TUPELO • The new coronavirus has brought a new dynamic to the business of death.
“Now, less is better,” said Steve Holland, owner of Holland Funeral Directors in Tupelo.
More families are choosing to have small private services, rather than large public ones.
“And some have decided not to have a service at all,” Holland said Thursday. “They’re saying their goodbyes at home privately. Some are going for graveside only.”
Holland said families began postponing funerals about a week and a half ago.
“We do a lot of cremations, so you can wait longer to have a service – we’re used to that,” he said. “But last week was the first time someone said it was because of the coronavirus.”
Holland said his business sees a lot of foot traffic and he’s walking a tightrope right now.
“I’m not personally saying, ‘You can have 10 people and no more at a visitation,’ but we are encouraging limited numbers,” he said. “At our funeral home, we’re all huggy and kissy. Now we’re distancing ourselves.”
Whitney Pegues-Beck, a funeral director at Pegues Funeral Home in Tupelo, said she’s also seeing a lot more private services.
“We’re letting families advise us on how they want to proceed and what they feel comfortable with,” she said. “But we are putting some parameters on visitation.”
Pegues is providing hand-sanitizing spaces at the funeral home and limiting the number of people in family rooms to 10 at one time.
“We’re also advising against hand-shaking, hugging, kissing and other intimate contact,” she said.
Live-streaming funerals and online guest books are one way people can feel like they’re participating and supporting the family, Pegues-Beck said.
At Porter-Grayson Mortuary in Tupelo, it’s business as usual.
“We haven’t had any funerals postponed as of yet,” funeral director Jacque Grayson said Thursday. “We haven’t had any services go from public to private – not yet.”
Grayson said the funeral home is trying to limit the number of people at visitation at one time and is reminding families that live-streaming of services is available.
Death notices are also telling part of the story. An obituary in Thursday’s Daily Journal read, in part, “Due to the current health emergency, a private service will be held.” Another said, “Due to current events and restrictions on numbers at gatherings, the funeral is confined to just immediate family.”
Jimmy Waters, funeral director at Waters Funeral Home in Baldwyn, said he’s seen no changes in his business due to COVID-19.
“We’ve had six to eight services in the last couple of weeks and it has not affected or altered anything we do,” he said. “Nobody seems to be thinking much about it up here. I think it’s more stirred up in the media. This is no worse than the flu.”
Waters said he’s had a couple of funerals in the last week that drew 80 to 90 family and friends.
“We aren’t limiting the number of visitors at visitation,” he said. “That wouldn’t be courteous to our customers.”
Waters said there could be something in the future that could make his funeral business more concerned about the virus.
“We’ll pick it up when it gets here and if we have to run, we’ll run,” he said.
Robert Pickle, funeral director at E.E. Pickle Funeral Home in Amory, said he and his staff are adhering to guidelines set by President Trump and Gov. Tate Reeves.
“We are keeping visitation to 10 or under at a time,” Pickle said Friday. “Our services are still the same, but other things have changed because of the national emergency. We have a small staff here. If one of us gets sick, we’re out for 14 days.”
Pickle said he had his first service Thursday where only the family was present for the funeral and then the family and a few friends went to the graveside.
“We’re keeping everybody aware, but still taking care of folks,” he said. “It’s just what we’ve got to do. Families understand. They don’t want to get sick.”
Pickle said the new restrictions almost harken back to an earlier, simpler time for funerals.
“Now, we’re going back to things we haven’t done in years,” he said. “People are sending a note, making a phone call, staying connected.”