Funeral homes cope with COVID-19

Several changes made during coronavirus pandemic

By Martin Graham -

Since the decision to limit people gathering in large crowds was handed down by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, funeral homes have had a tough decision to make — something that is being felt locally.

In March, DeWine decided to close schools, restaurants, bars, gyms and more, but one thing he decided was that funerals and weddings should be able to continue to support those families in a very important time in their lives. One rule though that came along with most of the decisions was that groups for these events should be limited to 10 or less.

Roger Kirkpatrick, director of Kirkpatrick Funeral Home, said for the most part everything has been fine but for him it has been difficult to know what to do.

“The governor said that funerals and weddings can still go on, but they suggest you keep it to a minimum number of people,” Kirkpatrick said. “It is hard to know what to do. They have said to try and limit funerals and things — just keep things more private. They said (at first) to limit it to 50 and now it’s down to 10 people. That is incredibly hard when you have a death in the family, trying to just let 10 people attend, but we are doing the best we can with everyone.”

Kirkpatrick said that those seeking funeral services have been receptive of the governor’s orders, but he said it is difficult to get into this situation where some people cannot come and show support for a family in grief.

“I don’t know what to say to the community, I wish there were some better answers,” Kirkpatrick said. “We just do everything we can do to assist with the family, but at the same time try and keep this virus under control the best we can.”

Wayne Roberts, owner of Roberts Funeral Home in Washington Court House, said he has made the decision to not allow funerals to continue the same as before, because if they do then they are potentially perpetuating the spread of the virus.

“We still have rules that we are trying to enforce, the state rules with social distancing, which is not easy with funerals,” Roberts said. “We make sure we try to have hand sanitizer around for people to keep their hands clean, especially up at the sign-in book. We are trying to limit the people here to immediate family for now. I have talked with at least one other director here in town, and maybe at a later date we can do a service, whether a memorial service or tribute to life, once the restrictions are lifted. For now though we are trying to keep it more private and small so we can continue to do social distancing and follow a lot of the rules.”

Roberts also said even though DeWine has offered guidance on how to conduct services, the Ohio Funeral Home Directors Association has sent out suggestions as well.

“So the suggestions they sent out are a lot of what I am talking about, social distancing, keeping groups to a minimum and private, and even suggested just doing graveside services at the cemetery instead of the funeral home,” Roberts said. “With those being outside you have more airflow and space between people. Certain things are also being done on the cemetery side as well. For instance, the vault companies are not providing chairs here because they end up forcing people right next to each other, but I imagine for special conditions, such as a handicap, they will. Everyone’s business has changed a little bit, but as a funeral director it can be a challenge because hugging, consoling, a lot of that is what we do during grief and try to comfort others. To try and keep from doing that with the nature of our business is difficult.”

Terry and Vanessa Summers at Summers Funeral Home encouraged the community to follow the Center for Disease Control’s recommendations to help prevent the spread of illness, including washing hands frequently, avoiding close contact with sick people and staying at home if you are feeling ill.

“We and the State of Ohio still believe that gathering and supporting one another at a time of loss is important, which is why the State of Ohio has exempted funerals from the public gathering ban,” a statement from Summers Funeral Home said. “In an effort to comply with the CDC’s most recent recommendation of no more than 10 people in attendance at public gatherings, all services and visitations will be strictly private. Families that choose to hold a private funeral or memorial service at this time will have the option to hold a public memorial service at a later date; for these families, we will waive the memorial service fee.”

Summers Funeral Home directors said for the most part the families visiting them have been very understanding and are willing to do whatever is needed of them.

“We have even had family members offer to open doors and stand at the register book,” the statement said. “Summers Funeral Home not only wants to protect the families we serve, but also our amazing staff.”
Several changes made during coronavirus pandemic

By Martin Graham