How the Death Care Industry is Adjusting to Social Distancing Requirements, and What We Can All Do to Help

12 min read

How the Death Care Industry is Adjusting to Social Distancing Requirements, and What We Can All Do to Help

How the Death Care Industry is Adjusting to Social Distancing Requirements
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Words by:

Tracey Wallace

Illustration by:

Words by:

Tracey Wallace



Alex Casas and Allie Garcia are the co-founders of Pale Hearse, a new death care media company with a mission to educate the public on their options when they or someone they love dies.

“We strongly believe that nobody should ever have to go in debt for burying their loved one and we believe that an informed community can make the best decision,” says Alex.

And the two have deep expertise in the death care industry through their own loss experiences, of course, but also because Alex specializes in mortuary restoration and Allie is also a funeral director.

They know this business inside and out –– and they are determined to give it a new face, to make it less scary and less stuffy, and ultimately remove the stigma associated with talking about it.

To help spread the brilliance and energy they are bringing to the space, we hosted them on our Instagram Live on April 2, 2020. Due to some broadband issues during this global pandemic, we had to move to Zoom.

Here is the conversation in its entirety, and the transcript below.

A post shared by Eterneva ♾ Ashes To Diamonds (@eterneva) on Apr 2, 2020 at 5:18pm PDT

How have you guys been adjusting to all of this?

Alex: It's been tough. As a mother, you're grieving multiple things at once. My daughter's school closed indefinitely, so that's a loss that we're dealing with too. I have never respected teachers more now that I'm homeschooling, so there's that whole journey, as well.

It's also just staying proactive and moving forward because there is no going back at this point. It's only moving forward.

Allie: Yeah Alex, you're totally right. I'm mostly just trying to stay positive, refocus and adjust to a very new normal. It's all new territory, so we're all just kind of learning as we go.

Dani: That's been the same for me here. I don't know if you guys see, I have a little happy birthday balloon. I celebrated in solo. I also lost someone in solo. It's definitely been a difficult time. People everywhere are experiencing these losses, especially people who have either a loss before this, or are now losing people to COVID. They are having to grieve in a whole new way.

What things can we do right now knowing that everything has changed? Are there some ways people can grieve?

Allie: A lot of things have changed, but a lot of things have also stayed the same. We always connect through phone calls, through texts, even these kind of virtual meetings. They've been around.

It's still a really great way to connect and show people who are grieving that you're there for them.

Just sending that text message, having that phone call, or saying, "Hey, I'm here. Do you want to talk with me? Do you want to grieve together or do you just want to spend some time with me?"

Those options are still there even though we should be social distancing.

Alex: I know personally, I have a few people that have lost somebody that's not related to COVID and they feel alone too because right now the attention is on COVID. Sending them a, "Hey, I hope you're doing okay. I'm thinking about you,” is important.

Alex: Even offering to send a meal to them. Right now there's a lot of local companies that are doing “Buya Meal, Give a Meal” where they will then give a meal to first and last responders.

How amazing is that? You get to help two people at once and let them know, "Hey, you don't have to worry about dinner tonight. We've got you."

This could be a normal thing that we do from now on.

Allie: Yeah, focusing on delivery services is a great way to show someone you care. Maybe send them a care package.

We're all kind of indoors, learning new hobbies. Maybe send them something you've created because you've been thinking of them. You've made it with intention.

Just letting people know you're still there even when you can't be close. It's just a really great way to still feel connected and safe.

Dani: You do see people banding together right now to help out, which is so amazing. A shout out to my boss, Tracey. She was like, "Oh, I read this really inspiring book," and I said I’d love to borrow it. So, she bought it for me and is having it sent to my place. So many people are doing these thoughtful things. I definitely see that as a positive out of all of this.

Alex: It's like snail mail is making a comeback and it's so cool to see! It’s fun to get excited about a postcard or something coming in the mail. It's like Christmas all over again.

Dani: That's a perfect analogy. Another part of this and why you guys are so great is that this period of time is coming with a lot of self-reflection. Hopefully periods of grief lead to periods of deeper self-reflection, in general. Right now, though, a lot of people seem to be struggling with acceptance.

Are there ways you guys recommend that's made it easier for you to grasp this new reality?

Alex: Honestly, a lot of it is taking that time. Purposeful thinking and meditating on this is the reality of now. Reminding yourself to take walks outside!

I have never felt more connected to my community, though. I walk down the block and everybody's just saying "Hello!" That gives me a sense of hope. It reminds me that we're all in this together.

Allie: Yeah, you mentioned that purposeful time. We recommend folks to maybe set aside some time every day for grief. We talk about self care, but we forget that letting yourself go through the grieving process is part of self care.

Maybe try to set aside 10, 15 minutes to reflect, meditate, think on the people you miss, and allow yourself to feel. It's OK to be sad. It's okay to be happy, and miss them, but it's also okay to be upset.

Relationships are complicated and feeling those emotions is good for you. We know grief can come whenever it wants –– at 3:00 a.m. or 3:00 p.m –– but setting aside some time to actually have purpose and intention can really help ease some of that stress of grief right now.

Alex: Even separating some time away from social media and distractions and really just absorbing the time that we're having right now.

This is a great opportunity to actually have dinner with your family without a timeframe of rushing to the next task. It's about really absorbing what we're dealing with now and applying what we can do.
  • How can we do better?
  • What are we going to learn from this?

Allie: Because there's no going back. There's only moving forward.

Dani: It’s true, and yet, you can hear and read so many people saying: “I can’t wait when things get back to…” But, back to what? This is a shift. There is no going back. Change, of course, is a really difficult thing to grasp. And in the death care space, the lack of being able to gather is just a shock to the system and our rituals.

