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Social distancing and limits of 10 people in a funeral home or graveside at one time makes grieving the death of a loved one challenging.
So in addition to livestreaming services and encouraging the use of online guest books as other funeral homes are doing, Fred. C. Dames in Joliet is also offering no contact, drive-thru visitation.
In fact, Fred C. Dames has been offering it since the stay at home order was issues, Brian Dames, a fifth generation funeral director of the family-owned business, said.
The funeral home didn’t advertise the no contact, drive-thru option as it was simply the solution the funeral directors devised to help families who’d lost loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic, he said.
“We were trying to think outside the box a bit, to be able to give these families closure when we’re so limited with what we can do with people in the building,” Dames said.
Dames said having a building with a canopy makes a no contact, drive-thru visitation feasible.
“Friends and relatives who cannot be in the building because it’s limited to only 10 people can drive up; they can get out of their comes one at a time and approach the glass, view their loved one and speak to the family through the glass or blow them a kiss. There’s no contact whatsoever,” Dames said. “But they can show their support and pray for their loved one. And then they drive off and the next car comes up.”
Dames said people can bring banners that say, "I love you" or other types of messages. Notes and cards can be given to the funeral director monitoring compliance outside, he added.
But under no circumstance may people who are driving-thru leave their vehicles to approach people in other vehicles. They must remain inside the vehicle until they are directed otherwise by the funeral director, he said.
And then, as many other funeral homes are also doing, the funeral service will then be livestreamed on the Fred C. Dames website at fredcdames.com.
“And we suggest that they sign the online register book to tell families that, ‘Hey, we were there. We were present at the funeral,'" Dames said. "We keep it live seven to 10 days and then we record it and keep it for the family."
Families also have the option of downloading the service from website, Dames said. But if they forget, they only need to contact Fred C. Dames and the funeral home will send the recording to them.
Also on the website are all the “precious memories” photos the family provides. Viewing those is another way loved ones can work through their grief, he said.
Dames said he first heard of drive-thru options 20 years ago when funeral homes in other states began offering them.
The funeral home's website said these actually go back about 35 years, to provide fishermen and dock workers the opportunity to pay their respects during the after-hours.
But Dames himself wasn’t a fan of drive-thru visitations at first, feeling that the personal connection might be lost. He's since changed his mind.
“We sincerely believe that people, whether they choose burial or cremation – we believe to this day that people need to be able to grieve, to show families support and to be able to be there at what is probably the worse time in their lives,” Dames said.
“Whether it’s their mom or dad or grandma or grandpa doesn’t matter. The family needs to feel that support. And if we have to do it via livestreaming or a drive-up venue – which has worked out very well – we’re going to do it.”
Dames said it’s challenging these days for families to plan funerals. Only 10 people can be in the building during the funeral and that includes funeral home staff.
“It’s not ‘Can this 10 people be here and the other five wait in the coffee lounge?’” Dames said. “No, it’s 10 people in the building.”
Now that does mean a few people can come into the building for half an hour to pay their respects, leave and then another 10 people may come inside for half an hour, Dames said.
But that’s not always the best solution, either.
“When someone loses a loved one, emotions are running high,” Dames said. “With our limitations, it makes it more difficult…but to be scheduled to come at a certain time for a certain time, it makes it tough.”
The same 10-person rules applies to cemeteries, too, Dames said. No more than 10 people may come to the graveside. That includes loved ones, funeral directors, clergy and groundskeepers.
“So we have to figure out how many people are going to be there and how many family members can attend,” Dames said.
"Some families think, 'Well, we'll have a memorial service at a later date,'" Dames said. "Well, there's no end in site. We don't know when this later date will be."
Dames said Fred. C. Dames will continue to offer the livestreaming and no contact, drive-thru options even once the pandemic has ended.
Some people, such as those who are immunocomprised may benefit from the option, he said. Loved ones who live out of state (or even out of the country) can still participate virtually, he added.
"It's now the new normal," Dames said.