Delaware funeral homes, families dealing with coronavirus crisis

Faries Funeral Home owner/funeral director Robert Timblin inspects cleaning supplies early Thursday afternoon in Smyrna. (Delaware State News/Craig Anderson)

DOVER — Family and friends continue to pass away and that’s an unfortunate certainty.

Following best practices during the grieving and funeral process is a must during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

Area funeral homes recommend small, private services, limited handshakes and hugs during these tumultuous days.

That’s quite a lot to ask in “what’s an extremely emotional time,” Torbert Funeral Chapels Bill Torbert said last week.

For those who can’t make a select gathering, there’s opportunity to sign the guest book without entering the chapel area.

“We’ve had people move from public to private funerals, delay memorial services, postpone or reschedule celebrations of life for sometime in the future,” said Short Funeral Services owner Matthew Hovatter of Georgetown.

Mr. Torbert has counseled families to make the request to limit attendees publicly known.

“We’re asking families writing obituaries to say services are private,” Mr. Torbert said. “It’s a completely different practice than what we’ve done for years but we have to do what it takes not to make the situation worse.”

A new normal for the foreseeable future requires everyone’s acceptance in what’s a shared experience.

“People are being very understanding,” Lewes-based Parsell Funeral Homes & Crematorium CEO Keith Parsell said.

“We’re not getting any pushback on anything that’s being asked. Everyone realizes this is serious and wants to minimize risks at every opportunity.”

Picking up bodies for transport brings similar worries prior to a funeral, burial or cremation.

“The exposure, the risk, we consider all decedent transfers form a risk,” Mr. Parsell said. “Not from the decedent but the others we may come in contact with at the home.

“Everybody is a potential exposure candidate and we have to take it that way. It’s a different way of operating in all walks of life and we’re certainly a part of that world.”

Protecting public, staff

Less than a month ago, Mr. Parsell began stocking up on cleaning supplies, gloves and equipment to meet the coming global crisis.

“We started three weeks ago adjusting our procedures to go well above what we normally do to protect the staff and public,” Mr. Parsell said. “It’s super important to provide a safe working environment and a health-conscious environment for anyone who walks through our doors.”

Mr. Torbert said that “In an effort to keep staff and the public safe,” his business has redoubled its commitment to following state guidelines and meeting Occupational Safety and Health Act requirements established in 1970.

There are still many unknowns about the worldwide emergency, including how long it will last.

“If this continues on into the summer, then there could be some significant problems, but only time will tell,” Mr. Hovatter said. “I think everyone in our society is more or less taking the same approach at this point.”

John Cranston has experience in crisis management, referencing the deadly arrival of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1980s.

“We were already taking great precautions anyway, but are increasing the cleaning and disinfecting by a large degree now,” the Cranston Funeral Home owner said in Seaford.

“When the AIDS crisis first hit years ago, families and their late loved ones were being turned away completely.

“At that point we said we need to figure a way to take them in. That proved to be the case and we’re here for folks in need again.”

Employees aren’t immune from the worries coming with an essential service.

“There is a general uneasiness with our staff just like everybody else everywhere,” said Ross Trader, who co-owns Trader Funeral Home in Dover with his brother Tom.

“We have taken all precautions and continue to stress all the basics — keeping social distance, wearing gloves every time we go out, washing hands frequently, everything.”

According to owner Robert Timblin of Faries Funeral Home in Smyrna, “We’re not putting any pressure on staff to enter any situation they’re not comfortable with.

“This is a once in a lifetime situation that nobody has ever experienced and we have to get through it together.”

Following family wishes

Some are choosing to put the funeral process on hold.

“Generally, the amount of walk-ins have dropped drastically,” Mr. Timblin said. “We had a couple families postpone public services indefinitely until things at least calm down.

“We’re trying to work with people, provide them with options and respectfully follow their wishes.”

Parsell Funeral Homes & Crematorium is providing real-time live streaming and recording of funeral services. Anyone “can witness a funeral from a remote location, especially the elders of the community that are at the highest risk when going out,” a news release from Vice President and Funeral Director Andrew T. Parsell said.

“They also offer over the phone or video arrangement conferencing for making funeral arrangements or preplanning arrangements offsite.”

Also, “Depending on a family’s preferences, their loved one can be safely embalmed. Families may choose either burial or cremation as usual.”

Watson-Yates Funeral Home & Crematorium in Seaford is also a Parsell Family Funeral home.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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