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Funeral homes adjust during COVID-19

"We're comforting with our eyes."
Cochrane Country Funeral Home. Photo provided by Flo Simpson.

COVID-19 continues to impact the economy, everyday life and families.

On March 17, new public health measures were implemented to limit mass gatherings to no more than 50 people. This has had an effect on several events such as birthdays, weddings and funerals.

The challenge to bear with the loss of a loved one is already difficult enough, let alone the coronavirus influencing the way families are working through this troubling time. 

Florence (Flo) Simpson, funeral director/manager with Cochrane Country Funeral Home explains that while funeral homes continue to remain open, diligence is being taken. They are abiding to safety standards set forth by Health Canada which has meant adjusting their protocols like many other businesses have had to do.

"We have to be careful in making sure that we are sanitizing everything before and after anybody comes in the building," said Simpson. "Every time I expose myself to a family, I potentially expose myself to another family and I have to be mindful of that."

Due to COVID-19 many families are being faced with the sad and unforeseeable reality of not being able to properly say goodbye to a loved one the way they've always imagined. This has resulted in services being postponed until further notice which has made conversations with families very difficult.

Things like social distancing have also become a barricade during this downcast time as family members are being told to stand apart instead of consoling one another. 

"We have to come together by standing apart. It's been the hardest thing ever, not to hug somebody or shake their hand or try to comfort them," said Simpson.

"We're comforting with our eyes, if we can, and because this is not usually a time where people separate, this is a time where people come together, it's been hard."

Simpson says that as long as cemeteries remain open and families mind the social distancing aspect, interment and inurnment services are still possible. She also suggests things like obituaries both online and in newspapers to help families express grief and loss.

"We are just doing this one family at a time, and one situation at a time," said Simpson.

Kathy Geals had to say goodbye to her father on March 7, just before COVID-19 took Alberta by storm. She mentions her plans to hold the reception at the Cochrane RancheHouse were soon put on hold with the town making the decision to close all town operated establishments as of March.16 - the same day her father's service was set to take place.

"We started the process before everything really escalated and then as we were going through, it all hit before we could have the funeral," explains Kathy Geals. "It was a shock but expected.

The family decided to continue with certain elements of the funeral but put off the reception until a later date. Geals says the RancheHouse will remain the venue in the future as the family felt it was "dad."

"It's OK to postpone, there will be a time where we can actually be together and hug each other. This doesn't take away from honouring your loved one later," explained Simpson.

Cochrane Country Funeral Home normally holds up to 40 people. With the new recommendations in place, it has moved to an "Invitational Family Service" which accommodates a maximum of 15 people, all at a distance.

"Certainly viewing and spending time with your loved one when they pass is still able to happen, and that hasn't changed to how we've done it all along here," said Simpson.

At this time the funeral home is not equipped with a streaming service but it is something Simpson says is being considered. She says the service can be taped with a cell phone or any other device the family may have which can then be shared with those who are not able to attend under the current circumstances.

During these trying times funeral arrangements can be done over the phone, by email or FaceTime. If that is not a possibility for someone Simpson says they can still come in and do it but there is a limit of only two people.

"We are available by phone 24/7. We are just working out a new normal, if you will, and how that looks. We are trying to accommodate all the different needs and we care about the community and the people and the families and we're thinking of everybody and ourselves," said Simpson.

Throughout the whole experience, Geals credits the exceptional service provided by Cochrane Country Funeral Home. 

"Flo has done a wonderful job. She worked really closely with us, kept us in the loop, and was really, truly compassionate about the entire situation."   


About the Author: Chrissy Da Silva

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