Local funeral services adapting during pandemic

Posted at 3:51 PM, Apr 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-23 18:51:15-04

The COVID-19 pandemic is affecting virtually every type of service in Kern County. 23ABC's Austin Westfall has more on how the funeral industry is changing.

Dealing with the loss of a loved one means dealing with grief and officials say going to a funeral can help people process the grief in a healthy way. But amid the pandemic, many cemeteries are either limiting or shutting down their services. 23ABC's Austin Westfall asked the owner of funeral home how people are coping.

"The loss is still there, nothing's changed, it's just the times have changed," said Jim La Mar, President of Greenlawn Funeral Homes.

According to La Mar every cemetery is adapting differently to the COVID-19 pandemic. The California Department of Public Health has not banned funeral services in the state but La Mar says he's been told to keep services to a 10-person limit.

"Even though we may do something small to give some closure to the immediate family, most are indicating they're going to do some kind of a gathering later in the future."

La Mar said a typically busy day for Greenlawn used to see roughly 10 services, but now a busy day is considered three or four. He said many families are now choosing cremation even though they were previously opposed to it. That way they can keep the urn and do a service later.

And if you do choose to have a service there are ways to do it safely. La Mar says Greenlawn is live streaming every service now, and those watching from home have the option to send in messages, which Greenlawn will attach to a balloon. The message will then be given to the family, and the balloon will be released.

"It lets them know that those people's hearts are with them even though they couldn't be present."

For the foreseeable future, this is the new normal at Greenlawn. And although these are strange times, la mar said he hopes people won't forget the importance of healthy grieving.

"Our biggest fear is six months from now maybe people won't have services, they'll just say let's move on, we're already moving on and then they'll have a hole in their heart because they never went through that part of the grief process."

Visitation is still open as usual at both Greenlawn locations. They just ask that you abide by physical distancing rules.