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Published June 16, 2020

THE VIEW FROM MY SEAT

How are funeral services held during pandemic?

By Ernie Williamson / The Bulletin

A colleague I worked with for more than 30 years at two Houston newspapers died recently.

After the initial shock, I started fondly recalling all the deadlines he had met, the great headlines he had written and the silly puns he shared. As part of the grieving process, I looked forward to exchanging memories with his family and many friends.

Then I read something that is becoming all too common in obituaries.

The obituary noted that the memorial service would be delayed due to the Covid-19 pandemic, and an announcement would be made as safety allows.

Covid-19 won’t leave us alone. It not only has changed our lives but also has impacted the way we honor those who have passed away.

As if the death of a loved one is not painful enough, grieving families now are burdened with planning funeral services that keep the rest of us safe. Friends and families must find new ways to share stories and memories.

Because of the pandemic, each death now raises the question: What do current health precautions, such as limiting or restricting large public gatherings, mean for holding a funeral?

Nancy Davis, co-owner of Palms Funeral Home in Angleton, says her business is roping off pews for social distancing reasons, Zooming graveside services and doing whatever else is necessary to help families in their time of grief. She said her funeral home checks with the state regularly to get updates on proper procedures.

“Pandemic or no pandemic, our goal is to help families through a difficult time,“ Davis said. “The last thing we want is for anybody to get sick.”

She says all the families the funeral home has served during the pandemic have been cooperative. They understand the situation.
The Center for Disease Control reports that people have gotten sick with Covid-19 at funeral services. At least nine cases have been traced back to a funeral in Mississippi. Two of the cases involved out-of-state mourners who attended the services.

While not a pleasant topic, the CDC, which seems to have recommendations for everything, has suggestions for funerals:

• Consider streaming live video of the funeral online. This allows the closest family members to attend the funeral in person while others participate from home. (A survey by an industry consulting firm found, however, that only 21 percent of consumers are willing to pay extra for it.)

• Consider modified funeral arrangements, such as limiting attendance at funerals held shortly after the death to a small number of immediate family members and friends; and then holding additional memorial services when social distancing guidelines are less restrictive.

• Practice social distancing by maintaining at least 6 feet between attendees, facility staff and clergy.

My colleague who passed away, Bill Gould, has appeared in this column once before. He worked at the Houston Post and Houston Chronicle as a copy editor and headline writer until retiring several years ago.

I had written a column about newspaper headlines and mentioned that one of Bill’s was a personal favorite.

In 2003, the Rice baseball team won the College World Series. It was the first national team title in the school’s 91-year history.
Bill was tasked with writing a headline that rose to the occasion. His offering: “Rice guys finish first” not only dominated the front page but appeared on T-shirts throughout the city.

I don’t know where or when, but Bill’s friends, colleagues and family will gather and exchange memories about a great journalist and family man. We will reminisce about those headlines that brought a smile and those that brought a tear… and those that never made it into print.

As long as I am reminiscing about my newspaper days, I would be remiss not to mention that former Post and Chronicle columnist Leon Hale turned 99 a couple of weeks ago.

Copy editors used to fight to edit Hale’s column. They not only enjoyed reading about Madame Z and Mel, but they also knew no editing was necessary.

(Ernie Williamson welcomes reader input. Please contact Ernie at williamsonernie@gmail.com. Or, send letters in care of The Bulletin, PO Box 2426, Angleton, TX. 77516)