No room to grieve: The coronavirus pandemic is robbing people of a chance to say goodbye

As the number of New Jerseyans who are losing their lives to the coronavirus continues to climb, the pandemic has also upended the end-of-life process and post-death rituals of people dying from non-coronavirus-related causes.

News 12 Staff

Apr 3, 2020, 2:37 AM

Updated 1,569 days ago

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As the number of New Jerseyans who are losing their lives to the coronavirus continues to climb, the pandemic has also upended the end-of-life process and post-death rituals of people dying from non-coronavirus-related causes.
A ban on public gatherings means modified funeral services. A graveside funeral for Carmelo Antonio Fantino of Bayonne – like all funerals in the Archdiocese of Newark – was attended by only three people: A priest, the funeral director and a single family member.
A wake performed at Stellato Funeral Home in Lyndhurst was broadcasted over the internet so that family members could watch from afar, unable to gather.
The ban on public gatherings also means a ban on hospital visitors. People are dying alone, loved ones are unable to say goodbye. Loved ones are not really even supposed to be hugging during this time.
“The families are in grief and they’re grieving because of the death now, and then we’re saying, ‘Alright, we’re going to need to expedite this and make this as quick as possible,’ limiting the amount of people how can come in and say goodbye,” says George Kelder of the New Jersey State Funeral Directors Association.
Kelder says that trying to stop the community spread of the virus has been very hard on the families.
“They’re not allowed to be bedside as they’re dying and at the time of death. They’re being restricted on who can and cannot come into the funeral home to say their goodbyes. This is an unknown for everyone,” he says. “I think ultimately there’s going to be an emotional, psychological and physical toll that we’re going to see.”
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Kelder says that fellow funeral directors are also feeling the stress. He says that their ability to be caregivers during times of grief is compromised by the pandemic. Kelder also says that the funeral directors are worried about getting sick themselves.
“Remember, we’re human beings as well. Our staff is beginning to become ill. It’s not because we deal with the dead. It’s because we deal with the living,” he says. “The virus is continuing to spread via community contact with the living. We’re trying to protect ourselves, our families and staff.”
Different funeral homes are handling the ban on gatherings differently, with some holding no memorials whatsoever, some using just video and others allowing two or three mourners on the premises at a time.
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