WELLSBORO — Local funeral home directors are taking precautionary measures against the coronavirus by cleaning and sanitizing everything and by doing as much as possible over phone calls, emails and texts.
Removal and disposition of human remains after one dies is considered an essential industry, so funeral homes are able to operate.
“However, we are required to encourage families to postpone the services until the social distancing requirements have been lifted. And if they will not, we have to abide by the social distancing and limitations, which include no more than 10 people and that makes it so that, pretty much, these are exclusive, private affairs,” Jim Wagner, funeral home director at Tussey-Mosher Funeral Home, in Wellsboro, said.
In general, most funeral and memorial services are attended by more than 10 people. During this time, families have to make the decision to either hold the services now and limit it to 10 people, or to postpone the services.
While it’s not the norm to postpone services, Wagner said it’s becoming more common, mostly with cremations, as families are more spread out. At the time of the interview, Wagner didn’t have any services that were postponed because of the coronavirus, but he said it would happen.
To hold a body for more than 10 days, the funeral home has to obtain permission from the state.
Wagner said when somebody dies, embalming will preserve the body for a period of time, but there are complications.
“It’s not an indefinite kind of a thing, where if somebody dies today we can embalm them and put them on the shelf and have a funeral for them in August and everything will be fine,” Wagner said. “We’ve got refrigeration, we can embalm, we can do the two in conjunction with each other, but we’ve got a limited refrigeration space. It’s a complicated thing.”
Postponing a funeral can have a psychological impact.
Having a funeral shortly after the death of a loved one is important to the survivors, Karri Verno, professor of psychology at Mansfield University, said.
“Postponing a funeral can delay the onset of mourning, making it more difficult for the person to try to regain a sense of normalcy in their lives,” Verno said. She said the funeral is like a buffer between the traumatic event of a death and moving forward with life.
“When the funeral is postponed, all of those important social functions are also postponed, which can negatively impact your ability to move on with the grieving process,” Verno said.
The funeral home is able to stream services to accommodate more than 10 people.
“It’s important for the community to be able to express their condolences as well, because people who die matter and this doesn’t necessarily trivialize it, but it does interrupt the whole public acknowledgement process,” Wagner said.
Nicolle Mayo, associate professor of psychology at Mansfield University, said “virtually meeting” isn’t the same as a physical meeting, but it’s all what people make of it. She said if people are able to use the time to meet some of their needs during their grieving process, then it could be helpful.
“People might just have to be more creative in meeting their grieving needs. For example, in watching the virtual ceremony, people might not be able to mingle and talk to people, but perhaps they can reconnect with people at the service virtually afterwards,” Mayo said.
Verno said that though some people may feel uncomfortable with live streaming a funeral, it is “entirely appropriate to do so.”
“I would encourage anyone to live stream a funeral, as they probably will be glad that they did. Furthermore, the immediate family might be comforted knowing that other people were doing what they could to help commemorate the deceased,” Verno said.
Still, the coronavirus brings concerns to directors, who frequently go into hospitals, nursing homes or assisted living facilities to get a body.
“I’m not worried about catching it from somebody who has died of COVID-19. However, when you go to get that person, you’re walking into a very contaminated environment, no matter where they died,” Wagner said. Likewise, he could spread the disease to vulnerable people. Facilities have put into place guidelines, such as getting one’s temperature taken and filling out a questionnaire.
Processing a death of a loved one while dealing with the coronavirus could be overwhelming, Mayo said.
“This is a chaotic time. Having to grieve a person, while physically isolating ourselves is a challenge. Both can cultivate a lot of fear and uncertainty,” Mayo said. “Spending a lot of time alone can complicate the grieving process, prolonging it if steps aren’t taken to connect with other people. This is why it is so important to find ways to call and virtually meet with others regularly. It can help alleviate some of this hard, confusing and difficult process.”