La PORTE — Mourning the loss of a loved one is never an easy process, even in the best of times.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, which has turned the lives of nearly every American upside down, many now fear they may not even be able to attend funerals or memorial services for a recently departed friend or family member.

Local funeral homes are reassuring the public that, while services may have to change for the foreseeable future due to the global coronavirus crisis, they remain open and able to assist families during their times of grief.

As the city’s largest funeral home facility, Haverstock Funeral Home is still able to hold regular memorial services – albeit with smaller attendance and with social distancing in mind, said owner Richard Vyse.

In line with Gov. Eric Holcomb’s guidance that public gatherings be limited to 50 people or less to stem the spread of COVID-19 – which is confirmed to have afflicted more than 200 Indiana residents as of Monday, with four deaths – Haverstock has drastically reduced seating in its chapel. Typically able to fit 140 people, staff have cut down seating to just 42, with chairs spaced out at least 6 feet apart, also in line with state and federal guidelines, Vyse said.

For larger services, the funeral home has space for 22 more visitors in a separate room, where guests can view the service from a live video feed, the owner said.

Staff members are also regularly disinfecting doorknobs, restrooms and other areas visitors frequently touch during services. The funeral home is even wiping down the pen guests use for the condolence book after each use to ensure the building remains as germ-free as possible.

“The most important thing is making sure our facility is safe: safe for us, safe for our staff and safe for our families,” Vyse said.

The Haverstock team is also offering the families the option to forgo the traditional memorial service and instead do drive-up visitations, the owner said. The funeral home staff will stand with the casket of their deceased loved one outside the chapel, allowing guests to drive up, pay their respects and be on their way.

The business will continue to monitor updated precautions from the state and federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, changing its policies if need be, Vyse said. At the same time, the funeral home will continue to do its best to serve local families.

“We’re all in this together and, God willing, we’ll survive this,” he said. “Haverstock will be here to help in any way we can.”

Meanwhile, Essling Chapel announced last week that it would be limiting private Mass, funeral or celebration of life services to only family members, to contain the spread of COVID-19, said company President/CEO Frank Keszei. Cemetery graveside services and private visitation with family members are permitted, as well.

“We are living in unprecedented and extraordinary times, filled with anxiety and uncertainty; we are sensitive that experiencing death is never easy, but most especially during times of national emergency when such restrictions may be in place,” Keszei said in an email to the Herald-Argus. “Amid these uncontrollable circumstances, Frank L. Keszei Funeral Home, Essling Chapel, remains committed to you and your family while caring for your loved one.”

Cutler Funeral Home has enacted similar policies, limiting services to family members only, said owner Dale Knouse. The business has placed the restrictions in light of the White House’s guidance that public gatherings be limited to 10 people or less, Knouse said.

“As a funeral director, one of our main mandates is to protect public health ... limiting services does that,” he said.

To accommodate larger families, the funeral home can schedule multiple services back-to-back, Knouse said.

Like Haverstock, Knouse said the Cutler staff has begun cleaning the facility more frequently as well.

While the funeral home may have these precautions in place for the time being, the staff will give families the option of having a full, public funeral service for their loved ones – free of charge – once the coronavirus crisis has subsided, Knouse said.

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