We’re all having to do things a little differently as a result of this pandemic, and that includes saying goodbye to a loved one.
While churches are not part of essential services, funeral homes are but there are restrictions on the number of people who can gather at those facilities depending on the square footage. In Huntsville, both Mitchell and Billingsley funeral homes cannot have more than 10 people in the buildings at a time.
Darren Growen, general manager at Billingsley Funeral Home, said staff has had to get creative about how to best help families and friends honour the death of a loved one during COVID-19.
“I would say that it has progressively forced us into a level of creativity that we may not have even dreamt up,” said Growen.
He said staff has started offering to make funeral arrangements by phone or online with families. They’ve even taken photos of available caskets and emailed the photos to people so they can make a choice that way.
He’s also considering measures such as video conferencing to enable friends and families of the deceased, particularly those who live far away, to somehow feel as though they are part of an end-of-life ceremony.
Funeral homes are tasked with ensuring that adequate social distancing takes place in order to protect staff and visitors alike. They can no longer serve food or refreshments and similar restrictions apply to internments, which will increase as the weather warms.
A maximum of 10 people can gather in area cemeteries, which makes the logistics of holding a graveside ceremony a little more challenging, and because churches are no longer congregating some ministers are not conducting ceremonies at this time either, explained Growen.
Larry Mitchell of Mitchell Funeral Home said most people understand that the measures put in place are a way to minimize COVID-19 contagion, but it does affect grieving families and friends. “It’s made it a little more restrictive for a family to say goodbye. It’s made it harder for a community to say goodbye,” he said, adding that some families are opting to host larger ceremonies at a later date, once restrictions around COVID-19 are lifted.
Things have also changed when it comes to removing the body of the deceased.
Undertakers can no longer enter long-term care facilities, hospitals, or hospices in order to remove the bodies. That’s now being left up to the staff at those facilities.
The undertaker will deliver the required equipment such as a stretcher and staff will shroud the body, place it on a stretcher, and co-ordinate pick up at the exit.
“Funeral homes are still functioning. We’re still here for all of our families, it’s just that we are all working to fall within compliance,” noted Mitchell. That means adapting their services by, for example, asking guests to call ahead to book visitations within certain time slots in order to ensure there is never more than ten people in the building, and ensuring that disinfection takes place between visitations.
Other measures also include controlling the number of people, on a rotating basis, who enter a cemetery where an internment is taking place.
“We still run into police and emergency calls. We still run into people who have decided passing away at home is the best option. We still approach those transfers, because we always have, with universal precautions and take the direction of the coroner and police or that of the family that are present at the home,” said Growen. But pointed questions regarding travel and exposure to COVID-19 have become the new normal, he added.
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