Hendricks County funeral homes adapt to celebrating life among restrictions
By Stephanie Dolan
In life, there is nothing tougher than dealing with the death of a loved one.
Restrictions surrounding social distancing, limited numbers of people gathered and not touching have made this unavoidable experience has made grieving more difficult for those who have lost loved ones during this strange and seemingly interminable time of limits.
“The biggest change I would say is due to the restrictions as to the size of gatherings,” said David Toler, funeral director at Conkle Funeral Home in Avon, noting the limit started with 10 or fewer people and was recently increased to 25 in Hendricks County.
“The biggest change has been where families are not able to receive friends the way they used to and the way we’d like them to be able to. Consequently, most of the services that we’ve had have been private services for the immediate family. Hopefully that will be lifted so that we can get back to normal.”
The frustration was much the same at Matthews Mortuary in Brownsburg where services were limited to immediate family and private burials.
“The main thing was when the state was shut down, we were very limited as to what we could do,” Steven Matthews said. “Some opted just to do immediate cremation. Some spoke of when things get back to normal, if that ever comes, they would do a larger service…Everything was very low key obviously.”
To allow more people to visit, Eric MD Bell Funeral Home and Cremation Services (formerly David A. Hall Mortuary) in Pittsboro instituted drive-thru visitations at cemeteries.
“That’s been the best way we can come up with to do in person services,” owner Eric Bell said. “We’ve also done live services on Facebook to work around things.”
Having already exercised precautions, working with restrictions has not caused many issues for funeral home employees when it’s come to the deceased themselves. Nursing homes and hospitals have one point of entry, and funeral home employees wear gowns and face masks, Bell said.
“We’re utilizing disinfectants topically to protect us from the oral and nasal cavities of the individual,” Bell said. “We’re also placing a cloth soaked in disinfectant over the face as we move them.”
Conkle Funeral Home procedures with masks and protective gear hasn’t changed much.
“Fortunately, most of the facilities have been good about notifying funeral homes about COVID positive cases, Toler said. “The funeral home handles each case the same, whether it’s a COVID positive case or not, just for our own protection.”
These universal precautions are also in place at Matthews Mortuary, and they proceed as if every person had infectious disease, Matthews said.
“What’s changed has been when we do the transfer of the bodies,” he said. “Either going to hospital, nursing home or residence, our procedure for removal has changed, and we’ve always used gloves, but now we also use masks and gowns. The virus is kind of a strange entity, but it’s typically an airborne thing. Once the person passes, covering the face and mouth and nose limits the dispersion of that.”
With his training, Bell feels safe.
“In the funeral profession we were taught at a very young age to absorb and utilize universal precautions,” he said. “We’re exposed to a number of contagious diseases when it comes to decedents. Whether a person has COVID or not, we’re treating every individual as if they do.”
As always when it comes to funeral care, even when it comes to working with those who passed from COVID-19, the work surrounding disinfecting and sanitizing still focuses mainly on the living.
“We have to do a more intensive sterilization and cleaning after the public comes in,” Matthews said. “That was a little difficult up front because of the availability of antibacterial and antiviral cleaning agents. We were using our last reserves of our own supply, but now that’s opened up a lot better, and we’ve been able to obtain products.”
Conkle Funeral Home placed sanitizer throughout the building and spaced chairs six feet apart, limiting gatherings to three to four people in the office at once.
“I’ve felt pretty safe in what we’ve done,” Toler said. “Even amongst our staff, none of us are that close throughout the course of the day. We’ve not had any issues so far in regards to the virus.”
All in all, Bell summed up what is the greatest challenge for all funeral directors. They work with the dead, but they first and foremost cater to the living.
“Of all things, what’s been the most difficult has been not being able to hug someone or at least give a handshake or console individuals,” he said. “Trying to do that from afar has been the real adjustment. I truly don’t think there’s anything that equals a hug. To take that away from my toolkit is really challenging.”