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

How many people are flying? Has traveled picked up?

Flying is starting to recover to levels the airline industry hasn’t seen in months. The Transportation Security Administration announced on Oct. 19 that it’s screened more than 1 million passengers on a single day — its highest number since March 17. The TSA also screened more than 6 million passengers last week, its highest weekly volume since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic. While travel is improving, the TSA announcement comes amid warnings that the U.S. is in the third wave of the coronavirus. There are now more than 8 million cases in the country, with more than 219,000 deaths.

How are Americans feeling about their finances?

Nearly half of all Americans would have trouble paying for an unexpected $250 bill and a third of Americans have less income than before the pandemic, according to the latest results of our Marketplace-Edison Poll. Also, 6 in 10 Americans think that race has at least some impact on an individual’s long-term financial situation, but Black respondents are much more likely to think that race has a big impact on a person’s long-term financial situation than white or Hispanic/Latinx respondents.

Find the rest of the poll results here, which cover how Americans have been faring financially about six months into the pandemic, race and equity within the workplace and some of the key issues Trump and Biden supporters are concerned about.

What’s going to happen to retailers, especially with the holiday shopping season approaching?

A report out recently from the accounting consultancy BDO USA said 29 big retailers filed for bankruptcy protection through August. And if bankruptcies continue at that pace, the number could rival the bankruptcies of 2010, after the Great Recession. For retailers, the last three months of this year will be even more critical than usual for their survival as they look for some hope around the holidays.

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