Frieda Lubkeman knew last fall that ovarian cancer was going to take her life. So she planned her funeral.
The longtime music lover selected the pieces and planned choir and solo performances, said her daughter-in-law, Jodi Lubkeman.
Then came the pandemic. Many families had to settle for mini-funerals with groups of 10 or less. Larger memorial services were postponed or canceled.
Lubkeman, 89, died May 12.
Her funeral was held Wednesday with dozens of loved ones attending and including nearly all the music she had planned.
Under partly sunny skies, attendees sat in about 50 cars in the parking lot of St. Mark Evangelical Lutheran Church on Mount Zion Avenue. An unknown number watched from farther away on computers or smartphones.
Before the service, a small group of family members held a video visitation online using the Zoom app, which allowed private conversations. The family then exited the church and sat in a semicircle of chairs as the Rev. Brad Urlaub conducted the service, flanked by flowers, trees and the church building.
Attendees tuned into an FM radio station to hear the service. Meanwhile, anyone could see the service livestreamed online.
“We wanted to be able to uphold the wishes Frieda had for the celebration of life service and get as many people involved as possible because she did touch so many lives,” Urlaub said.
Urlaub is to be credited with engineering the technological setup, Jodi Lubkeman said. He started using BoxCast software about 18 months ago so shut-ins could see and hear church services. That came in handy when the coronavirus came along.
BoxCast allows the video stream to be cast onto Facebook, YouTube and a link on the church website, Urlaub said.
Ryan Lenzendorf of Henke-Clarson Funeral Home, which handled funeral arrangements, said the funeral home has used Facebook Live to allow loved ones to see services during the pandemic, and one other Janesville church has had drive-in services like this one.
The pandemic has frustrated families already enduring grief, but they have been understanding of the need for rules, as well, Lenzendorf said.
The technology on Wednesday allowed Frieda’s grandson, Noah Welhouse, to give the eulogy remotely from Chicago. He remembered Frieda’s laugh and the way she lit up a room.
Frieda was known for her ever-present joyfulness, Urlaub told the congregation. She would greet everyone entering the church for services, shaking hands and hugging those she knew well.
Not everything went as planned. The service was delayed as Urlaub, who acted as his own tech crew, worked the equipment to get everything started.
Urlaub opened the service praying that God would continue to help with the technology.
The wind made a rumbling crackle in Urlaub’s microphone. One recorded soloist’s song couldn’t be played, and instead of the church choir singing “Gaelic Benediction,” as Frieda planned it, one choir member had recorded it.
The hum of tires and rumble of diesel engines could be heard from the nearby Interstate, but bird songs were also audible.
The benediction came near the end of the service, sung by a soloist. Most people know the words: “May the road rise to meet you ... Until we meet again, my friend, may God hold you in the palm of his hand.”
Urlaub blessed the family and attendees with a gloved hand.
As Frieda’s granddaughter Raea Lubkeman’s flute music played, family members stood and turned, waving to the rows of cars as they began to leave the parking lot.
It was a funeral without the up-close greetings and hugs that Frieda so loved to give others, but it was as close as possible to the service she had planned.
In his letter to the Hebrews, St. Paul reminds his followers that even in difficult times, they should not give up meeting together.
Since mid-March, churchgoers in Wisconsin and around the country have given up meeting together in favor of livestreamed services, Zoom Bible study groups and a variety of other virtual spiritual experiences.
Now, Rock County health officials have ordained that church services can be held starting the weekend of May 30-31. They recommend social-distancing measures and suggest limiting attendance to 25% of building capacity.
Similar recommendations are being made for restaurants, theaters and other venues.
Local church leaders say they’re thrilled to have their congregations back but are proceeding with caution.
This weekend, New Life Assembly of God is doing a test run for its full reopening May 30-31, said the Rev. Jason Karampatsos, lead pastor.
Church staff will take precautions, such as roping off pews. Family members who have quarantined together can sit together, but others should keep their distance.
Multiple entrances to the building will be open to reduce congestion around the main doors.
Volunteers will not hand out bulletins or take an offering, Karampatsos said.
