Roanoke funeral home sees spike in people making early arrangements during COVID-19 pandemic

Local News

ROANOKE, Va. (WFXR) — More people are planning their own funerals so their families won’t have to do so. One Roanoke funeral director believes the coronavirus pandemic is playing a role in those decisions.

Oakey’s Funeral Service is seeing a spike in people making early arrangements.

Funeral director Sammy Oakey says he encourages people to do funeral pre-planning to “eliminate that burden from their families.”

The number of people making those early choices is picking back up after sharply declining between March and May at the beginning of the pandemic. However, payments are not required when making pre-arrangements.

Oakey says although people can schedule appointments to visit the funeral home and do pre-planning, they are taking advantage of other options. Now, he is seeing more cases of making arrangements online; by phone; and, in some cases, outside in the parking lot to avoid a lot of physical contact.

“We’re seeing a very broad spectrum of people coming in to make their pre-arrangements. They don’t tell us why they’re there. But they just tell us they’ve been thinking about it,” Oakey said. “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.”

People doing funeral pre-planning in 2020:

  • March: 45 plans
  • April: 29 plans
  • May: 22 plans
  • June: 48 plans
  • July: 41 plans
  • August: 37 plans

According to Oakey’s Funeral Service, 60 percent of those making pre-funeral arrangements are doing so for themselves, while 40 percent are making early arrangements for a loved one.

At the beginning of the pandemic, no more than 10 people were able to attend a memorial service. As a response, Oakey says people opted to have either private ceremonies, immediate cremations, or graveside services.

As COVID-19 restrictions are lifting, more people are allowed to gather under certain circumstances, including more mourners permitted to attend funeral services. In addition, as more people are authorized to attend funeral services, many are opting to hold traditional services.

Now, the funeral home can hold at least 50 people — approximately 50 percent capacity — in its chapel comfortably without any fear of violating rules implemented by Gov. Ralph Northam.

However, Oakey’s Funeral Service is adding extra procedures to make sure they do not revert to smaller crowds.

For example, Oakey says everyone inside must wear a face covering for visitations and funeral services. In addition, to help with social distancing, mourners can sit in every other row of pews, and are escorted to and from their seats.

Furthermore, the staff is using fog machines after every visitation and funeral to cleanse the air and reduce any potential spread of the virus. Employees are also sanitizing the equipment frequently and consistently.

Oakey says there has been a lot anxiety to deal with amid the implementation of all these changes, but thinks the changes are necessary.

“It’s not something that we’ve been trained for. This is not something that there’s a playbook designed for,” Oakey said. “We’ve just had to learn as we go along. Even though we can’t shake hands, even though we can’t hug and even though we can’t get close to them, showing that empathy and showing the care that we have is important because people are feeling very lost right now and feeling very confused.”

However, Oakey is providing his staff with resources to manage their mental health during these stressful times, including therapy, if needed.

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