Saying Goodbye at a Distance

How do you decide who gets to say goodbye to their loved one, and who doesn’t?

That’s a question many in the funeral industry have been grappling with since limiting funerals to 10 people.

“We always deal with people on the worst day of their lives, that hasn’t changed, but the worst day of their life is harder,” said Stephanie Hughes, who owns Hughes Family Tribute Center with husband DeWayne.

What Stephanie Hughes misses most is hugging families. Still, she comforts grievers with regular phone calls, worrying that isolation will make matters worse.

“I think the grieving process has become harder for some because they are not only struggling with the loss of a loved one, but they are also trying to navigate the changes in daily life with a pandemic,” said Dan Adams, funeral director at Sparkman/Hillcrest Funeral Home.

Because experiencing loss without community support can result in unresolved grief, Hughes plans to redo life celebrations at no cost after the crisis is over. Other funeral homes have made similar offers.

“Not being able to comfort grieving individuals in our typical process is upsetting,” -Mike Day.

“It’s just harder to be in the profession right now, but we love what we do, and we work really hard to make sure that they have healing,” she said.

Funeral homes have taken precautions like sanitizing regularly and wearing face masks. “Funeral service professionals are proficient in managing pressure under normal conditions,” Adams said. “As long as we understand the regulations, we’ll find a way to serve and honor the families that put their trust in us.”

Hughes sets up stations so that guests are 6 feet apart and locks the doors so as not to exceed the maximum capacity. Her staff uses an ozone generator to disinfect the funeral home.

Restland Funeral Home staff members assume that every deceased individual they come in contact with is a potentially infectious case, said cemetery manager Mike Day.

After a person is embalmed, open-casket viewings are allowed at the service but not graveside, per CDC guidelines. For those not embalmed, families can view the deceased through a glass barrier.

Day has been arranging funerals through video conferencing. If an in-person meeting is necessary, only two family members are allowed to attend.

“Not being able to comfort grieving individuals in our typical process is upsetting,” Day said.

Hughes, Restland, and Sparkman/ Hillcrest all offer live-streaming options, so hundreds of those unable to attend can view funerals virtually. Restland calls those “viewnerals.”

With restrictions loosening throughout May, larger gatherings that still involve social distancing were beginning to occur.

“Once families are able to not have to choose the ones that will be allowed to attend the services of their loved ones and not have the added stress of who can attend, they can focus their entire mindset on remembering their loved one and arranging the ultimate tribute to the deceased,” Day said.

Dalia Faheid

Dalia Faheid is a writer who has studied and worked in media since 2014. She pursued a BA in Emerging Media and Communication at UTD. She has experience in journalism, marketing, and technical writing. If you have a story idea for her, you can email Dalia at [email protected]. For the latest news, click here to sign up for our newsletter.

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