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COVID restrictions on funerals continue to impact the grieving process

ALPENA, Mich. — Updated epidemic orders have loosened restrictions on other industries, but there is one business that has yet to see a change- funerals.

Since September, funeral processions have been limited to family and close friends, and only 25 people have been allowed in the parlor at once. Last week, a group of funeral directors and bereavement counselors across Michigan testified in front of state senators, asking them to ease the COVID-19 restrictions on their business.

“I can safely seat 140, 150 people in my building for a funeral,” said D. Chad Esch, owner of Bannan Funeral Home in Alpena. “Even if it was 50 percent capacity, like restaurants, I’m far exceeding 25.”

“Families over the last year have had a really rough time resolving their grief with only 25 people,” said Stephen Kemp, owner of a funeral home in Southfield, in his testimony last week. Other testimonies included how the COVID restrictions have brought added stress and unresolved grief to those who lost a loved one. Bridgid Lynch, a bereavement counselor who also spoke to Senators, said that the best resources for battling grief- family, friends, and the community- are not available to people in mourning.

While Esch and other businesses have adapted to the pandemic, that’s not to say their clients have adapted to a new grieving process.

“People are grieving by themselves, that’s not healthy,” Esch said. “We’re experiencing higher rates of suicide across the country.”

Esch also says the way people act at funerals has also been different. With social distancing measures in place, even condolences look a little bit different.

“Loved ones are afraid to hug each other,” Esch said. “The emotional and the physical disconnect is terrible.”