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Social Distancing Applies To Funerals, Too, During Coronavirus Pandemic

Fairway Memorial Gardens, a cemetery in Deerfield Beach, is trying to hold more graveside services and is livestreaming during the coronavirus outbreak.
Courtesy of Keith Epstein
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

Our new social distancing society is important for all of our safety during the coronavirus outbreak, but it obviously makes a lot of little things we're used to in our daily lives harder. It also makes big things harder: birthday parties, weddings and … 





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Planning a funeral takes an emotional toll under normal circumstances. Now, some funeral homes are using technology to help people grieve together — while trying to slow the spread of the coronavirus.WLRN spoke withKeith Epstein, who owns Eden Funeral Services in Pompano Beach.  He also manages Fairway Memorial Gardens cemetery in Deerfield Beach. 



WLRN: The idea of livestreaming a service isn't new, but it certainly sounds like it might become with coronavirus more like a norm for some people?


Epstein: It's crazy to think that we are in this position where we have to make adjustments to end-of-life services. I believe that it is going to become a norm for the near future. I'm not sure about long term. My heart goes out to all of these families that are being limited in their time of grief. They don't have their friends or family around them, and that's really important for them to have that support during this time.

What does livestreaming a celebration of life or a funeral entail?

So in the past when we were doing livestreaming, it was more for families who were unable to attend, whether they were living in a different state or a different country. And it really allowed them to partake in the funeral to be there. You know, maybe not physically, but at least emotionally for the families.

For us, what we would normally do is we have cameras set up on our chapels or we'll bring cameras to different synagogues or churches — or even to the cemetery to livestream graveside services so people can be there to watch and they can also hear the life that's being honored.

For people handling the loss of a loved one right now, this is just a really anxiety-prone time in society at large. Our families talking to you about the stress of this? 

We had a funeral in our chapel and we had to first tell a family, you know, we're sorry, we can't allow the people they were all inviting, because you're looking, they're looking, at about 50 to 100 people. Based off the CDC recommendations, we're supposed to be keeping it around 10.

I live on Las Olas in Fort Lauderdale and walking around here, it's like a ghost town right now. Trying to force people to stay home, to not go to a funeral to say goodbye to their loved one as a whole other, you know, aspect, the things I don't think anybody's thought about.

Trying to tell somebody who's going through a very emotional time that sorry, you know, you can't have as many people as you should to be here to support you is very difficult on us because we're the ones who have to relay that message directly to them.

What we're really doing is we're trying to have families do more graveside services, which would be doing the burial and the committal service, all of it in one location at the cemetery. Then in regards to cremation services, attempting to see if we can have them postpone the larger gathering to a later date. So at least postponing for now, just the service portion we can always do celebrations of life, or any kind of events later down the road. Just in this time, I think it's important that we still proceed with the burial so the family can begin with the grieving process, and then at the time of celebration, it really seems like more of a time to relive memories with friends and family.

At the end of the day, we have to make sure that everybody's safe. I know that, you know, in my case, my staff being safe and the families are safe. And anybody who's attending.

Something I've really been thinking a lot about lately was, I saw Netflix had a new app that they put out where you can do, like movie sharing, where you can watch the same movie, you know, in different apartments. You can still have your, you know, your friends night for movies. I think would be great to still see something like that where there would be support for family and friends who, although they can't come to the home or be there in person, to really still be able to all at once talk to somebody and offer their condolences and really their support.

The idea of an online streamed ceremony. You can't hold someone's hand during a service this way or hug anyone ....

I do actually believe that is taking away from the personal time that we need with our loved ones.

My father passed away last year and I'll tell you that the most important thing for me was being able to be there and say goodbye to him. So I do actually feel for all the families who can't do that, and for all the friends are not able to come in and say goodbye. So, yeah, I definitely think it's going to take its toll.

And I don't think livestreaming is going to be the way of the future. I think that funerals are very personal. It's a time for us to support the family, to grieve and to really have people to help us as well. You know, we always want to be strong for the families that are suffering. At the same time, we're just as much affected, you know, because we laugh with families, we cry with families.

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Caitie Switalski is a rising senior at the University of Florida. She's worked for WFSU-FM in Tallahassee as an intern and reporter. When she's in Gainesville for school, Caitie is an anchor and producer for local Morning Edition content at WUFT-FM, as well as a digital editor for the station's website. Her favorite stories are politically driven, about how politicians, laws and policies effect local communities. Once she graduates with a dual degree in Journalism and English,Caitiehopes to make a career continuing to report and produce for NPR stations in the sunshine state. When she's not following what's happening with changing laws, you can catchCaitielounging in local coffee shops, at the beach, or watching Love Actually for the hundredth time.