Funerals during an outbreak: How faith leaders, funeral homes are changing services

(WBNS)
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Many of us know the pain of losing a loved one, and the healing power of celebrating their life.

But how do you hold a funeral service, when coming together is hazardous to your health?

The Schoedinger family has been in the funeral business since 1855.

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"I tell you, our job is a gift," said Michael Schoedinger. "It's an opportunity for us to help people on the worst day of their life, and create healing experiences for them."

But he says that job has rarely been more difficult.

"It's really frustrating. Because most of us are empathetic, feeling type people. And I've conducted four funerals in the last week of friends of mine, and all I want to do is give them a hug, and I can't."

Though funerals are exempt from the state's stay-at-home order, Schoedinger takes seriously the risk posed by large gatherings.

That's why their chapel has chairs 6 feet apart, with a 10-guest maximum.

"Instead of having a 2 to 4 and 6 to 8 calling hours like we're used to having, those days are over. And we're just having a family gathering either at our building or at the cemetery. The biggest thing a funeral is for is to allow the community to come and support the survivors. and we're just not able to do that."

Instead, they are offering free live-streaming of the service for mourners who can't physically be there.

Rabbi Rick Kellner of Congregation Beth Tikvah also used technology in a funeral he officiated this week.

"We created an online memorial service, and online shiva service where people were able to gather, we said the traditional prayers. And one of the things that was really comforting, was I invited people to use the chat-box feature to post their memories of the person who passed away. His name was Steve."

Per Steve's wishes — they were also able to do bourbon toast — via videochat.

"We are trying to create new ways of supporting our loved ones and our members at this time," Kellner said. "We have to give each other strength, especially in times that we are facing moments that are so unknown, that we've never encountered before. We stand up for each other."

To help make up for attendance limits during this crisis, Schoedinger is offering families a free memorial service for their loved one, to be held after the limits on gatherings are lifted.

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