McDermott & Crockett: Funeral Homes Turn to Zoom, Creativity Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

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Funeral director Ruben Rey is used to dozens, sometimes hundreds of people, gathering at a funeral.

As the owner of Pueblo Del Rey Funeral Services, he deals with mostly Mexican and Mexican-American families. He's sort of a wedding coordinator, but for funerals, helping people and families grieve and pay respects to their loved ones from the first phone call for service to the cemetery burial. 

"A traditional Catholic service is extensive," Rey told Noozhawk. "It includes a Rosary in the evening, a Mass the next day and then a graveside service. There is a lot of emotion, grieving, crying, a lot of touching. That is eliminated now."

Rey is just one of the funeral homes in town that has had to dramatically overhaul its services to comply with the shelter-in-place and state mandate to limit gatherings to 10 people or fewer. Funeral homes are using Zoom to allow more people to attend services virtually, limiting gatherings to 10 or fewer, and cutting out all of the hugs and embraces that typically happen at a funeral service.

"Can you imagine grieving your loved ones like this?" Rey said. "It has put a damper on things."

Rey said he, too, is restricting his direct contact with families, doing what he can through phone, fax and email. 

"That is just the way it has to be," Rey said. 

Rey recently facilitated a graveside service with 12 people—10 family members, himself and the priest. Families, he said, are understanding the situation.

"They have reconciled to the reality that if this is the way they have to say goodbye to their loved ones, so be it," Rey said. "We can go back and have a celebration of life at a church later."

At McDermott-Crockett Mortuary, they have joined the ranks of private business and schools and are offering services through Zoom. 


"We are utilizing Zoom technology to either video document the service or provide a platform where people can participate wherever they are," said Jennifer Parks, general manager, funeral arrangement counselor, and a certified funeral celebrant for McDermott-Crockett. 

Parks said the mortuary utilized the technology at a recent service, which 57 people attended remotely. One of the three people graveside at the Santa Barbara Cemetery streamed the video on their phone.

"They were able to see and speak at the grave site by way of technology," Parks said. 

Parks said the social distancing has added stress on families. 

"It makes it more difficult," she said. "It completely changes the complexity of how families are grieving. What we provide is to gather as a community. When you are not able to gather as a community it is so difficult. It is very difficult to be able to not hug your people and be able to grieve together, but we are really trying to honor those families, while following the guidelines and keeping everyone safe."

Scott Reid, a partner at Welch-Ryce-Haider Funeral Chapels, said the company is now allowing more than 10 people in a building at one time. If more than 10 people want to come in, the mortuary is practicing separation, similar to grocery stories, and staggering entrance times for people.

Everyone understands, Reid said, and is really cooperating considering the circumstances. 

"It’s definitely changed the dynamic of how we interact with people," Reid said. "The hands-on, face-to-face communication has all but gone away."

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