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Mourning in the Midst of COVID, Funeral Homes Adapt

Mourning in the Midst of COVID, Funeral Homes Adapt

(Mark H. Stowers, Feb. 21, 2021)

Royal Oak, Clawson, Madison Heights, MI – The pandemic has touched nearly every aspect of life, including the way we deal with death.

Funeral homes have continued to operate, but under the strict guidelines set by the state which include limiting the number of attendees permitted.

This has been hard on families but Oakland County funeral homes have been working within the restrictions and protocols to continue helping families to properly mourn the loss of a loved one. Sullivan and Sons Funeral Home in Royal Oak, Gramer Funeral Home in Clawson and Shelby Township and Hopcroft Funeral Home in Madison Heights are all working to find ways to help their clients grieve.

Each one has been strict with social distancing, wearing masks and sanitizing their buildings, as well as following other COVID protocols. At Gramer the staff has been following state restrictions of 25 people for a funeral and asking everyone to adhere to normal COVID protocols. In warmer weather more mourners have been able to be outside and filter though the visitation. Online streaming has also been more of a resource for loved ones further away not willing to risk traveling.

The staff at Hopcroft have been asking families to navigate the 25-person rule and pick and choose who comes in and such. Director Sue Guarnieri has been keeping plenty of masks and hand sanitizer on hand and has created more space for social distancing.

“We have opened up both of our chapels, we never close them. You have room for at least 200 people so they can space out quite well,” she said. “The one thing we have asked of families is to cut back on food. We can’t increase the size of our lounge. There’s no way to social distance. Families have been very cooperative and are bringing in only food for the main family. Friends and visitors are asked to not go back there and eat.”

Guarnieri also livestreams services to increase attendance outside of the chapel and for those who wish to remain at home.

“We only allow one family in at one time,” she said.

They have had to turn away business due to the 25-person limit.

“The governor has not put us at a percentage. It’s only 25 people but my two chapels together could seat 200 people but we keep them completely open to social distance,” she said. “During the summer we could have 40 people.”

Fourth generation co-owner at Sullivan and Sons Funeral Home in Royal Oak, Mike Lope, notes their particular business has been around for 115 years. That means they worked through and survived the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic.

“This has been one of the hardest years for operations. It’s been a crazy year for everybody. We’ve made our adjustments and families have been very understanding and working to make the best of every situation,” Lope said. “There was a stretch when we were limited to 10 people. It’s every day, ‘check the radar and see what’s going on.’”

He noted the “biggest adjustment is explaining the limitations based on what the state is telling us. In 2019, the conversation was how are we going to take care of our mom and sit down and make the arrangements. Now, it’s what can I do? What can I not do? Am I able to see my mom? There’s a lot of curiosity about what they can and cannot do. It’s gone from focusing on the individual and celebrating their life, to what can we do?”

For those uncomfortable coming in to make arrangements, Lope has worked Zoom, email and the telephone to get things done.

And he explained that many families have gone to private services instead of public due to the restrictions. Lope and his staff did turn their parking lot into a tail gate area for mourners this past summer.

“We would pop a tent for them and they would have food and maybe music and the opportunity to have a good time while celebrating the person’s life,” Lope said. “We’ve also had services in parks and even at golf courses.”

He did note that a church can have 50 percent capacity for a funeral service, and he has helped conduct many of those as well.

“We’ve offered our streaming services at no cost and for anyone who would like to have a bigger memorial service down the road, we’re not charging them for that,” he said. “There have been a large number of people who have chosen to wait for a later date for a memorial.”

Lope did explain that no matter the protocols and restrictions, “our goal is to help people and to help them celebrate a life and help them through the process of grieving. We feel strongly that a funeral service is part of that.”

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