With ever-evolving social restrictions amid the COVID-19 pandemic, mourning the death of a loved one can be difficult.
But it doesn’t have to be.
That’s why Fitchburg businesses like Gunderson Funeral and Cremation Care, 2950 Chapel Valley Road, and Agrace Hospice and Palliative Care, 5395 E. Cheryl Pkwy. have conceptualized ways to serve their clients in their grief process despite distancing.
At Gunderson, saying goodbye has taken the shape of drive-through wakes, where cars can gather in the parking lot and photo boards are placed around the property’s outdoor space. A greeter usually stands at the entrance and directs people where to go. Clients also have the option of live streaming or recording funerals, which their loved ones can view remotely, president Pete Gunderson told the Star.
“Grief work begins with coming together,” Gunderson said. “But it doesn’t mean people need to (hold funerals) the way they did so decades ago.”
Per the Forward Dane reopening plan, rules allow only 10 people at indoor gatherings and 25 outdoors. Gunderson said if clients opt for in-person services, they must wear a mask and practice physical distancing.
But if more than 10 people want to attend a funeral service, officiants are able to repeat the service multiple times the same day to accommodate all those who want to say goodbye to their loved one.
To help clients decide what kind of service they want, Gunderson staff meets with them over Zoom or in person by appointment. Employees receive temperature checks every morning, wipe surfaces down vigorously, wear masks and are trained to care for the deceased from transport to display during the funeral, Gunderson said.
Rev. Susan Shands, Agrace manager of spiritual and grief services, told the Star that Agrace counselors have pivoted to providing support to patients’ families online and over the phone before and after a death occurs. The goal there is to “normalize that memorial services and opportunities to celebrate and remember loved ones can take many forms,” Shands said.
Agrace counselors also teach their clients how prevalent virtual services are becoming and the advantages that come with those connections. But family members are allowed to visit Agrace hospice patients nearing the end of life, marking and communications director Liz Kopling said. They can have up to five visitors as long as people adhere to Forward Dane rules.
Like Gunderson, Agrace employees receive temperature checks and must wear face coverings.
Kopling said when a patient dies at Agrace, it is customary to do a procession — a walk from the patient’s room to the funeral van.
“We don’t try to hide the fact that someone died,” Kopling said. “We normalize it. Sometimes we will play music, sing, have a moment of silence or give a blessing. People from our facilities stop what they are doing to pay their respects.”