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Funeral CEO John Beckwith Jr. details pain of COVID-19 funerals with no goodbye

Rolling out spoke with John E. Beckwith Jr., CEO of Beckwith Inc., which includes Golden Gate Funeral Homes, about the effects of COVID-19 and so much more. Press the play button to listen to the podcast audio.

John E. Beckwith Jr., CFSP a native of Dallas, Texas has served as a funeral director and embalmer for 33 years, with a license in Texas and Louisiana. He is the owner and chief executive officer for Beckwith Inc., which is comprised of Golden Gate Funeral Home in the Dallas, TX, Ft. Worth, TX and Beckwith Golden Gate Funeral Home in Tallulah, LA. Under his leadership Beckwith Inc. has expanded to a staff of over 80 full time employees and 20 part time employees.

Please describe your business and what you do.

I’m John Beckwith and I’m the owner and CEO of Golden Gate Funeral Home. We work out of Dallas, Texas, and also a facility in Ft. Worth, Texas and Tallullah, Louisiana. The services we offer to the public are funeral services as well as cremation. We are a firm believer in celebration, and we did the reality TV series on TLC named The Best Funeral Ever. We believe that our goal is to comfort families at the worst moment of their lives and we believe we do that by making great memories for them. So, we believe that is our mission, our ministry to make sure that families are taken care of.

How has the Coronavirus altered the community and the commitment that your brand has to help families make great memories?

Well, it definitely has been altered because it is not allowing the families to personally be here. Now, we are offering live streams for our families because of social distancing as well as the gathering of people has been limited to only 10, which is only the immediate family. Large services and large celebrations have now been limited to the web.

What kind of emotional toll is placed on families when only 10 members can physically attend a funeral?

It definitely delays the grieving process [in allowing them to] properly grieve. The celebration services are being delayed or put off. Memorial services have been planned for months from the time of death in hopes that they can gather their family and friends back together at a later time. Therefore, it’s delaying the natural process of moving forward through the grief process. It’s definitely been devastating to our families.

How do you go about selecting the 10 members of the family to take part in the funeral?

We are doing what we call immediate family members: spouses, children, and a limited amount of grandchildren.

For those who elect a grave side service, is there a limit with that too?

Yes. Our cemeteries are also limited in the amount of families that can attend. The two main cemeteries in our Dallas and Fort Worth area is holding our families to only 10 people, even in the cemetery.

So, no long parade of cars to say goodbye. That kind of alters the cultural moment of homegoing.

Of course, and we believe that’s very important from our culture and from our standpoint. Even with doing second line services, when we would walk miles together and allow other people to join in into the celebration with our horse drawn carriages. And now that has been completely taken away.

For the individuals that are electing to use your crematory services, what do you say to them and how have you seen a shift in those services?

We’ve been doing this for 40 years, so this is our 40th year anniversary. I can tell you 20 years ago, our cremation rate was less than 5%. Today it is now 40%. So, there’s been a major trend, financially, as well as it’s not as taboo as it has been in the past. What we’re asking people to do is to let your requests be known, tell your family, put it in writing and then put them in a financial position, so they can do exactly what you ask.

What can families expect to pay when it comes to a normal burial, grave side or crematory services?

We want to make sure that we service everyone, regardless of your budget. I believe that it’s very important that you need to live after this service. We understand that each one of us are in different positions, financially, so we offer packages from $2,500, all the way up to $60,000. We want each one of our families to have the opportunity to receive our services, regardless of their budget that they need to stay within. I will tell anyone: what works for one person does not work for the other. So, we give you a wide range to choose from. I do recommend to everyone to have a service for your loved one, even if you choose cremation. I believe that it’s very important to be able to say goodbye and to have some type of celebration, even if it needs to be taped, or even live-streamed. Please do not just do something rash or direct, but allow family, friends and others to share in the home going celebration of your loved one.

Let’s shift to the Coronavirus. We’ve seen entire communities and cities locked down. What is your intake now that this virus has begun to take hold in major cities across the country?

I personally believe that we can still prevent others from catching this deadly disease if we do a serious lockdown. I know this is America, and I know that we are a money-making country. But I believe we need to just halt. If we could just do maybe a month or six weeks of a serious shutdown, I believe we can prevent the spread of this deadly virus.

We can wait on just about anything. We can still pick up and take care of your loved one and store them for you. And then we if we would just continue in about six weeks, I believe that would definitely put a halt to the spread of this virus.

When you think of this virus, do you see a relationship to any other time in history?

Yeah, of course. You know the flu itself kills almost 30K people annually. We’ve seen what SARS have done. And of course, about 30 years ago we saw when HIV hit and ravaged our community. And of course, eventually there will be vaccines, there will be a cure. But until that time would need to be responsible as a people, not only to take care of our sales we’ll take care of others that we’re coming in contact with.