Roanoke funeral directors adapting, including resources to last after COVID-19 pandemic ends


ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — Funeral directors around the Roanoke Valley and around the country are adapting to running their businesses during the COVID-19 pandemic. In fact, some are making additions they plan to use even after the pandemic ends.

The staff at Hamlar-Curtis Funeral Home in Roanoke has been offered the coronavirus vaccine.

Owner Michael Hamlar says most employees have either been fully vaccinated or are on the verge of receiving the second shot.

Michael Hamlar (Left) and brother, Byron Hamlar (Right) are third generation owners of Hamlar-Curtis Funeral Home.

However, workers are still being extra cautious.

Hamlar plans to continue live streaming funeral services to families free of charge, even after the pandemic is over.

He says it helps people be able to participate in a memorial service if they cannot attend the service in-person, whatever the reason.

Live streaming funeral services are free.

Some of the common reasons include inability to travel and physical ailments.

The idea to offer virtual services was something Hamlar considered five to 10 years ago.

He says business is getting easier to handle since the start of the pandemic, but the precautions are still in place.

“We’re exposed to a lot,” Hamlar said. “Not just us, our families. I have a wife and three kids. My children mean everything to me. I love my wife. I even had to quarantine sometimes where I wasn’t infected but it was because of some of the cases we were working on.”

Every other pew in the funeral home’s chapel is roped off to maintain social distancing for mourners. Hand sanitizer is also available throughout the building.

A view of the chapel at Hamlar-Curtis Funeral Home.

Meanwhile, the staff uses a fog machine to cleanse the facility every day.

Hamlar says the staff deeply cleans the facility and vehicles before and after each funeral, as well as after each planning meeting with families.

There is even a push to make arrangements virtually or over the phone, but those are not requirements.

Over the last year amid the COVID-19 pandemic, WFXR News has spoken to several funeral directors in the Roanoke Valley and in other states, including Tennessee, Michigan, and New Jersey.

Many say families have been forced to make difficult and significant adjustments during the planning stages for their loved ones services.

There have been cases when families opted to not have a funeral at all.

On the other hand, others decided to hold private ceremonies with less than 10 people to easily limit the number of people in attendance.

Oakey’s Funeral Services director Sammy Oakey told WFXR News he has noticed more people deciding to plan early.

“We’re seeing a very broad spectrum of people coming in to make their pre-arrangements,” Oakey said in September 2020. ” They don’t tell us why they’re there. But they just tell us they’ve been thinking about it. I think a lot of these are people who have been considering doing it over the past year or two, but the possibility of a COVID-19 infection has caused a lot of people to put their plans into action.”

There have also been cases where families decided to postpone memorial services for several months or even hold out until the pandemic is over.

The families say then they can wait to celebrate the life for their loved one until they can do so any restrictions.

Meanwhile, many funeral directors have seen a rise in cremations and graveside services.

Workers say they are doing their best to provide families with whatever resources are needed and attempt to honor requests as best as they can.

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