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Amid pandemic: Area funeral directors adapting

FAIRMONT — Social distancing continues to impact the lives of everyone, as we are asked not to gather publicly or even with friends and loved ones. That can be a difficult situation from day to day, but especially in times of grief.

Area funeral home directors face struggles and challenges as they try to help families remember loved ones while also following guidelines intended to keep people safe and healthy.

Chris Toomer of Lakeview Funeral Home in Fairmont says all funeral homes are facing these challenges, and what they mean for families.

“Funeral homes throughout the state of Minnesota are using guidelines set forth by the CDC, Minnesota Department of Health, National Funeral Directors Association and Minnesota Funeral Directors Association, and just like everyone else, our guidelines are updated daily,” he said. “Currently, a family of someone who has passed away from COVID-19 has the same burial options as someone who passes from natural causes. However, due to current guidelines, our biggest challenge then becomes planning the service regardless of manner of death. The hardest thing for a funeral director is not being able to fulfill the wishes of the family, and because of group restrictions we are very limited in the size and types of services people are allowed to have.”

Toomer emphasized that the guidelines may change because of Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz’s declaration of a stay-at-home order, but notes that Lakeview is still taking care to discuss options with families. Currently, families can make funeral arrangements via teleconference or in person. However, families are asked to limit in-person arrangements to immediate family only.

“If a family chooses to have a visitation, we are asking that they consider just a private family visitation, where we can allow 10 people at a time, to say final goodbyes,” he said. “For funeral services, we will allow up to 25 people at the funeral home, with seating being reflective of the six-foot social distancing guideline. But we stress that if we have people in attendance who are at higher risk for contracting COVID-19, we need to limit that number to 10 people.”

When asked about cremation services, Toomer said there may be more cremations as they will allow families a chance to wait out the pandemic and celebrate the lives of their loves ones with family and friends at a later date. But he notes that those wishing for a traditional burial can still be accommodated within the pandemic guidelines.

Director Tom Kramer of Kramer Family Funeral Home in Trimont said similar restrictions are in place for his business, noting that funeral luncheons or receptions will be suspended at this time.

“When the guidelines are lifted, we can still honor your loved one with a public celebration of life service,” he said. “We do have the capability of recording services and providing them on their web obituary page if the family wishes for it. That’s totally up to them.

“It’s a trying time right now for families,” Kramer continued. “We try to do what we can to help them with their loss. We encourage people to call the family and send a card because services are mainly private now. We have to look after public safety now for everyone, but it’s hard because grief shared is grief diminished, and you have to do that in a different way right now.”

“The most important part to us is that we all work together and listen to our health professionals who are trying to keep people as safe and healthy as possible,” Toomer said. “If you look at the cases in Martin County and notice that only one case is from travel and the others are community spread, we believe that it is very important to mind the guidelines of the CDC and limit unnecessary exposure.”

Funeral homes are continuing to monitor updates and say they will communicate changes that may affect services. Those with questions may contact area funeral homes.

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