Nov 27, 2020
It is difficult to think too long about what our world has lost this year. The lives cut short…the families separated…the businesses destroyed. So many carefully laid plans upended. It’s hard to know if we may ever fully heal from the immeasurable grief that was heaped upon us in 2020.
A lot of people like to look at silver linings, to find a positive thing that has resulted from so much negative. I am not typically one of them. My fear is that focusing on a silver lining might inadvertently minimize the pain that others have experienced. I don’t like the implication that the pandemic needed to happen in order for us to discover some deep truth about our society. However, I do think it is worth examining how the events of this year have illuminated what may have been taken for granted in the past, particularly the role of a funeral service.
Funeral services have always been essential to helping the living come to terms with a recent loss and begin to heal. However, before the coronavirus came to our shores, this was not always recognized. When gathering restrictions began to impact our profession and families were deprived of an opportunity to give loved ones the sendoff they wanted, the value of a funeral service took center stage for the first time in recent memory. Article after article was written to underscore the impact of this tragedy and to shed light on how not holding a funeral service can disrupt the grieving process.
The COVID-19 restrictions forced just about every funeral director in America to abandon their personal philosophies and ignore their natural instincts. Not being able to embrace or shake hands with families…having to police gatherings to ensure social distancing is being observed…limiting the number of people who can attend services, all of these actions would have been unthinkable to funeral directors last year. Having to adapt to these unique circumstances on both a personal and professional level has undoubtedly caused funeral directors a great deal of stress and anguish. Despite this, so many have responded in unbelievably creative and inspiring ways. From holding drive-through visitations to adopting new technology in order to provide live streamed services, the dedication of funeral directors has truly been a remarkable thing to witness.
To recognize those that went the extra mile to do all they could to help grieving families during these unprecedented times, we are pleased to share this list of 8 times we were moved by funeral services during the pandemic.
1. That time when a funeral home transformed itself into a campground to help a family heal.
Imagine being a parent of a teenager who took his own life. Imagine trying to help your other two young children understand the loss of their sibling while you yourself struggle to cope. Imagine all of this happening during the COVID-19 pandemic when lockdowns are restricting people from coming together. This was the reality Ted Robbins was faced with when he turned to the directors at Einan’s at Sunset Gardens Funeral Home in Richmond, WA.
After learning more about Ted’s son, Christian, and his love of camping, funeral directors, Ron Swanson and Holley Sowards transformed their funeral home into a campground. From setting up an actual fire pit in their funeral home chapel, to allowing Christina’s younger siblings to make s’mores, to inviting guests to leave a handprint on Christian’s casket, the many ways in which this funeral home went above and beyond is truly inspiring. Ron and Holley’s collaboration with the family helped them to create an incredibly meaningful service for Christian amidst the COVID-19 pandemic and time constraints.
2. That time when support circles became smaller but closer
“We respectfully captured this picture with permission from the family and it speaks a thousand words about what our families are going through,” shared Funeral Director, Carrie Cooper of Cooper Funeral Home in Alexandria, KY back in April. “The empty chairs behind them represent those who could not attend due to the COVID-19. God please continue to hold our families tight.”
This photo is both heartbreaking and uplifting. No family should be faced with an empty chapel when they are saying goodbye to their loved one. The vacant chairs and the stillness of the room must have been so devastating. At the same time, it is beautiful to see the love that is present within this small group of family members. You can feel the emotion when you see the way they are leaning on one another for support. The intensity of devotion and depth of affection within these small groups is truly something to behold.
3. That time when a funeral home parking lot became a drive-in theater
In April, Mission Park Funeral Chapels and Cemeteries in San Antonio, TX became the first funeral home to offer drive-in theater funeral services. Mourners were able to drive up to a window to view the casket or urn then drive to a microphone stand to leave a spoken message for the grieving family—all without leaving their cars. The entire service was also viewable on a large projection screen facing the parking lot. (Click here for full story)
4. That time when farmers showed up to honor one of their own
“As we waited beside the combine and watched as every farmer around drove their tractor to get in line, most of them also carrying spouses and children, I realized again how special the farming community is. This is a community that not only loves their land but also loves those who do the same, a community that would do anything to support one of their own.”
