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Seattle-Area Funeral Director Weighs In On Funeral Planning During Pandemic

AILSA CHANG, HOST:

The coronavirus has now killed around 22,000 Americans in the last month and a half. That means funeral directors in many places are swamped. And they're trying to navigate funeral planning during a pandemic while also keeping themselves safe. Char Barrett is the funeral director at A Sacred Moment in Washington state, and she joins us now.

Welcome.

CHAR BARRETT: Thank you, Ailsa.

CHANG: So I understand that you call yourself a death midwife. What do you mean by that?

BARRETT: Well, the term death midwife is often reflected in prior ways of caring for the dead when others would basically stand away. And the more common phrase is now home funeral guide, which is really about allowing families to be able to care for their own dead and be able to do that in the comfort of their own home typically, either because the death occurred there or the body is brought back home following the death. And we try to empower the family to be able to care for their own in that way.

CHANG: I mean, I can imagine that trying to plan a funeral during a time when there can't be large gatherings - it must be very strange and difficult. Can you talk about these conversations that you're having, trying to plan these funerals - remotely?

BARRETT: Yes. They're very strange indeed these days. As a progressive funeral director, I have always prided myself on saying yes to families whenever possible. And sadly, I'm finding myself having to say no too often these days. But what we're trying to do...

CHANG: What kinds of things are you saying no to?

BARRETT: Well, we're having to say no to full funeral services, gatherings, life celebrations, having, you know, larger groups of family and friends around those, you know, immediate family members. And now, instead, it's just the immediate family members that can be at the graveside or, equivalent to that, being able to witness the placement of their loved one for cremation. Those are really sort of those more intimate gatherings that we're able to still provide for families. We're doing all we can...

CHANG: I imagine it's also - I'm...

BARRETT: Oh, go ahead.

CHANG: Forgive me. I imagine it's also harder to personally comfort grieving families now. You can't be face-to-face with them; you can't hug them. You can't touch them and offer comfort and support.

BARRETT: Absolutely. It's amazing what we convey through our eyes, through hand gestures. I am doing a lot of arrangements via Zoom and holding my hands across my chest and my heart as we say goodbye as sort of a symbol of hug to them.

CHANG: If I may, you know, we obviously have to be worried about your safety. Do you feel safe doing your job at this moment? In the very short moment we have left here in this interview, do you feel safe?

BARRETT: Sure. Yes. You know, we actually - as long as we have the proper PPE, we're protecting ourselves. And it does seem like we're able to keep ourselves safe.

CHANG: Char Barrett is the funeral director at A Sacred Moment in Everett, Wash.

Thank you, Char.

BARRETT: Thank you, Ailsa.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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