Grief at a distance
From closing completely, to offering curbside and delivery options that limit face-to-face contact, businesses have been feeling the impacts of COVID-19.
Among those directly impacted by the coronavirus are funeral homes.
Families who have lost a loved one are finding themselves postponing funerals, Masses, celebrations of life and memorial services due to the restrictions on the number of people who can gather together.
In dark days for families, Schaetter Funeral Home and Fredericksburg Funeral Home are working within guidelines from the National Funeral Directors Association and the Texas Funeral Directors Association to continue to honor the deceased, as well as give loved ones the opportunity to celebrate that life and begin to grieve.
Schaetter Funeral Home
“At this time, we are suggesting to families that the safest place to hold a service is outside,” said Bryon Schaetter, fifth-generation owner and president of Schaetter Funeral Home. “But, only 10 people are allowed to attend.”
“What we are recommending is that families who want to have a burial use a closed-casket, outside service with only 10 immediate family members, which doesn’t include clergy or funeral home personnel,” Schaetter said.
And with that, Schaetter said that there should be no hugging, no handshaking and no touching while also maintaining social distancing, a difficult thing to remember in these situations.
He added that livestreaming is available for services.
“This is what we need to do now,” Schaetter said.
Also, at this time, they are not using registration books.
Then, he said, when the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions are lifted, families are encouraged to hold a funeral service, memorial Mass, memorial or celebration of life along with receptions and other gatherings.
“We are all in this together,” Schaetter said. “We want to keep families and ourselves healthy.”
“I am taking this very seriously and hoping that everyone is also,” Schaetter said. “Keep your distance, wash your hands and sanitize.”
When a loved one passes, Schaetter said the majority of arrangements can be made by telephone and via the internet.
He said the funeral home only allows three people in the building to make arrangements while sitting six feet apart. Other family members can join in by telephone or internet.
Schaetter said that they adhere to strict cleaning and sanitizing guidelines at all times at the funeral home.
The National Funeral Directors Association and the Texas Funeral Directors Association has also announced guidelines for funeral homes to follow while still being respectful of the deceased.
“It has been suggested that we treat every corpse like it was infected,” Schaetter said.
He said it is especially important to take extra precautions after the TFDA announced on Tuesday that a study showed a body that had been embalmed three days prior still tested positive for the active coronavirus.
Fredericksburg Funeral Home
Fredericksburg Funeral Home is also adjusting the way it handles funerals and “trying to adapt as best as possible.”
Max Beckmann, owner and funeral director in charge, explained that families holding a visitation strictly follow the 10-people guideline.
For a recent visitation at the funeral home, for example, Beckmann said only five immediate family members were present and only five people were allowed in the building.
Each person was required to wear gloves and masks and maintain the six-foot social distance guidelines.
During the visitation, funeral home staff was constantly sanitizing and disinfecting surfaces. “We are trying to keep everything as sanitary as possible,” he explained.
“This is all very difficult on families,” Beckmann said. “They want to hug each other and cry on each other’s shoulders, but they aren’t allowed to. They have to maintain social distancing.”
They also have to go their separate ways since no post-service gatherings or receptions are allowed.
Beckmann agreed most families are opting for graveside services at this time with services at a later date.
He said his business can also offer livestreaming services. In addition, they can tape a service and make it available on a disc.
“If you come from a big family, think how hard it is to tell them they can’t come,” Beckmann said.
The number of family members allowed to come in and make arrangements is also limited, he said, adding they must social distance while making arrangements. Others can participate by telephone or internet.
“Everybody has been very understanding,” Beckmann said, “but they may not like it. They understand that the world has changed for now.”
The Rev. Bobby Vitek of Holy Ghost Lutheran Church found himself in a unique situation recently with a family who still wanted to gather as a family to mourn their loved one.
But the problem was that there were more than 20 people.
So, they conducted the service over the telephone with Vitek and family members participating from their own homes.
“God was honored and the person was remembered well,” Vitek said. “It worked and the family was understanding and appreciative.”
“We are having to come up with creative ways to minister to those who are hurting,” Vitek said. “We try to think outside the box so we can be effective.”
He added that when things settle down, families and friends are encouraged to come back together for a grand celebration.