Stephanie Kehrer, owner Oak Grove Funeral Home of Ludington, has made several attempts to contact Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, in fact writing letters on a weekly basis, on behalf of the grieving families she has had to tell can’t properly mourn their loved ones because of the executive orders regarding COVID-19.
Executive order 2020-160 prohibits any indoor gatherings of more than 10 people statewide.
Kehrer said she has had to tell more than 150 families that they can’t have a typical funeral. With this executive order, it does not allow for families to hold a service or ceremonies where they could gather with family members or friends to share their loss.
Mason County is home to three funeral homes — Oak Grove Funeral Home, Wyman Funeral & Cremation Services and Beacon Cremation & Funeral Service, Pere Marquette Chapel. All three businesses have reached out to officials about their concerns.
“(This order) affects people who use our service adversely,” said Randy Wyman, one of Wyman Funeral & Cremation Services. “I’ve had family members in tears. I had one family member whose mother died in April and wanted to have a memorial service for her, prior to the first executive order, and she was a literally crying, ‘I just want to honor my mom and I can’t do it.’”
Kehrer said that families can hold service outside but she doesn’t feel that those service are as comforting to the families.
“It is September. It is going to get very cold and the weather is unpredictable,” she said. “We have had outdoor services and there are just not as comforting.”
State Rep. Jack O’Malley, R-Lake Ann, who represents the 101st District said Whitmer and her team are attempting to save lives with the executive orders. Especially in the early part of the pandemic, when people didn’t have all of the facts and details, the state put a lot of very strict rules into place.
Following those first few weeks, O’Malley contends that the state’s response to the pandemic is out of balance.
“Death is as natural as birth,” O’Malley said. “It is part of our nature, part of who we are, it is part of the process of mourning our loved ones.
“When you are told you can’t do that because a government says you can’t, who is the government to tell you (that) you can’t go mourn the death of someone and who is the government to tell you (that) you do not have the choice, if you want to take the risk of getting sick, that is your choice, especially in something as basic as this.”
O’Malley said six months ago, he may have had a different answer to this issue.
“We now know that people aren’t being rushed to the hospital. We have flattened the curve,” he said. “I believe that this executive order is as heavy-handed as many, many others that she has issued.”
O’Malley noted that in surrounding states there are no limits on funeral services because they are considered essential services. But in Michigan they are not.
Wyman said religious entities are exempt from this executive order and some churches have been very accommodating while others are very much following the order by the letter of the law.
The lack of closure for many families is what could linger on, though, Wyman said.
“You never had that gathering where you lean on each other and grieve together and to be able to have that opportunity to have your community come together,” he said. “This has made it very difficult for families. They feel so unfulfilled in being (unable) to do a service or ceremony for their family member, which makes it very difficult psychologically.”
Although funeral homes can have 10 people, Kehrer said that with the way grief works, individuals need their people there to support them. They need to be with people, and it is not just immediate family that need that support. Friends also need the time and space to mourn.
In her most recent letter to the governor, Kehrer asked Whitmer to allow families the necessary opportunity to mourn their loss.
“Please, for the sake of the thousands of grieving Michiganders, modify executive order 2020-160 to allow funerals and memorial services to be conducted at 50-percent room capacity,” she said. “This will at least allow extended family to gather together and mourn.”
The Michigan Funeral Directors Association is also asking Whitmer to expand funeral service to 50 percent of room capacity.
“Funeral service is essential,” MFDA stated. “The inability of families to properly grieve their loss will manifest itself in complicated grief and mental health issues for years to come.”
The MFDA also shows data that the state is out of step with nearby state like Ohio which currently has no funeral limits, Indiana which has a max of 250 limit for funerals and birth Illinois and Minnesota which bot have 50 percent of capacity regulations.