Families coping with loss of loved ones now have to adapt to virtual funerals

Updated: Mar. 24, 2020 at 4:43 PM EDT
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - As families and community members come to terms with their rapidly changing ‘new normal’ some aspects of being human, such as death go unchanged.

But the way families and friends now have to grieve the loss of loved ones has changed drastically.

With gathering limits and social distancing rules, paying tribute in unity, embracing one another, and the simple act of togetherness to offer comfort are temporarily impossible.

Funeral homes across the nation and in southeastern North Carolina have made drastic changes.

At the Davis Funeral home in Wilmington, they offer both traditional and graveside funeral services.

However the traditional services may have a different feel to them.

By order of the governor, they must keep funeral services at a capacity of 100 people. Effective Wednesday, that number will decrease to 50 people.

They are keeping people six feet apart to adhere to social distancing, have discontinued limo services, and have to cap the number of those able to enter a viewing.

But by far the largest change comes by way of technology. Like many things, funeral services have moved online.

“It’s a very sad situation because not only are they traumatized by the loss of a family member but now they’re having to contend with the fact that they can’t have ceremonies that they’re accustomed to having. It’s really heart-wrenching even for the funeral director because you’re trying to help the family but unfortunately, there’s nothing you can do,” said Javoke Terrell, licensed funeral director and owner of the Davis Funeral Home.

Brian Dolan will virtually attend a longtime friend’s funeral service Tuesday.

“I would love to be there. It’s not ideal, but it’s something,” he said.

Dolan was invited to be a part of the small group allowed to attend in person, but due to childcare restrictions cannot attend in person.

“I was invited but there’s also the childcare aspect. I can’t go because my kid’s school is closed and things like that so at least there’s something we can do during this time right now where we really can’t do much else,” he said.

Instead, Dolan will watch the service via Facebook Live. A link has been shared with family members and friends who will not be able to attend in person.

“It’s kind of mixed emotions, on the one hand, it’s a shame, it’s not the ideal situation to tribute your friend but on the other hand with everything that’s going on today you’ve got to be safe and it’s awesome that funeral homes are doing this as a way to still be able to pay tribute to your lost loved ones and friends,” Dolan said.

He says a memorial service will be planned once life goes back to normal, which seems to be the new norm for many funeral service providers.

“We have some families that have considered having graveside services and then moving forward with a memorial service at a later date and I really feel like as time progresses and if the government continues to minimize and lower the number of participants available to attend a service I think that is going to become the norm until this passes,” Terell said.

Even for someone like Terrell, who is no stranger to dealing with death, these changes have been difficult.

“I entered the profession because it was a noble one that helped families during a very difficult time and the satisfaction that families would ofter receive from the care we as funeral service professionals provide," he said.

Terrell says dealing with these changes is difficult professionally, and personally.

“Unfortunately, just recently I served a gentleman’s family that I was very very close to. The fact that we could not honor him in the way that we knew would be fitting for him and all the great things he had done in his county and in his community, personally, that was heart-wrenching for me,” he said

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