Rock County’s Catholic churches will follow similar regulations, said Bishop Don Hying of the Diocese of Madison.
Catholics are required—except in exceptional circumstances—to attend Mass on Sunday. During the COVID-19 pandemic, that obligation was temporarily waived. For even the oldest Catholics, it was the first time in memory that such a thing had happened.
Hying has not yet reinstated the Sunday Mass obligation, and he strongly discourages the elderly, ill and anyone with an immune system deficiency from attending Mass.
“We’re grateful for the opportunity to begin to offer Mass again, but we want to do so in a prudent and careful way that‘s respectful of public health and the fact that COVID is still among us,” Hying said.
Some Janesville Catholic churches have allowed people to attend Mass but in limited numbers of 10 or less to comply with health orders.
Parishioners could sign up to attend online. Online signups have started for the week of May 25.
The situation has been difficult for priests, as their lives revolve around their congregations, Hying said.
“I’ve heard from priests about how much they miss their people,” the bishop said. “Everything that a parish priest does is attuned to serving people, being with people, celebrating the sacraments with people.”
Those duties are so much more difficult—or impossible—to do online.
There was a whole new range of possibilities once the Rock County Public Health Department’s stay-at-home order lifted Thursday morning.
You could have a cookout and invite 50 of your closest friends.
You could throw away your mask.
You could hug or kiss anyone, as long as the other person consents.
But should you do any of these things?
Rock County health officials still recommend maintaining a 6-foot distance from others and wearing masks in stores and other enclosed public spaces. Businesses are also encouraged to take all kinds of precautions to keep the virus at bay.
The key words here are “recommend” and “encouraged.” With no county order in place, there is nothing local authorities can do to enforce the recommendations.
Janesville Police Chief Dave Moore said people should still practice personal responsibility.
“As a police department, we strongly urge citizens to abide by the guidelines because it’s going to make our community more healthy, and it’s going to allow us to work through this COVID-19 issue quicker,” Moore said Thursday.
Moore expects people will complain about those who disregard the safety recommendations, as some did in recent weeks when the state and then the county safer-at-home rules were law.
“But there is no action that a police officer can take,” Moore said.
Moore has asked Rock County’s dispatchers to tell callers that COVID-19 precautions are not law and that police can’t do anything.
Police can still do something about a loud party, of course, and they can be called to break up fights or mediate disputes between neighbors or shoppers.
Rock County announced Tuesday it would lift its order Thursday, just ahead of a three-day holiday weekend.
Moore said he would have preferred the order was lifted on a Monday, giving people time to adjust.
At the time, The Gazette reported the county guidelines would not be enforceable, but the message has not gotten through to everyone.
Assistant Rock County Administrator Randy Terronez reiterated that the county’s new three-phase framework for reopening businesses consists merely of guidelines.
“We came out of the state’s safer-at-home declaration, which was enforceable before the (state) Supreme Court overruled it,” Terronez noted. “The county as a response then enacted a public health order, which was enforceable.
“Now we’ve moved, based upon the (health) metrics, into a voluntary, three-phase reopen plan,” Terronez continued. “We’re saying that plan is guidance to businesses and residents about how to operate. That plan is voluntary. It’s not enforceable.”
But Terronez said a new surge of COVID-19 cases could prompt the county to go back to stay-at-home rules, business restrictions or other mandates.
“Obviously, we’re hoping for peer pressure for businesses such as bars to adhere to the guidelines,” Terronez said. “And to the extent that if people don’t adhere to it, and if we see the (health) metrics going the other way—an increase in hospitalizations, use of ventilators or whatever it is—then we’d have to look at whether to reinstitute orders.”
Meanwhile, the new coronavirus is still here and infecting people.
The county health department on Thursday said residents can help county contact tracers by keeping track of where they go and with whom they come in contact.
Contact tracers try to track down and alert people who might have had contact with an infected person so those people can take precautions and get tested.
To help the tracers, the department suggests people:
David A. Adams
Adam John Eichman
Nicholas C. Jarrett
Patricia A. Kohler
Elaine M. Ulrich
Pauline L. Zweifel