As virus rages, funeral homes adjust to a new way of doing business

By J. DANIEL CLOUD,

How exactly do funerals happen when people aren’t supposed to gather together? People still need to mourn, but they can’t gather together to do so, given the current viral illness.

The biggest change, said one employee at Hattiesburg’s Hulett-Winstead Funeral Home, is that they will not be able to provide funerals inside the funeral home. Instead, they will be moving to graveside services.

Coleman Crigler, a funeral director at Moore Funeral Services on Hardy Street, said her business is “following all of the mandates that have been passed down.”

To that end, “we let eight family members in at a time,” to see the deceased, she said.

One group comes in. After they leave, another group can enter.

For a graveside service, the rules are relaxed a bit.

More than 10 people can attend a graveside service, but “we are encouraging not large crowds,” Crigler said.

While it may be difficult for people grieving a lost loved one to stay away – from either the funeral home or from the gravesite – the mandates in place are necessary, she said.

Like many other businesses – including churches, bars and other places where people typically gather – funeral homes are also being forced to go online.

“We’re working on setting up video-streaming options,” Crigler said. “There are a designated number of people who are allowed to attend. We didn’t set the mandates. We want people to know that we’re still here for them in this difficult time. Like everyone else, we have a new set of regulations to follow.”

Elizabeth Gillentine of Forrest Funeral Home, said, “You have families. You have older people who shouldn’t be exposed. But you also have grieving families who aren’t able to grieve properly” because they can’t attend a traditional visitation at a funeral home.

But it’s necessary, Gillentine said.

She’s a nurse and understands that people want and need to see their family members.

However, “executive order aside, you don’t want to be responsible for the infection of others,” she said.

Anyone who must attend a funeral in the foreseeable future should not expect the artificial grass or chairs for mourners. Tents may be present, but not guaranteed, Gillentine said.

For the moment, it is best that any graveside funeral services be limited to immediate family, with memorial services to be held later, she said.

“I hate it, but this has to be done. Please,” said Gillentine.