By LARRY VAUGHT
I met Lacy Robinson for the first time at a Southeastern Conference Tournament a few years ago and have been lucky to count her as a friend since then. She’s also a die-hard UK basketball fan who is now also just as passionate for UK football.
Her job as director of member development of the National Funeral Directors Association the last four plus years where she literally traveled the world conducting trainers and business service projects always intrigued me, especially since she was a licensed funeral and embalmer and had also worked 10 years for the Aurora Casket Company. Now she has her own business.
I wondered what impact COVID-19 was having on funeral homes and those who needed their services, especially after my daughter-in-law recently lost her sister, and Robinson offered her experienced insights including how to help children who might not be able to attend a grandparent’s service or even able to visit before death.
How difficult has the COVID-19 been for funeral homes as they try to cope with the funeral restrictions?
Robinson: “Funeral homes have responded quickly with new operational changes during COVID-19. Their websites have been updated with COVID-19 funeral policies as well as bi-weekly updates. In addition to that funeral homes are using social media to keep the community informed on changes they have made for conducting funeral arrangement conference and hosting visitations/funerals.
“Funeral home owners are not only making those adjustments they’re looking closely at predictions for the number of deaths their state and county may experience in the coming months. I’ve been in touch with funeral homes who have revamped employee schedules to now consist of two teams. One funeral home I’m working with has a team that works inside the funeral home only and a second team that will be assigned to onsite locations such hospitals, long term care homes and private residences. I’m learning about funeral homes taking precautions such as monitoring employee temperatures, regular hand washing throughout the day and even ditching neck ties which is a hiding place for germs. Funeral directors and embalmers are considered essential workers during COVID-19. Funeral home owners and managers are taking the necessary steps to protect the health and wellness of their team.”
How have they adapted to try and help families get a meaningful closure?
Robinson: “As we all know video conferencing platforms have become very useful during COVID-19. Many funeral homes are using Zoom or FaceTime to conduct the arrangement conference. When it comes to live streaming funerals that has been taking place for many years now. In the past it’s been criticized by some saying it was impersonal. Not anymore, Larry! Live streaming a visitation and/or funeral has been an effective way in helping grieving families feel supported by extended family members and friends. And of course that supportive network of family and friends want to be able to honor a loved one’s life and show comfort to those immediate family members.
What has been the most innovate thing you have seen a funeral director do?
Robinson: “I would say that is the world’s first drive in funeral theatre available at Mission Park Funeral Home in San Antonio, Texas. Attendees remain in their vehicles during the funeral and watch it on a massive screen in the funeral home parking lot. Three honks representing comfort, support and love will conclude each drive in funeral.
“Saskatoon Funeral Home in Canada is using a robotic device on wheels called telepresence. There is an iPad attached to it and individuals from home can log into the system and it proceeds to roll right to the family in order for that person at home to have a conversation with them.”
Do you have any advice for parents/guardians who’s children maybe didn’t get to see their grandparent before death or unable to attend a funeral due to restrictions?
Robinson: “Remember that children need honest information to help understand what is taking place during this pandemic. Having an open dialogue can help to create a comfortable environment for talking about the loved one who has died. I recommend planning a funeral ritual at home honoring a person’s life where a child (or children) can participate. Good Grief, Inc has made available a toolkit called ‘Funerals in the Time of a Pandemic.’ Inside there is suggested dialogue for talking to children, activity ideas for remembering a person and sample ritual when planning a memorial at home.”