The numbers of cases and deaths related to COVID-19 have dominated most media headlines this year. And funeral homes in Wyoming are included in that story.
The Schrader, Aragon & Jacoby funeral home in Cheyenne, Wy., has seen an increase in the number of services requested in the past six to eight weeks, related to the uptick of COVID-19 numbers. The Valley Mortuary funeral home in Jackson has also seen cremations rise. Both businesses have had to adjust their services due to the pandemic, but COVID-19 has certainly changed major aspects of it.
Jeffrey Jacoby, owner of Schrader, Aragan & Jacoby funeral home said, they've learned to deal with the sporadic nature COVID-19 brings in regards to arranging services and helping families move forward. "One of the ways we've done that is through live streaming our funeral and memorial services," said Jacoby. "[...] That's been very helpful, because it's given families an opportunity to gather, sometimes remotely, but still gather together as a family while still including friends and loved ones who are far away who want to be part of celebrating that person's life. So live streaming and technology have played an important role for us as a funeral home."
Besides technology, they've limited the seating capacity of in-person visitations inside the building. And depending on the number of people, attendees who are not immediate family members are required to sit in every other row during visitation.
On top of guest services, employees and staff have had to take precautions and make changes as well. Cleaning procedures were issued to everyone immediately. Staff had to stay informed and updated on COVID-19 developments at all times and Jacoby had to ensure that everyone had their personal protective equipment.
"We cut our staff in half. And we divided our [remaining] staff to where we created a schedule at our two larger locations" Jacoby said. "One in Casper, and near Cheyenne where we divided our teams. So we were exposing our staff half the time."
Jacoby made sure that people who were entering the funeral home and every staff member wore masks no matter what. He provided the necessary tools and protection, "to make sure that our staff remains healthy," he said.
And these changes are similar to what has happened in Valley Mortuary. Tyson Clemons, who is the funeral director at Valley Mortuary, said that it has made it hard to understand people because everyone is wearing masks.
Besides live streaming services, limiting seating capacity and adjusting cleaning procedures, there's another thing Clemons noticed. "The number of cremations has increased," he said. "Just because it's easier for families to put a service off. And when I say that it's easier, [it's] that [...] we can go ahead and do the cremation now. And then in the summer, when things hopefully slow down as far as COVID-19 transmission, they can get together in the summer and have services then."
Postponing is the safest route to take right now. But for Clemons, it's been difficult to not aid the families who are grieving. As a funeral director, he wants to help, support and love the families who are mourning.
"We [funeral directors] all want to try to take care of somebody the best way possible. And we are not able to fully do our professional service, and do it the correct way, because of what's going on," said Clemons, referring to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Both Clemons and Jacoby agree that this whole year has been filled with trials and turbulences. They also both agree on being hopeful.
"Because," Jacoby said, "I know for a fact that this will end in time. Some sense of normalcy, whatever that might be, is, you know, something that we all look forward to." Clemons thinks that this pandemic will take a lot longer to go away though. "I think that it will get worse before it gets better. But it will get better."