That’s how a Kelowna funeral home owner describes the grieving process through the COVID-19 pandemic — as families lose not only their loved ones but the opportunity to console their fellow bereaved.
“It’s not just the very real experience of a loved one dying — which is a very profound loss unto itself — but it’s also the loss of the freedom to engage that meaningfully or in a way that would be familiar,” said Richard Henseleit, owner of Springfield Funeral Home.
“Distancing is problematic for people who need a hug; people who need to shed a tear with each other.”
As the pandemic continues, the goal at Springfield is to retain as much normalcy as possible for families burdened with burying a loved one through an already trying time, while still ensuring measures are being taken to protect both themselves and their guests. One way the home is doing that is through live-streamed funeral services.
“It creates such a different caring environment,” said Henseleit. “We’re finding that many people respond to that favourably.”
David (left) and Richard (right) Henseleit, owners of Springfield Funeral Home. (Michael Rodriguez – Kelowna Capital News)
While in-person services have been limited to just 20 to 30 people to allow for proper distancing, Henseleit said both graveside and chapel services have been made available online. “Words can be said; condolences shared,” he said.
“We’re trying to make this easy for people and that’s one way that we’re helping to accommodate their loss of freedom to connect.”
He added the home’s website has become a meaningful place for families to not just post obituaries but share stories, upload pictures and produce video tributes.
“I’m finding that Canadians, British Columbians and even the wonderful people of the Interior here are all attentive to being safe, being smart and realizing that there’s a togetherness here that, though different, is still available,” said Henseleit.
“People are finding creative ways to connect.”
For Henseleit, it’s still first and foremost about helping people through a tough time — even though the means to do so have changed.
“There’s nothing different,” he said. “It’s important that people feel a sense of care at a time like this.”
‘Exposed to communicable diseases on a daily basis’
Bereavement workers are facing their own struggles in the face of COVID-19.
The most prevalent of which has become access to supplies.
“We do share with other health professionals the potential for concern on long-term access to critical supplies we use for personal protective equipment (PPE),” said Andy Watson, manager of strategic communications at the BC Coroners Service, in an emailed statement. “We continue to urge the public only to buy what they require, to ensure professionals in the health and safety sector are able to access supplies to safely do their work in health and public safety.”
Mass sell-outs of items such as hand sanitizers, masks and gloves have made it difficult for health-care and bereavement workers to access the materials they need to do their jobs.
This is also seen at funeral homes where workers must wear gowns, gloves, masks, face shields, headcovers and disposable slippers while preparing a body for a service.
“We are exposed to communicable diseases on a daily basis; we don’t always know what underlying causes there are to any death that occurs so we’re always using universal precautions,” explained Charlotte Poncelet, executive director of the BC Funeral Association (BCFA). “But the big thing for us is we have not yet been deemed a ‘critical service,’ so we have very extreme concerns about our access to resources like personal protective equipment.”
– With files from Nicole Crescenzi