Funeral director offers insight on challenges during coronavirus

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There has been little vetting on how the coronavirus pandemic has impacted funeral service providers.

That’s because the equation is radical. Most individuals only think of the funeral ceremony.

Each aspect of the profession must be examined – from the removal process of a loved one to disposition – including all counseling, restrictions, and guidelines for this COVID-19 pandemic, since every aspect has undergone a radical change.

“We, as funeral professionals, have universal precautions already in place, but it is definitely at an extreme high now,” said the Rev. Karl Nathaniel Flagg. “It’s about the highest level of alert that we have experienced since the 1980s with HIV/AIDS.”

These answers were tracked to a candid, compassionate conversation with Rev. Flagg, the licensed funeral director/embalmer/CEO of Karl N. Flagg Serenity Memorial Chapel of Palatka.

He is the senior pastor/teacher at Mt. Tabor First Baptist Church of Palatka and Mt. Tabor First Baptist Church of Crescent City. He is also the former City of Palatka Mayor.

‘All Kinds of Platforms’

Anyhow, as the family is seeking closure, and the guidelines are so new, nothing yet indicates if there will be consequences for the embalmer during this COVID-19 pandemic.

To ensure that the family is protected, as well as the personal health of the funeral professional, due diligence must be exercised to treat each individual case as having been affected, whether known or unknown.

“If you have a positive case, you are now dealing with the individuals within the household, who have already been exposed, and now would be quarantined,” Rev. Flagg indicated. “So, how do you make funeral arrangements when the next of kin is having to be isolated for 14 days? Everything that we would normally do is just totally unorthodox so to speak at this particular point.

“We have all kinds of platforms out there – including Zoom (video communications) conferences and things of that nature,” the pastor/funeral director stated.

Pastors cannot get to parishioners, parishioners are below their technological level, and so it is unlikely that a teleconference or video conference could be set up to provide the level of consolation needed. It is a time to pull from one’s spiritual strength and one’s personal relationship with God.

‘Touching Countless People’

Rev. Flagg also stated that it’s necessary to have both spiritual and social relationships before any tragic or radical event occurs in a family. He further stated, “My God, I can’t even begin to imagine what it’s like when there are unsettled issues within a family.

“The funeral director, just like the pastor, just like any other public servant, that is encountering so many people, we put that many people at risk, if, in fact, we too have a positive exposure,” Rev. Flagg explained.

“Many people think that you are only dealing with the family of a loved one and close friends, but over time, the funeral professional is touching countless people because we are called upon for a lot of different reasons,” he stated.

This constitutes pre-arrangement conferences, post-funeral conferences, and after care, and where people develop relationships with the funeral director, and put in a lot of trust when making stressful decisions.

A Special Unit

Rev. Flagg said his funeral home is kept abreast of guidelines and recommendations through the National Funeral Directors Association and the Independent Funeral Directors Association for Florida.

For example, “Albany, Georgia, being a hotspot, is where over two dozen people were infected positive because they attended funerals,” Rev. Flagg noted.

“There’s a stigma involved, if a person appears to have been traced, to contract a positive outcome of this virus, and they were at a funeral, a funeral home (or) chapel. That stigma is really going to create even more of a stress factor on the family,” he said.

“We have the contract to do medical examiner’s transports for Putnam County,” added Rev. Flagg, “and so whether it’s an accident scene, …a homicide, …a suicide, then we have a special unit that responds throughout this county.

“And how do you know if you are at an accident scene whether that person is positive or not? Universal precautions always,” Rev. Flagg affirmed. “And so, we are praying for families, …for ourselves, and for the nation and world because it is a pandemic in the truest sense of the word.”

•••

As always, remember our prayers for the sick, afflicted, the prodigal son, or daughter, and the bereaved.

Celebrations

Birthday wishes to Joan Robinson, Carla Price, April 11; Irving W. Robinson Jr., April 12; Louise Reid, St. Hellen Mitchell, Ronald L. Smith, April 13; Brendon Phillip Robinson, April 14; Frank Quarterman Sr., and Jillian Glover, April 15.

Happy anniversary to Les and Pat Town, April 14.

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