Alex: We're all learning. This is very new for all of us.

We're familiar with Ebola and other high-risk cases that we're used to dealing with, but this has been a new way of dealing with death that we're having to learn and grow and experience together.

It's been interesting to see how a couple of years ago there was a funeral home who was doing drive through services. I mean, you could drive your car through and they had the service, the chapel. It was a drive through!

So many people scoffed at it and were like, "Oh, that's so inappropriate. That is just not OK!" Now, I believe, Allie, you have a great story of a funeral home finding solutions, one specifically that's kind of taking that initiative to help families still be involved in their funeral.

Allie: Yep! I wish I could remember the funeral home, but what they did was that they set up the family in chairs each six feet apart and then six feet in front of them were some traffic cones and they allowed their family and friends to come in through their cars. Every six feet they could lower the window and speak to the person.

Like Alex said, this kind of stuff looked really silly maybe three weeks ago. But today? It's innovative and it's new and it works. It really helped those families feel supported.

If I remember the story correctly, the idea came to them on a whim. It was like the day before or maybe two days before, and they said, "Hey, we're going to try it. Maybe someone will come." And they had a really lovely turnout.

We're learning as we go, but we have to be willing to try these things that maybe looked silly three weeks ago but are totally part of our new world now.

Alex: Right now is also forceing a lot of these antiquated funeral homes to get with it and offer virtual options. We don't know when these things are going to happen again. Now is the time to learn this technology, to figure out how to apply it.

I mean, no one in this industry is used to telling families, "You can't be here for a service," or "Only a certain amount of people can be here at a time."

That is very hard on us as well. That's something that we're having to grieve as well as things are changing.

And still, how can we do better as an industry?

The question that we keep asking is, "What are we going to learn from this?"

We're not going to reinvent the wheel, but we're going to learn from what we've done in the past, what we have to do now, and what innovation we can bring to the future to be better prepared.

  • So that we can all stay connected.
  • So that we can all grieve together.
  • So that we can continue to help the families in need.

Dani: This is a moment in time, it feels, that can push this industry forward. For instance, with services going virtual, it opens up accessibility. Before, maybe you couldn’t attend because of finances or a disability –– but now, if this becomes part of the approach –– that just won’t be the case. Everyone will be able to participate.

Alex: Exactly. How many people do you know who live out of the country or are just elderly and can't drive anymore? Now, it's almost like we're actually including them in these services, which is the positive that you want to focus on.

During times of tragedy, look for the helpers because there always are people helping. That's our goal is to be the helpers and figure out solutions –– for now, and for a better future.

Allie: People are now geotagging special places or even a cemetery where somebody is buried, and now people all over can grieve at a place they may never see in person. They get to actually be a part of it even though they're indoors or social distancing.

They're still able to connect because technology is still there and still innovating new ideas for death.

Dani: You guys are getting me excited. This could be such a good shift in how death care and all industries make things more accessible for all!

Do y’all have any thoughts on what each of us can do as individuals to help funeral homes and the death care industry right now, or help out in general?

Alex: I think one of the first things to start is we all have to be understanding of the times and we all have to start learning to be flexible. I think it's time that we started reexamining things that we had pushed aside like aquamation.

This might be an option to introduce aquamation and make it where it is available nationwide. It could open more resources to help handle the mass crisis that we're dealing with now.

What a great opportunity to apply that. Plus, it's more eco-friendly. It's a good opportunity for us as normal everyday individuals to read about these things, to learn about these things, to ask questions.

Most people in the funeral industry, in the death care industry, we are open books. We want to give you the information, we want to help you. Do not be afraid to ask.

Another thing, in my opinion, is checking in on your local providers, making sure that they have what they need to be able to help the family, making sure that they're stocked with PPE, making sure that they have meals to eat, coffee to drink. Just making sure that we're checking on them.

Allie: If you think you can help or that you have resources, reach out. Reach out to anybody because everybody's in need right now.

If you want to support your death care providers and first and last responders ,just call them up and check in. Ask, "Do you have what you need? I happen to have a few gloves but I can give them to you. I can have them sent."

It's just about being conscious that we're all still a very connected community and earth. So why not reach out and offer to help.We all need it.

Alex: A simple text, a simple hello, and a “We're thinking about you. We're standing behind you.” That goes a long way.

It doesn't have to necessarily be monetary. It can be as simple as leaving a written, nice message on your driveway in chalk that lets your neighbors know, "Hey, if you need anything, I'm here for you."

And think about our grocery workers, too! It's like every time that we're out, it's just so nice to tell them, "Thank you. Thank you for being here because I really needed to get water."

Well, are there any online resources or anything you’d point people to if they want to continue down this route of learning and thinking?

Alex: There are a couple of different places. I know that The Modern Mortician on social media is constantly updating people on COVID and that's been really helpful. I know the Funeral Consumer Alliance is also a great resource to have. There is also obviously the World Health Organization that is keeping everyone updated and the CDC, so definitely follow those guidelines.

But again, I mean there are so many different resources. New Narrative just came up with a great resource and we're looking forward to reconnecting and being able to share that, too. There are resources. Just reach out to us over DM and we will get you those resources or we will find someone who can help you.

Allie: Most definitely. Just reach out. We're always here. To be honest, Instagram is a really great way to find other death care providers and advocates. Even if you just do the tag #deathcare, things will show up. We're all a really big, open community. If you're just not sure where to turn or you don't have a specific name, check Instagram. We're all there.

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