Funeral homes live-stream services; limit gatherings

WELLINGTON COUNTY – In the wake of COVID-19 and physical distancing requirements, funeral homes are turning to technology to help families as they say good-bye to their loved ones.

Live-streaming funeral services is the next best thing to being there in person, and right now it’s the only way for large numbers to ‘attend’ a funeral.

“We don’t want more than 10 people,” said Kamal Bhardwaj, funeral director at Kitchener Funeral Home and Cremation. “We have to tell families that unfortunately, they can’t have 50 people at a service. And we know that not just emotionally, but culturally, too, that can be devastating.”

“It’s hard for our families because they don’t have that community of support the same,” agreed Ken Thompson, an owner and director of Heritage Funeral Homes, with homes in Drayton, Arthur, and Palmerston. “We’ve been adapting to serve our families as best we can. But restrictions on the number of people allowed at gatherings is hard.

“And all you want to do when there’s a death is hug someone in support, but right now you can’t do that either.”

But it’s worse to think of COVID-19 spreading at a funeral.

“It would be a disaster to have this disease run through an entire family,” Thompson said.

Thompson said his facilities are getting set up for virtual funeral services and Bhardwaj said they’ve already done a few at his.

Buck Ross, an owner at Kitchener Funeral Homes, said he’s heard from some residents of seniors’ homes who appreciate that they can still pay their respects even if they can’t physically attend a funeral. And this is not only because of COVID-19.

“Sometimes a seniors’ building is in lockdown and people can’t get out to go to a funeral,” Ross said. “So they are extremely glad to hear we can live-stream a service. It gives them great comfort.”

Some families have opted to hold small family services now and will hold larger, celebration of life events when it’s safe to do so again.

Funeral homes are licensed and regulated by the Bereavement Authority of Ontario and so far, direction has been to provide hand sanitizer and gloves to visitors, heightened cleaning protocols before and after services and meetings with families, and to limit in-house services to immediate family, said Bhardwaj.

At his facility, they put out 10 chairs and spread them two metres apart during services to emphasize the point.

There has been no messaging around what to do if there’s a surge in deaths as a result of COVID-19 however.

Not every funeral home has refrigeration or cremation facilities at their disposal and that could pose a problem down the road.

“Does the government have a contingency plan? Do they have disaster models?” asked Bhardwaj. “I’m not worried at the moment, but if the number of deaths starts spiking, I don’t know.”