WACO, TX — Lony Underwood is a funeral director at Bellmead Funeral Home.
Before entering the funeral home, visitors are greeted with various pandemic-related informational packets on the precautionary steps taken to prevent the potential spread of COVID-19.
"Well, I would say that people come into a place like the funeral home, they kind of get complacent," Underwood said.
For the funeral director, he says the responsibility of implementing and maintaining COVID-19 precautionary measures is demanding for families and staff.
"You know, we're being safe for everyone with us and also the public for when they come in to make arrangements," Underwood explained.
At the funeral home, the family unit is allowed to stay together, but they must maintain social distancing from everyone else when making arrangements.
"Once we're through with the funeral arrangements, then we disinfect and clean everything that we can that the family may have touched," said Underwood.
When the service is underway, Underwood says staff enforces social distancing and the use of face coverings. Visitations are come-and-go.
"Our visitations, for example, if it's the night before, we maintain a come-and-go visitation," he said. "What we used to do is we'd come and socialize with the family at that point. Now, for example, if it's a husband and wife, they could come say something to the family and then they're encouraged to go."
Underwood says it's a tough predicament, maintaining separation between loved ones in a setting that's so personal. In the chapel, Underwood points to pews that are marked off by tape to maintain safety standards.
"As you can see we have every other pew taped off," he said. "We can put, if you're a one-party individual, three to a pew. Okay to maintain social distancing. If you're a couple, of course you can sit together, and our family area is separate where the family unit can maintain social distancing and stay together in one area."
Kris Rhodes is the funeral director at Grace Gardens Funeral Home & Crematorium. She says operations have largely shifted online in some ways during the pandemic.
"Funerals are very personal, and there's a lot of hand-holding, in-person attention that needs to be given, but we're seeing that go to the telephone and online," she said.
Rhodes said Grace Gardens have evolved toward accommodating the desire to maintain a level of personal affection and safety.
"We've made it to where the video tributes can be found on our website," Rhodes said. "We have an obituary page, and they have their obituary written, all their service information, and then they have this video tribute. And then we stream the services on our Facebook page."
Rhodes says they also capture video of the service and put it on the obituary page.
"That helps too for people who didn't catch it live or can't navigate Facebook. They can come to their website page and watch that service," she said.
Although the pandemic has undoubtedly increased the need and desire to carry out some of these operations online, Rhodes believes the trend is one to stay.
"We actually don't see the digital aspect leaving," she said. "This is more of a digital age, and people are more tech-savvy. We feel like the streaming and the online options will stay."
Like Rhodes, Underwood says he anticipates the recent changes in operation, whether in-person or digital, are here to stay for the foreseeable future.
"I guess so," Underwood said. "Until the government or the health officials say that everything's good, or until the vaccinations start."