Funeral directors find online platforms helpful
CEOs managing four of Spokane's funeral home, cemetery and cremation networks recently discussed the impact of COVID-19 on their services and on families' grieving processes.
Governor Jay Inslee and the State Department of Health limiting attendance at funeral services and internments to immediate family has been frustrating to both those offering services and to family members under stay-at-home restrictions.
Leila Bradish, general manager of the Dignity Memorial Funeral Homes in Spokane, said online platforms make it possible to arrange services for those who stay at home or who live far away. Those platforms are also being used for pre-planning.
The Dignity Memorial network she manages includes Hazen and Jaeger in Spokane and Spokane Valley; Thornhill Valley Chapel in Spokane Valley; Ball and Dodd Funeral Home and Advantage Funeral and Cremation Services in Spokane, and Strate Funeral Home in Davenport.
Leila said Dignity Memorial is North America's largest provider of funeral, cremation and cemetery services with a network of 2,000 funeral homes in the U.S., Canada and Puerto Rico.
WebEx is the primary platform they use. The funeral home sends email invitations and shares the computer screen and video for what Leila said is a "more dynamic presentation and way to connect" than phone or email.
"We also offer creative ways for friends to send messages," she said. "We have put messages left by friends and family at the online obituaries on balloons and staged the balloons in seats during the service.
"Services are more modest, because few can travel or leave their homes to attend. We rotate visitation times so more can come, limiting to a few at a time," Leila said.
The Dignity funeral homes in the area have large chapels so social distancing will be possible when more can attend.
"Across the network, we experienced challenges," she said.
Two local staff went to assist Dignity firms in New York for three weeks. They were in two-week quarantines upon returning. They helped the New York funeral homes answer phones, gather information and take decedents into care.
"We were blessed not to face the increased death rate that New York had," she said. "My team are service-oriented people, so it was important for us to send supplies and people. With the number of cases stable, we will not send more."
Dignity Funeral Homes in the area have cared for a few individuals who died from COVID-19.
Leila recently did research on the number of deaths in the state and found only a modest increase in 2020 deaths compared to 2019, but not out of the normal range.
She grew up in Oregon and was in the restaurant industry 10 years before entering the funeral business 10 years ago. She attended the Dallas Institute of Funeral Services and Mortuary Studies, graduating in 2011. She served families in Dallas, and in Grants Pass and Portland, Ore., before moving to Spokane two years ago.
"I wanted a career to make a difference in people's lives. I find it fulfilling to guide families through a difficult time," she said.
"It's important to let families celebrate their loved ones' lives in a way that's important to them," she said. "I have learned that life is precious."
Leila believes the grieving process is important, and funerals help by celebrating a life and sharing memories.
"Not allowing families to be together as their loved ones have passed is devastating," she said, referring both to restrictions on funerals and keeping couples married 50 years apart as their health declined.
Although not raised in a religion, she respects all faiths and helps people follow the rites of passage important to them.
"It's beautiful learning about the different traditions and helping families follow practices that are healing for them," she said.
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Copyright@ The Fig Tree, June, 2020