When a loved one dies, their family and friends mourn the loss through celebrations of life such as funerals.
But now that the coronavirus (COVID-19) has caused people to social distance themselves, those celebrations are starting to look different.
“It’s making it tough for the public to be able to come out and pay respects as they’re used to,” said Christopher Stone, owner of Whiting’s Funeral Home. “People want to be able to show the family their love and support by their attendance so we’re having to come up with ways they can do that.”
Gov. Ralph Northam in March placed a ban on gatherings of 10 or larger which limits the amount of people who can attend a funeral. As a result, funeral homes are having to find ways to provide services while adhering to the governor’s order.
Ceremonies at Whiting’s are now held with only the immediate family and with less than 10 people, including staff, in attendance. While this can make the ceremonies different than loved ones might hope, Stone said many are understanding of the situation and happy to have options for providing these important services.
The funeral home is now using telecommunication tools as much as possible, such as making arrangements with families over the phone and providing a live stream of a service for others to tune into.
At Bucktrout Funeral Home, which is part of a group of six other funeral homes in the area, procedures and guidelines are changing daily as the pandemic continues, said Marcella Williams, community outreach coordinator.
“We’re trying to be as flexible as possible so everyone who wants to celebrate the life can participate,” she said. “I think most families, when dealing with a death, it’s difficult, but a lot of them are understanding the need to keep the community safe.”
When doing arrangements for funerals, Bucktrout is asking that only two family members physically come into the chapel and use video conferencing or telephone calls as much as possible.
Bucktrout’s services and gatherings have also been limited to immediate family members and Williams said many people are staying in their cars and driving or parking near the service to take part while also social distancing.
Funeral arrangements for those who have died from the coronavirus are still possible because there is no known risk of contracting the virus from someone who has died from it, according to Bucktrout’s website
“Working in the death care business, we never know what a person may have passed away from or what they might be carrying,” he said. “We always work as though we are dealing with a highly contagious case.”
There are also some families that are choosing to postpone their funeral arrangements to a time when more people can come and participate, she said. But even having these options doesn’t necessarily make the experience any easier.
“The grief isn’t any different,” she said. “We have people who are passing not just from the virus but because they were in hospice or some other reason. So we are just trying to find ways that we can continue to support them.”
Stone said the necessary distance between a funeral director and the family of someone who has died also makes his job a little more difficult. As a funeral director, he said his goal is to provide as much comfort as possible but that can be complicated when you aren’t seeing a person face-to-face.
“It’s kind of difficult to comfort the family from a distance,” he said. “But as a faith-based organization we are able to sense what the family is feeling and administer some words or encouragement or wisdom.”
The funeral homes are continuing to work with people as best as possible in light of the growing pandemic surrounding them. While other aspects of life have come to a halt, the need for funeral services simply can’t.
And even though providing those services is no easy task, funeral directors and staff are taking steps to make this difficult time as comforting as possible for those who are experiencing grief in the midst of a global pandemic.
“We want to help people not be bound by the emotions of losing a loved one and then the emotions of a pandemic preventing them from properly mourning,” Stone said. “We will utilize whatever we have to continue providing these services.”
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