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Funeral homes struggle with COVID-19 restrictions: ‘It’s in our heart to want to serve people’

Click to play video: 'COVID-19 restrictions remain in place for funerals in Alberta'
COVID-19 restrictions remain in place for funerals in Alberta
WATCH ABOVE: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, funerals with more than 15 people present aren’t able to take place, which has caused sadness and frustration among some families in Lethbridge. As Eloise Therien reports, this could be the reality for a while longer. – May 8, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected the way people travel, eat, work and even grieve lives lost, including how funerals are held.

Due to continuing health restrictions, funeral homes across Alberta have had to adjust the way they offer services.

For families trying to celebrate the life of a loved one, this can be difficult.

“Almost every family that we’ve served has expressed some kind of frustration,” said Martin Brothers Funeral Chapel Funeral Director Chris Martin Jong.

Under orders from Alberta Health, gatherings of 15 people or more are currently prohibited. 

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As per the province’s relaunch strategy, Phase 2 will allow for larger gatherings to be permitted in “some situations.”

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It is not yet clear what those situations will be and when that date will be.

Click to play video: 'Final stage of Alberta’s relaunch strategy includes large gatherings'
Final stage of Alberta’s relaunch strategy includes large gatherings

“No one has given us too much push-back as far as the restrictions… having to follow the rules, it’s just more unfortunate circumstances, and people are disappointed.”

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Martin Jong adds people who attend a service at their chapel and who don’t live together must sit at least two metres apart, and can’t embrace.

“Often times you’re maybe looking at your brothers, sisters, your nieces, nephews and you’re not able to go ahead and embrace each other like you traditionally would.”

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Travis Zentner, manager at Cornerstone Funeral Home, says the biggest difficulty COVID-19 has brought is the inability to host funerals with many people in attendance. 

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“You have a service so that you can have people come and offer condolences… to come from the community and share in your grief,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Gatherings with family, outside, in groups under 15 are acceptable: Hinshaw'
Gatherings with family, outside, in groups under 15 are acceptable: Hinshaw

The inability to have physical contact is also a struggle, according to Zentner.

“A simple hug, a handshake, a hand on the back – whatever it ends up being — can go a really long way when someone’s experiencing a really troubling time,” Zenter said.

In order to combat the attendance limits, many funeral homes have started offering livestreams for services.

Click to play video: 'Calgary Cares: Calgary choir creates online community through virtual rehearsals'
Calgary Cares: Calgary choir creates online community through virtual rehearsals

Zentner says those streams are a good opportunity for those who couldn’t otherwise attend.

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“We’ve had streams to anywhere in North America,” he said. “People are just excited to be a part of that in some way, so that’s really nice to see.”

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Another issue brought on by COVID-19 is the risk of contracting the virus from the deceased, which Zentner says is a possibility with many diseases and other health issues, not just the novel coronavirus.

“I’ve read of cases where COVID-19 has jumped from somebody and has passed to the living,” he said. “We have had potential COVID-19 cases that have ended up being negative.”

Each interaction with the deceased is conducted with proper personal protective equipment.

“We take all of our equipment, we make sure we are 100 per cent safe.”

As of May 8, the province has not reported any COVID-19-related deaths in Lethbridge.

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