Virtual services on the rise as families plan funerals during the pandemic

Coronavirus New Mexico

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – With social distancing in place and limits on out-of-state travel, some funeral homes are turning to virtual services for lost loved ones. For French Funerals and Cremations, virtual services started as a way to connect people all over the country and world who may not be able to travel.

“We just installed that capability a few months before we were faced with this challenge in an effort to connect people from all over the country and all over the world that might not be able to travel to be present for a funeral or a celebration of life,” said Jonathan Dyck, general manager of French Funerals and Cremations. “We had no idea it was going to be used in this way but it’s been increasingly a part of how we serve families.”

As New Mexico continues placing limits on group gatherings, funeral homes across the state are now offering those livestreamed services. They say it’s an option for grieving families to still come together.

“This allowed more people to be present, albeit virtually, as we remember these people,” said Dyck. “I would say the majority of the services and celebrations that we perform are being simulcast through our web stream.”

Riverside Funeral Homes are also seeing a demand for livestream services. So much so, they say, they’re on a waiting list to have the technology installed.

“There’s such a long line of people wanting to do that stuff,” said Charles Finegan, funeral director and owner of Riverside Funeral Homes. “Now, we’re still kind of in the queue to get it.”

On the other end, some providers like Daniels Family Funerals and Cremation say many clients are opting out of virtual and going for traditional ceremonies. Some of the modifications made so far include bringing in groups of five at a time, holding outdoor rosaries and even broadcasting services via car radios.

“Even though we offered nontraditional means like webcasting and so forth, most people were very traditional and they wanted to come,” said Mike Watkins, the vice president of operations for Daniels Family Funerals and Cremation. “We purchased some FM transmitters so the minister can wear a microphone and we can tell the people to sit in their cars and what radio station to turn it to.”

Local funeral professionals hope families are able to embrace these changes. They say patience is the biggest need during the pandemic.

“This doesn’t limit their ability to honor their loved one’s life,” said Watkins. “It’s not only to honor a person who has died, but it’s to provide support to the family.”

“We’ve got hurdles, but a little patience and we’ll get through them,” said Finegan. “The pandemic has definitely opened the door to just a completely new way that everybody’s going to be doing business.”

While a lack of connection can be difficult for the grieving process, local providers say they’ll help families bridge that gap. French Funerals says they’ve had people submit favorite memories to be read during services.

“It’s far from ideal in many standpoints. The grief and healing which is really an important part of holding a funeral or memorial, is the embrace of people that you love, the handshakes, the connections,” said Dyck. “What we’ve tried to do is really think outside the box and connect people beyond just watching on the screen, provide some memories to be read or thoughts to be shared from Aunt Martha watching at home in Ohio.”

Funeral and celebrations of life providers in the Albuquerque metro are encouraging anyone who’s facing the loss of a loved one to reach out to their funeral professional on options to connect friends and family and to not give up. The CDC has also placed a guideline online for anyone dealing with grief and where to start with planning a service during the pandemic.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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