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Funeral homes adjust to pandemic

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Many funeral homes throughout Indianapolis have had to drastically change the way services are held in the wake of COVID-19. From how many guests are allowed into the service, to how morticians prepare the body, both funeral home workers and families who have lost a loved one are adapting to a nontraditional way of saying goodbye.

Following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), many funeral homes, including Lavenia & Summers Home for Funerals and Bluitt and Son Funeral Home, are limiting the number that can attend a funeral service to 10 people. For services at Bluitt and Son, that number includes the funeral director and ministerial staff. Nathan Bluitt, the director of the funeral home, said families can still opt to have visitation services, but there is a limit on how many people can be in the chapel at once, and visitors and family members cannot shake hands or embrace one another. 

“The formal process as far as the visitation and the funeral, that has definitely changed,” Bluitt said. “… The service has been changed, but they are still hurting and mourning their loved ones, and they want to celebrate their life.”

Both Bluitt and Son and Lavenia & Summers have amped up their cleaning processes to keep mourners and their staff healthy.

Jan Smith, vice president and director of operations at Lavenia & Summers, said the chapel is disinfected several times a day and between services, and the funeral home has chairs instead of pews, making it easier for mourners to practice social distancing.

Funeral home workers are also changing the way they help families plan services.

“If someone passed away from COVID-19,” Smith said, “their family members were also likely exposed and in quarantine. We now can plan services over the phone and electronically to get things set up so we can practice distancing.”

Both funeral homes offer to livestream services on social media pages or the website for loved ones who can’t attend. While Smith said it isn’t ideal, it’s helping say goodbye to the deceased without putting others at risk.

“The one thing that’s missing for everyone is the physical touch, the hugs, the handshakes,” Smith said. “I think that aspect of things is definitely missing, and we’re seeing that in our daily lives. Families, though, have been very understanding and making the best of the situation to honor their loved ones.”

To protect funeral home workers from the spread of the virus, new guidelines and protocols have been put in place when handling bodies.

“We have to use a special disinfectant applied to the nasal and oral cavities and sprayed all over the remains,” Bluitt said. “Then, we have to wait 24 to 48 hours before we actually embalm to give the virus time to not be alive in the body. We’re very careful in that respect.”

Experts aren’t sure when the COVID-19 pandemic will end, and some believe it could be cyclical. Despite the uncertainty, funeral homes are working to ensure families can honor their loved ones without putting themselves and others at risk. 

“I wish I had a crystal ball,” Smith said regarding when things will get back to normal. “We just don’t know. We see the importance of distancing and people staying home. … So we’ll continue to comply until the CDC changes their guidelines.”

 Contact staff writer Breanna Cooper at 317-762-7848. Follow her on Twitter @BreannaNCooper.

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