Providing community in times of grief and social distancing

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Funeral homes throughout Michigan are working to accommodate their communities while maintaining social distancing through alternate memorial services.

This graphic shows where Lapeer is located in Michigan. Lapeer is where the motorcade memorial will take place. Graphic: Sophia Lada using Canva

Nathan William Denryter of Lapeer passed away last week after a battle with cancer. Mark Capstick, the manager of the Lynch & Sons funeral home in Lapeer, said Denryter had ‘quite the résumé.’

Denryter served multiple tours of duty in both Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as in various fire departments and as an art teacher. When presented with the situation at hand, Capstick said “for us to be presented with this COVID situation where we are limited to 10 people, that’s not enough.”

Capstick noticed birthday parades trending on social media and planned to do something similar.

“Anything a family wants to do that we can do legally, that we can do without breaking the spirit or intention of what we’re supposed to do; we’ll do it,” Tim Lynch, the 3rd generation funeral director of Lynch & Sons, said over the phone. He said the community wanted to do something, so they figured out a way to make it happen safely.

On Friday, a motorcade at Lapeer High School in honor of Denryter, consisted of police, firemen, veterans, international guard and community members. At no point was anyone allowed out of their vehicles. Cars took turns driving by the casket to pay their respects. The motorcade was open to all public. 

A military flyover took place at the high school Friday. Two fire trucks made a frame with ladders and the American flag was hung there.

“We’re just trying to think out of the box and still give families an opportunity to grieve and think through the funeral process now instead of having them revisit it down the road,” Capstick said.

Lynch & Sons

This graphic illustrates some important facts about the Lynch & Sons Funeral Home. Graphic: Sophia Lada using Canva

Lynch said the most recent guidelines requiring 10 or less people at a public gathering, now requires only close family to come to memorial services. Lynch said a major issue is many families have more than 10 people, resulting in many rescheduling their memorial service for a later date.

Lynch & Sons has also transitioned to meeting remotely with families via Zoom or over the phone, especially when with families of those who died from COVID-19. Lynch said it would be difficult to do a livestream visitation because you can’t reciprocate or interact with family or friends. 

Extreme precaution is used when handling the bodies of those who have passed away from COVID-19, said Lynch. All who come into contact must wear full Personal Protective Equipment. Those bodies are not embalmed; they are either immediately cremated or buried.

If the death is related to COVID-19, many cemeteries don’t allow families to come to the burial. Lynch said it’s “dangerous to us in the funeral industry because just because the person dies doesn’t mean the virus dies.”

“We completely understand that people who have lost a loved one during this time have to make the extreme sacrifice of not having any type of service,” Lynch said.


This graphic illustrates a few important facts about O’Brien-Sullivan. Graphic: Sophia Lada using Canva

John O’Brien, the funeral director and president of the O’Brien-Sullivan Funeral Home in Novi, has spent more than 30 years emphasizing the importance of a funeral. Now, he is no longer able to do that. He said over the phone it’s a very heartbreaking time in the funeral industry. O’Brien-Sullivan has switched to having direct burials and direct cremations.

O’Brien said he has encountered families who have lost loved ones due to COVID-19, and most of them chose a later service date. O’Brien said he hopes people actually commit to these later dates, as he wants them to take the time to honor the life of their loved one.

O’Brien said he worries about those who are not able to begin their journey of grief without a community to celebrate life. Typically, people are very affectionate at memorial services, but this does not follow the social distancing guidelines.

The O’Brien-Sullivan funeral home has been around since 1898 and will continue to serve families and its surrounding community.

A virtual service perspective

Helga Henn, an elementary teacher in Walled Lake, recently attended a virtual memorial service hosted by the Renaissance Vineyard Church near Berkley, MI.

The service was for a close friend of her mother’s, who helped a seven-year-old Henn and other German students learn the English language. When Henn’s mother passed away, this friend was so supportive during her time of grief, Henn said. “If you find a spirit like your mom, just being in their presence feels so good,” Henn said.

The woman’s son planned the virtual memorial service on Facebook, she said. People attended the Zoom service from parts of Arizona, Michigan, and Germany. Henn said this service brought closure.

The pastor began and closed with scripture and prayer. During the middle portion, they invited attendees to speak. The daughter of the woman said over the years, she knew people knew her mother, but without this memorial she would not have known her influence spread through a wide range of people over a long amount of time.

Helga said the service felt friendly and comfortable, as people were in the comfort of their own home. After the service was over, attendees were encouraged to stay after and talk more. Henn said she did not feel as alone as she thought she would.

“People weren’t talking about what they lost,” Henn said, “they were talking about what they gained because of her life.” Henn said she would recommend this type of service to everyone.

This graphic illustrates how the procedures are specifically different during this time as opposed to when there are no social distancing guidelines. Graphic: Sophia Lada using Canva.

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