This is part 1 or 2 articles from Brenda Atkinson from her perspective as a chaplain at a funeral home. This article focuses on what’s happening at funeral homes now and the second will focus on how each of us can help comfort those who mourn.

By Brenda F. Atkinson
Continuing Care Coordinator
Thomas McAfee Funeral Home

When I joined the staff at Thomas McAfee in 2008, the funeral business in general was experiencing many changes. Some of this was happening because of how mobile families were becoming, which in part explains the rise in cremation.

As church participation and membership were decreasing, many families were choosing to have what they call a Celebration of Life. They ask a family member, friend, and/or a Funeral Celebrant to speak instead of clergy.

Also, the funerals were becoming more personalized, offering a video of the deceased life, displaying items of interest such as hobbies, sports, picture boards, music, and awards. Just as the church has experienced the increase in the use of technology the funeral homes have as well.

Now, about 2020

Fast forward 12 years later to 2020 and the world comes to a screeching halt because of COVID 19, except for those professions that are consider essential. I remember the day I received my letter that I was to keep in my car during the quarantine stating I was an essential worker just in case I was stopped for being out.

The feelings and thoughts I experienced that day were foreign to me as a minister. My first thought: we are all essential in the Kingdom of God. Secondly, you mean I may have to defend why I am driving to the funeral home!

Quickly God reminded me of all the professional caregivers on the front lines at this unusual time. Then I realized I had not fully appreciated the freedom i had to do ministry with the ability to go where needed.

All the restrictions

Funeral service has been busy since March 2020. Not all are COVID19 deaths, but some are. The Funeral Directors are having to explain to families the restrictions about gathering for a funeral. No more than 50 percent capacity in our chapels, no public visitations, just so many are allowed at the graveside, no family cars can be used, and masks are required. Should the family want to have a funeral ceremony in the church or a venue, the Directors are having to work within their pandemic regulations and explain them to the family.

The Directors feel that they are unable to be as personable with the families because of having to explain the limitations to having a funeral ritual. Added to this is the stress and/or guilt the families are experiencing for not being able to be with their loved one at the time of death.

Listening to families express their frustrations about the situation is part of helping them get into their grief.

If the family has been exposed to COVID and are quarantined or they are waiting on other family members to arrive from out of town, many want to “get started” with the arrangements. The Director then instructs the family how to begin entering information in the computer in what is called the Planning Center.

Even the pens

On every outside door of the Funeral Home are signs about social distancing and wearing masks. Also, hand sanitizer, individual packs of Kleenex and extra face masks are located throughout the Funeral Home. 

Even the pens to sign the register books have changed with containers that have a sign Clean Pens and Used Pens. All of this is a part of the family’s experience.  Most of those we serve are grateful for the extra precautions we are taking to ensure their safety.

Earlier I mentioned that funeral homes were having to update the technology and thank goodness this was already in place. Just like many in the business and education world, Zoom and Microsoft Teams have become the Funeral Home’s friend. 

We have offered our continuing education to the community virtually, as well as our yearly Service of Remembrance that is held the first weekend of December. Since family members from out-of-town could not travel, live-streaming the ritual and the filming of graveside service is happening more frequently. 

In the Spring of 2008, Brenda Atkinson returned to her hometown of Greenville, SC, from Kansas City, Missouri to accept the position of Continuing Care Coordinator at the Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes.

The responsibilities of the position are to offer grief counseling to the families served and to keep open communications with the professional caregiving community, school counselors, teachers, and the public, to inform them of the most recent theories in grief counseling.

Brenda received a M. Div. from New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary and a BS degree from Southern Wesleyan University. Brenda has completed four units in Clinical Pastoral education and is endorsed as a Chaplain by the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship.

She is certified in Thanatology: Death, Dying and Bereavement by the Association for Death Education and Counseling (ADEC). She served as Hospice Chaplain for three years and as minister of education to adults and singles for 15 years.

Brenda leads support groups for the grieving and speaks at churches and civic events.