By Robert Whale, Auburn Reporter
Breaking the news is awful.
That is, telling the grief stricken in the time of COVID-19 they can’t have a public funeral service until Gov. Jay Inslee lifts his order against public gatherings.
After March 31, Inslee said.
But will the ban end then?
Waiting for an update from the governor’s office are Rob Perry, owner of Yahn and Sons Funeral Home, and Craig Hudson, manager of Mountain View Cemetery in Auburn, who, just like everyone else, are struggling to deal with social distancing and the fallout from COVID-19.
“This is rapidly changing,” Hudson said, “because two weeks ago we had families when it was okay to have 250 people or less, then changed quickly to 50 a few days later, then down to 10, and now it’s just delivery only of the casket with families not able to be, specifically for us, at a graveside service.”
One hard call Hudson had to make was to a family that had been expecting to hold a service with an anticipated gathering of up to 250 based on the numbers at the time.
“We deal with a lot of different ethnicities and cultural issues where it’s a very big deal. It’s a lot of people, and people fly in from all over, and it’s very hard to tell people no, it has to be delayed.”
“It’s been difficult because there are so many rules coming from so many places,” said Perry. “You’ve got the feds and the CDC, the county and the governor, so, which rules do you follow, and which do you not follow? We always try to err on the more conservative side of everything and be overly cautious here.”
“We got a clear definition of the governor’s proclamation days later from the Department of Licensing, that all the events that are included in the ban would be graveside services, witness cremations, and funerals, of course,” Hudson said.
“So, we’re just trying to keep up, and we’re the bearers of bad news. And even though we have the documented support from the governor, it’s still tough, because [mourners] have these plans, and they’ve already invited people, and now…”
For Perry, the confusion came to a head after a recent service.
“We told them, ‘OK, we are limiting this service to 10 because only 10 people can be in this building at one time, and you guys all have to be outside and be 6 feet apart.’ Of course, you can’t really police that, but we were doing the right thing,” Perry recalled.
As later funerals approached, Perry said, he realized the new regulations would not work at funerals.
“A funeral situation is emotional,” Perry said, and people want to shake hands and hug and cry and do all the things we as human beings need to do, but you just can’t do it now. I talked with the board and and state and I was looking for some direction to help us —if we had to say no — to say, ‘This is why we’re saying no. It’s not just me, it’s the governor.’
“And the next day,” Perry continued, “the headline in the Seattle Times was ‘funerals banned.’ People had been trying to get around that, you know, asking, ‘What if we have less than 50, what then?’ And you feel for them. My dad passed away less than a year ago, and the thought of not being able to have something is terrible.”
The cemetery remains open, so a family member or family members living in a house together can come and say their goodbyes after workers have taken care of the interment itself, With cremation, Hudson said, just having the urn to deal with makes it a little easier to wait or postpone the service than does a traditional casket burial.
“With embalming and refrigeration and things like that they can certainly wait until March 31, but right now, even that’s a question mark whether the ban’s going to be over at that time or if it’s going to be extended, so it’s kind of tricky situation. I’ve got a couple of families with arrangements pending that I’m working with this morning, and everybody that I’ve talked to has been very understanding,” Hudson said.
Even the the guys who dig the graves and do the burials and set up the markers and sometimes help out with graveside services at Mountain View Cemetery feel it.
“We’re all about the people,” said maintenance worker Zach Hopper, “and it kinda breaks your heart that people can’t send their loved ones off the way they want to do it. Just the way the guidelines are now about people not showing up for the service is heartbreaking.”
“It’s still kinda new. Like last week, we still had a ton of people coming up here. We just try to keep our distance from them. They didn’t talk to much about it, but we still had a lot of visitors.”
“One of the reasons we like working up here other than the Parks Department is we get to help people when they are going through a rough time,” said co-worker David Partridge. “For us to give them bad news when they’re already going through it, it’s sad.”