Funeral services in the area are being impacted by the coronavirus outbreak. The services at many funeral homes, including Wilson-Schramm Spaulding Funeral Home on Roosevelt Boulevard in Middletown, are being kept private and are for family and close friends only to minimize the chances of the virus spreading. Wilson-Schramm Spaulding Funeral Home has had three funerals recently and the largest one had 13 mourners in attendance. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF

Butler County funeral homes seeing fewer mourners, no handshakes, no hugging

When they look inside their funeral parlors, they see only a handful of mourners — standing several feet apart — and no one is shaking hands, no one is hugging.

It certainly doesn’t resemble a traditional funeral service, but what the directors have learned, is that the coronavirus has changed all businesses.

Even funerals.

“I never thought I’d see something like this when I got into this business,” said Mark Spaulding, funeral director at Wilson Schramm Spaulding Funeral Home in Middletown. “It’s truly unfortunate that we can’t give these families what they need: a time to grieve and a time for closure.”

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He said at the last three funerals there, the largest attendance was 13 people. Normally, he said, that number would be closer to 100. He’s also afraid since florists closed because they are a non-essential business, there will be a time when there are no flowers at a funeral.

Most of the funeral services have been private, and directors are encouraging families to hold larger memorial services once orders have been lifted by Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine. The majority of obituaries in the Journal-News are listing funeral services as private as a way to discourage large crowds.

Melissa Sullivan, executive director of Ohio Funeral Directors Association, said the “most challenging” aspect for directors is their inability to provide passionate care for grieving family members and friends because of the health restrictions.

“Any death is such a devastating event, but when you add on these challenges, it’s really tough,” she said.

Spaulding said the funeral home is accommodating families, their customers, the best they can. He said some chairs have been removed from the rooms to give mourners move room. It’s “really odd,” he said, that when families are going through the grieving process, there isn’t more emotion.

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“The hugging and hand shakes are an important part of the process for the families,” he said.

Brian Flick, owner of Brown Dawson Flick Funeral Home with two locations in Hamilton, said he started noticing smaller funerals as the fear of the coronavirus spread into the United States. Flick said of the last four funerals, the largest gathering was 14 people.

Those funerals were mostly made up of immediate family members, he said.

“It’s a different time right now,” said Flick, who has been in the funeral business for 26 years.

At the request of one family, the funeral home posted a sign asking for no hand shakes or hugs, he said.

Flick is hoping people will hold live streaming services or larger memorial services later as a way to help the families grieve.

Al Milton, director of Donald Jordan Memorial Chapel in Middletown, said the “greatest impact” caused by the coronavirus pandemic has been the number of people at a funeral. He said a funeral held last week for a longtime Middletown resident attracted 40 people, and before the coronavirus, there would have been 200 mourners there.

He said out-of-state travelers are reluctant to attend funerals so he’s recommending that only family and close relatives show up because it’s “risky right now.”

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