Funeral services in the age of COVID-19: “You have no idea what it’s like”
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Constantine Choharis’ funeral took place today in Massachusetts. His son Peter, in Maryland, couldn’t visit him when he was dying — he couldn’t travel. And Peter won’t be at the funeral either. Neither will his sister, who’s immuno-compromised. “I’m hoping someone will hold up a phone and I’ll be able to do FaceTime or something at the grave,” he said.
Daniel Kantor, a Unitarian minister in Texas who recently lost his father, wrote about the lack of human contact while his family mourns, quoting C.S. Lewis: “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear.”
Kantor has not yet been able to have a funeral for his father. He says the grief of personal loss is compounded by the grief of everything we’ve lost in the world around us: our office mates, our routine, our face-to-face contact with friends.
Hugs. Crying in someone’s arms. Having loved ones all in the same place. The things that can make funerals cathartic aren’t possible when large gatherings are banned and we have to stay six feet apart.
Some funeral homes and places of worship have been adapting. Some are live-streaming services.
“Some cemeteries allow you to go to the grave and stand there, 10 feet away from the grave,” said Keith Taylor, who owns a funeral home in Nyack, New York. “Then you have other cemeteries that say the family can’t get out of the cars.”
Funeral homes say they are at capacity. Mark Flower, a director of the Flower Funeral Home in Yonkers, New York, said he’s working 20-hour days.
“You have no idea what it’s like. We’re just inundated with calls. I’ve had to turn families down,” he said. “I can’t keep up with the amount of people passing away from it. It’s started to get to me, to be quite honest with you. When you keep going to the same nursing home … I never seen anything like this in my life.”
Flower said that just like hospitals, funeral homes are struggling to get equipment to protect workers. “I can’t get masks,” he said. “I can’t get personal protection equipment.”
Peter Choharis said he feels lucky his father will get a funeral at all, even if he doesn’t get to attend. His gift to his dad will be maintaining social distancing.
“At the end of the day. Love is … it’s about giving. You’re giving by not being there. You’re giving by not putting others in danger. You know, that’s where we are right now. That’s the best we can do.”
Choharis said his dad was in the Navy, treating the wounded in World War II.
He would have understood.
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