MURFREESBORO, Tenn. — When Hellum Funeral Home in Murfreesboro burned down nearly 40 years ago, J.C. Hellum rebuilt the business with a drive-thru viewing window.
“I don’t know why he did it. But he had a vision for the future,” said Wendy Hellum, who took over the South Highland Avenue business from her late father.
When the coronavirus pandemic prompted restrictions on gatherings of more than 10, the purpose for the window became very clear.
“When everything started shutting down … Wendy and I were talking and I said, ‘Now is the time to use it,’” said Mary Catherine Newman, one of the licensed funeral directors at Hellum.
Mary “Kat” Newman, a funeral director at Hellum funeral home, in Murfreesboro, stands next to the window where family members and friends can drive by to view loved ones on Friday, May 1, 2020.
Newman said the drive-thru service has been “received very well” by those who want to follow COVID-19 guidelines but still wish to pay respects to the deceased.
The drive-thru service also helps with the grieving process and gives them closure, Hellum said.
Families stand outside the viewing window to greet visitors as they drive through.
“They don’t have to have physical contact with anybody. It has made it easier on the families,” Hellum said, “and more accommodating for whoever wants to come.”
Visitation is typically two hours, which prevents a traffic jam as an average of 50 to 75 cars line the street. Neighbors have been great to accommodate the process, too, Newman said.
“People are adapting to it. I think they love it. They don’t have to get out of the car,” Hellum said. Those with mobility issues find the drive-thru visitation helpful, too.
As cars turn in, Newman and another coworker stand outside with a registration book and write down names of visitors.
“It works very well,” said Newman, who believes Hellum is the only funeral home in Murfreesboro to offer the service. “Most people are getting used to the window. It’s our new norm.”
While visitation can be held outside at the viewing window, families can also have a funeral service inside, or at the grave site with 10 or less people.
When restrictions on gatherings loosen, Hellum is offering to have a traditional service for families.
“We’re just here to serve,” Hellum said.
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This article originally appeared on Murfreesboro Daily News Journal: Tennessee funeral home offers drive-thru amid COVID-19 restrictions