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Funeral homes in McHenry County evolve in the wake of COVID-19 pandemic shutdown

At the crossroads of bridging life and death amid the COVID-19 pandemic, funeral homes in McHenry County faced a grim reality.

Funeral homes saw services boom in the spring of 2020 when many industries faced challenges with following a stay-at-home order issued by the governor in response to COVID-19 that prompted businesses to shut down.

“Mid-2020, we probably had double the call volume that we had before COVID-19,” said Robert Justen, funeral director at Justen Funeral Homes in McHenry, Round Lake and Wonder Lake. “It got a little stressful there at that point.”

Like many industries, however, funeral homes were prompted to adapt in response to the pandemic.

Jenna Woody, the owner and a funeral director for Cardinal Funeral and Cremation Services in Crystal Lake, said her establishment had to change how it operates.

“It’s been difficult because you can’t conduct full services trying to help people in the grieving process and for them to have closure,” Woody said. “All the benefits from the community showing their support to you during a time of loss, that’s really difficult to see families not have that.”

Woody said they have started streaming programs using social media to allow greater community participation.

Justen said he’s acquired additional equipment to keep up with the demand for funeral webcasts.

He said the funeral home didn’t stream funeral services regularly prior to the pandemic.

Woody said her funeral home is doing its best to meet the community where its needs and interests are.

Both said their clients are choosing to scale down their funeral arrangement plans amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Justen said the number of funerals arranged for individuals dying from COVID-19 were plentiful around the halfway point of 2020.

He said numerous discussions with clients about the virus and its impact to funeral operations were held early on in the pandemic.

“People call up and say, ‘hey, what are the restrictions?’” Justen said. “We try to get that out of the way right away, and then, we say how we can work around it. We go from there.”

Woody said that discussing the restrictions that the funeral home must adhere to makes for difficult conversations to have, but her staff does a wonderful job with clients.

Both said they believe the funeral homes still are providing the level of comfort that clients are used to, despite the pandemic.

Woody said she believes people will continue to gravitate with traditional funerals long after the pandemic.

Justen said he believes the pandemic will have some implications for funeral homes and how they operate going forward.

“I think this time has reminded people of what they miss by not having it,” Justen said. “When you tell them you can’t do something, there’s that old saying, ‘you don’t know what you have until you lose it.’ I do think there’s going to be continue to be ceremonies, but at the same time, I feel like some stuff, like webcasting a ceremony or sharing it for someone that might be in Arizona and can’t travel, is going to stick around well after the pandemic in lesser degrees than we’re using it right now.”

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