Funeral homes changing the way they hold services in Spokane due to pandemic

SPOKANE, Wash. — It’s one of the hardest times in our lives — saying goodbye to a loved one. What if you could only do it through a screen?

One Spokane funeral home is providing this option as social distancing guidelines are still happening.

“That end of life, celebration of life is extremely important,” said David Ittner, president and CEO of the Fairmount Memorial Association, “and not being able to provide that to families has been a big challenge.”

Ittner owns the Heritage Funeral Home and said things have been challenging during this pandemic.

“Originally it came out that we couldn’t have funerals period, and that was a big shock to us for sure,” Ittner said. “Right now, the directive is we can have funerals services, but it’s limited to immediate family only.”

He even had to turn people away from attending their loved one’s funeral.

“During that period, we had to tell some spouses that they simply couldn’t be here for the placement of their loved one,” Ittner said. “The service of their loved one — that was extremely difficult.”

They’re trying not to limit who the immediate family is, but know they can only have gatherings of 10 or less, per Gov. Inslee’s order. Inside the chapel, chairs are have been placed six feet apart from each other. To fill the gaps, Ittner set up cameras in the room.

“I think it’s been an important part of the grief process to be able to at least see it happening, even if it’s over a video camera and you’re 50 to 100 to 1,000 miles away,” he explained.

During the service, family and friends can view the live stream. Ittner said he’s already done about 50 funerals this way.

Arrangements can still be done in person, but people have the option to do it virtually. If they come inside, staff members keep everything sanitized and only provide plastic chairs. The hard chairs make it easier to sanitize, rather than the cloth furniture.

“It’s hard on our team members not to be able to provide that in the way they used to be able to — more so for the family members,” he said. “They want to have friends and family and come and celebrate the life of their mom or dad, and they just simply can’t do that the way they used to.”

While family members are burying their loved one, distancing becomes easier.

“In that perspective, people are able to safely, maybe two at a time, come to the grave site, visit, pay their respects, go back to their cars,” Ittner said.

For Ittner, this is going to be the normal until Spokane County progresses in the governor’s “Safe Start” plan.

“I think Phase 3 will hopefully bring that [gathering] up to 50 and I think that will handle the majority of the services that take place, ” he explained. “but again, there are those that we do frequently that are 100-150 plus, so it’s going to be a while before we get to that point.”

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