The coronavirus pandemic and the rules of social distancing to slow its spread have caused churches, funeral homes and families to adapt to new ways on how funerals are conducted.
And in some cases families are asked to wait until after the pandemic to hold a memorial service.
In a message recently sent from Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York, he wrote: “A good number of people have called or emailed to express their disappointment that we are unable to have funeral Masses for their loved ones at this time. They understand the reason, they tell me, but feel a special sense of emptiness, beyond the pain of losing a parent, spouse, or sibling. Believe me, I feel the same way. Earlier this week, I had the first graveside service for an archdiocesan priest who died from coronavirus (two more have since died) for whom we could not offer the Mass of Christian Burial.”
Similar statements have also impacted the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.
From the Archdiocese of Newark
On March 26 the Archdiocese of Newark, New Jersey, issued a clarification regarding burials which reads: “Burials only may take place with only one funeral director, one witness and one priest being permitted into the cemetery with the deceased. Essential staff of Catholic Cemeteries will accept the deceased and perform the interments. Other than this, all Catholic Cemeteries and Mausoleums of the Archdiocese of Newark remain closed.”
The Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association
Although the Pennsylvania Department of State had originally ruled that funerals are not impacted by the governor’s order to shut down physical operations, the state’s Funeral Directors Association has informed funeral directors to limit services to about 10 people.
And in New York
In New York State immediate family may gather at the funeral home for a private viewing ceremony but that should be limited to as few people as possible while maintaining social distancing.
The state also mandated that all religious services and gatherings be canceled as of March 20 and that applies to church and grave site services.
“So far we have handled four deaths in the parish under these difficult circumstances “ said Father Jack Arlotta, pastor of the RC Church of St. Stephen, the First Martyr, in Warwick, N.Y. “The first two occurred before the situation had gotten worse. One family kept attendance under 50, which was recommended at that time. As the situation has gotten worse, we cannot hold funeral Masses but can only conduct burial services. My heart breaks for these families who are not only dealing with the death of a loved one, but cannot have the love and support of their faith community at this time. “
The New York Funeral Directors Association has cautioned funeral directors to realize the first and most important priority is the health and safety of their staff, the families they serve and the well-being of employees.
One of 'the most healing things'
“I think we all understand the need for this,” said Roger Vander Platt, owner of Lazear Smith & Vander Platt Memorial Home in Warwick, N.Y. “When someone passes away the most healing thing that we do for one another is to be present to one another. In whatever way we can we come together to make sense of this final change in our life and the lives of the people we care about. Many of the simplest things that happen in our life are the most important and should be given much more credence and having people come around us and be together at the time of a loss is one of them.”
Vander Platt added that hopefully many people may look to bring family and invite friends and the community together to remember those lost during this time after it is safe to do so.
“This,” he said, “will be a time of healing for us as well following this very difficult time.”
“When someone passes away the most healing thing that we do for one another is to be present to one another. In whatever way we can we come together to make sense of this final change in our life and the lives of the people we care about. Many of the simplest things that happen in our life are the most important and should be given much more credence and having people come around us and be together at the time of a loss is one of them.”
- Roger Vander Platt, owner of Lazear Smith & Vander Platt Memorial Home in Warwick, N.Y