Virus milestones are ‘lonely’ and ‘isolated’


In an era of drive-by birthday parties and drive-thru visitations, it is clear the coronavirus pandemic has impacted virtually all areas of life. 

Pictured, the Easter Bunny waves from a vehicle at the conclusion of a drive-by birthday parade for 6-year-old Dawsyn Matzenbacher in Waterloo on Saturday. The parade of family, classmates and friends showered Dawsyn with birthday wishes, cards, balloons, gifts and signs. Parents Shane and Lori Matzenbacher said their daughter was concerned by what was happening in the world because of the coronavirus and didn’t think she would be able to celebrate her birthday or get a visit from the Easter Bunny.

That includes milestones from funerals to weddings.

In the former case, families must decide how to best honor and grieve their loved ones while funeral homes – considered an essential business under Illinois’ stay at home order – must comply with federal guidelines. 

While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports there is “currently no known risk” of attending a funeral of someone who died from COVID-19, there is a risk at any funeral of transmitting the virus between mourners or funeral home staff. 

So, funeral homes are following recommendations from the Illinois Association of Funeral Directors and CDC and limiting all services to fewer than 10 people. 

“Whenever possible, Quernheim Funeral Home will continue to enable families to participate in the rituals that are important to them,” the Waterloo funeral home stated in a press release. “We recognize our responsibility to protect the health of those we are privileged to serve. We will continue to guide families, as we always have, in ways they can meaningfully commemorate the life of their loved ones while adhering to the guidance issued by federal, state and local public health officials.”

While some services can still be offered by thinking in creative ways, such as a drive-thru visitation or video streaming the funeral, others are suspended. 

For example, The Department of Veterans Affairs has left its cemeteries open but discontinued committal services and rendering full military honors for the deceased, according to the department’s website. 

No matter what services take place, funeral homes are using standard practices for hygiene of workers, disinfecting and using personal protective, which complies with CDC guidelines. 

As with first responders and health care professionals, however, funeral homes may soon face a shortage of PPE that could put families and staff at risk. 

“Our compliances with these directives is to keep your families safe, as well as the staff at the respective funeral homes,” the IDFDA’s website states. 

Given all that, many families are electing to postpone services for their loved ones, Quernheim Funeral Home said.

The same is true for a happier event: weddings. 

“It appears since all the wedding venues have been closed down and you’re not supposed to have gatherings of more than 10 people that most brides and grooms are delaying the wedding,” Monroe County Clerk Jonathan McLean said. 

McLean has some expertise in that matter because his office grants marriage licenses. 

It currently cannot do that because people must appear before the county clerk to apply for a license. McLean said he is working to see if individuals can apply for a license without having to come to the courthouse, which is currently closed to the public. 

Even for those who have not obtained their marriage license, the pandemic has forced changes in plans. 

Jonathan Peters, senior pastor at First Baptist Church of Columbia, said his daughter had to cancel her July wedding because of the virus.  

“One thing that saddens me is in times of suffering and loss, and even in times that are normally full of celebration and gathering, those times are now very lonely and very much isolated,” Peters said. 

Merritt Demski, administrative pastor at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Waterloo, said he also knows of couples who have postponed their wedding ceremonies from a friend who works in the wedding video industry. 

Demski also says he knows of at least one couple who met at Camp Wartburg who planned to get married in the near future but decided to have a small ceremony now and a larger celebration when the pandemic is over. 

“When they posted their wedding pictures, she had her full dress and he was all decked out, but it was still a small ceremony just for family,” Demski shared. 

He said changing wedding plans will affect people differently depending on the importance the couple places on the ceremony. He said for some it would only be a “bummer,” while other couples might find it “completely crushing.” 

With that in mind, Peters said it is important to remember these restrictions are only temporary. 

“As a father whose daughter is planning on getting married, we will have a beautiful wedding ceremony for my daughter as soon as the time and opportunity presents itself,” he said.

The pandemic also altered another happy event this past weekend, as Easter felt different than normal for many. 

Dorothy Brandt of Maeystown stands on her porch during a surprise drive-by parade Saturday afternoon to celebrate her 94th birthday. Drive-by birthday parties are just one way the coronavirus has impacted milestones. 

Most churches in the area streamed their service online through Facebook, their website or a third-party service. One even had a drive-in service. 

The German-language Good Friday service at Holy Cross Lutheran Church of Wartburg, which had been held every Good Friday for the past 178 years, did not take place this year.

Likewise, families had to adapt their plans if they wanted to spend time with each other. 

One way to do that was by using vidoeconferencing. 

“We dyed Eater eggs together with my son and his fiancé using FaceTime so we could be together at the same time,” said Terry Francescon of Waterloo. 

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