Coronavirus not only drastically disrupted life on Long Island, the pandemic also ushered in dramatic changes to how people say their final goodbyes to loved ones, as many funeral homes are overwhelmed.
Whether the arrangements are for someone who died of COVID-19 or of something else, there are a host of new rules in effect. Many of the changes make it difficult to practice traditional funeral ceremonies, but the guidelines are part of social-distancing mandates intended to prevent the disease from spreading further and taking more lives.
“While we all may want to celebrate our loved ones’ lives and memorialize them, at this time, we must continue to practice social distancing and limit large public gatherings, including at funeral services,” New York Attorney General Letitia James said.
Here’s what you need to know about the changes to the funeral process before making final arrangements for your loved one.
Since the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends limiting gatherings to no more than 10 people to prevent the spreading of the disease, funeral homes, houses of worship, and cemeteries are widely limiting attendance for services to immediate family members only.
What’s more, those who do attend are being urged to avoid hugs, kisses, and handshakes that are customary between grieving family members during emotionally wrought services. Attendees must also remain 6 feet apart from one another. And in the event of an open casket funeral, touching the body is forbidden.
“There is currently no known risk associated with being in the same room at a funeral or visitation service with the body of someone who died of COVID-19,” the CDC advises.
If coronavirus was the cause of death, anyone who was in close contact with the deceased prior to their passing should not attend the funeral to avoid possibly infecting others, according to both the CDC and the state Department of Health.
The limitations on large gatherings have prompted some funeral directors to have video and live stream of services so those unable to attend in person can at least participate online or view the ceremony afterward.
“This allows families to pay tribute to their loved one with the opportunity for others to watch remotely from the comfort of home,” Moloney Family Funeral Homes writes on their website.
The approach may be unconventional compared to how people typically say goodbye to loved ones, but it serves the ultimate goal of helping people grieve. Plus, there’s no rule against hugging immediate family members who you’ve been quarantined with in your own home — especially after watching a tele-funeral.
It’s hard enough to plan and execute a beloved family member’s memorial service while stricken with grief, let alone a funeral with added restrictions due to a pandemic, but the process is even more difficult now due to increased demand.
“It’s become very difficult to have to say no to people, to have people calling and begging for help,” Patrick J. Kearns, a funeral director and president of Leo F. Kearns Funeral Homes, which has locations in East Meadow and Queens, told U.S. News & World Report.
That leaves families having to shop around. The backlog prompted Gov. Andrew Cuomo to issue an executive order authorizing out-of-state funeral directors to help transport the deceased, as there aren’t enough licensed in New York State to keep up. Hundreds have arrived to assist.
Rules also vary at each funeral home and cemetery. For example, Calverton National Cemetery — the nation’s largest national cemetery — has temporarily suspended cremation funerals and gatherings of any size, and has set a limit of only two floral arrangements per funeral.
While these restrictions undoubtedly make the grieving process more difficult, they are only temporary, and there are sure to be abundant vigils to help give people closure after the pandemic passes.
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