The Last Responders: How Funeral Directors are Adapting in a Post-Coronavirus World

With the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19), funeral homes around the world have rapidly shifted their practices to comply with local, state, and federal regulations, as well as keep funeral home employees safe. With these changes, funeral home operations as we traditionally know them are completely different.

For funeral directors and others in the funeral industry, they are the “last responders” on the front lines of the pandemic, witnessing first-hand the numbers the rest of America only sees on a screen. In a wildly different environment, funeral homes are learning to navigate how to care for families while enforcing strict social distancing guidelines and keeping everyone safe.

As the pandemic will continue to disrupt funeral home operations for months to come, take a look at how funeral homes have adapted during such a difficult time:

Protection first

From removal processes onward, funeral home staff must exercise caution and wear appropriate personal protective equipment, or PPE, when caring for the deceased. Due to coronavirus, protection is of the utmost importance to ensure that funeral home staff remain safe and healthy while working an essential job.

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With guidance and resources available online, including the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), funeral directors have the tools available to them to locate and acquire PPE to keep their employees safe.

Altering staff schedules

Another way funeral directors have protected staff from the spread of the virus includes altering staff scheduling. With fewer employees in the funeral home at one time, social distancing can be more easily enforced. Plus, limiting the number of employees who handle processes like embalming can significantly reduce the risk of exposure to the virus among staff.

Embracing technology

For funeral professionals, one of the most precious elements of the job is adding a personal touch to show compassion. However, much of this has disappeared in lieu of social distancing. While funeral directors cannot be there for families in the way they would like, they’re making do with technology solutions. This includes making arrangements over Skype, Zoom, or FaceTime, where funeral directors can walk families through the process.

Plus, many funeral homes are offering to livestream funeral services where only a handful of family members are allowed to attend in-person. Whether for travel restrictions or capacity restrictions, offering this option allows so many loved ones who wish to pay their respects to virtually attend—and even participate in—services.

Learning to say “No”

Unfortunately, the severe restrictions placed on funeral home operations and end-of-life services means that funeral directors are not able to comply with all of the typical requests’ families have. Those who have entered the funeral profession pride themselves on offering compassionate service for families going through a difficult time, and it has been especially challenging to have to decline services to families.

As funeral directors learn how to say “No” with compassion, they’re also coming up with creative solutions to the restrictions in place. From drive-in services to online forums for loved ones to connect, funeral professionals are learning new ways to show compassion when they cannot accommodate every request.

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New ways to serve families

A funeral director may often be a first point of contact for the next of kin upon losing a family member. Funeral professionals take this seriously, going above and beyond the call of duty to comfort families and help them navigate their grief.

While nothing can replace the human touch, some funeral homes are finding new ways to connect—even when they’re not in the same room. This includes beautiful ways to show support, like having loved ones who cannot attend services represented with handwritten notes and balloons. This is a great way to show just how many people love and support the family.

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