By LINDA WOODLAND
It’s a tough time to be alive, and an even tougher time to be dealing with death.
As fear of spreading the coronavirus grows, funeral directors and families and friends of the recently deceased are grappling with how to proceed with honoring the dead and showing support for the living.
“Everybody needs to move with caution,” said Terry Hoening of Hoening Family Funeral Homes, which also include Mann-Hare-Hoening Funeral Home in Fostoria.
“When a family loses someone they love, there’s still that important need that they’ll never get back again, to have a ceremony. So we have to address it very prudently and carefully to balance their needs and the safety of the public,” he said.
Scott Crates, funeral director at Coldren-Crates Funeral Home in Findlay, said his funeral home is taking precautionary measures to limit exposure, starting by limiting the number of people involved in the arrangement conference.
“And we’ve also decided that it’s probably in the best interest to keep services at this point to being private for family,” Crates said. “And then doing some type of public service once everything kind of comes to rest. Hopefully, sooner than later.”
Hoening said he and his staff are working with families and the community as best as they can while keeping in mind the governor’s recommendations for gatherings.
“We’re under stress just like everybody else,” he said, noting the nature of his business places them as first responders to someone’s death. “We’re not only balancing the needs of the government, but the families and in our own personal needs.”
Jeff Floriana of Harrold-Floriana Funeral Home, Fostoria, said he anticipates seeing smaller services as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.
“I don’t know how families are going to feel about this. We’re probably looking at maybe doing a little more private-type services,” Floriana said.
Hoening said part of the healing process is having people there to support those who have lost a loved one.
“The most basic part of life is death,” he said. “And in a fast-paced society, we’ve seen changes over these past few years. And it’s not been maybe the most healthy changes. But in a situation like this, we don’t want people to feel forced. That’s the gentle balance of taking their needs along with the required law, that that’s where we’re at right now — or being that buffer in between and diplomatically helping people.”
As for families being concerned about the spread of the coronavirus during a visitation or funeral, Hoening said it all depends on what type of services they select, what clergy, churches and cemeteries are involved.
“Everything is kind of a case-by-case situation at this point,” he said. “That’s something we’re not making any shortcuts to, that’s for sure.”
Crates said the families he has served have responded well to the limitations created by the coronavirus scare.
“We’ve had extremely positive response from families to the point that they kind of set the stage. We had a few families who have elected to do (private services) on their own before we put it out there that we didn’t want to compromise the public or make someone feel like they had to be here when it wasn’t necessary,” Crates said, adding families are also opting for more intimate gatherings following the private service as opposed to the large funeral dinner.
Crates said there’s normally a lot of hugging and handshakes in this setting, but all that has changed with the coronavirus threat.
“We’ve definitely noticed it. It’s kind of awkward to have someone come face to face with someone and not have any type of greeting or salutation with them in forms of a handshake or a hug.”
Floriana said for a recent visitation, a family requested a sign be posted that read: “Per family request please only use your words of condolence and refrain from personal contacts such as hugs and handshakes due to the coronavirus. Thank you.”
“I put it right by the register book,” Floriana said, adding he will have the sign and hand sanitizer available by the guest register book stand for families he serves in the future.
“We’ve never had to experience this before. And hopefully this will be short term and we’ll get it over with because we do know how important that (service) is,” Floriana said.
If a family would choose to postpone a memorial service until the coronavirus scare blows over, that can be accommodated, too.
“But the thing is, when will that happen? There’s no definitive certainty of when it will blow over — August?” Hoening rhetorically asked. “So we’re trying to address things in a normal way in a normal time frame just to keep things flowing as people in the community expect to a certain level, realizing that things are not going to be as well-attended because people are not going to want to take a chance on this. But the families themselves will be given that opportunity for at least their selves to grieve and invite those who are able to come.”
While this is the new norm for now, Crates said he hopes this doesn’t become a trend for the future.
“People do see value in having closure through a funeral service, through some type of service to where they can say their goodbyes. And we’ve had a myriad of families in the past that maybe have elected not to do so that have come back to us and made reference that they really wish they would have done some sort of service because they don’t have closure. It’s part of the grieving and healing process,” Crates said.
Floriana said people need to take it one day at a time and if things get worse, adjust.
“Right now, if a family wants to have the public viewing and visitation, I think it’s going to be not well received as far as attendance.” Floriana said. “If somebody has it (coronavirus), they have it. How do you know? Take their temperature when they walk in?”
Hoening said he’s working to keep things as normal as possible.
“I’m really trying to think this through to make sure that things are good. You know, not only for my families, but our staff and people. We want things to be safe, but, yet, to be in a normal zone,” Hoening said.
“So you do the best you can and advise the families as best you can and in the meantime, keep yourself healthy,” Floriana said.
Those wishing to support families in their time of loss are encouraged to reach out by sending cards, emails, text messages or leaving a message on social media or the funeral homes’ online condolences links.
“They also are able to send flowers to the house,” Crates said, adding phone calls are also a safe way to communicate sympathy. “In today’s world, with social media being so prevalent, it makes it a little easier to pay your respects.”