Whether you call it the Corona Virus or COVID-19, you are referring to a nightmare of a disease. Over 1 million Americans have been infected and nearly 70,000 have died. And the worldwide statistics are three times as bad. No matter who you are, where you live, what you do for a living, this disease has impacted your life in a major way. There is a wide spectrum of symptoms experienced by those who have it from little to none, to respiratory failure to death. But let’s talk about death.
If a loved one dies during this current pandemic, of COVID 19 or of anything, it is certainly not business as usual. Most mortuaries are making the funeral arrangements via phone, fax and email, with very limited contact with the family. The traditional funeral with viewing and scores of family and friends, and celebratory repast, cannot be had.
Locally, the Los Angeles County Department of Public Health issued an order on March 21, 2020, that 1) limits the visitation of a loved one to one person for an identification viewing, 2) limits the attendance to a funeral to 10 people who live in the same household, and 3) confines all funerals to a mortuary chapel (not allowing church services) or to graveside service at a cemetery.
But don’t take my word for it. The following are excerpts from the L. A. County order: “Are any funeral services allowed? Yes, funeral and graveside services are allowed. Guidance for such services is as follows:
-Services may only take place at the funeral home or the location of interment or cremation.
-Due to the risk of spread of COVID-19, limit attendance at funeral services to:
-Only members of one household of up to ten (10) people (members who live together at the same physical address);
-One person may view the decedent to confirm the identity as required by the mortuary, funeral home, or embalming service;
-Essential funeral service staff; and, if desired,
-One faith leader.
-Adhere to social (physical) distancing of at least 6 feet between the group of household members, the funeral staff and, if present, the faith leader……” (www.publichealth,lacounty.gov)
As difficult as it is to not be able to celebrate a deceased loved one’s life in the manner you are accustomed to, the purpose of the restrictions are to obviously limit the spread of the Corona Virus and to save lives.
Most states and counties have similar restrictions, but all funeral directors and families are not adhering strictly to them. We at Woods-Valentine Mortuary understand and make every effort to adhere to the county directions.
It is difficult to limit attendance to a loved one’s funeral to 10 people plus one clergyman. But when those 10 people must live in the same household, that is very restrictive. For those even, social distancing is encouraged. We and other mortuaries require that those in attendance wear masks and gloves. We, as well as other mortuaries, are offering to videotape the visitation, so that those beyond the selected 10, can view their loved one dressed and in the casket. We and other mortuaries are allowing family to stream the service so that loved ones who can’t travel at this time, or otherwise attend the service, can at least witness and participate from a distance. Some cemeteries are allowing 10 people only at the graveside, but not limiting family and friends who come and stay in, or stand by their cars.
These restrictions have taken place in the last two months. What is practiced varies from mortuary to mortuary and from cemetery to cemetery.
Some mortuaries will not embalm or dress, nor allow viewing for persons who die of COVID-19. Others do. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) does authorize mortuaries to embalm, dress and view bodies with the disease, at their discretion.
Mortuaries take prescribed precautions in handling the remains of COVID-19 victims. Hospitals, nursing homes and elder care facilities are mandated to inform the mortuary if a decedent has a communicable disease. This doesn’t always take place, and especially not prior to picking the deceased person up from the place of death. We have been informed on occasion that a person was tested for the disease just prior to dying, but it can take days to confirm if they are positive or not. Needless to say we take precaution and handle every case, as if they may have been infected, for safety sake. Our staff are required to hand wash frequently and to disinfect equipment and the facility several times a day.
Having a funeral allows us to honor and celebrate a life and to facilitate the grieving process. Although on a much smaller scale, this can still take place. We recommend that families consider, as one of our families put it, “having a proper funeral at a future time” after the “Shelter at home” has been lifted. It will have to be a memorial service without the body present, but that would allow more people to be able to attend and celebrate.
Our sincere condolences to all who lose loved ones during this difficult time.
I never thought or imagined that there would be times like these. But remember someone said “trouble don’t last always.” Hold on. In times like these, stay strong, stay connected (via phone and social media), stay safe, stay flexible, stay hopeful, stay prayerful and stay well.
(If you have questions in anticipation of a family member passing, feel free to call us to discuss your options).
[Gail Valentine Taylor, M.S.W. Funeral Director Woods-Valentine Mortuary firstname.lastname@example.org (626) 798-8941 FD-0582.]