Funeral Homes Limit Visitations, Stream Services Online As World Copes With COVID-19

A sign in the vestibule at Skinner & Smith Funeral Home advises visitors to wait for assistance before entering.

Nearly every industry has been affected in some way or another by the cornoavirus (COVID-19), and the funeral service industry is no exception.

Because of the social gathering limitations recently set forth by Gov. Roy Cooper and President Donald Trump, funeral homes are having to make adjustments, ones affecting not only their staff, but also the families they serve at a very difficult time.

Two local funeral homes, Dafford and Skinner & Smith, have joined the fight against COVID-19 and are doing what they can to help stop the spread.

Dafford Funeral Home has posted several guidelines on their website as a resource for families in need. The guidelines, Dallas Dafford says, are the best way to approach the current situation. Posted are five actions which include no visitations, public viewings or chapel services in the funeral home facility.

“We’re trying to at least talk with the families that we’re serving to limit those numbers as best they can,” Dafford said. “And still give a dignified closure to the deceased.”

Dafford’s is also limiting family viewings to no more than 10 people at one time, which includes conferring with only family members directly involved with the planning.

“That’s basically what we’re trying to follow,” Dafford said. “We are limiting access to the funeral homes, we’re trying to encourage very strongly, just graveside services right now and limiting that exposure to the governor’s request of 50 or less in an open setting and at least 6 feet distance, as far as social distancing is concerned.”

Skinner & Smith Funeral Home is employing similar measures.

Jay Smith says his staff is working under similar circumstances and limiting the number of guests in the home and at graveside services to meet the governor’s guidelines. He’s also encouraging families to limit services to graveside as well.

“It’s tough on the families because they can’t do what they’re normally accustomed to during a funeral,” Smith said. “Whatever has been directed by the governor that’s what we’re doing. We’re still an essential people and we’re still working. We’re here, but we don’t have a lot of coming and going traffic unless someone has passed.”

As of yet, Smith says Skinner & Smith has no set guidelines for the families to view services on the web or elsewhere, but they have discussed keeping staffing to a minimum until the pandemic decreases. There are currently plans in place for his staff to work in pairs on a weekly, rotating basis.

“The rest of us will come in when we are needed,” he said. “Especially with a small firm, its difficult. We’ve got a lot of part time employees, but we’re trying to keep them at home.”

Both funeral home directors say the families they serve — while in a very difficult time, have seemed to understand the predicament the funeral homes are in, and most have been amenable to working with their staffs to make arrangements and services possible under the current conditions.

“They have been very receptive to what we’re trying to do in order to serve them,” Dafford said. “With the different circumstances we have to guide ourselves with, they are very understanding of that.”

While families are understanding and trying to cooperate, Smith admits seeing the toll these conditions take on them.

During most times of loss, families come together and meet at the funeral home to comfort one another and find some family unity. But mourning losses in the throes of COVID-19 is different, Smith says. The virus threat deters close contact. Dafford called it “a new normal.”

With only 50 people allowed at graveside services and only 10 at a time during visitations, when they do have them, families are having to make tough changes from the past.

“When you can’t even have the whole family here, that is tough,” Smith said. “Then you can’t have close friends that are sometimes closer than some family members, so it is difficult. They’re having to pick and choose.”

A sign inside Skinner & Smith Funeral Home asks visitors to limit their time and contact with grieving families to keep with the governor’s order limiting large gatherings.

For those who can’t make it, Skinner & Smith has been recording some services to host on its website.

Dafford has not offered live stream videos, yet, but Dafford notes some family members take it upon themselves to record and share.

When you ask both Dafford and Smith if the current crisis matches anything from their past, neither can come up with an answer.

“Nobody’s ever seen this before,” Smith said. “I’ve never seen this before and I hope to never see it again.”

Dafford said he can’t recall anything like this in his 51 years of being licensed in the funeral business, especially when it comes to limiting the number of people who can attend a service.

“Nothing in reference to the gatherings that I can remember,” he said. “I don’t really remember there being these types of restrictions as far as numbers.”

So, for now at least, the funeral homes will continue what they’re doing, the best way they know how, with caring and compassion.

-Dunn Daily Record