A funeral or memorial for a departed loved one is a time for family and friends of all ages to gather, cry and embrace in sorrow — all acts that are nearly impossible during the “social distancing” period of the coronavirus outbreak.

That means big changes for grieving families, and funeral homes.

Troy Diggins, a licensed funeral director with West-Kjos Funeral Home in Detroit Lakes, said his service has already canceled or limited viewings and funerals.

“We can’t have more than 10 people,” Diggins said by phone Tuesday, March 17. “Visitations are going to become just private viewings. The casket will have to go to the receiving vault at Oak Grove” until services can be held.

Obituaries published in the newspaper have updated notes that read “funeral service will be postponed until a later date.”

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And when small, private viewings are permitted, Diggins said the funeral home will no longer be able to provide coffee or snacks for guests.

Given the nature of their business, the funeral homes can’t just close up shop.

Lynn Drewes, licensed funeral director at David-Donehower Funeral and Cremation Service. (Courtesy photo)
Lynn Drewes, licensed funeral director at David-Donehower Funeral and Cremation Service. (Courtesy photo)

“Obviously, we still need to be up and running,” said Lynn Drewes, licensed funeral director at David-Donehower Funeral and Cremation Service.

The funeral home is keeping sanitizers and protective masks available for visitors. But there are some differences for the staff, too, Drewes said, such as the use of protective gear during their work. And, she said, much of the funeral home’s work with families to make arrangements can be done by phone.

“We’re going to start cutting our staff,” Drewes said of limiting the number of people in the funeral home at one time.

For the next few weeks, funerals will become increasingly rare in Detroit Lakes, though there will undoubtedly continue to be a need for professional mortuary services.

When coronavirus restrictions are loosened or lifted, families will again need the support of the funeral homes. That's when the funeral directors can "fully share and enjoy everybody and help them with their grieving,” Drewes said. “And this just makes it worse that they can’t do everything they want to.”

Both Drewes and Diggins say families have been understanding of the changes made due to the difficult circumstances.

“Saturday, (a family) made the comment their dad was a loving, caring person, he wouldn’t want someone getting sick from coming to his service,” Diggins said.

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