With so much uncertainty in the world right now, one thing that remains certain is death. However, the way families and funeral homes are dealing with this has changed, due to the 10-person limit on public gatherings due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Yvonne “Bonnie” Anderson, 95, of Alexandria, died on Feb. 25. This past weekend, instead of a packed church at her funeral, very few gathered for her visitation and graveside service.
Her son, Mark Anderson – known to many in the Alexandria area as Mark Anthony, a weatherman and radio/television personality – conducted the graveside service.
“My mom was very beloved and we had thought prior to this there could be 200 people at her funeral and visitation,” said Anderson. “Instead, it was very surreal.”
In their situation, very few people – even from his own immediate family – were able to be at either the visitation or the graveside service.
“We tried to space visitation times for my mom’s six children, and their families, and we assigned people different time slots so no two families would have much contact with each other,” said Anderson. “This was very contradictory to how our family, and how funerals are done, since normally we are loving on one another.”
Anderson said he and his wife, Tracey, stayed at the visitation the entire time because some family were unable to be there because they had been traveling and were self-isolating themselves.
“I didn’t want my mom there all alone at her own visitation,” he said.
The funeral itself took place at Union Cemetery in Atwater at the Anderson family plot, just down the road from where Anderson was raised in Willmar. His mother lived in Willmar prior to moving to Nelson Gables and Knute Nelson in Alexandria.
Due to the coronavirus, there wasn’t a pastor so Anderson read some scriptures and provided music.
“In my message, I broke down several times. I said this is why family members don’t normally do a funeral service as it is too close and difficult to do,” he said. “But under the circumstances, I had to forge on.
“It wasn’t the way we wanted to send my mom off, but she always taught us to use these situations for good. And we believe a lot of good will ultimately come out of all of this.”
Anderson said regardless, it is hard to under the current situation to fully comprehend things while at the same time trying to grieve the loss of his mother.
He said his mom always called her family the peanut butter family because they always stick together, but that during a time when they really needed to be sticking together, they had to stay six feet apart due to social distancing.
The family is planning a celebration of life for June 20 at New Life Christian Church in Alexandria.
“We are hopeful this can happen, but as we all know, the future remains uncertain at this time,” Anderson said.
Curt Lind, owner of Lind Family Funeral and Cremation Services, said funeral homes are trying to be creative while following rules put in place by the Center for Disease Control. For visitations like the Andersons, no more than 10 people can be together at a time and they have to practice social distancing.
Visitations are being scheduled longer to accommodate the needs of families, especially larger families. Visitations are easier to accommodate, unlike the actual funeral service.
Some churches are able to livestream a funeral so that family and friends can still be a part of it, Lind said. The funeral home itself videotapes the services – whether at a church or grave site – and makes that available on the funeral home website.
He also said families can use other means, such as video calling through social media or cell phones.
“This (the coronavirus pandemic) is impacting our families,” said Lind. “But we are trying to be creative and figure things out. We still want to make sure this is as memorable as possible.”
Communication is key
Craig Buysse, a funeral director at Anderson Funeral Home in Alexandria, said people can’t push pause on their grief. Visitations and services can still take place, but they just look a little different right now because of the 10-person guideline and social distancing.
Anderson Funeral Home also does videotaping for families and those videos are free of charge on the website.
Erin Petermeier, who is also a funeral director at Anderson Funeral Home, said a great way for family and friends to feel like they are connected is to write a tribute, memory or condolences on the deceased person’s page on the funeral home website. She said communication may not be the same, but it is still essential during the grieving process.
People can also still drop off cards, gifts or flowers, and sign the book for a family, just as they would have before.
“Every situation is unique,” said Petermeier. “But we are here to help families get it.”
She also said that families should take advantage of their pastors or priests, and rely on their faith to help get them through. Churches can offer counseling services if needed. And she said people can still do the “Minnesota hot dish” thing by dropping food off for people who have lost a loved one. It can be dropped off on a doorstep so there is no face-to-face contact.
Buysse said it may be helpful for families to hold a service or celebration of life at a later date.
“We are here to help guide families as best we can,” he said. “It’s all we can do.”