KEARNEY — The last thing families and friends can do for loved ones is plan and attend funeral services.
Doing that in the usual way, with full churches or funeral home chapels, is impossible now because of concerns about spreading the coronavirus.
“We’re following the ‘10 limit’ as much as we can and we’re suggesting to families that they follow it,” Horner Lieske McBride & Kuhl Funeral and Cremation Services co-owner Mark McBride said about Gov. Pete Ricketts’ directive to limit gatherings to help stem the spread of COVID-19.
Co-owner Spencer Kuhl said most people are aware of the limit, but not everyone knows it applies to funerals.
Ryan Redinger, funeral director at O’Brien Straatmann Redinger Funeral Home, also in Kearney, said, “It doesn’t make it easy on families.”
Especially families who had to change funeral plans already made when Ricketts set the limit. The funeral directors said an option for those families and others for the foreseeable future is having a private family burial and a memorial service later.
“This is changing every day, or so it seems,” McBride said, “maybe more than once a day as to what you can and can’t do.”
Older people are among the high-risk groups for serious COVID-19 health issues. They also are likely attendees at funerals, he noted.
“I tell people if you have any concern about going, don’t go,” McBride said. “Call the family, write a card or leave condolences online.”
Kuhl said most churches have ceased Sunday services, but some still allow funerals attended by 10 or fewer immediate family members.
At O’Brien Straatmann Redinger Funeral Home, recent services have had family-only viewings and private services that followed the ‘10 limit’ rule. Redinger said the funeral home has space to have groups of 10 in several rooms that are linked by closed-circuit TV.
“In the 18 years I’ve been a funeral director, I never thought I’d be counting people as they enter and moving people from one room to the other to be sure we’re following guidelines, he said.
Funerals can be livestreamed to larger off-site audiences or recorded and posted to a website, Redinger added.
Kuhl said livestreaming has become a more important service provided by HLMK in the past few weeks; families always receive videos of their loved ones’ services.
When asked about delaying funerals in hopes that larger groups may attend, Kuhl and McBride said state law allows 30 days for burial of a body.
“Realistically, we like to have that concluded as soon as the family can get that done,” Kuhl said.
McBride understands why families may want one service now and another after the pandemic has passed. “I feel for those families who may want to do that because of the stress of having two services,” he said.
“It puts added stress onto an already stressful situation,” Redinger said.
In addition to the such two-service arrangements, he said funerals originally scheduled for last Saturday and next Saturday have been postponed with no new date set yet.
“I think the hardest part is not being able to pay tribute to the loved one in the way they envisioned,” Redinger said. “That doesn’t mean they can’t do that later, but they can’t under the current (limit of 10) guideline.”
Kuhl said it can be most difficult if a loved one had a funeral directive. He explained that being able to fulfill a directive can be comforting to the family, but “when they’re not able to do that, it’s a concern for them.”
Another change in HLMK’s routine came Thursday when a florist told them the business no longer will deliver funeral arrangements. Kuhl said they will pick up the flowers or ask someone else to do so.
Funeral homes and their staffs already follow industry health-related standards for transporting bodies.
Kuhl said some state and national reminders, plus Centers for Disease Control and Prevention information specific to the coronavirus, have been added to the universal standards.
“So I don’t want to say it’s business as usual,” he added
McBride said funeral homes, like medical facilities, are concerned about shortages of masks and other protective equipment purchased in large quantities by the public.
“Even the shortage of cleaning supplies ... We’re facing the same challenges as everyone,” Kuhl said.
When asked about health safety measures followed when he’s called to a hospital, nursing home or other site where someone has died, Redinger said, “Most or all of the facilities are screening us before we go in to make a removal. They’ll ask questions about if we’ve traveled and take our temperatures.”
If the location has confirmed or suspects that someone has COVID-19, he would take extra precautions.
“We always wear PPE (personal protective equipment), gloves, for sure. In that case, we may wear a gown or face shield,” Redinger said. “They train us to treat every body like it has a communicable disease because with HIPPA, we never really know.”
Social distance is on McBride’s mind more now. “I’ve always been a handshaker,” he said. “I still want to do that, but I find myself putting my hands in my pockets more now.”
“It’s hard to turn that off,” Kuhl added.
“It’s hard to convey the personal part of the job we do when there is that distance,” McBride said, especially after learning so much about each family in such a short time. “... It’s a fine line you’re gonna have to walk.”
Redinger said he and his staff also are trying to decrease contact, such as shaking hands. “But if someone reaches out a hand, I’ll still take it,” he added.