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Life goes on, and so does death.

But the end of life has taken on a new dimension in the age of COVID-19. While the funeral industry has not had to face, at least yet, an onslaught of deaths from the coronavirus, other deaths continue, and families are finding that they aren’t able to have the final send-off that they would otherwise want for their loved ones.

Instead, most funeral homes are abiding by requests and directives from governmental authorities and are limiting funeral gatherings. In most cases, funeral directors are recommending immediate cremation or burial of bodies, with memorial services scheduled for a later, undetermined date.

Michael Murphy, owner of M.P. Murphy & Associates Funeral Director in Boulder, said most families are understanding of the new normal that the coronavirus has forced upon the industry.

“We’re continuing with the work. We’re asking permission to do the burial first while postponing services until the threat comes to an end,” Murphy said. He referred to a board that he keeps in his funeral home that lists the name of the deceased and the word “postponed” in the area indicating service information.

He, like other funeral directors, are still gathering small groups of family members at the grave for the burial.

Dave Viegut, who operates Viegut Funeral Home in Loveland, said he is limiting contact with families to just himself, although other staff continue to work in the background. “Death doesn’t take a holiday; we still have to serve the families,” he said. He said many funeral arrangements can be done over the telephone if families would prefer not to meet in person.

Viegut said families in Colorado and especially Northern Colorado prefer use of cremation to traditional embalming and burial. “Colorado has the No. 1 cremation rate in the nation,” he said. Cremation gives families the option of not doing services or interment of ashes until later.

Viegut handles cremation for his funeral home and two others. When he installed the crematorium, on his mind was the swine flu of 2009. “It [the death toll] never happened,” he said, “but I have one of a few that could run 24 hours a day if needed.”

Both Viegut and Murphy are taking personal precautions as they always have with handling the deceased.

“We’re gowning and gloving,” Murphy said. “We ask whether the person was contagious at the time of death.

“It’s important for families to deal with people who have experience and are licensed,” Murphy said. Licensing has not been required in Colorado for funeral directors since 1982.

Procedures used at other funeral homes in the region are similar. Adamson Life Celebration Home in Greeley includes a notice on its website giving families a choice of burial or cremation but recommends that services be later.

The same is true for the eight Northern Colorado funeral homes that are part of Dignity Memorial, a division of Houston-based Service Corp. International.

“We are also following The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) guidance regarding public gatherings. We are exploring technology alternatives, where available, to stream services online, which will aid in reducing the number of people at a service,” Service Corp. said in an email to BizWest.

© 2020 BizWest Media LLC

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