Coronavirus changes how funeral services are held

Hackett-Livingston Funeral Home in Shenandoah.

Funeral directors are taking the threat of COVID-19 seriously while still ensuring families will be served during the loss of a loved one.

While the threat changes daily, including how funeral services are held, it proposes a challenge for funeral directors. As of March 16, it has been mandated all gatherings cannot exceed 10 people for the next 15 days, including funeral services.

Funeral directors across Iowa are following the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Governor Kim Reynolds’ recommendations and guidelines. The 10 person limit during a funeral service includes a funeral director and pastor, which would only leave room for eight others.

“We’re looking at some different options as far as visitations,” said Hackett-Livingston Funeral Home Funeral Director, Staci Shearer.

Shearer said as long as the person has not passed away from the COVID-19 virus, visitations wouldn’t change much other than the number of people attending and social distancing. She said it could be an option for some family members to participate in the visitation and others attend the funeral service.

Shearer said funeral homes are not able to allow people to rotate in for visitations keeping the number of people in the building to 10 because it would not allow for proper sanitizing between groups.

“One recommendation was that we don’t have a morning and an afternoon funeral service on the same day,” said Shearer.

Timing funeral services will allow for proper cleaning and disinfecting.

Nishna Valley Funeral Home Director, Pat Leece said staff continues to make sure families receive uninterrupted service. He said if a death occurs amidst the threat, staff will still be there for any family to help guide them through the process.

So what are funeral directors recommending to families?

Leece said there is a grieving process and delaying services can compound that, but so far, he has suggested families wait the 15 days before a service to see if the gathering limitations are lifted. In the event the gathering restrictions are extended, Leece said families will continue with services, with a limit of 10 people in attendance

Shearer said they are encouraging family members to proceed with services and hold a celebration of life, once restrictions are lifted. No restrictions would allow everyone to attend.

“Just sending a card sometimes isn’t enough when you’re grieving the loss of a best friend or a classmate or someone that has influenced your life,” said Shearer. “So there does need to be that gathering time.”

Another function are graveside services. Shearer said these services are held outside, so eight family members, along with the funeral director and pastor, could attend the service. Those eight family members would leave and eight different members could come for a second service.

“Being in the open air, we could rotate but would still have to make sure things were sanitized and there would have to be space between each person,” said Shearer.

Leece is looking at visitation options as well for families.

“I would propose still having a visitation in which people could attend, sign the book and pay their respects with limited interaction,” said Leece.

Shearer and Leece are both working on webcasting or streaming service options.

“I believe I am going to start doing webcasting for most services going forward, even after the scare is over,” said Leece, “with the family’s permission, of course.”

Leece said staff would video record the service and there would be a link on the funeral home website to view the video.

“They could pull up the service at any time along with being able to put a video or slideshow tribute along with it,” said Leece.

Shearer said they are looking at live streaming services to provide more options to families.

Communicating by phone may become more common for funeral directors and families amid the threat of COVID-19.

“To be honest, we care for a lot of families whose kids live out of state,” said Shearer. “So, I’m doing a lot of things over the phone anymore.”

She said the telephone might become more of the norm for a while.

Funeral homes, like the medical community, are facing a shortage of supplies such as facemasks, shoe covers and gloves. Shearer said it is proving to be a challenge for funeral homes as well.

“It’s about being aware and being alert,” said Shearer. “I know a lot of people think that we’re going overboard and being overly cautious, but we have to be overly cautious.”

Shearer said caution needs to be a priority, with most funeral homes in the area running with one funeral director.

Shearer said Hackett-Livingston Funeral Home has three staff members and will help other funeral homes if needed.

Funeral homes follow extra caution in the event of caring for someone who passed away due to COVID-19.

Shearer said there is not an estimated timeframe of how long the coronavirus is alive on the body. She said they must take extreme measures if they have a traditional service which includes embalming. These measures are taken to avoid exposure to the airborne virus.

When someone passes away from COVID-19, Shearer said a viewing will only have immediate family and they would be asked to keep a distance from the coffin and not touch the body.

Shearer said she has also communicated with the religious community that any spiritual practices with regards to dressing of the body could not be done if the person had passed away from COVID-19.

Shearer would like to work on a grieving program, so families have a way to grieve during a time where they are asked to social distance from each other.

“We need to find ways however creative they are to make sure that we’re still taking care of the people we serve,” said Shearer.

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