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Funeral homes weigh alcohol use

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Posted on April 05, 2018 by

SHERRY SLATER | The Journal Gazette

When a loved one dies, family and friends often want to offer a final salute.

The options are as varied as the individuals being remembered. Helium balloons are released to remember children. Favorite dishes are baked to honor grandmothers. Donations are made to nonprofits fighting deadly diseases in memory of someone who lost that battle.

But, sometimes, honoring the spirit of the dearly departed is an occasion that calls for a good, stiff drink. It's what he would have wanted, some survivors say.

A southern Indiana funeral home has made a splash in the industry by securing a liquor license. Since last year, Scott Funeral Home in Jeffersonville has served beer, wine and mixed drinks. 

Taron Smith is OK with allowing grieving family and friends to drown their sorrows. As the general manager for D.O. McComb & Sons Funeral Homes, Smith's primary goal is to comfort surviving families. But he draws the line at assuming liability for serving alcohol.

Although the National Funeral Directors Association represents more than 10,000 funeral homes worldwide, the profession can seem quite close-knit at times. Two local funeral home managers said they'd never offer alcohol but declined to comment on the record because they know the Scott family.

Smith had no problem, however, saying he won't open a bar in McComb's six local funeral homes.

McComb, which was acquired by national funeral home chain Dignity Memorial in 2016, started to set aside a reception/catering room at each of its locations about six years ago.

Previously, families that wanted to eat together between calling hours would have to find a nearby restaurant that could seat and feed a few dozen people in under two hours. It wasn't always easy.

The reception rooms allow families to select a restaurant or caterer to bring in food that is ready when family and friends need to take a break, Smith said.

Britton Claghorn, a McComb location manager, said allowing families to eat on-site “is a big convenience factor.”

Alcohol is allowed when the caterer is licensed to sell it and brings in licensed bartenders or servers, Smith said. They are trained to cut off drinkers who show signs of intoxication.

Monte Freeze, a funeral director with Divine Mercy Funeral Home, has similar concerns about liability. The Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend, which operates the funeral home, doesn't think it's appropriate to serve alcohol there.

Divine Mercy, which opened in November, doesn't allow caterers to bring in food either, Freeze said.

“We didn't want to take that away from the Catholic churches in town,” he said, adding that women are on call to cook for parishioners' services.

Smith estimated that families request catered meals five to eight times per week at each of the six McComb locations. Some funeral packages include food. Providers have included Lighted Gardens in Ossian, Casa restaurants, Pizza Hut and the Bagel Station. Not all of them serve liquor.

When it comes to who drinks alcohol, participation varies.

Smith remembers a recent funeral that included an elegant champagne toast for family only after calling hours ended. He also recalled a funeral where the family offered a shot of the loved one's favorite whiskey to all visitors.

The liquor provided also varies. Smith remembers a funeral gathering that included a keg of beer and another that featured a full bar offering mixed drinks.

He acknowledged some people don't handle alcohol well, especially when emotions are running high.

But, he added, funeral directors are trained to handle grieving people whose emotions get the best of them. The stickiest situations they face are family fights without a drop of alcohol in sight.

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