It’s a TOUGH time for grieving families.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, churches and cemeteries are closed to the public, and cities have banned or are considering banning crowds of 10 or more people.
On top of that, the CDC is recommending social distancing, something that is rarely practiced at visitations or memorial services.
Even with the new regulations and guidelines, local funeral home directors are trudging along, and doing all they can to help families honor their recently deceased loved ones.
“There’s a sense of panic running through the country. We’ve tried to maintain a sense of calm,” said Trey Sebrell, owner of Sebrell Funeral Home in Ridgeland. “It’s still about serving families, just like it was in the past.”
In recent weeks, the coronavirus has torn across the globe, shutting down economies and temporarily upending normal routines.
The funeral business has not been immune to the effects of the virus.
Among complications, many churches are no longer allowing memorial services. And last week, funeral directors were notified that military cemeteries in the state were closing to the public and no longer allowing graveside services.
Graveside services were still available at other cemeteries, and directors of funeral homes contacted by the Sun said their chapels were still available for public use.
Meanwhile, directors like Sebrell were waiting to see if the cities of Madison, Ridgeland and Flowood join Jackson in temporarily banning crowds of 10 or more.
Last week, Jackson Mayor Chokwe Antar Lumumba issued an executive order, temporarily panning public gatherings of 10 or more, including spiritual services.
“If the ban comes down, we would follow it,” Sebrell said.
However, he and Ellis Wright, owner of Wright and Ferguson Funeral Homes, aren’t sure whether a ban is necessary.
“Today (March 20), we had a funeral and it was family-only,” Sebrell said. We have a funeral tomorrow and it will be family-only.
“Most people are not choosing to come to funerals. It’s not like it was three weeks ago, when you’d have 100 people show up.”
Wright said he’s leaving it up the families to determine whether guests should be allowed.
Even if families do want a public service, he believes people will “self-regulate,” with the elderly and immunocompromised, those most susceptible to COVID-19, staying home.
“We give the family the option of doing what they want to do,” he said. “We are not telling families they can’t have visitation and can’t have services.”
Far from business as usual, though, funeral directors are taking steps to keep visitors and staffers safe.
Those steps include having hand sanitizer available in almost every corner of the funeral home and regularly wiping down the ceremonial pen used to sign guestbooks.
Funeral homes are also beginning to offer online streaming of services for people who choose not to show up in person.
“We have to think outside the box,” Sebrell said. “One thing with visitations is that we can open doors and leave them open so no one has to touch a doorknob.”
For people who do attend, directors are already noticing visitors practice social distancing.
“Some people will shake hands. There will be some people that decline and keep their distance,” Wright said.
Local funeral directors have received guidance form the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA).
The organization has more than 20,000 members, who represent 11,000 funeral homes in the United States.
It has been working closely with the CDC to monitor the corona outbreak and has been passing information on to its members as it becomes available.
Among recommendations, NFDA said that at least through April 1, funerals should be limited to immediate family only, with families holding larger, more inclusive memorial gatherings at a later date.
After April 1, the association recommends that directors follow an earlier CDC guideline, limiting gatherings to no more than 50 people. That limit would be in place for an additional eight weeks, according to the NFDA website.
Shay Chedotal, president of Natchez Trace Funeral Home in Madison, said she and her staffers were still working on a game plan.
Nothing was set in stone last week, but she was considering implementing a drive-through signing station, to allow people to sign a guest book without having to get out of their car.