AT A LATER DATE: Funeral directors assist families in the COVID-19 era

Tuesday, March 31, 2020
Korey Robinson of Schuchert-Lentz Funeral Home & Crematory has been very surprised by the acceptance by families to social distancing rules in place to limit the spread of COVID-19. "They understand the gravity of the situation and are all willing to do their part. All the families I have been working with have all had their private family service and will be having a memorial service when the social ban is lifted," he said. Robinson encouraged the public to monitor radio and newspapers for rescheduled service information.
Photos by Russ Mitchell

When Lynn "Hec" Ramsey passed away, his family held a quiet graveside service Monday morning in Lake View. A note on the Faber & Otteman Funeral Homes website said: "Due to current CDC guidelines and Gov. Reynolds' public health disaster declaration limiting all services, the family will be planning a celebration of life for Hec to be held at a later date."

Messages like that aren't limited to funeral homes in the greater Storm Lake area. When Lisa Galm passed away Feb. 21, the family and Warner Funeral Home of Spencer let the lifelong caregiver's loved ones know that "due to the coronavirus outbreak, memorial services will be held at a later date."

Shirley Schoorman's family worked with Turner Jenness Family Funeral Homes on a private service for the 99-year-old who raised her family on a farm west of Milford. When Muriel Nelson of Spirit Lake and formerly of Storm Lake passed away Sunday, March 22, the family held a private graveside service. "There will be a public memorial service held at a later date," the Schuchert-Lentz Funeral Home and Crematory of Spirit Lake told her loved ones.

"This, for most if not all families we serve, is the most difficult thing they will deal with in their lives," Faber & Otterman interim funeral director Amanda Lynch said. "To not be able to receive in-person support from their whole family and friends or communities is a huge deal. That grieving, with others, is all a part of the process. To have to delay that is difficult. We remind our families that we are here for them, night and day, for whatever they may need from us."

As COVID-19 was ramping up and getting national attention in places like China and Italy in mid-February, northwest Iowa funeral directors were beginning to get notices and warnings from the National Funeral Directors Association and the Iowa Funeral Directors Association.

Greg Jenness of Turner Jenness Family Funeral Homes credits his area's clergy for adjusting to the current reality of COVID-19. "I really feel for them. They are challenged with finding new ways to minister to their congregation, and from what I have seen, they are doing a great job innovating on short notice," he said.

"The statements were just reading material on what funeral homes were dealing with there at the current time and how it could possibly affect our industry here," Korey Robinson of Schuchert-Lentz said. "We as an industry started getting announcements and protocol on how to practice from the state of Iowa on Sunday, March 15."

March 15 is also the date Gov. Kim Reynolds ordered all schools closed and the Iowa Legislature announced plans to pause the current session. The decisions are part of an effort to discourage the large gatherings known to fuel the novel coronavirus pandemic.

Greg Jenness of Turner Jenness said "everything changed" after the governor's announcements. Funeral home staff members were in contact with families the following Monday morning. Jenness said some families switched from a public gathering to a private family service. Others decided to do a burial and have the public service at a later date.

"Our staff at the funeral home can still care for families during their time of loss and assist in planning a service, even though the type of service looks completely different than it would have just a week ago," Jenness said. "What we can't do, is give families that full community support that only friends and family can provide. At times like this — when we can't just give that hug or that handshake — support for families that have experienced loss is so important. That's where our community comes in. We encourage you to reach out to families that are hurting, whether by phone, messages or a good old fashioned hand-written letter. The smallest of action can make such a difference."

Brad Hawn of Warner Funeral Home has seen grace from families who are faced with difficult circumstances.

"Families have responded to the changes extremely well," he said. "They are very much on board because they have the same concerns we have. We are thankful for that, but we also feel bad they aren't able to celebrate their family member's life in the traditional, larger way."

Northwest Iowa's clergy have also played an important role as funeral homes try to serve families. Hawn has used online meetings with his ministerial associations to navigate ways to help families. Some visitations and services have been live-streamed to keep families safe.

"The grieving process is more difficult now because loved ones are unable to have their friends present," he said. "Friends can be just as close emotionally as family members. So not having them at visitations or funeral services has been difficult. We've encouraged people to reach out to each other via text, phone calls, FaceTime — whatever — to ensure they express their feelings. As painful as it is, it's healthy to go through the grief process, so during this time we encourage other ways to do it when a large gathering isn't possible."

Respond to this story

Posting a comment requires free registration: