COVID Diaries – A Day in the Life of a Funeral Director

This story is powered by COLab, the Colorado News Collaborative. Public News Service/Colorado News Connection joined 22 other newsrooms to report on the impact of the pandemic on Coloradans over the course of one day. The result: COVID Diaries Colorado, stories of grit, ingenuity and hope.


Eric Galatas
Public News Service/Colorado News Connection


On Thursday, April 16, in Lafayette, Colo., Karen van Vuuren began her day tidying up a small beetle-kill pine chapel at The Natural Funeral, which she co-founded just over a year ago.

There had been a service the previous day for a mother whose son had died, but not from COVID-19, all with care to observe social distancing guidelines.

Van Vuuren’s team has responded to COVID-19 restrictions by helping families find new ways to celebrate the lives of people lost. It might be an in-home memorial, or planning a special meal in honor of the deceased.

“So it’s some kind of very simple ritual, maybe creating an altar that has candles on it and photographs,” she explains. “It’s not like you’re just getting on with life. You’re acknowledging this significant loss that has happened.”

No matter what it looks like, she remembers, “love is underlying everything.”

While funeral homes are considered essential businesses, van Vuuren says safety precautions have disrupted the grieving process now that extended families can’t be together.

Colorado Gov. Jared Polis’ April 9 statewide stay-at-home order limits services to ten or fewer.

Later in the day, after van Vuuren coordinated a transport to a crematorium, she was able to connect with a family who recently lost a grandmother to COVID-19 about grief services. The grandchildren had climbed up a ladder to say goodbye from outside her window.

Van Vuuren says the biggest challenge facing her team during the health emergency has been building strong personal connections with clients from a distance.

“We’re used to looking into their eyes and feeling their presence, and reading the cues that they give about what their needs are, and being really intuitive,” she relates. “And certainly via Zoom, you can read only so much.”

She rounded out April 16 connecting with staff on a video conference with staff, which she calls the highlight of her week.

When asked what she believes can be learned from the pandemic, van Vuuren first apologized for getting “sappy” — then said she hopes people learn that love is the most enduring force in the world; that we can adapt and be flexible; and that flexibility is a sign of strength.