CRIDERSVILLE — Even the grieving process had to change once coronavirus reached the region.
“We see definitely lower numbers as far as people at visitations and for a funeral, which is sad for the folks who lost someone,” said Valery Bayliff Fultz, a funeral director for Bayliff & Son Funeral Home in Cridersville. “That’s just part of the grieving process: The condolences, the sharing stories, the hugs, the food together afterward.”
It was particularly difficult for families who had different experiences for each of their parents, perhaps a father dying before the virus hit and the mother afterward, said Carl Weber, of Weber Funeral Home in Delphos. His facility handles many large Catholic families.
“I know one family in particular had buried the father a couple years ago, a large Catholic family here in Delphos with seven or eight children who had all settled back here in Delphos,” Weber said. “It was a tremendous visitation, with people lined out the door. When Mom died at the beginning of the pandemic … they were craving the opportunity for people to come in, visit and say, ‘We knew your mother.’”
That change to private services did help some families cope with the loss of a loved one, said Jon Kinn, a funeral director at Chiles-Laman Funeral & Cremation Services in Bluffton.
“It’s much more intimate when it’s a visitation with the family only,” he said. “They’re a little more relaxed. There’s a little more laughter and old stories. It can be an easier service than the more regimented, serious traditions some people expect. When there are more people around, some people think, ‘I can’t show that I can laugh here.’ I would say that’s the silver lining.”
Over time, the number of people allowed at services grew. Once some area churches reopened after Easter 2020, many funeral homes saw bigger crowds inside the churches, where there was more room to socially distance.
In many ways, the funeral industry was affected the same ways as other businesses. There was an increased emphasis on cleaning high-touch areas and disinfecting areas between viewings. People spread farther apart, and signs went up reminding people about safety precautions.
Bayliff in Cridersville benefited from adding video streaming of services back in 2017. Other funeral homes noted churches adding livestreaming of services helped people grieve without putting themselves in harm’s way.
Things aren’t much different for the people preparing the bodies of the deceased, as there were already many safety precautions in place long before the virus took over daily lives.
John Love, of Love-Heitmeyer Funeral Home in Ottawa, said breaking the customs of large gatherings in Putnam County provided the biggest challenges. His facility did try to limit his staff’s contact by splitting the staff in half, but eventually the workload became too much. They saw their workload change from an average of 20 funerals a month up to 40 a month.
“I am a bit concerned whether or not once people get used to doing things like we’re doing now, if in the future we’ll go back to the old way,” he said, expressing faith that the vaccines for the virus could return things to pre-pandemic normals. “The way we’re limiting our visitations and what our services can offer, I hope that doesn’t hold true in two years, or even in two months.”
It’s more important than ever to listen to the needs of families while they’re grieving, said John Bayliff, at the Cridersville funeral home. You have to respect what a family wants or needs.
“What’s meaningful and helpful to one family is of very little value to another family,” he said, noting his facility handled more services in 2020 than ever before. “This is when the art of good listening comes in.”
It’s been difficult helping families grieve, Weber admitted. He misses shaking hands or getting “bro hugs” from visitors, he said. Bumping fists or elbows isn’t quite the same in terms of expressing your sadness in a loved one’s passing.
“One of the things I miss most is seeing people’s faces and shaking their hands with people who’ve had a funeral before and are now having a second one,” he said. “… Some people just say, ‘Carl, get over here and give me a hug,’ and I’ll say, ‘Fine, I’ll take it.’”