Beck brings families as close as possible during pandemic

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By MIKE EDDLEMAN

When Williamson County issued an order limiting gatherings to 10 people or less, many lamented the lost opportunity for church gatherings, live music, and dining out, but until it reached them personally through the loss of a loved one, few considered how the new rules would impact how they mourn.

But one of the most profound effects of social distancing today is being felt in funeral homes across the country, and no one feels it more than Blake Henderson at Beck Funeral Home.

A third generation funeral director – in the business full time for 18 years – Henderson has never seen anything that has changed what he does so much so quickly.

“We are adjusting to it as well as we can,” he said. “But the biggest loss we have is that people don’t get to have that memorialization for their loved one and being able to have their friends and close relatives come and show their support and love for the person they just lost.”

That personal touch, the ability to hold a hand or give a hug, is something often taken for granted and suddenly stripped away.

“It’s very tough because that’s what we’re about,” Henderson said. “We’re not an online funeral home. We’re a hands on family to family funeral home. Not being able to do that is tough because we know people need that. The best thing we can do is webcast it or Facebook Live the services.”

In Henderson’s experience, nothing replaces the opportunity to gather together to mourn and celebrate a life.

“People are really missing being able to comfort one another if you will,” he said. “Only being able to have nine people at a service kind of hurts in a way more than the death because you don’t get the closure or the support you need at that time. I think people are really looking forward to this being over just so they can be there for one another.”

The missing personal touch is felt beyond family members, though, coming also between the staff at Beck and the families they serve.

“It was tough, that’s what our whole business is,” Henderson said. “Beck is a full service funeral home where we are here to serve the public and we have the facilities for people to gather and reception rooms for people to gather and basically that’s what we’re all about. For that to all just shut down and have most things now being done on the computer we feel like it’s a real loss of that personal touch.”

But Beck carries on, looking for every way to ease the frustration of not being able to memorialize loved ones at this time in the traditional manner.

“We take turns with different groups of people coming in, so we will let one group come in, then another group of the family come in if need be, but it is definitely a different thing and tough,” Henderson said. “We’ve been doing everything we can. We have some radio transmitters coming so if people come to the funeral home we can at least have the service on a radio station where it can be transmitted to the parking lot.”

He’s thankful for the technology and the forward-thinking response to making the most of a difficult situation, but Henderson said the new way of coping is not a replacement for what’s most important.

“It is the only thing we can do,” Henderson said. “The actual process is fine. We are able to video it, we can stream it, that’s not the problem. The problem is not being able to be there. The steps we take work. We have online guest books where people can sign online now rather than in person, but it’s just different.”

The benefits and importance of preplanning services has also been highlighted by the current situation.

“People are anxious for this all to be lifted so they can come in and do that,” he said. “We’re still doing it online and by mail and some people are coming in to do it. The people who had preplanned are way better off than the ones who have not because the ones that are preplanned we can already see their choices. It has been a huge benefit. In a circumstance like this we never thought we’d be in that helps a family a lot because we already know what they want.”

When families seek help planning their services amid the social distancing and mass gathering restrictions, Henderson said everyone is adjusting as best they can.

“They are understanding,” Henderson said. “We have to explain to them the parameters and other ways we can meet their needs, and lay out their options in the ways we best have seen how people can cope with all this. But everyone has been understanding.”

And in the end, the staff at Beck looks for every opportunity to keep things as close and personal as possible under the circumstances.

“We just do what we do with every family regardless of what’s going on,” Henderson said. “We’re there for what they need. We’re sympathetic and empathetic with them because it’s a big deal for us to be one of those 10 people at their service.”

With smaller groups in attendance, Henderson knows his presence means one more person is not able to participate, but in one recent situation at a graveside service he was able to fill the support role staff is there for and also step up to help memorialize the family’s lost loved one.

“I was able to stand up at the end and share several memories I had with them because I knew the family,” he said. “I had buried her son and I had also buried her husband so I was able to speak on my experience with their family that maybe added a little bit to that family’s comfort.”

Facilitating small services at a distant is just not what Henderson is all about, and he is eager to be able to return to what means the most to him when he is helping a family cope with a loss.

“The personal comfort we offer and we give when people come into the funeral home is not here right now so I know people – especially us – are waiting for this to be done so we can get back to serving our families as we have the whole time. I’m very anxious. We’re not a hands off funeral home, we’re a hands on family to family funeral home and we’re built to hold your hand through the situation so we’re very much looking forward to this being over.”

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