The way we handle day-to-day life is evolving rapidly. There is nothing normal about what is going on in society right now and every industry is changing to accommodate the new standards. Everything from birth to death and, all areas in between, has been affected.
Local funeral homes are on the front lines and the first step in the grieving process for many people. They are currently altering safety standards to meet criteria for the Texas Funeral Board, National Funeral Directors Association, the CDC etc, pick-up procedures and preparation arrangements to mitigate any safety issues resulting from COVID-19. As of yet, our local funeral homes have not had any positive cases come in.
Funerals and memorials are a final goodbye for those we love, how are they being affected by COVID-19? How do you help people grieve without family support?
“People need to be able to say goodbye to their loved ones and honor them in one way or another,” said Will Traxson, owner/director at Hannigan-Smith Funeral Home and Chandler Memorial.
Traxson said they have found ways to accommodate families as they go through this difficult time. Recently losing his own father, he said he is sympathetic to their emotions and needs.
“We have to limit everything to 10 people and for a lot of families that is not everyone,” said Brady Autry, general manager and funeral director for Autry's Carroll-Lehr. “Multiple children, spouses, not even mentioning the grandchildren are having to come in smaller family units. It is nobody's fault and we are trying to be safe and not spread the virus.”
Funeral homes are not being callous by having to modify procedures and policies but are required to meet guidelines or risk losing their license.
“Honestly, it is hard asking a family to limit the amount of people,” Traxson said. “I have to ask them to choose who will be in there with their loved ones. We have really been blessed with understanding families, everybody is being understanding of what we are having to ask them to do. They are in a tough enough position as it is.”
Local funeral homes are noticing an increase in smaller graveside services as opposed to chapel services. Some families are opting to do online streaming, in-home wakes or a memorial service at a later time.
Currently visitations are allowed but limited to eight to 10 people in the room at a time. Hannigan-Smith has one person that attends the sign-in book and a second at the outside door, both people disinfecting every touched surface in between.
“We are having people come back and do memorials at a later day with slideshows and music,” Autry said. “We hope people will do that. They have lived their life and these people still deserve to have their legacy remembered.”
Carroll-Lehr forwards cards and letters to the family at no charge in order to provide the community support families need during this time. Many people are proud of their churches and expect to have their final moments celebrated there along with a meal for their family.
With COVID-19 orders, families are having to handle things much more privately by not listing service times and dates to avoid an overflow of guests. This is also cause of further feelings of isolation and grief by now eliminating the sweet traditions of bringing a meal, or dessert accompanied by a brief moment of comfort or a hug. There is no lack of closure provided by people greeting them and random acts of love and kindness.
“It is heartbreaking that they have to go through this time and not all of their family members are going to be able to be there,” said Rhonda Watson, Funeral Director at Autry's Carroll-Lehr. “They are not only saddened by the loss, but the lack of support. To be honest with you, I can't imagine being in that place. It is very sad.”
Traxson expressed concern over the postponed memorials and the emotional toll it could take.
“We will do it if they want to,” he said.
Typically funerals take place within a few days, while the pain is raw and fresh. If you postpone the process until a later time in the grieving process, will it reopen the wound and restart the process?
“It is so hard on these families who are already grieving,” Autry said.
Funeral homes are stepping up to offer comfort, advice and doing everything they can to ease the pain of the families during this time by offering an understanding heart, being available for advice on how to deal with family who cannot attend and helping them to use all of the avenues available to them.
If you know someone who is grieving right now here are a few suggestions:
• Send a card now and also remember them in a week or two. Often when people lose someone everyone is there in the beginning. When all of the support leaves, the isolation and emptiness can be overwhelming. Call them and send cards or plants a couple of weeks after as well. Life has moved on for everyone but them.
• If you would like to provide food, see if they would be interested in a meal left on their porch, with a phone call letting them know it is there.
• Call them, Zoom, or Facetime. A friendly reminder that you are thinking of them is appreciated. Send them positive thoughts or prayers.