5. That time when symbols of love filled the chairs of funeral homes
When gathering restrictions began limiting funerals to fewer than 10 attendees, many funeral homes began to seek out ways they could help families feel the support of loved ones who would have been there were it not for the pandemic. One of the first examples we saw was the image above shared by O’Connor Mortuary in Laguna Hills, CA showing bouquets of yellow flowers lining the chapel pews.
From the funeral home blog: “Yellow was Rosa’s signature color. And so, each family that could not be present in the pews sent bouquets of yellow flowers to shine love in their place. The empty places were filled, and a family was dearly loved in a visible and tangible way.”
Starks Family Funeral Home in Saint Joseph, Michigan offers a “Hugs from Home” program that allows loved ones to offer messages of support to the immediate family. The funeral home then ties the messages to the empty chairs in the chapel. Another beautiful example of how funeral professionals can provide families with a visual representation of love to help them feel less alone during such a difficult time.
6. That time when drive-through funerals gave people a chance to say goodbye safely
All across the country, funeral professionals adapted to the situation by creating drive through funeral services and burials. At funeral homes, visitors were often able to drive up and view the casket through a display window. When this was not possible, directors moved caskets or urns outside under awnings or tents so cars could drive by them. Photos and other memorial displays were often displayed along the area where cars were lined up. Visitors could share their name with a funeral attendant to ensure it was recorded in the guest book. Most importantly, families could see how many people came out to honor their loved one and visitors could express their condolences safely.
7. That time when funeral directors everywhere learned how to use virtual technology to help people gather
Before the pandemic, the recording and live streaming of funeral services was a rare occurrence that was not often requested by families. While this technology existed before, only a handful of funeral directors had ever needed to use it. Then, with very little warning, funeral directors were impelled to learn how to put into practice the use of recording and streaming technology for just about every funeral service.
Companies like Tukios have been instrumental in helping the funeral profession learn how to adopt live streaming technology
It is amazing how many funeral professionals quickly adapted to this completely new routine in order to help their families gather together virtually. Everything about being a funeral director has changed dramatically as a result of the pandemic. Yet, one thing that has remained constant is that funeral professionals will do everything possible to avoid saying no to a family. If that means learning an entirely new technology and stepping completely out of their comfort zone, then so be it. We commend all of the funeral professionals for adopting this new technology in order to help grieving families feel more supported.
8. That time when community heroes received the stirring tributes they deserved
A huge procession of police vehicles with officers from across the state of Ohio was held. Blue ribbons and hearts decorated homes and vehicles. People lined the streets while remaining social distant, holding blue balloons and signs with messages of support. The procession culminated with a ceremony in the funeral home parking lot with hundreds of police officers lined up, spaced apart from one another. This story is such an important example of why funeral traditions matter. A great sacrifice like Kaia’s demands a great tribute in her honor. Despite pandemic restrictions, the funeral professionals, police offices and community of Springdale, OH were able to make that happen. (Click here for full story)
Behind every one of these stories there is a funeral director doing everything in his or her power to give the family a meaningful funeral service experience and to help them feel more supported in their grief during the coronavirus pandemic. These are incredibly difficult and distressing times for funeral professionals everywhere who have had to adapt in ways that would have been unimaginable before.
No one ever thought a day might come when society would need funeral homes to provide drive-through services or to tie balloons to their chapel chairs to symbolically represent those that couldn’t attend. The coronavirus pandemic has demonstrated how important funeral rituals are to our society and in turn, the importance of those tasked with this sacred duty.
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About The Author
Jess Farren (Fowler)
Jess Farren (Fowler) is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD’s company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at Jess@myASD.com