Article Category: Online Exclusive | The Present
COVID-19 in Rural Alabama

COVID-19 in Rural Alabama

Posted Monday, Apr 06
Written by Todd Harra
Online Exclusive

Everything’s changed. We’re now living in a world we didn’t expect a month ago, a week ago, or even yesterday. It’s a world of constant flux with changing mandates and directives coming from the state and federal level. And yes, it’s a world of fear. Masks and gloves are a common sight at the grocery store. Handshakes are verboten. Even a cough elicits stares. Six feet apart, and groups smaller than 10, home schooling, and Zoom meetings, is our new norm, our social distancing. Our new normal is life with COVID-19. The people on the front lines, doctors and nurses, are featured at the top every hour on the news. But what about the other people on the front lines? The men and women handling the victims, the aftermath? The funeral directors.

I had a chance to speak with Merilyn Vines, president of Vines Funeral Home in LaFayette Alabama about their first COVID-19 case.

“At least with AIDS we had a sense of what the virus was…with this,” Merilyn pauses, “you just don’t know.” The uncertainty is palpable in her tone. “The first one is always,” she searches for the right word, “special. Because you don’t know what’s coming.” And she’s right. We don’t know what’s coming, but funeral directors across the globe are prepared to step up in the face of disaster.

During the writing of this piece, the Governor Ivey issued a statewide “shelter in place” proclamation for Alabama. Four states remain that have county-by-county issued proclamations and five states have no such orders. The rest of the country is on lockdown to quote the lingo of the newscasters, “flatten the curve.”

Funeral without family... a new reality brought about by the coronavirus.
Funeral without family… a new reality brought about by the coronavirus.

Vines Funeral Home’s first COVID-19 case is like so many cases unfolding across the nation in that it’s tinged with additional tragedy due not to the disease, but to the “cure,” the lockdown. The decedent’s child lives within driving distance, but would have to quarantine for 14 days if she leaves her home state which isn’t feasible given her work situation. There’s a sister, but she lives out west, and her health is such that commercial flight in this COVID world is impossible, possibly a death sentence. Thankfully, there’s a local family member who has stepped up to facilitate the services.

“[The decedent] wanted a simple funeral, so webcasting wasn’t an option,” explains Merilyn, as she outlines the heartbreaking situation of this daughter and sister unable to attend a funeral because of the lockdown.  

As funeral directors we’re trained to intervene in time of crisis. We help the family make meaning of the crisis with the funeral service so they can make those first steps in their grief journey. The crisis is now at our door. It’s everywhere, even small-town Alabama. And it’s presenting new challenges for funeral service to overcome, some seemingly insurmountable like giving a daughter and sister closure when they can’t attend the burial. But we rise above and make it happen. We always do. 

When I asked Merilyn how she was going to proceed in the coming days, and coming cases, she replied, “We just do the best we can…and pray.”

Merilyn Vines, president of Vines Funeral Home in LaFayette Alabama
Merilyn Vines, president of Vines Funeral Home in LaFayette, Alabama

Southern Calls Issue 22

Order this issue

Southern Calls Issue 22

In stock

Articles Relating to Issue 22

The Marsellus Casket Company

The Marsellus Casket Company

For over 130 years, Marsellus Casket Company remained true to its highly principled, purposeful mission to manufacture the finest handcrafted hardwood caskets and offer maximum value to funeral home owners and to the families they serve. The company was supported by…

Kimberly Farris-Luke | Madame President

Kimberly Farris-Luke | Madame President

Farris Funeral Service | Abingdon, Virginia On a typical Saturday morning at an Abingdon, Virginia, funeral home, the sound of a little girl’s footsteps, skipping down the stairs from the second-floor apartments, interrupts the quiet of the darkened mortuary below….

Daniel E. Buchanan | Wisdom Beyond the Classroom

Daniel E. Buchanan | Wisdom Beyond the Classroom

For professionals, college is often viewed as the most formidable part of any career. As the morning dew turns to frost and leaves begin to change, fall semester is already in full swing. Registering for class, buying books and taking exams can be daunting, and…

Other Recent Articles

The Charleston Nine

The Charleston Nine

Southern Mourning | from Southern Calls Issue 16, September 2017 (Opening Image: June 22, 2007 – Charleston 9 Firefighters ServicePresident, Mike McDaniel,1999-00 (head), President Thomas E. Baker II, 2007-08 (foot) Photographer – We are very appreciative to SCFDA...

read more
Man O’ War’s Funeral

Man O’ War’s Funeral

Southern Mourning | from Southern Calls Issue 9, September 2015 (Opening Image: As visitors look on, legendary thoroughbred Man O’ War lies in state in a casket lined with his racing colors at owner Samuel Riddle’s Faraway Farm in Lexington, Kentucky, Nov. 3, 1947....

read more
The Art of Undertaking

The Art of Undertaking

Here are three powerful images that I believe capture the essence of our beloved Profession - Mike Squires ABOVE: The Recessional | Mac Brown, Photography “Red clay fills the hole left in our hearts. Only flowers remain as guardians of the grave, until they too wither...

read more
“Being There” | Robert Clint Walker

“Being There” | Robert Clint Walker

The alarm of the cellphone balanced on the dash rouses Clint Walker from an uncomfortable sleep. Brushing away empty coffee cups and food wrappers, Clint unfolds himself out of the pickup truck and zips his camouflage jacket against the icy wind blowing across the...

read more

Join Our Newsletter

Sign up for our email newsletter to periodically receive article updates, industry news, and details about new issues before they are released.

The Magazine