Funeral homes adjust services during pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic is changing how families deal with the loss of a loved one.

"We're doing the best we can to continue helping families grieve in a healthy manner," said Mike Williams, owner of Williams and Eddy Funeral homes in Jamestown. "Even though we can't have public ceremonies we're adjusting and adapting the way funerals are right now, to still have it be meaningful."

In the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Funeral Directors Association issued guidelines pertaining to public funeral gatherings. The CDC recommends limiting funeral services to 10 people or less in attempts to contain the spread of the coronavirus.

There have been 142 reported cases of the virus in the state of North Dakota. The disease had claimed three victims in the state as of April 1.

"The most challenging thing is being restricted to the small, small number of people you can allow in the service," said Gary Haut, Haut Funeral Homes owner and funeral director. "When you're coming to the funeral home for visitation and if you see we're busy (with visitors) just give everybody their space - try to respect other people."


Both funeral directors have worked to stay within the national guidelines during the visitation. In the services conducted since the coronavirus entered state lines, staff have allowed groups of 10 or fewer people to pay their respects at one time.

"We're doing the best we can by providing private visitation time of the funeral home," Williams said. "It's just a new way off of ceremonial-izing - a new way of grieving."

The rotation of guests only applies to the paying of respects at a visitation. Haut Funeral Homes offers private memorial and funeral services for immediate families. Families may choose to postpone memorial services. Open casket funeral services are followed by a burial.

"We've had quite a few postponements of the memorial service," Haut said. "The people were cremated and we're gonna wait until hopefully May or June to do their service then."

While waiting to celebrate the lives of loved ones is an option, Williams and his team have utilized technology so loved ones can "attend" the memorial and funeral service virtually.

"We've been livestreaming (services)," Williams said. "When it's requested by the family that we still have a funeral service but with just private family, then we will livestream that ceremony where then the public can log on and watch. It's also saved on our YouTube channel, where family and friends could view it any time afterward. It's a nice service that we've implemented."

Williams added that he thinks his two funeral homes will continue the streaming service post-pandemic.

"I think this is gonna be the new norm," Williams said. "Now that it's a service that we funeral directors are comfortable producing, we will continue to offer that for families who want to have it."


While technological advancements are being implemented to eliminate distance, Williams said human-to-human contact is an important part of saying goodbye.

"Providing a meaningful service at the time for the families," Williams said. "Having the public support is an important part of the grieving process. When they can't have the public support that they're used to at a funeral - when you can hug and you can cry and you can laugh all together, face to face, it's difficult for them."

Funeral home Gary Haut.jpg
Gary Haut, Haut Funeral Homes funeral director, says restricting the limited number of people allowed in a service is challenging. John M. Steiner / The Sun

Gerber is a sports writer for the Jamestown Sun.
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