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Getting families through loss: Funeral homes adapting to pandemic

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, area funeral homes, like other businesses, are finding themselves having to adapt to regulations put in place by government officials. But given the nature of their business, challenges abound for those trying to help grieving families and friends say goodbye.

“Social distancing is one of the biggest things that makes it difficult,” said Paul Worlein, owner and director of Worlein Funeral Home in Austin.

When making funeral arrangements, Worlein said that a good bit of the planning is done over the phone versus meeting in person. Adding to the difficulty is limits placed on those allowed to gather.

“For services, it’s a very large issue since we have to abide by the gathering of no more than 10 people,” Worlein said. “It’s very difficult to have a service, so many people are choosing to have a burial and wait with the service. Some people are having private services at the funeral home or at churches.”

But the adjustments don’t apply to just funeral arrangements. Funeral home staff have to take extra precautions when going to hospitals, nursing homes and private homes.

“We are licensed by the Department of Health, and their requirements are that we assume every person has a communicable disease. That’s the way we’ve always operated, so we take all of the precautions for ourselves,” Worlein said. “Now we have added precautions because of COVID-19 and we have to have protection for others. In some nursing homes, we’ve been required to have our temperatures taken before we go in and wear a mask. We have to do certain forms of protection when we go the hospital and into homes. That’s just a little more added to what the family has to deal with.”

But while the pandemic has required funeral homes to adapt, the people that suffer the most are the families and friends.

“This is very difficult for people; there is no finality for the families,” Worlein said. “They’ve lost a loved one and in some cases haven’t been able to be there at the hospital or at the (nursing) home. They haven’t been able to say goodbye. Then they have this situation as far as not being able to have the memorial service they would like. It is not what they would like to do and it’s difficult for us because we still have to abide by the Department of Health laws and CDC recommendations.”

Still, Worlein said the families and friends of the deceased individuals have been understanding.

“Everybody understands the situation,” he said. “They don’t like it, we don’t like it, but we still have to abide by the regulations just like everybody else because we’re all in on social distancing and the other requirements.

“We just try to do our best to help the families get through it and still meet the legal requirements.”