As if losing a loved one and going through a visitation and funeral services wasn’t emotional enough, now families are having to deal with that grief and seek closure in ways most would have never considered in the past.

New state and local directives aimed at limiting the potential spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus are hitting the funeral industry just like other businesses that have been forced to modify operation or close.

Funeral directors in Madison are having to be creative in their approach to serve the needs of grieving families while protecting those families, visitors and their staff. Observing social distancing in a setting where a hug or a handshake has comforted families in their time of loss and grief for generations, seems much more foreign at a funeral home than other business settings.

The staff at Morgan-Nay Funeral Centre in Madison was holding its first service Wednesday since new directives were issued limiting crowds to 10 or fewer and requiring even those people to exercise social distancing. It’s hard to lean on family and friends in a time of grief when the recommendation is to remain at least six feet apart at all times. And while immediate family members obviously break from those guidelines others should not and that’s left funeral homes having to consider how to provide services that are still safe.

“We have multiple rooms that are several rooms apart and are holding people in groups of 10 and allowing 10 at a time to the viewing but you can only hold so many,” said Teresa Stewart at Morgan-Nay on Madison’s hilltop. “We’re live streaming the services on our website and that kind of helps make up for the people who can’t be here, but having friends and family attend services is part of the way people handle grief and get closure.”

M. Trevor Lytle, owner-director at Lytle-Welty Funeral Home and Cremation Service in Madison, said his facility has not held a funeral since new, tighter directives were issued Tuesday, but the guidelines have been a cause for concern as he and his staff consider ways to serve their clients while staying safe for all involved.

“It was first limited to 500, then 250, then 50 and now 10,” Lytle said of the ongoing directives to reduce public gatherings and lessen the potential exposure to the dangerous virus. “Once it got to 10, a lot of funeral homes have just had to go with private services.”

He said Lytle-Welty has the capability to live stream on its website or social media and even the option of drive-by visitation at the hilltop location, but choosing either as an option will be a decision he will let families make.

“We’re brainstorming ways to serve our families but once we schedule another service that will be up to the family to decide what they want from the options we have,” Lytle said.

He noted that guidelines are “changing so quickly” that a plan the funeral home puts in place today may not be possible by tomorrow because “new changes are coming in every day.”

Another issue funeral services are dealing with is the fact that some people prearrange services down to the minute detail and even prepay in full. That gives some peace of mind to know that their wishes will be carried out. But under the current directives not only will some plans not be possible but funeral homes will likely be obligated to reimburse their estate for services they can’t provide.

“We can’t charge for anything we didn’t provide,” he said.

However, Lytle noted that the bigger issue for funeral directors is finding a way through all the new restrictions to “provide peace and closure.” However, he noted “a lot of that peace and closure comes from seeing people at the funeral.”

Morgan-Nay President and owner Rodney Nay was assisting with a service Tuesday afternoon, but Stewart said families have been very understanding and most understand what is at risk with the COVID-19 and realize everybody is making sacrifices for the safety of themselves and others.

“We were really concerned, but they have been great. Everybody’s been pretty understanding,” Stewart said. “We just try to make the families as comfortable as we can. That’s (Rodney’s) goal in every service we handle.”

“We’re brainstorming ways to serve our families but once we schedule another service that will be up to the family to decide what they want from the options we have” but guidelines are “changing so quickly” that “new changes are coming in every day.”

Lytle-Welty owner director M. Trevor Lytle