Funeral Homes and Families Struggle with Coronavirus Restrictions

"People haven’t gotten to grieve, because they can’t have a funeral." -Stephanie Kehrer

The extended Coronavirus restrictions include limitations on funeral homes. That has meant smaller memorial services and changes to the ways we remember loved ones and friends.

Funeral HomeLindsey Jonkhoff Rogers with Reynolds-Jonhkoff Funeral Home in Traverse City says, “It’s been a difficult nine or 10 months for many reasons.”

The extended restrictions include limitations of 25 people at funerals, regardless of the size of the funeral home or the venue for the service. Stephanie Kehrer at Oak Grove Funeral Home in Ludington says, “When you can’t say a proper goodbye to your friends or your family, that’s a real problem. People need a specific time and specific place to come together and talk about this loved one … when they don’t have that, their grief isn’t realized.”

That’s been hard on many families, already struggling with loss. Rogers says, “That’s got to take a toll emotionally. When you can’t do it or it’s delayed… it’s still hard to achieve that grieving process” She adds, “With the pandemic we’ve seen a very sharp decrease in the number of people who attend. So even if there would be 100-200 people (normally), we’re seeing maybe 50 that would come and pay their respects.”

Restrictions on a final celebration of life are an extra burden for some, says Rogers. “I hate when I hear families say they haven’t been able to see their mom or their dad for the past 10 months, they’ve been kind of locked in a nursing home. So they feel like they’ve been cheated out of the past year, almost.  It’s hard to say ‘my mom touched all these people’s lives or my dad touched all these people’s lives. And no one’s here.’ It adds to the grief, it really does.”Reynolds Jonkhoff

Some funeral homes, like Reynolds-Jonkhoff, are scheduling longer visitations so friends and visitors can rotate in and out to keep the limits to 25.  “Even though they’re limited in size, we still can gather. With technology we’ve been live-streaming services …. We’ve had the technology for ten years and it wasn’t being used that much. Now it’s used with every single service,” says Rogers.

The funeral directors agree the 25 person limit seems like a poor alternative to capacity restrictions.  Kehrer says, “It’s completely arbitrary. It was at 10 people. Now it’s 25, and it’s not even a percentage of your space.  I can fit 250 people. To say I can only put 25 in this gigantic room… it just doesn’t make any sense. It really doesn’t make any sense at all. People could stand 25 feet away from each other and I could still fit 25 in there.”

Rogers agrees the one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t make much sense, but acknowledges it would be difficult to make different rules for everyone. “I understand the broad generalizations but I sure would love to have our limitations increased to 50 people or a certain amount per square footage.”

Oak Grove LudingtonFuneral homes also share the frustration of many families who point out that religious services are exempt from the restrictions, but funerals aren’t. Kehrer says, “We consider this a religious action. This is people coming together. There’s a pastor there. They are saying prayers. But it’s not (religious)?”

At the beginning of the pandemic and the start of the restrictions, many families opted to wait to hold a funeral service. Now more than nine months later, many families are still waiting, while others are moving forward, not knowing when those restrictions will be lifted.  Rogers says, “At the beginning a lot of people were saying, definitely, we’re going to ride it out. Most of those people had services in the summer. We did a ton of services out in our gardens.” But she adds, “A lot of people are realizing this isn’t going to go away soon. So they’re saying let’s do this now while there aren’t worse restrictions.”Caskets

Kehrer has seen that as well. “We still have people from last year that are trying to reschedule their service. And we’ve had to reschedule so many times that we just stopped rescheduling it. And I just said ‘we’ll give you a call.’ (They’ll say) ‘There’s still restrictions?’ That’s really the difficult thing, is to say, ‘yeah. We’ve had to postpone your mom’s funeral for months. Or almost a year now.’”

Kehrer adds, “The longer you wait to have a service, the fewer people attend. They still need that. They need their friends and family around them to heal.”

Cemetary CemeteryRogers says, “There are a few that have postponed services. And there are a few that have postponed since March and they’re still not doing anything, because they just don’t feel comfortable gathering. That’s got to take a toll emotionally.”

Kehrer understands that some people aren’t comfortable attending, and offers to sign the guest book for anyone who can’t show up in person to share condolences. “Send a nice letter. Send some flowers to the house. Make them a cake and drop it on the porch. They don’t have to come to the funeral, it is okay. But those that want to be here should be able to be here.”

The restrictions – for now – are set to expire February 1st.

Categories: Coronavirus