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St. Mary Sheriff's Office deputies serve as pallbearers at a recent funeral.

'It's hard for our families': COVID-19 changes local funeral services

Funeral homes are another sector of industry that has had to make adjustments in response to the threat of COVID-19.
Local funeral homes have found ways to meet their customers’ needs while staying within mandates issued by officials, such as limiting groups to no more than 10 people.
“I really have to commend our funeral industry that has really stepped up to the plate,” said Scott Pellerin, manager and funeral director at Ibert’s Mortuary. “We’re doing so much now remotely, even when it comes to arrangements.
“So much has happened virtually overnight with being able to send families an app where they can upload pictures, information that we need to compile for the obituary and death certificate, not coming in to see caskets,” Pellerin added. “Instead, we can send them a link to a virtual catalog to where they can look at pictures and pricing.”
Local funeral home officials said that families have been understanding of the mandates that must be followed at this time.
“A lot of our cases we’re experiencing are hospice cases at this point, and the hospice is preparing our families (about the extenuating circumstances for funerals) before we even take them into our custody,” said Candace Dinger, location manager at Hargrave Funeral Home in Morgan City.
Dinger said Hargrave, which is owned by Service Corporation International along with thousands of other funeral homes across the United States, Canada and Puerto Rico, is having conference calls nearly daily with fellow members of the corporation’s south Louisiana market to discuss best practices during these uncertain times.
Both Ibert’s and Hargrave officials said they are having families come in to visit in shifts to pay their respects and also comply with the state’s mandates. They’re not gathering outside the funeral home in a line as they usually do.
“It’s hard for our families, and our hearts go out to them for the fact that they can’t grieve publicly with everybody at this point,” Dinger said.
The funeral homes also have limited employees onsite at the same time, either through splitting shifts or some employees working from home.
Dinger said that outside help has been provided with pallbearing duties at times by the St. Mary Parish Sheriff’s Office.
Sheriff Blaise Smith said the department emphasizes community service among its employees, and he said seeing his deputies perform this service is something that makes him proud.
“We don’t do it for attention,” he said. “We do it out of compassion and love for our fellow man.”
Deputies Walter Shepherd, Bart Lange, David Leonard Jr., Gary Keller, Randal Billiot and Oscar West all participated on behalf of the Sheriff’s Office.
“It makes us feel wonderful that we’re able to help out,” Shepherd said.
Shepherd said the department’s duties are for more than just law enforcement.
“We’re here to help all citizens of St. Mary Parish in whichever way is needed,” he said.
Pellerin said the funeral industry goes beyond just being a business, too.
“We love our families that we deal with,” Pellerin said. “You don’t do this business just from a business standpoint. It’s really a care for people.”

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