COVID-19

Funeral services in the age of COVID-19: “You have no idea what it’s like”

Jasmine Garsd Apr 3, 2020
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Due to a surge in deaths caused by the Coronavirus, hospitals are using refrigerator trucks as makeshift morgues. Above, medical workers remove a body from a refrigerator truck outside of the Brooklyn Hospital on March 31. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
COVID-19

Funeral services in the age of COVID-19: “You have no idea what it’s like”

Jasmine Garsd Apr 3, 2020
Due to a surge in deaths caused by the Coronavirus, hospitals are using refrigerator trucks as makeshift morgues. Above, medical workers remove a body from a refrigerator truck outside of the Brooklyn Hospital on March 31. Stephanie Keith/Getty Images
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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.”

Constantine Choharis. (Courtesy Peter Choharis)

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.

COVID-19 Economy FAQs

Which businesses are allowed to reopen right now? And which businesses are actually doing so?

As a patchwork of states start to reopen, businesses that fall into a gray area are wondering when they can reopen. In many places, salons are still shuttered. Bars are mostly closed, too, although restaurants may be allowed to ramp up, depending on the state. “It’s kind of all over the place,” said Elizabeth Milito of the National Federation of Independent Business.

Will you be able to go on vacation this summer?

There’s no chance that this summer will be a normal season for vacations either in the U.S. or internationally. But that doesn’t mean a trip will be impossible. People will just have to be smart about it. That could mean vacations closer to home, especially with gas prices so low. Air travel will be possible this summer, even if it is a very different experience than usual.

When does the expanded COVID-19 unemployment insurance run out?

The CARES Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump in March, authorized extra unemployment payments, increasing the amount of money, and broadening who qualifies. The increased unemployment benefits have an expiration date — an extra $600 per week the act authorized ends on July 31.

You can find answers to more questions here.

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