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Black funeral directors believe Covid may change funeral culture forever

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I visited, as I often do, with a former Senior Level Executive this week just to catch up on what was happening in his world and visit about a story Funeral Director Daily had recently ran.  We talked about a lot of things — including COVID-19, and because of it, we had not seen each other in over a year.

We talked about our own lives and how our “new habits” have become the norm and may stay that way moving forward, even when the COVID pandemic is over.  We actually admitted that some of our new habits are enjoyable. . .and we probably never would have tried them without the impetus of the COVID lockdowns.

On the other hand, I’ve read about and then put into thought, how Americans retrenched their lives during the 1917-1919 Spanish Flu epidemic, but eventually moved forward and back to normalcy out of it.  I’ve thought about the Cold War and missile crisis of the early 1960’s when we heard a siren at school we were trained to get under our desks. . . .that habit, too, has passed.

I think that there is a lot of angst and anxiety in the death care community about how a year of COVID-19 deaths and funeral service protocols may change funeral service.  Will the habits being picked up by necessity, such as watching on Zoom, go out or will that be the cultural norm moving forward?  There are at least two aspects to that question — funeral homes and how they are paid for whatever services that they render and family dynamics, including the lack of grief relief a family member may miss out on if people don’t personally attend visitations and services.

I read this recent article from the Tennessee Tribune where members of the Black funeral home community are asking themselves those questions.  Funeral director and funeral home owner D.D. Watson had this observation for a member of his community who died during the pandemic:

“When he died of an age-related illness at the age of 98 on July 22, 2020, there was hardly anyone in the county of Louisa who had not been touched by his life. . . .Yet, upon the death of this legendary businessman, philanthropist, politician, and public servant, the largest single gathering in his honor was barely 12 people. That’s because government-imposed legal restrictions on public gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic . . . . If it wasn’t for the COVID virus, he would have had a service fitting for a king. His impact was so far-reaching. But his life could not be celebrated like I thought should have been fitting for him. COVID stole that.”

The article moves on to say this, “Whereas funerals have long been a monumental “celebration of life” for African-Americans, some believe this tradition has diminished forever even with a largely vaccinated community and regardless of how post-COVID America becomes.”

Rev. Hari P. Close of Baltimore, and President of the 2,000 member National Funeral Directors & Morticians Association, Inc.,  an association for Black funeral directors, says this, “. . . . the Black community must do everything possible to guard against losing the tradition of holding large funeral gatherings. . . we cannot allow our culture to be changed because once we let that segment dissolve of the celebration of life, we’re in trouble. . . . .We have a responsibility to the next generation to really emphasize the traditions of who we are.”

I think it is okay to be anxious of what may happen.  I was always anxious about the next thing that might happen in funeral service and being so kept me alert and on my toes.  Nothing seems to happen in an instant, although it is also important that if you are not looking ahead, things may pass you by before you even know it.

Keep working to satisfy clientele, but keep your eyes open. . . .look for changes and if you are ahead of whatever curve that comes, you will be fine.

Related:  Cremation is on the rise in Black and Latino communities during COVID-19.  Frontline.

RelatedFrontline 30 – minute feature story video.  “Death is our Business“.  The tag for this feature story is “How Black owned funeral homes in New Orleans have navigated the coronavirus pandemic”.

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