Restrictions on funerals have put added stress on both families and the funeral homes which are trying to create the best environment to allow people to properly grieve their loved ones. CNS photo/Gregory A. Shemitz

Funeral homes adapt to grief in lockdown

By 
  • June 28, 2020

Bruce Cooke understands the difficulties families face in dealing with a loved one’s death at any time, let alone when health protocols limiting funerals to a maximum of 10 people.

With 30 years in the funeral home business, he knows families need the support of others, yet in the midst of a pandemic that is almost impossible.

“Not to be able to have that support, which is just as simple as a hug, that can be pretty difficult,” said Cooke, market manager for Dignity Memorial of Greater Toronto, which operates several funeral homes in the region.

So Cooke knew it would take “a lot of quick thinking and a lot of resources put together” to deal with this new reality. And he’s seen the results. Funeral directors have found new ways to help families connect with people to celebrate a life lived.

Technology has been at the forefront. Funeral services have been streamed online to allow friends unable to attend the ceremony to share nonetheless.

“You’re always finding solutions, that’s what you have to do when you have something in front of you, a hurdle or an issue,” he said. “You work toward finding solutions that are going to be good for everyone.”

Known for their calm demeanour, compassion and patience, these traits common to funeral directors have only been amplified.

“When you get those added stresses, I think for the most part we’ve been able to roll with most of it and be able to be compassionate to those we are serving and find some areas where we can exceed families’ expectations and do as much as we possibly can for those who are at the worst time of their life,” he said.

Cooke didn’t wish to speak to any personal experiences in dealing with people who have lost a loved one in a time of pandemic, other than to say he’s seen how difficult it can be when people are denied an opportunity to grieve with others. But he’s also heard from those who have appreciated efforts to help share the process, the live-streamed services in particular. People out of country who would normally have come to Toronto for a funeral have expressed gratitude at being able to take part in some manner.

“We’ve had people reach out to us and say, for what we’re going through to be able to say goodbye to someone and have that opportunity through that live-stream was fantastic,” he said.

At the best of times, funeral homes are prepared to keep people safe, internally and externally. You deal in death, you stay in tune with viruses at all times. But a pandemic is another thing all together, and what the world is going through has not been seen — at least in the Western world — since the Spanish flu pandemic a century ago.

Though Cooke has been modest in what he and his colleagues have accomplished in difficult times, he admits it has been a struggle. But he’s pleased with how his team has responded.

“Just to see the creative, fantastic ways of being able to offer service to people, it’s just a very rewarding experience to see how people come together and find those solutions.”

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