loved one to rest is filled with pageantry.

The virus has taken away our ability to celebrate in our distinct way, and that is another trauma that will last us all for a long time.

Noted psychologist Dr. Rose Moten explains this loss: “What we have now is [families] planning a funeral that [their] family can’t really come to. And we are so worried about what’s going to hit next that it’s hard to start the grieving process, because now we’re constantly in a state of uncertainty.”

“I have never seen anything like this before in my life. We are overrun with bodies and calls.”

With more than 61,000 Americans lost to Covid-19 or complications caused by the virus, the sad fact is that the end of this viral journey for many will be a funeral service. And often that service will be via Zoom or another streaming platform, because it’s just too dangerous to gather in…