Adjusting for death in Sun Cities

Arrangements, funerals take on new life

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While many businesses experience drastic drops in activity, there is at least one industry facing a different challenge during the coronavirus outbreak.

Funeral homes see the same, and possibly more, business as before the health crisis began. Their challenge is finding new ways to make arrangements and provide services, activities that in the past were totally against the social distancing now urged to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

Sun Cities funeral operators are finding similar solutions, but there are some unique approaches.

Menke Funeral and Cremation Center, 12420 N. 103rd Ave. Sun City; Camino del Sol Funeral Chapel and Cremation Center, 13738 W. Camino del Sol, Sun City West; and Dignity Sunland Memorial Park, Mortuary and Cremation Center, 15826 N. Del Webb Blvd., Sun City, all offer private services with a 10-person limit of attendance. They also offer services to be live streamed to those who cannot attend.

“The live streaming is kind of like classes in school,” said Kelly Browder, Menke manager.

The live stream services on Facebook and the Menke website were available at Menke before the COVID-19 crisis, but are being utilized more so now, she added.

Sunland officials are finding the attendance limit is less of an issue in Sun City.

“The majority of our clients are elderly,” said Dan Salter, Sunland manager. “They don’t have much in the way of family here and their friends are limited.”

For Sunland, the live streaming of services is a new experience, he added.

Camino del Sol officials did offer recorded services for later viewing, but upgraded to live streaming when requested by families. However, they needed help with the live streaming.

“With the equipment and expertise we had, we had to reach out for the live streaming,” said Karen Darby-Ritz, of Camino del Sol. “We found people who were more experienced to help us with that.”

Most clients so far opted for recorded services, she added. Some of their clients so far arranged for services in the summer, hoping the health crisis will be over by then, she explained.

All three agencies are urging funeral arrangements be made remotely whenever possible. But all still include the in-person option, limiting the number of people involved.

“We’re working with families the best we can,” Ms. Browder said.

Mr. Salter said few of their clients are insisting on coming to the mortuary to make arrangements.

“Most of our clients make their arrangements over the phone or on Zoom,” Ms. Darby-Ritz said. “If the deceased is COVID-19 positive and one of the arrangers had close contact with the deceased, we require arrangements be done over the phone.”

Ms. Darby-Ritz agreed the elderly population tends to have smaller groups.

Families who must bury or cremate a loved one have another, totally digital option. End of life platforms like funeralocity.com and lantern.co can make arrangements, connecting families to funeral and cremation centers throughout the country. These platforms also provide virtual services and remembrances, grief counseling and wills and trusts, and more.

None of the three Sun Cities funeral companies laid off any staff members due to the health crisis.

“We need them all,” Ms. Browder said.

Ms. Darby-Ritz said much of Camino’s actual service and other event planning is done by staff working from home.

Officials also said clients have been understanding of the adjustments required.

All three establishments ramped up their sanitary procedures.

“We were maybe a little too casual internally at first, but now we are more diligent,” Mr. Salter said.

Camino added three days of intense disinfecting their facilities in addition to the regular cleaning.

Ms. Darby-Ritz said she and her staff are planning for the virus’ peak, as she believed that has yet to come. She added while funeral companies are competitors in a sense, they will be ready to assist others if necessary.

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