Changing the Way Loved Ones Say Goodbye

The rapid spread of Covid-19 is affecting the way funeral homes must operate and how families adjust to new rules restricting the number of family members and friends that can attend services for the deceased. Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer issued an executive order limiting all gatherings to no more than 10 people, including clergy and funeral home staff. This measure is forcing all funeral homes to make drastic adjustments.
And with over 28,000 cases and 1900 plus lives lost and increasing daily, the state ranks in the top five nationally while Detroit has been identified as one of the “hot spots”.  This has resulted in the Governor extending the ‘stay-at-home” order to May 1.
Those passing due to this pandemic are dying in isolation, and with each death, another family suffers greatly.  It has also been reported the COVID-19 incidence rates are higher among African Americans relative to the rest of the state’s population.  According to recently-released data, AA’s account for 35% of total overall and 40% of all deceased cases.
I recently talked to Stephen R. Kemp, Sr., who has over three decades as a licensed funeral director.  He founded family-owned and Southfield-based Kemp Funeral Home and Cremations with his wife Jacquie, and son Stephen, Jr., in August, 2017.  We discussed the impact this pandemic is having on his family’s business and what customers can now expect as part of “social distancing” when making preparations for a recently-deceased loved one.
Lee:  Why did you get into this business?
Kemp, Sr.:  I had family in the business in Youngstown, Ohio and as a young teenager was I inspired by my mother’s cousin Lehman E. Black and his stature in the community.  I was previously a medical researcher at Henry Ford Hospital and went back to Wayne State University (WSU) to finish a Mortuary Science degree in 1985, and did consulting work and was cluster manager for Liberty Service Corporation, an African-American acquisition company in Detroit.
This business requires knowledge of Business, medicine, chemistry, law and social skills that are intriguing to practice with clients and helping clients in their time of need is what drives us.
Lee:  How has COVID-19 changed your business model? 

Kemp Sr.:  It has not changed what we do; however the sheer volume of calls and rules and changing executive orders makes things difficult to plan services. The cemeteries have changed the rules that no families can come and social distancing has changed the landscape of funeral service as we know it.  Our business model for the future is promising as families are more diverse, and we enjoy serving the under-served minority communities whether it be Christian, Hindu, Buddhist, Hmong, Korean, African Ibo and Yoruba community. We strive to customize our services to their traditions.

Business models and paradigms will change as ‘virtual streaming of services will become the norm in funerals and the model will change. Business disruption is not new to the business, but funeral directors must change and adapt quickly to perform services in a new atmosphere to survive.

Lee:  And how has Kemp Funeral adjusted to this “new normal”? 

Kemp, Sr.:  Our facility is different from others. There are no high back chairs, no piped in music, no curtains or home look.  Our facility was purposely made to inspire, lift up spirits with lots of light; large reception area and large community room with a room to serve food and drinks while visitation and services are performed.  We have large conference rooms with monitors for live streaming and videos to play with family’s life stories.

I want the family to be lifted up not sad as they memorialize their loved one.

Lee:  What can families now expect compared to pre COVID-19 and how has “social distancing” affected a loved one’s viewing and home going services?

Kemp,Sr:  We have signage, hand sanitizers and wipes at every door and conference room, our facility is thoroughly cleaned after service. Chairs have been moved apart based on “social distancing” requirements.  Viewing is spaced between visitors and our areas with employees are marked with social spacing rules.

Lee:   Has Kemp reached its capacity, and if so, how is it being handled?

Kemp, Sr:  We have reached our capacity and have rented a large cooler to hold remains until cremation and disposition is performed. We have informed families that until we get the required medical certification from the physician, we will hold their loved ones at the hospital or in our cooler as space dictates.

Lee:  What should people know now regarding making arrangements?

Kemp, Sr:  There will be more fillable forms and online arrangement conferences with our directors.  We have a virtual showroom and a link for casket selection, general pricing lists, and outer burial containers for families selections.

Lee:  And I’m assuming it’s more difficult to comfort family members under today’s environment? 

Kemp, Sr:  Yes, the personal contact is lost somewhat.
Lee:  It’s my understanding Kemp was recently named winner of National Funeral Directors Association’s Pursuit of Excellence award for the second year.
Kemp, Sr:  It is awarded to firms that submit a portfolio and the accomplishments and community service our employees do in the community. It’s more than just business.


Mark S. Lee is Founder, President & CEO, The LEE Group, and can be heard “In the Conference Room”, Sundays, 11 am, on 910am, and you can listen to “Small Talk with Mark S. Lee” podcasts at