By Mark Fleming

mark.fleming@baytownsun.com

The suspension of public gatherings has hit hard, from sports events to movies and concerts. One of the most emotional, though, is the necessary changes it has brought to funerals.

For many families, the funeral is not just a celebration of the life of the person who died — it is a visible show of support for those who remain — a chance for friends, neighbors and relatives to remind grieving people they are not alone.

With the coronavirus outbreak, the usual options of a large family gathering surrounded by friends is out of the picture, so both families and funeral service providers are having to find other ways to remember the deceased.

The biggest change for local funeral homes so far is that services have been limited to 10 attendees, and chairs are placed 6 feet apart to reduce the chance of infection, as per the guidelines set by the Centers for Disease Control.

When services are held, families are left to decide which few relatives should be allowed to attend.

“Facebook Live is one option,” according to Julie Wagner, location manager and funeral director for Navarre Funeral Home and Cremation Service in Baytown.

“During a live stream messages can be read that are sent to the family on our ‘Share a Memory’ option (under the obituary) at navarrefuneralhome.com. By doing this the immediate family can still feel the support and love from their friends and neighbors who would ordinarily attend the service,” she said.

Another option is to have a private family burial and host a public memorial service later when gatherings are possible — or simply to hold services later.

Visitation is still allowed she said, but only 10 people may be in the room at any given time, which means there is sometimes a wait. “We suggest that those wishing to attend a visitation call ahead to see how many people are currently attending the visitation,” Wagner said.

“We would like for them to know that they may be asked to wait until someone leaves before coming in to the visitation. Overall the general public has been understanding and cooperative. Those that have attended visitations have been thoughtful about the amount of time they spend so that they may allow for others to be able to pay their respects and share words of comfort with the family.

Things have changed somewhat even before the service, Wagner said, as families are encouraged to make arrangements online or by phone as much as possible. When in-person meetings are necessary, the funeral home is asking for no more than three people from the family to take part.

“This is a difficult time for funeral professionals,” she said. “We are in the business of comforting families, often with a hug. That’s a big change for us and it’s hard, but our top priority is serving the families in our community with care and compassion.”

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