When his funeral home conducted its first live-streamed service last week, Brad Speaks tapped in to see just how it worked.
What he saw moved and amazed him.
“I ended up with tears in my eyes,” said Speaks, the president and CEO of Speaks Chapels in Independence. “The Gospel message came across that medium loud and clear, the minister sharing a message of hope with the few people that were there in the room. He also knew there was a large crowd assembled electronically, and he spoke directly to us.”
Speaks had never live-streamed before because there was no demand for it. But as Eastern Jackson County and the rest of the world hunker down to combat the coronavirus pandemic, it’s become one of the tools funeral directors are using to adapt to social distancing and crowd restrictions.
Local authorities and the state of Missouri have banned gatherings of 10 or more, and that includes funerals. Many denominations, including the Catholic Church, aren’t holding funeral services. Funeral homes are limiting services to 10 or fewer people and eliminating evening visitations. Graveside services are still being held – for 10 or fewer. So are cremation memorial services.
“The order specifically says no funeral services, but we can have private family events in our chapel and live-screen that to the public,” Speaks said. “That’s a way of facilitating that community of people that want to support a family at their time of loss.”
Speaks will post recorded services on its YouTube channel and plans to put them on the funeral home’s website. The technology to do that has been around a long time, but they never saw the need.
“We explored it five or six years ago and asked clients if they would be interested,” Speaks said. “But there was zero need for it. But now all of sudden it’s that’s what we need to do.”
Meyers Funeral Chapel, which operates in Blue Springs and Parkville, has also scrapped funerals and visitations and is only holding graveside services. Marty Meyers, the principal partner/CEO, said they will let nine family members join an employee in the chapel for a viewing. Larger families have been saying their goodbyes in shifts.
“We let nine in and when they’re done we let the other nine in,” Meyers said. “That’s kind of how we’re handling it.”
Meyers has already had services for a COVID-19 victim and it handled the body just as it would any other. That’s because funeral homes already practice universal precautions that call for treating every body as if it possessed an infectious disease.
“In the AIDS crisis there were some funeral homes that wouldn’t take an AIDS case,” Speaks said. “But the vast majority said now wait a minute, that’s exactly why we’re here. We’re here to help the families deal with this loss and help them take their dead to the place of final rest. We’re not going to abdicate that responsibility because of the manner of their death.”
Because they take these precautions, funeral home workers also need personal protective equipment like masks and gloves. And just like hospitals, funeral homes are finding these supplies harder to find. Meyers said his home is down to three N95 masks and will soon have to go to paper ones.
“We’re having the same issue as first responders, as health-care workers as everybody else,” Meyers said. “Just because they’re deceased doesn’t mean (the disease) dies, it still affects us. We just have to be really careful as it comes to that as well.”
And if the coronavirus does bring a spike in deaths to the area, Meyers doesn’t expect funeral homes to be overwhelmed because they won’t be facing the crisis alone.
“Most funeral homes are very close-knit,” Meyers said. “We’re all going to stick together and help each other. Our profession as a whole is going to work together to help each other get through this and to help the families through this.”