Hugs from home

Funeral homes in the area are finding unique ways to help comfort families who have lost loved ones during social distancing mandates to quell the spread of the novel coronavirus. Morgan’s and Lakeland funeral homes in Princeton and Eddyville, respectively, have started Hugs from Home, a program that gives acquaintances not allowed to visit a chance to offer encouragement through a message tied to a white balloon.

One of the most difficult moments in life has been made even more painful during the coronavirus pandemic.

Social distancing restrictions have forced the state’s funeral homes and the families they serve to take an unprecedented approach to grieving following the closure of all services to the public.

Gov. Andy Beshear and the Funeral Directors Association of Kentucky have called on individual providers across the commonwealth to do this in order to reduce the chances of transmitting and spreading COVID-19.

“It makes a difficult situation even more difficult,” said Chris Dunn at Dunn’s Funeral Home in Eddyville.

The restrictions are likely to remain in place for weeks. Already, the changes in the usual methods have forced several families in Lyon and Caldwell counties to cope with their loss in new ways.

“We are all trying to adapt and work within the guidelines and recommendations shared with us,” said Brian Wainer with Morgan’s Funeral Home in Princeton. “Our hearts go out to the community. These are uncharted waters, changes to our natural process (of grieving.)”

Initial guidance was for directors to limit gatherings to no more than 50 people, but that has since been reduced.

“The guidelines are changing daily, it seems,” Dunn said.

Visitation, funeral services and burials must all remain private. Funeral and visitation times cannot be published. Celebration of life services are being offered at a later date, when the threat from coronavirus clears and restrictions are lifted.

Morgan’s is a family-run chain of area funeral homes that includes Lakeland Funeral Home in Eddyville. The changes apply to all of its locations, just as it does for Dunn’s and Goodman Funeral Home in Princeton.

“It hurts that the community can’t share their condolences with the families,” said Josh Cook, manager and funeral director at Goodman’s, adding that he is encouraging immediate family members allowed at services to practice the six-foot rule of social distancing even among themselves. “We have to do (all of this) to protect them.”

With large families, it presents a great challenge to directors. Even a relatively small surviving family of a decedent can push the gathering limit when a spouse and children, grandchildren and siblings and their spouses are considered.

The changes mean friends, co-workers, church family and neighbors are shut out of the usual grieving process, which can have a devastating affect on not only the families, but those individuals from the community as well.

“After all this is over, they can go back and spend time together,” Cook said.

He, Dunn and Wainer all said families and the community have been understanding, and each funeral home is finding its own ways to adapt.

“We’re still trying to serve the families as best we can with the limitations we’re given,” Dunn said.

Cook said 21st century life is making things a bit more bearable.

“Technology offers a great way to cope,” he said. “We advise anyone to go online to leave condolence. We can print those off for the family.”

And directors are offering virtual services like live streaming funerals at the family’s request and sharing video messages from those who might normally offer condolences in person.

At Morgan’s and Lakeland, they have found a unique way to allow the community to share sympathies and give families a sense of how much their loved one was appreciated. Hugs from Home is a program that allows people from outside the immediate family to submit a brief condolence that is attached to a white, helium-filled balloon that is placed in the chapel during visitation and services.

“Some families may be having a more difficult time; they’re not getting support from the community that they may need,” Wainer said. “We’re trying to think outside the box to continue to provide support during a difficult time. This way, they know they are loved.”

All directors said all prepaid and prior funeral arrangements are being honored, but public service must be postponed.