Drive-by visitations, small, intimate services, video messages and online streaming of funerals.
Amid months of social distancing and government-mandated shutdowns, death in the time of COVID-19 has meant mourners not only deal with the loss of a loved one but also the loss of some support and affection, at least in person.
Jenna Wainer, co-owner of Morgan’s Funeral Home in Princeton, said some families going through grief have felt “kind of lost” in navigating their goodbyes without friends and extended family.
“Our main priority is making sure that the families get the closure and the goodbye that they need,” she said.
Hugs and handshakes and large ceremonies have been replaced by socially distant and more private expressions of sympathy, but Gov. Andy Beshear allowed funeral homes to reopen at a reduced capacity Wednesday, and some facilities held their first in-person visitations in months.
Wainer said that during the reopening, staff will continue to provide as much safety and distancing as possible, to protect the health of mourners, but said it’s been hard for her personally not to be able to give any physical affection or reassurance to those grieving.
“Whenever someone you see is hurting, you just want to love on them,” she said.
“We truly feel like our job is to be here for families no matter what crisis is going on.”
Andrea Orr, co-owner of Milner & Orr Funeral Homes with locations across the area, said visitations will be spread out over a few hours with markers denoting the required distance between guests and chapels allowed to seat only 33% of their usual capacity.
“I think it’s been very hard on the families,” Orr said.
“I think that they (usually) receive so much support from the people that come and tell the story of their loved one.”
Dwayne Stice, a funeral director at Collier Funeral Home in Benton, said funeral home workers are breathing “a collective sigh of relief.”
“We feel that we can serve our families better” after reopening, he said.
“We feel like they should be served as we would want to be served ourselves.”
Both Stice and Orr said they will continue to offer socially distant options like drive-by visitations and online streaming of services, and will actively work to protect the health of families using their services. That includes discouraging physical displays of affection like shaking hands or giving hugs.
“We laugh about coming up with new and creative ways to do elbow bumps,” Stice said.
Wainer said she’s seen families coping well with the restrictions and appreciating more intimate goodbyes, but said it has been difficult for some to decide on which small number of people to invite.
She said she appreciates the gradual reopening, within guidelines set out by the Funeral Directors Association of Kentucky, for the sake of allowing families to grieve their losses in the way that best suits them.
“No matter what’s going on the world, pandemic or not, we have to be here for each family, because they only have one chance to get this right,” Wainer said.