COVID-19 changes funeral services, visitation

By Melanie Speicher -

SIDNEY — Coping with the loss of a loved one is a fact of life. You deal with the loss through private and public moments such as a funeral and visitation.

In today’s world, the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the rules associated with grief and grieving.

Local funeral home directors were asked via an email on how the coronavirus has changed the way they serve the families of a loved one who has died. The Ohio Funeral Directors Association has also given the state’s funeral homes guidance in dealing with the pandemic. See sidebar for OFDA President Gary M. Burr’s, CFSP, press release.

“Individual funeral homes have also adopted other, more stringent polices in dealing with the pandemic. Our goal is to still serve each family in a respectful dignified way without jeopardizing the health of not only the public but of each funeral home staff member, said Steve Hartwig, of Gilberg-Hartwig Funeral Home in New Bremen.

“The governor’s latest mandate, effective March 20, 2020, says that all non-essential businesses must close. Having said that, we are considered to be an essential business and therefore, exempt from closing. That doesn’t mean we can disobey the mandates about crowd size (10 or less) Immediate family only, and placing a notice on the doors that anyone exhibiting any symptoms of cold, flu, or other respiratory symptoms shall not enter the building,” said Doug Wise, of Salm -McGill Tangeman Funeral Home, Sidney.

Visitations are limited to 10 people (none with any symptoms) and immediate family only, said Wise. Only family members are permitted to attend the funeral service.

“Most have the private family burial, or cremation service, and opt for a public service later. We at Salm-McGill and Tangeman are help the families through all of it, and will even handle the arrangements and technicalities of the public service after we’ve done the private service,” said Wise.

“We don’t unfortunately have the technical capabilities to live-stream a service, but we have consulted some technical folks and we will, in the near future be able to do such a service for our families. This situation caught us unawares, but, we truly understand the need for decent technology and will be ready if there is (hopefully not) a next pandemic situation,” said Wise.

Wise said the funeral home industry had been preparing for a health crisis before the current bans started

“Our OFDA (Ohio Funeral Director Association) District 3, was far out ahead of this issue, and came up with much of the policy to follow, before ODH, and the governor did. As funeral directors, we are well aware of how diseases affect our families, and we do our best to keep them safe, even if we err on the side of caution. The blunt fact of the matter is, the deceased aren’t going to come down with anything, they’re in heaven, and all’s well,” said Wise. “Their families, however, that’s a different story. Our job here is to take care of your deceased loved ones with care, compassion and dignity, and make sure your family stays safe, even if that means postponing, delaying, or otherwise restricting numbers of people, to make sure the family is here to celebrate their loved one’s life at a later date. There may always be exceptions, but safety should be on everyone’s mind and how to stay safe.

“Many elderly and folks that are immuno -compromised, have no ability to fight off this newest virus. We’re all in this together, we can act like it, and care for our deceased loved ones properly, and still stay safe. Let’s use common sense, and reason, to get through this together. This is definitely not a time for “Every man for himself,’ it’s a time to show the rest of this country, and the world, what we’re made of, here in the Sidney Community and Shelby County as a whole,” said Wise.

Mark Adams, owner of Adams Funeral Home, Sidney, said he continues to serve the needs of the families who have lost a loved one.

“Adams Funeral Home continues to work compliantly with Gov. DeWine’s and the Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors directive regarding the prevention of the spread of COVID-19,” said Adams. “The direction we were given was that the Prohibition of Mass Gatherings and Closure of Venues Directive ‘does not apply to and/or excludes religious gatherings, gatherings for the purpose of the expression of First Amendment protected speech, weddings and funerals’ (Ohio Department of Health Director’s Order, written by Amy Acton, MD, MPH, page 1, section 5).

“At this time, Adams Funeral Home continues to operate normally. We still meet the needs of each family, conduct funeral services, graveside services and cremations while maintaining the utmost care and protection of each family and their guests,” he said. “We sanitize surfaces and door handles hourly and strongly encourage every attendee to practice social distancing guidelines.”

The Ohio Board of Embalmers and Funeral Directors has officially stated that “at this time, it is ultimately the decision of each funeral home on what they choose to do in consultation with the families” (

“Adams Funeral Home continues to be committed to meeting the needs its families to provide meaningful, affordable and customizable funeral services during this difficult time,” he said.

Erik and Aaron Edwards, owners of Cromes-Edwards Funeral Home, Sidney, said they are dealing with the health crises a day at a time.

“While we are currently considered by the government, and will continue to remain ‘essential,’ as we help families, we will be appropriately modifying funeral arrangements as the situation changes. This is to help ensure the safety of the families we serve, as well as the public at large. That being said, with the current stay-at-home order by the state government, we will be encouraging private viewings and services until further notice. This is really the only way, we have determined, that we can control the crowd, minimizing unnecessary risk to the family and community,” said Erik Edwards.

