No one in the room shook hands or hugged, which is typical during these kinds of ceremonies. There were 23 family members in the room, some wearing masks, which is just under the limit set for gatherings.
At a Thursday funeral service for an Army veteran at Burns Funeral Home in Hobart, the priest added phrases like “all of you here and at home" to his sermon, also offering “condolences to everyone here presently and virtually.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic has shifted everyday life for people around the world, it has also altered funeral services. During the pandemic, fewer people can attend funeral services, live streaming has become an option and signs of condolence — a kiss, a hug, or a hand shake — are discouraged, according to area funeral directors.
Funeral arrangements have shifted to mostly emails and phone calls, and any in-person meetings required masks and gloves, said Jim Burns, president of Burns Funeral Home & Crematory. In some cases, contracts have been signed with families driving by and signing from their cars, he said.
When the pandemic first began, Burns said, the funeral home started advising people to express condolences with an elbow bump.
But, when the state’s stay-at-home order limited gatherings to 10 people, Burns said the funeral directors had to limit the number of people attending a ceremony. They also had to remove chairs and couches, and distance the chairs that remained, he said.
In some cases, Burns recalled, he would ask the secretary to step outside so that a family member can enter. When gatherings were limited to 10 people, Burns said families had to decide who can come in and funeral directors had to monitor how many people were in the room.
“It’s just really uncomfortable telling families you can’t go in to see your grandfather or your dad you have to wait outside because we have 10 (people) in here,” said Patrick Burns, an owner of the funeral home.
On Thursday, a camera was set up in the back of the room faced on the priest. Two people at Thursday’s funeral got up to get tissues and blocked the camera momentarily, then skipped away when the realized where they were standing.
Limiting the amount of people has been “very stressful on families and, at time, on us to enforce the rules,” said Carmelita Perry, a funeral director with Guy & Allen Funeral Directors.
“People were angry because they couldn’t grieve their family member like they would normally do," Perry said. “People are moving forward with services with some level of sorrow because they can’t have their whole family here.”
Perry said her and the other directors have ensured there is hand sanitizer for guests, surfaces are disinfected and that the chapel — which holds 200 people — only has seating available for the amount of people allowed to gather under state regulations.
“We’re controlling our building ourselves. I’m not leaving that up to people,” Perry said. “I can’t control what you do when you leave, but I can ask you to social distance when you come here.”
As that state opened gatherings to 25 people, it has been easier on families and funeral directors to let more people attend ceremonies, said Jim Burns. The funeral home still encourages face masks and social distancing, as the state recommends, he said.
With more people allowed to attend funerals, the Indiana Patriot Guard Riders, who honor veterans during funeral services, have been able to attend ceremonies again, Jim Burns said.
On Thursday, eight members of the Indiana Patriot Guard Riders attended the funeral, each wearing a mask. They each took a turn to salute the American Flag and the casket.
Limiting funerals has impacted the grieving process, Patrick Burns said, because people have not been able to gather and remember their loved ones together. For the most part, people haven’t been able to shake hands or hug during services, Jim Burns said, and they’ve had to mourn from afar by sending flowers or connecting virtually.
When the pandemic ends, Jim Burns said he hopes people realize funerals and expressing grief should not be taken for granted.
“When you’re denied the ability to do that, you realize how much you miss it and how necessary it is for a family as well as for friends,” Jim Burns said.