KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — As life goes on during coronavirus precautions, so does death. Tennessee's social distancing restrictions are impacting the ability to hold a traditional funeral with gatherings limited to no more than 10 people.
"The funeral industry, I don't think we've ever faced anything to this magnitude," said Fred Berry, president of Berry Funeral Home. "The largest change has been the social gathering that happens when you have a funeral or a memorial service. We're limiting the number of people who come to a service to 10, which includes the funeral staff as well."
Large gatherings at visitations, funerals, and burials are currently not allowed.
Berry said families can still go to the funeral home to make arrangements, but shouldn't send more than two or three people.
"We are able to meet with them in person, but maintain social distancing in our facility. What we are doing a lot is meeting with families virtually. If they have the computer technology or they have an iPhone, then we're able to meet with them and take care of all the arrangements. The families we served in the last couple of weeks have all been very understanding," said Berry.
Funeral homes are streaming live video of the memorials on Facebook so friends and relatives can watch the service as it happens.
Berry said some families want to postpone memorials until the restrictions are lifted to hold a large celebration of life.
"Things can be postponed and memorial services can be handled at a later date. If a family has a private service with very limited numbers and at a later date wants to have a memorial service, we would not charge for that," said Berry.
Cremation provides more flexibility to postpone a memorial than a traditional body-and-casket burial. Embalming a body allows for an extended postponement, but funeral homes may have limited space.
Beyond the logistics of ceremonies and burials, there's an obstacle for families trying to grieve at a distance. There are no large crowds of friends to hug and embrace someone in mourning due to social distancing. Likewise, the staff at funeral homes and churches are limited in their ability to console loved ones.
"A very important part of our profession is helping families through the grief. Sometimes it is the most difficult thing families are ever going to face. We have set up a 'compassion helpline' for the families we serve. They can call 24 hours a day and speak to counselors who are there to help you with whatever you're facing, whether that's increased anxiety or grief," said Berry.
Berry said he is proud of how the community and his industry has come together to help others in life and in death.
"The community, the way it's coming together, our religious organizations, they are coming together. There are better days ahead and together we'll get through this," said Berry.