Earlier this year, I wrote about three things I wish everyone knew about funeral professionals. Shortly afterward, the coronavirus pandemic arrived in the United States, disrupting nearly every aspect of everyday life – including funeral service. Watching dedicated funeral professionals respond to this crisis with creativity and compassion has inspired me to write a follow-up piece celebrating the hard work they continue to do to support families in their communities.
In my experience, most funeral professionals are, by nature, private and humble individuals. They are careful to never overshadow a funeral or memorial service. After all, a funeral is designed to honor the deceased and bring support and healing to the bereaved. But, as a psychologist who works with funeral professionals across the country, I feel compelled to share what I wish the public knew about funeral service during the pandemic.
1. This is breaking funeral professionals’ hearts.
Unfortunately, I have discovered the fastest way to break a funeral director’s heart and crush their spirit is to tell them they cannot provide funeral services, visitations, wakes and other events with many people present. Funeral professionals have seen firsthand the power of sharing hugs, telling stories, singing timeless songs and gathering together. Healing begins when caring people pull together. Funeral professionals know that health and safety must be a priority, but it’s heartbreaking for them to be unable to provide grieving families with the shared environment and healing rituals that make up funeral service.
2. They face risks as part of their work.
Every person who dies with the coronavirus in their body is handled by a funeral professional. This may include moving the deceased individual from their home, from a retirement or skilled-care facility or from a hospital. Even if the deceased individual was not diagnosed with the disease, funeral professionals still must practice precautionary measures. Like medical professionals, funeral professionals are also at risk of infection and are concerned about passing the virus along to their coworkers and loved ones.
3. Funeral professionals are trained for this – but they need protective equipment, too.
Licensed funeral directors complete coursework and practical training in human anatomy and infectious disease. They’re prepared to handle deceased individuals who have died from a wide range of causes. However, this training and expertise is only useful when combined with appropriate protective gear, and funeral professionals need access to this equipment to keep themselves safe. Like many healthcare workers, funeral professionals struggle to get access to the personal protective equipment they need to keep themselves and others safe.
4. They’re navigating changes to their businesses.
In addition to the other concerns that funeral professionals face, they are also adapting to significant changes in how they manage and operate their businesses. When gatherings are limited in size (or not allowed at all) in some areas, funeral professionals are not able to provide the same range of services that families normally request. This means they’ve had to react quickly to provide alternative ways for families to honor their loved ones while also handling the hard work of operating a business during this time.
5. Funeral professionals aren’t stopping.
Funeral professionals feel called to help their communities by caring for the deceased and the bereaved. A virus isn’t going to stop them. They may need to adjust their practices for a while and funerals may look different. But they will continue to serve their communities as they have for generations. For them, this is very personal business.
I don’t claim to speak for every funeral professional. I can only pass along what I have heard from many funeral professionals around the country. It’s important to me to see that they are acknowledged along with other essential workers, and this is one way I could share my deep respect and appreciation for the vital work they do.
What about you? How have you seen others in the funeral profession creatively serve families during this crisis? Leave your thoughts in the comments below.
Dr. Jason Troyer is a psychology professor, former counselor, grief researcher and consultant for businesses that want to better serve grieving families. He has written numerous aftercare materials, including the Finding Hope booklet series, and is a frequent presenter at funeral service professional events.