Coronavirus and the country mortician

Funerals in rural areas often involve the whole town to some degree. Neighbors and friends bring casseroles and other foodstuffs to the grieving family as their way of providing comfort. There are hugs and tears on shoulders. The line of people waiting to pay their respects at a visitation can be out the door and there often isn’t enough room at the cemetery for everyone to park.

This is how it works in my hometown of Clarence, Iowa, population 900-something. My brother, Dan Chapman, and his son, Ben Chapman, are the town’s morticians at the Chapman Funeral Home.

Funeral homes in large cities have many people on staff to handle the details. The country mortician does everything from picking up the body of the deceased, embalming, meeting with the family to make funeral plans, working at the visitation, helping with funeral proceedings and flowers, setting up memorials, and comforting anyone who needs it.

The coronavirus pandemic is making the business of death for the country mortician a lot more complicated – and dangerous.

A few days ago, Ben picked up a woman from a nursing home in a nearby town who died from COVID-19. Ben was protectively dressed just like the medical professionals – gloves, mask, and gown. There had been several others in this facility who recently died from the disease.

After the embalming, Dan says the prep room was fully bleached. He told the hairdresser to wear gloves while she worked on the deceased lady.

There was no visitation for her, but family members came to the funeral home for a viewing and final good-bye. She had five children, 17 grandchildren, 35 great-grandchildren, and nine great-great grandchildren.

Only 10 individuals could be allowed in, according to Iowa’s social distancing rules. This is the truly heartbreaking part, for both the family and the mortician.

“How do you tell a family you can’t say goodbye to Mom or Grandma?” says Dan.

At the cemetery, pallbearers carried the casket to the gravesite, then left to stand by their cars. Family members waiting in cars then came out to the grave. Social distancing was probably the last thing on their minds at that point. There were hugs and tears on shoulders.

As you think about our healthcare professionals who are so bravely putting themselves on the front line to save people, also consider those who are in contact with the disease at the end of that line. The country mortician, as well as all funeral providers, are doing what they can to make sure the remains of the deceased are properly cared for while protecting their own well-being.

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