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Amid pandemic, mourners learning to say ‘goodbye’ in new ways

The novel coronavirus is changing how grieving families say goodbye to their loved ones while funeral homes try to keep up with changing CDC guidelines regarding the highly contagious COVID-19.

Funeral homes may now offer only funeral services or visitation with no more than 10 people, though guidelines recommend offering livestream services if possible. Graveside services are still an option.

The changes come from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and have been adopted by the National Funeral Home Association. Also, President Trump and Gov. Tate Reeves are urging the public to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people.

While funeral homes are faced with limiting services to grieving families, Brookhaven funeral home officials say the traditional funeral service of public visitations and services packed with mourners are not safe options until further notice.

Data shows at least five confirmed virus cases in Lincoln County, but no deaths, and at least 320 statewide.

“This is a new normal for us,” said Jeff Davis, manager of Brookhaven Funeral Home.

“We will probably consider asking that immediate family members only attend a one-hour visitation, then have a short service and a longer service at the graveside since people can spread out more at a cemetery without being close to each other,” Davis said.

“We want to make sure we honor the deceased and the family.”

Riverwood Family has the equipment to livestream services and will offer it to any new clients, said co-owner Clay McMorris. He is also the Lincoln County coroner.

Riverwood will offer families a brief visitation of no more than 10 people and a graveside service or a memorial service.

Local obituaries show families planning services in the Brookhaven area families are now holding only a graveside service, with some announcing a memorial service will be held at a later date. Some are postponing burial as well.

“I’m just going to be honest,” McMorris said. “There have been recent services that could have been large, but they weren’t. I think people are heeding the warning about the contagious virus.”

Having only a graveside service with 10 or less people “seems a little cold and impersonal,” said Robin Faust, co-owner of R.E. Tyler Funeral Home.

“The average family is so large that they may have a problem with not having a funeral service because this is a faith-based town,” she said. “With large families, it will be hard for families to winnow out who attends and who doesn’t. But this is a pandemic. We have to change.”

Faust said Tyler Funeral Home will probably offer livestreamed services.

Jennifer Johnson of Marshal Funeral Home said some families are disappointed in the changes, but most families are understanding.

Brookhaven Funeral Home will encourage handling arrangements by telephone and email, funeral director Terry Britt said. Families can order a casket from an online company or a few relatives can visit the funeral home’s arrangement room to pick one out.

“We’re trying to be sympathetic to families and at the same time trying to protect them, especially the elderly, from the spread of the virus,” he said.

“The whole country and the world are going through this,” Britt said. “But we’ve got to because every life saved is a life saved.”

The CDC advises that people not touch a loved one who has died of the virus until the body has been prepared for viewing. Even then, the CDC recommends only holding the deceased’s hand. 

Story by Robin Eyman