Livestreaming funeral services one change as a result of pandemic
Funeral directors expect that service to continue.
Editor's note: This story is part of the 2021 "Essential to Jamestown" special edition of The Jamestown Sun. The annual Progress Edition features stories on essential workers, agencies and businesses during the coronavirus pandemic.
Livestreaming funeral services is one change prompted by the coronavirus pandemic that will continue, say a local funeral home owner and funeral director.
“Before the pandemic, we only recorded services if people requested it and it wasn’t very often,” said Truman Haut, licensed funeral director, Haut Funeral Homes. “But now we record every service and then we ask the family if they’d like it online or if they don’t want it online, and most people want it online so people can watch it.”
Mike Williams, owner of Eddy Funeral Home and Williams Funeral Home, agreed.
“I think that’s going to become the new normal, livestreaming the services, when, say a grandchild can’t make it or someone can’t get to the funeral,” he said. “It’s a service that I believe we’ll continue to offer and why not embrace the technology, it’s there.”
Services continued in some form during pandemic
Haut said services continued to be available during the pandemic.
“It was limited to 10 people was the worst restrictions we saw,” he said. There were services held with that amount of people, he said.
Social distancing, hand sanitizer stations and other measures were among the steps implemented at funeral homes.
Haut said during the pandemic some people felt if the public couldn’t attend a funeral or memorial service, they shouldn’t have a service. But even if there are only five or 10 people who can attend it’s still worth having, he said.
“It seems like if people push off a service (until later) they don’t happen or they won’t be as well received by the community, just because people grieve in their own way and they like to kind of move through that and they don’t want to bring it back up sometimes,” Haut said. “And for us, we try and push the service to happen closer to the time of death because the family is able to grieve then and move through that process and get some closure that way.”
Williams said people need that public support when a loved one dies and that has not been as available because of the pandemic.
“Most families understood and they cared about their own health, to have it (service) private,” he said. “They wanted to have closure somehow and the only way to do that was to have a private service and livestream it. Livestreaming services for the public, that was about the best we could offer in the middle of the spike (of cases).”
'Busy day and night'
Stutsman County has had at least 79 deaths related to COVID-19 since the pandemic began, according to the North Dakota Department of Health. William said his funeral homes prepared for the pandemic but when it hit in October it was “overwhelming.”
“It was busy day and night,” he said. “But at the time we weren’t encouraging ceremonies and neither were the churches. I would say over half of the families that we served opted to postpone any ceremony until this passes and opted to have their loved one cremated.”
The others had a service at the funeral home or a church, he said.
“The month of November the death rate increased probably … if not double almost tripled,” Haut said. “It didn’t get to the point where we couldn’t handle the workload, it was just definitely busier than we normally are.”
Stress and support
Williams said he was mindful of the stress on the staff at the funeral homes that he owns.
“Not only physically but mentally because it was day and night, we were going nonstop,” he said. “So every now and then we had to stop and check each other, make sure we’re doing OK.”
He said it was important to take time off when possible.
There was also support from others, Williams said. For a time, funeral directors took part in a weekly conference call with the North Dakota Department of Health, now held monthly. When those calls began they helped provide information on issues all were facing.
“We were in a pandemic together …. It felt like we were all on the same page,” Williams said. “It was great to know that we weren’t alone, that we weren’t the only ones up all night, work all day.”
Most recently, Williams said about half of the families are still wanting services to be private and limit their exposure to coronavirus. At this writing in early March, the funeral home was offering public visitation for a few hours where the public could come and go. Some families might choose to attend and greet the public but not all, he said. The next day, they are having a private funeral.
“Then there’s the families that want it public and if the church allows it we go by the church’s guidelines,” he said. It’s the landowner that decides the policy, he said.
Grieving process affects services
Haut and Williams said some families delayed services during the pandemic, planning to hold them at a later time. Whether those services will be “traditional” services when, or if, they are held later isn’t known.
“I anticipate some of those services will be graveside services, very simple and just family,” Williams said. “And some will be the ceremony, either at the funeral home or church involved. But as time goes on the family’s needs will change. It’s hard to know what those needs are going to be in the middle of summer, say July or August, when they’ve waited a year.”
People’s needs may change because they are at a different stage in the grieving process, he said. Typically a prayer service is held the day before the funeral and after the funeral, there is a procession to the graveside and a lunch following at the church.
“The need to have all of those steps might not be as important because the public support seems to subside a year later,” Williams said.
What stays with Williams is what families grieving a loss, whether COVID-related or not, have not had during that time.
“I really felt bad for the families that couldn’t have the public support,” he said. “That was the main thing through all of this is they were missing that public support. And we couldn’t help offer it to them.
“I think for a lot of people it’s very important to have all their family around and all the public support and hear those stories from friends that they didn’t know what mom did back in high school,” he said.
The funeral homes also offer a way for people to express their sympathies through their websites, Williams noted.
“I think a lot of people utilized (it),” he said.