Funeral homes rely on virtual services during social distancing

Funerals are usually a time when families come together to celebrate the life of a loved one. But with the ban on large gatherings due to the new coronavirus, funeral directors have to adapt.

Craig Funeral Home said they have been using online services for years, but the pandemic has made it the preferred way to hold funerals.

“Craig Funeral Home is still taking advantage of available technology and applying it to the funeral business, even if the industry is slow to change,” said owner Justin Craig. “We have online funeral arrangements so they don’t have to come to the funeral home to pick out caskets or urns or whatever. It just wasn’t as popular as it is today.

Craig said they also offer a live or recorded service for free.

“We’ve always offered live streaming and recording, basically if a family member or close friend is out of state.” says Craig. “It’s not the best option because some of the personal touch is lost online, but we still have a pastor or clergyman there and it’s very popular now.”

St. Johns Family Funeral Home says they just recently added live-streaming technology before the coronavirus hit the United States, but now it’s convenient.

“We’re making sure people are practicing social distancing, which is hard on a family when dealing with the loss of a loved one,” co-owner George Kotrady said. “Hugging and shaking hands is our normal reaction to wanting to show that person love.”

The online service can also be interactive, so people can pay their respects remotely.

“A service recently had 30 attendees via Facebook’s live stream. They can leave comments and we also have people who come back and watch it after the service ends,” said St. Johns Family co-owner Randy Hudgins. “So it’s really interesting and it’s good that we can offer this to families at no additional cost.”

Despite the options, however, many families are choosing to postpone their loved one’s funeral until the spread of the coronavirus slows. Some choose to cremate or bury the body and then hold a celebration of life later when it’s safe.

“Most people are aware of the environment we find ourselves in and the CDC guidelines we recommend,” Kotrady said. “We deal a lot with the older population who are seen as the risk group, so they don’t want to put themselves at risk with a large gathering.”

Funeral home staff also take extra precautions when entering hospices or nursing homes to receive a body. Hudgins said the funeral industry had made major changes to the way it handled bodies after the AIDS epidemic, but extra personal protective equipment (PPE) was being used just in case someone was infected with the coronavirus.

“The primary purpose of funeral home and embalming is to prevent the spread of disease,” Hudgins said. “In cases where it is a suspected COVID infection, they wear an N95 mask and gloves and we have a whole other procedure for a known case. So there are precautions to protect our staff.

Additionally, Craig said they are offering flexible payment plans to any families who may struggle to afford a funeral during this time of financial uncertainty.

“If families are unable to pay at this time, we will provide them with all the assistance they need,” he said. “Some people say the funeral home industry is the last to feel an impact, so we’re doing our best.”

Perry A. Thomasson