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Families burying loved ones have had to alter funeral services.

With 104 first cousins, Jacqueline "Jackie" Kessler Wood knew there was going to be a problem when a beloved relative died last week.

With restrictions in place on how many people can gather together, the family opted Friday for a small funeral at the Resthaven Memory Gardens and Funeral Home. Other family members will mourn privately for now, and get together after the spread of coronavirus subsides.

“Daddy had 14 brothers and sisters," Wood said. “My mama had 11 brothers and sisters. I have 104 first cousins” and can name every one.

Everette Brooks Kessler, of Baton Rouge, died March 17 at age 96. Funeral attendees were limited to Wood and her three siblings, their spouses and their children. Wood's husband John said that if everyone whose lives were touched by Kessler had been able to come, the crowd would likely have filled the room and beyond.

“Her daddy was a preacher all his life, a lot of people knew him,” John said.

Kessler's funeral announcement in The Advocate on Friday said that, "due to current events, a memorial service will be held at a date to be determined." Several other obituaries in recent days have included similar language.

In an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus so doctors and hospitals aren't overwhelmed by a steep increase, Gov. John Bel Edwards, in his stay-at-home order issued Sunday, has asked that no groups larger than 10 collect in a single space. Previously that number had been at 50 or less. 

The bishop of Baton Rouge, the Rev. Michael Duca, in the past week canceled Masses across the diocese and directed clergy to only conduct graveside services. 

"I do not make these decisions lightly," Duca said. "In consultation with leaders in our diocese, and for the sake of the safety of those to whom we minister, precaution is necessary to slow the spread of this pandemic."

Other houses of worship have made new plans or are considering them. 

"As ministers of the Lord, we're not going to hide away and leave those people alone, but we still want to be safe and follow precautionary guidelines," said the Rev. Joseph Fowler, associate pastor of Jefferson Baptist Church in Baton Rouge.

Resthaven said it has updated its family-members-only policy to keep gatherings "in our facilities and grounds to 10 guests or less" in keeping with the governor's latest mandate, Allen Kopp, the general manager, said Monday.

"Others may post condolences and sign online guestbooks," he said. "We want to assure our community that we are doing our part in keeping everyone safe."

The funeral home on Monday also began offering the livestreaming of funeral services on its Facebook page to those families who elect to do that, he said.

"Our goal is to keep our employees safe and continue to provide a good experience for our customers who have had a loss," Kopp said. 

Seale Funeral Home in Denham Springs is also asking for only immediate family at services to have groups of 10 or less, general manager Bobby Suchman said.

Funeral services will held in the main chapel, which will be thoroughly cleaned between services, Suchman said.

The Seale Funeral Home is working toward making livestreaming of services available soon for those families who choose, he said. 

The Rev. Leonard Ezell, senior pastor of Broadmoor Baptist Church in Baton Rouge, said the church had had a memorial service scheduled for Saturday, but the family postponed it out of concerns of spreading the virus.

Jackie Wood said ahead of her father's funeral that, after being accustomed to large family gatherings, "it’s going to be strange to have such a small group.”

And for when that future celebration of his life might occur: “Nobody would really know at this point.”


Email Ellyn Couvillion at ecouvillion@theadvocate.com.