NEW YORK (CBS) Losing a loved one is devastating at any time, but safety restrictions and limitations during the COVID-19 pandemic have made those losses even more challenging for families and funeral professionals. Now, some families are trying to mourn from a distance.
"Never have I seen so many calls coming in at once," said Ryan Buckland, a funeral director in Somerville, New Jersey.
He says not only is his business overwhelmed, but restrictions during the COVID-19 crisis are making it even harder for the families of the deceased.
"They're already emotional because someone has passed, then you have to tell them here in New Jersey, in my area, it's 10 people or less, and it's an abbreviated service," Buckland said.
Arrangements are made over the phone or online, and Buckland is livestreaming brief, 15-minute services. It's one of several ways funeral directors are trying to improvise.
"This time is calling upon us to be very creative," said Glenda Stansbury with the InSight Institute, who trains funeral professionals and is an instructor in the mortuary program at the University of Central Oklahoma.
Stansbury wrote a resource guide with suggestions for virtual services and even outside options.
"We've got technology, we've got all kinds of options. Let's figure out how to at least address the immediate needs of gathering, the immediate needs of honoring the life," she said.
Stansbury organized a Zoom funeral for the family of 97-year-old Barbara Barnett. Barnett was buried in a small graveside service in Des Moines, Iowa. But relatives, like her granddaughter Barbara Kemmis in Chicago, wanted a way to gather as a family. Stansbury invited relatives to bring flowers to the Zoom service and light candles together, from afar.
"It really did feel like we were together. The only thing missing was the ability to hug each other before we left. And no one wanted to hang up. No one wanted to be the first to hang up," Kemmis said.
Stansbury says grief can't wait, and the sooner families and friends address their loss, the sooner their healing can begin.
Some of Stansbury's suggestions for virtual funerals include enabling chat functions so family members can participate in the service as it's happening, and hopefully, families can gather in person when this crisis has passed.