For anyone, planning a funeral for a loved one who has passed isn't easy. During the COVID-19 pandemic, planning a funeral under shelter-in-place restrictions can make things even harder.
"I had posted the day that my dad died on Instagram, and I was pleasantly surprised that all of a sudden it turned what was sort of a silent scream of mine into this place where people started commenting and it was paying respects," said John Hendricks, who recently lost his father.
Normally, Hendricks would be gathering friends and family for a funeral near where his father lived in New Jersey. Instead, when the funeral home told him that only a couple people could attend the service due to coronavirus social distancing restrictions, he turned to Zoom.
"In the spirit of making sure my dad had as dignified a burial as possible, I just started giving an extra nudge to anyone that said something, 'Listen we’re doing the service, if you’re available, it would mean a lot.' And there was an overwhelming response of people who joined," said Hendricks.
The Zoom funeral ended up being a touching tribute to his father that he shared with those who knew and loved him.
"The most memorable thing of that entire experience was when I was getting ready to deliver the eulogy, I was looking at Zoom and seeing my closest friends wearing suits and ties, and not just that, but standing up out of respect," recalled Hendricks.
Over the last four weeks, Ingram Funeral Home in Georgia has drastically changed the way they serve families.
"We live stream some funerals. We have a very small group, probably 10 or less, in our chapel,” said Jack Allen, with Ingram Funeral Home. “We have somebody come in and live stream, live broadcast it somewhere. We find it works pretty well. It’s not the same, but it’s the next best thing to not attending at all.”
Allen says their staff uses full protective gear during funerals and the procedures leading up to the event, especially since they bury some COVID-19 patients. Many use N95 masks.
"We obviously disinfect everything down. All our surfaces. Anytime we have a funeral or visitation, we go and clean the building, bathrooms and everything,” said Allen. “For the employees, they have everything imaginable: shoe covers, head covers, masks, Tyvek suits.”
The funeral home also is open by appointment only and has transferred a majority of its transactions online.
While some families are really struggling with the fact that their loved one's celebration of life now has to be an unusually quiet or virtual goodbye, Allen says most are understanding.
"It's kind of sad because if they are well-known, they want a very large service and we can’t do that,” Allen added. “I get it. I can’t imagine not being able to have a funeral for my mom or dad. That would be awful, but these are strange times we're in and we're all changing our routine, our habits. Everything has been turned upside down."
Trying to do their best, from a distance, in what is normally a very personal and intimate event for families. For Hendricks, he's thankful we live in a time where this technology is available to us.
"I heard how beautiful and touching it was and my brother Steve said it, as well, that it all ended up being a beautiful service that everybody contributed to,” Hendricks said of his father’s virtual funeral. “At least it all came together, you know, in a very unpredictable way.”
Hendricks' children were even able to live broadcast a slideshow during the funeral, sharing a loving farewell to his dad that many in his family will remember for a long time.