Funeral homes ask mourners to keep their distance

By: Chatham Daily News
Wednesday, March 18, 2020

Funeral homes ask mourners to keep their distance

A local funeral home is asking mourners to stay home and pay their respects online.

A local funeral home is asking mourners to stay home and pay their respects online.

With public gatherings in Ontario now limited to no more than 50 people because of the COVID-19 pandemic, funeral homes are generally closing their doors to all but the deceased’s immediate family.

McKinlay Funeral Homes, which has sites in Chatham, Ridgetown and Blenheim, has begun showing services on its website with families’ permission.

“We’ve always had the technology, but it wasn’t always an option that people wanted,” managing director Nathan McKinlay said. “I think now it’s going to be necessary.

“That way the public can express their grief and share their thoughts with the family through online condolences and through e-mail and phone. That way they can all participate because this could be a very lonely time for people that are mourning, especially if they’re separated from family members.”

People with COVID-19 symptoms or who have travelled outside the country in past 14 days are among those barred from funeral homes by the Chatham-Kent board of health.

“We’re trying to limit it to very immediate family,” McKinlay said. “We’re trying not to have those that are too far up in age or immunocompromised attending.”

Even if funeral homes aren’t holding public services, their other work goes on. Burials and cremations can’t be delayed, said Daniel Houle, funeral director and co-owner of Alexander & Houle Funeral Home in Chatham.

“The unfortunate side of it is that my industry, not unlike health care, not unlike policing or fire, has to continue,” Houle said. “It’s not an option to say, ‘You know what? We’re shutting down.’ We just can’t.”

His funeral home wants to limit indoor and gravesite services to immediate family members. The public isn’t being invited.

“What a lot of the families are planning are celebrations of life once this dark cloud moves (away from) over us,” he said.

Public services can also be scheduled later when they’re safe to hold, McKinlay said. But if a family wants visitation now, he can arrange to let in small groups if given enough notice.

However, there are safer ways to reach out to grieving friends and relatives.

“We suggest people write condolences to the family or call them,” said Tonia Newberry, a funeral director at Badder Funeral Homes.

Visitors are asked to follow safety guidelines – use hand sanitizer, don’t hug or shake hands and don’t sit close together.

Only online donations – no cash or cheques – are being accepted at McKinlay.

Funeral directors are trying to arrange services over the phone or, if necessary, in one-on-one meetings.

“Everybody’s demonstrating the proper care and concern,” Houle said. “We all can read. We all understand what we’re in the midst of. Nobody wants to risk themselves getting sick or making somebody else sick.”

The Diocese of London is not permitting Catholic funeral masses and luncheons. The rite of committal may be held at a cemetery for immediate family members.

The diocese has suspended all public masses and services until at least April 30.

The Anglican Diocese of Huron has also suspended all public worship services until at least April 8. Funerals with no cremation are allowed with permission from Right Rev. Todd Townshend, the diocese’s bishop, with only one clergy, one funeral director and immediate family in attendance.

“Funerals are one of those events that we turn off the real world and say, ‘You know what? We’ve got to go to the funeral home because our friend has lost their mum,’” Houle said. “We change and alter our agenda to be there for them. It’s very kind and compassionate. The reality, though, is that this is an opportunity where it could be risky as well.”

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