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Empty seats during funerals

Funeral home directors facing new CDC guidelines

Photo by Karin Elton The Rehkamp-Horvath funeral home chapel is seeing a lot of empty seats these days with the public being told to stay home.

MARSHALL — The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has touched all aspects of life — even the end of life.

Area funeral directors have had to adjust the way they take care of bereaved families during an already stressful time.

“For funeral services, we are looking at the Center for Disease Control, Minnesota Department of Health. We have professional associations like the National Funeral Directors Association and Minnesota Funeral Directors Association that are also working closely with those organizations to provide us direction as it relates to gatherings,” said Quinn Horvath, the owner and funeral director from Rehkamp Horvath Funeral Directors in Marshall and Minneota and Horvath Funeral Service in Tracy and Balaton.

Horvath said some guidelines say keep gatherings to 50 or fewer people and some say 10 or fewer can congregate.

“The difficulty is all of these directions are contrary to our calling of creating personalized, public services for families in order to help them with their grief journeys,” Horvath said. “You’re dealing with the grief associated with a death in the family and then you cannot provide the customary social function of a funeral service. It makes it hard.”

But safety has to be first whether it’s a gathering of under 50 or under 10.

“Maintaining a safe environment for our families is our primary concern right now,” Horvath said. ‘I’m leaning toward the more conservative number. However, if a family comes in and they all live together in the same house, they could still come in. But we still recommend maintaining 6 feet or less of social distancing when more than one group of people come in.”

Horvath said an example of a current service is a “private graveside service for them and then a Mass of Christian Burial when it’s safe to do.”

Horvath is posting updates on funeral services during a pandemic on the Rehkamp Horvath Funeral Home Facebook page.

“It’s not the perfect solution, so you just go with the best solution given the circumstances,” Horvath said.

The Hamilton Funeral Home in Marshall is likewise impacted.

“We’re mirroring the Center for Disease Control guidelines,” said David Sprik, the owner and funeral director for Hamilton Funeral Home. “I think that’s the safest route to go. Just trying to keep everyone’s health in mind.”

Right now, bereaved families are having private, invitation-only services and if they want a public service at a later date, they can do that at no additional cost, Sprik said.

He said a recent funeral had about 40 people and they practiced social distancing.

“The people that came sat in the pews all spread out and we had a lunch downstairs and they didn’t sit right next to each other,” Sprik said. “It didn’t have the same look or feel, but that’s going to be the theme for awhile.”

Families have been accommodating to the new rules.

“They’ve been understanding,” Sprik said.

Sprik said people can still have open casket services.

“There are no limitations on that,” he said. “Even if the person dies from COVID-19. There wouldn’t be a public risk.”

Sprik said he is taking extra precautions when it comes to preparing the body at this time when it is unknown whether the novel coronavirus is present.

“We have to be super diligent,” he said. “We follow what is called ‘universal precautions’ anyway. You treat every case like its highly contagious. We gown up as prescribed by OSHA (Occupational Safety and Health Administration) regulations and I wear a full respirator when I do the embalming anyway.”

In addition to having delayed or smaller services, Sprik is also willing to web cast the service, recording it and posting it to a person’s page on the Hamilton website or having a live broadcast.

“Try to give them all the options possible in the current environment,” Sprik said. “We want to provide the same healing, the same closure aspects as we did before in whatever way we can.”.

People wanting more information can go to hamiltonfh.com and scroll to the bottom to the COVID-19 box and also there will be updates on the Hamilton Funeral Home Facebook page.

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