CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - The coronavirus pandemic is changing how funeral homes are helping grieving families say goodbye to loved ones.
The staff at McAlister-Smith Funeral Home says they realize the death of a loved one can happen any time of year. Funeral home staff members are essential parts of the work force as they handle the work after crisis happen. whether there is a pandemic going on or not.
"Often times funeral professionals are kind of that lost profession that comes on the scene. When our first responders, our police, and our firemen are rushing to a crime scene or a place where there's an incident occurring and others are running away, that funeral professional is the same person who is often times running or walking into that crime scene to kind of pick up the aftermath and help grieving family members deal with the loss and death of a loved one," Mark Smith, President/CEO of McAlister-Smith Funeral Homes said.
Smith added that their services cannot shut down because there is a pandemic.
They are still providing cremation and embalming. They want everyone to be given the proper burials and families to get the proper closure they need, even during a time of social distancing.
They are also still holding services, but they have to stay small.
Many funeral homes, like McAlister Smith, are following CDC guidelines which state that groups of 10 or more cannot gather.
They are also screening anyone who comes into the building to see if they are experiencing symptoms of COVID-19.
J. Henry Stuhr Funeral Home says they have seen normal rates of business. They are still doing all cremation and embalming services, but are only hosting outdoor, graveside services, with 10 or less family members.
Some funeral homes, like McAlister Smith, offer online video services as well.
They send a private, email invitation link to desired family and close friends. McAlister-Smith says they have used this service before for family members in the military or who may not be well enough to travel.
The staff says they have now seen an increase in families using this service in the past few days.
They're also offering private viewing rooms at the funeral home where family members can watch a service or even say goodbye to a loved one in an intimate and small space. This also helps break up the crowd at the funeral home.
"It's so important that we're always reminded that part of the role of the funeral profession is to certainly take care of the dead and get them where they need to get to in a professional and safe manner, but also make sure that the living get to where they need to get to in a safe and professional manner, while taking care of and recognizing all of their grieving needs during that time," Smith said.
Smith says he has heard of some small funeral businesses in rural areas having to close down, but many understand the importance of their services during this time. They know life still happens and their services are needed.
Both J. Henry Stuhr and McAlister-Smith Funeral Homes, and others like them, are still processing bodies as usual. They say their staff is experienced in wearing masks, gloves, and gowns when doing so.
They are trained in using personal protection equipment in the transfer and removal of the deceased. They always take precaution in this process because they don’t always know what airborne or blood-borne illness someone could have had.
J. Henry Stuhr and McAlister-Smith Funeral Homes are open 24/7, 365 days a year.
Both plan to stay open.