Local funeral homes accommodate grieving families - from a distance

Ramone Harris, co-director of Harris Funeral Home, stands directs guests for a visitation toward the home's carport entrance. During the pandemic, they have restricted the number of guests viewing the deceased to two at a time.

Social distancing has changed the nature of gathering for the time being, including those where a comforting touch would be appreciated.

Coley Trant, co-director of Jeffcoat-Trant Funeral Home and Crematory, said that while funeral arrangements and services are usually a family affair, the pandemic has caused this to change.

“This is a time where you want to walk up and hug, kiss, shake hands,” he said. “And that’s been the hardest part; we’re having to say ‘love folks from a distance.’ And it’s not meant to be this way, especially during a time of grieving.”

The funeral home has accommodated families during this time by allowing them to make arrangements by email or phone. If the families preferred to meet at the funeral home, they would do so in the lobby where everyone could sit at least 6 feet away from each other.

Harris Funeral Home has also taken to meeting with families in their lobby as opposed to a closed in room. Co-director Ramone Harris said they only allow two or three people to come to come in to make arrangements.

“It’s hard to break tradition. Usually when you have arrangements, you have six or seven people come in, and we just can’t have that,” he said.

As for the services themselves, both funeral homes have only been doing graveside services. In addition to attendees maintaining 6 feet of space between each other, the number of people present has been limited to around 10 people.

“We had a few funerals where more would show up, but they would keep their distance,” Trant said.

Harris Funeral Home has encouraged families to just have immediate family present for the service to keep the size of the gathering small.

“Some families we understand are big families, but as long as we encourage social distancing and make sure that people don’t do any hugging, handshaking or things of that nature; it’s been very cooperative,” Harris said.

The biggest challenge they’ve been dealing with, Harris said, has been how traditional plans or special requests of the deceased had for their service couldn’t be fulfilled because of health concerns. The home has been and continues to accommodate the family’s and the deceased’s wishes as much as they can.

“We still do funeral programs,” he said. “We limit visitation for two hours and don’t publicize them because we really want just the people that know that person, know the family, to come pay their respects to the deceased.”

Visitations at the funeral home are also limited to two people in their parlor space at a time. The rest of the home is blocked off to visitors, while visitations are monitored by the funeral home’s attendants.

As the state continues to reopen in phases, both the Jeffcoat-Trant and Harris funeral homes are figuring out what their next steps are.

Trant said they will start seeing things becoming “a little bit more normal,” for example, opening their chapel to where people can attend services there. He added that they’ll pay attention to what local churches do once they’re cleared to open their doors.

When social distancing was first announced as a method to control the spread of COVID-19, Harris Funeral Home had guests stay 6 feet apart during both graveside and chapel services. Should restrictions change, Harris said he believes they would return to this method.

“The more people you have, the more risk there is,” he said.

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