The family of Sara Lehman wanted to be able to mourn the great-great-grandmother, but couldn’t hold a service due to coronavirus restrictions. Lebanon Daily News
The novel coronavirus outbreak forced one Lebanon County funeral home to find a unique solution to social-distancing: a drive-thru viewing.
Rothermel-Finkenbinder Funeral Home & Crematory in Palmyra wanted to help the family and friends of Sara Lehman start the grieving process. A grandmother to seven, great-grandmother to 23, and a great-great-grandmother to two, Lehman died at age 93 on Thursday, April 2.
Having an in-person viewing with Lehman’s large family was not a good option: The state is recommending that memorial services be delayed, or limited to only 10 people.
But funeral director Travis Finkenbinder said for some people, viewing the deceased is how they can get over the first stage of grieving: denial.
“Seeing the tangible deceased body assists with that very first step,” Finkenbinder said. “Everyone has a right to view their loved one, that’s critically important to me.”
At the same time, Finkenbinder said he had to keep the safety of his employees, and the family members, in mind. The idea of a drive-thru viewing was shared in a call with other funeral home directors, Finkenbinder said.
Lehman’s family decided to give it a try.
Starting at 11 a.m., family members gathered outside the entrance to the funeral home. A group of mourners lined up in their cars in a parking lot across the street, and made their way one-by-one to greet the family, then left out the other side of the driveway.
On Tuesday, there wasn’t the usual hugging or reminiscing about the deceased that’s common at viewings. Rather, funeral home employees wearing masks directed mourners to stay in their cars, and family members were asked to stay 7 feet away from the vehicles.
Finkenbinder said they hoped it was enough to give the family some comfort.
“Even if it’s someone driving through and waving, the family knows and understands that, say, Jim the neighbor was here to say goodbye,” Finkenbinder said.
A private burial was planned for later in the day, and Lehman’s family will hold a memorial service in the future.
Funeral homes adapting
Funeral homes have had to adjust all their practices to social distancing guidelines.
More than just affecting someone’s funeral plans, the COVID-19 pandemic has also likely disrupted the grieving process for many, said Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association executive director Kathleen K. Ryan.
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“Typically a funeral is where friends and acquintances come together to not only show respect to the dead, but to help show support to the living,” Ryan said. “Under these circumstances that’s difficult to do remotely.”
Some homes have been livestreaming services, while others have been encouraging families to postpone services until after social-distancing guidelines are lifted.
Finkenbinder said they are trying their best to give families a chance to properly mourn their loved ones.
“We’re doing whatever we can do to accommodate the family during this time, while still being socially responsible,” Finkenbinder said.
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