County Editor/ Digital Journalist
COVID-19 has made an impact in every life here in Vinton. The virus has led to school closures, restaurants limiting themselves to carryout and crowds are recommended to stay under 10 people. That is the reality for Van Steenhuyse-Russell Funeral Home as well as Frank Van Steenhuyse and his staff adapt to the rapid changes.
“It seems like every day we get a new update from the National Funeral Directors Association or the Iowa Funeral Directors Association about what we can do for families,” Van Steenhuyse said. “This ten-person limit is a huge challenge. Even when we make arrangements, there’s normally more than 10 people involved. That includes the one or two funeral directors involved.”
But Van Steenhuyse believes wholeheartedly that funeral homes are adaptable. If crowds cannot gather to honor their deceased loved ones, then visitations and funerals will have to change for the time being. The funeral home has only had a single visitation since the state began to limit gatherings. It was a private event, according to Van Steenhuyse. A limited number of people came, and when a new visitor came, others would leave in order to allow everyone to visit.
“It’s going to be difficult for me to tell families that they can only have 10 people in the church or here or wherever,” Van Steenhuyse said. “Even before this all happened, funeral directors had universal precautions. We’re always gowned up, wearing gloves, masks, hoodies and that’s just the norm for us. I made a removal the other day down in Coralville at a nursing home. The only thing different really was I was met at the door, they wiped down my cot, took my temperature and answered some questions.”
The whole process was unique and unusual, but Van Steenhuyse didn’t believe it was a hardship, especially considering senior citizens are most susceptible to the virus. What stresses out the longtime funeral director most is the idea of getting sick himself and not being able to perform his own job.
“The last thing I want to do is tell a family ‘I can’t help you,’” Van Steenhuyse said. “That’s like you calling the fire station about your house on fire and them saying ‘gee, I can’t come put it out.’ We have to be above and beyond careful. We simply cannot get sick.”
Furniture in Van Steenhuyse-Russell Funeral Home is now more spread out to avoid clutter. Services are also being recorded and may potentially be live streamed in the near future. However, Van Steenhuyse has seen most funerals requested to be private or for public services to happen later next month, when Vinton residents hope the spread of the virus will dissipate.
“Hopefully this will blow through quickly, and that won’t last too long,” Van Steenhuyse said. “It’s a shame that you can’t celebrate a person’s life with their funeral, so I want to do everything I can to make their final time with that person their best memory. We will go back to celebrating people and not just having to worry about the numbers and all this one day.”
Whatever may come out of this experience, Van Steenhuyse believes funeral homes across America will adapt and perhaps even change for the better going forward in order to serve their patrons instead of “cookie cutter services.”
“If you’re at a service, it’s a place of storytelling and celebrating people,” Van Steenhuyse said. “You’re going to hear people laughing and telling stories. This isn’t a sad place.”