Michael Yannucci, Benjamin Zimmerman and Nickolas Pierre, Jamieson & Yannucci Funeral Home, Piqua, staff, also shared their feelings during the national health crisis.

“Professionally, we routinely take deceased people into our care. Any one of them may harbor a contagious or communicable situation without our knowledge. For an example, a doctor may determine an immediate cause of death as heart failure, but unbeknownst to the medical field or funeral home staff the deceased may and probably does have various other transmissible characteristics. Every deceased person possesses many infectious superficial bacteria, microbes, internal bacteria and diseased pathogens,” the trio said. “While alive and breathing, our bodies have natural defenses to ward off the proliferation of such pathogens, but upon death the microbes are left unchecked and multiply at a rapid rate. For that reason, most funeral home employ “Universal Health Care” precautions and procedures that protect us in handling, caring for, and working with a deceased person. In our state-of-the-art operating room, refrigeration and cremation room, it is very manageable to accomplish these strict standards and practices. While this virus is new, it is but only one of many our embalmers, cremationists and funeral directors must work with.

“Our firm adheres to the government mandates and the ‘best practices’” outlined by our State and National Professional Associations. We strive to re-enforce the Health Departments protocol with respect to the interaction of people, good hygiene, additional sterilization of our facility, and providing protection for visitors,” they said.

“With respect to formal services and visitations, we have not been asked to delay any. First, realize that the family needs support, closure and an opportunity to honor the life of someone dear to them. It is difficult to put this process on hold. Often, family members have already gathered in the finals days of one’s life and choose to continue with the honoring while they are present. This enables them to travel back to their homes in a much better state of mind. What has been noticed is the numbers of visitors and attendees is lower. With all the common sense education the public received during this time, potential visitors that wish to be self quarantined, or possess health issues are avoiding these special gatherings. The people that do attend are now well aware of safe practices and they practice them. The size and layout of our facility lends itself to enabling guests to adhere to their precautions. For many years, we have had the ability to record a service onto a DVD for the family to distribute as they see fit. Placing the visual and audio gatherings on social media is a double edged sword. Even among family members there is rarely a consistent opinion as to the correct direction. Once it is out there, it does not go away. Again, some members of a family wish to transmit photos, videos, audio for the public consumption others do not. We have witnessed people recording and not realizing the extra people in the back ground or their comments. These are tender moments in people’s lives. The jury of public opinion has not rendered a consensus decision as to what is acceptable, but clearly each member of the public has an opinion.”

The three directors said funeral homes have the privilege of two goals, properly and respectfully caring for the deceased body and caring for the needs of its family that finds itself in a rare but quite sensitive and personal experience.

“The family should be permitted, within reason, to have their health needs be met and cared for as well. So far, we have been successful in balancing the needs and safety of all involved. With very fluid changes to this new virus and the reaction, we and the funeral profession are poised and ready to continue our mission with respect and dignity to all involved,” they said.

“In summary, we are devoting more time with the families we serve to provide them with their options and the pros and cons with each decision. There is no common recommendation for any family, each come with their own dynamics, needs, wants and opinions and ultimately choose how their matters should be handled. Even a pandemic can not control the fragile and personal emotional, spiritual, and love family member’s experience. Funeral homes will continue their missions to the degree to which families require of us and society expects of us.

“While this is a lengthy response, we felt it necessary to offer a perspective of the surviving loved ones. Additionally, rarely does a community really understand the value of funeral home staff 24/7,” Yannucci, Zimmerman and Pierce said.

One area funeral home director responded to the request for comments but asked to remain anonymous.

“Funeral directors are obviously concerned, as all business owners are, regarding the safety of the families we serve, the associates we work with, and for our own families. At the present time (rules are changing fast) funeral services are exempt from some guidelines and orders as you can see on the attached Ohio Department of Health document,” said one funeral home director. “However, consensus is rapidly building among funeral professionals that we’ll benefit families and ourselves best if we stringently follow the rules and guidelines as close as possible. The public will not be surprised that were interested in protecting their safety, even if it is temporarily going to disrupt some long-standing traditions.

“How will this look? All services of any kind will likely be private and even still, in adherence to social distancing recommendations. Graveside services will likely be common with perhaps a limited opportunity for families to view the remains at the funeral home. Many families may desire a larger scale memorial service at a later date when the pressing dangers have passed. We’ll continue to keep our facilities as clean and sanitary as possible. Our work, in the morgue and while making removals, can be safe with proper use of personal protective equipment. When the full force of the COVID-19 virus is affecting our geographic region, we can expect even more stringent guidelines and absolutely restricted funeral home practices. Modern technology such as email, conference calls, skyping and such may be increasingly utilized to minimize or eliminate the need for persons to enter the funeral home building for necessary planning,” the funeral home director said.

By Melanie Speicher

Reach the writer at 927-538-4822.

Reach the writer at 927-538-4822.