Loss Amidst Crisis

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) has had an unprecedented impact on how we live and work, limiting our ability to interact with others and freely move about in the world. Tragically, it’s also affecting our ability to pay tribute to loved ones who have died.

As the death toll from the coronavirus increases, so does the strain on funeral homes across the country. Funeral directors are struggling to meet the increased demand. Linda Swanson, of Swanson Funeral Home, says it’s unlike anything she’s ever seen and it really confirmed the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are working with a very small staff because people are afraid,” said Swanson. “Hospitals don’t really have the space to treat people and they definitely don’t have the room to house remains so they’re trying desperately to get them to funeral homes and a lot of us don’t have the capacity. We’re getting calls to pick up on average 3-4 bodies a day and that’s solely COVID-19 related deaths.”

Even cemeteries have adjusted the way they do business as a result of COVID-19 precautions. Some have restricted the amount of cars that can come in while others are only allowing the funeral home to drop off the deceased. Unfortunately, if a loved one dies during the pandemic, regardless of the circumstances, it is unlikely that a traditional funeral or memorial service will be possible, thus changing the way we mourn.

Dorothy Diop of Detroit had to learn how to grieve in quarantine when her uncle Eddie Bruce Miller passed from COVID-19. A long time employee of DTE Energy, Miller was a hard working, fun loving person. Known for his sense of humor, warm personality and superb cooking skills Miller was well loved by all who knew him.

“My uncle was the patriarch of my mothers side of the family. He would always host dinners and make plans to keep us all together, said Diop. “He was so funny and kind and everyone loved him.”

Under normal circumstances you would expect a man so well loved who touched so many people to have a large funeral with dozens of friends, family and co-workers paying their respects. Sadly due to COVID-19 restrictions this was not the case.

“We were allowed 10 people to come to the funeral home and while I completely understand it still didn’t feel right. We’re all used to grieving a certain way—meeting up together, spending time reminiscing, hugging and sharing fond memories over dinner. There was none of that really,” Diop said. “We did what we could over the phone. At the funeral home everyone had on masks and there were other funerals going on and you just knew that some of those people died from COVID-19 as well. It was eerie. We didn’t really have a traditional service it was more of a viewing. It all went so fast.”

As COVID-19 spreads rapidly throughout the state (Wayne County has 15,748 confirmed cases with 1,580 deaths) funeral homes are being called on to bury more people and take precautions to keep everyone safe. As Burgess Grant a funeral director from Flint, MI stated, “We have to limit the number of funerals we conduct each day, there can’t be any more than 10 people and we can only have so many funerals per day,” he said. “We have to thoroughly disinfect each room after every family even if the decedent didn’t have COVID-19 one of the guests may carry it so its really stressful on staff. This is scary stuff.”

We often fear the unknown and COVID-19 is no exception. There is so much we don’t know about this disease and as such every precaution has to be taken. Funeral directors have been told via CDC guidelines to treat every deceased person as if the virus is still active and to use proper infectious control techniques. But as Mr. James Butler of Butler Funeral Home states, more thought should be given to last responders.

“Doctors don’t have ample equipment to protect themselves so you know we have even less. I don’t think many people think about what happens after someone dies from this horrible virus,” he said. “We are nervous too but we are here to serve the families during this difficult time. Funeral homes are working overtime to ensure that every families loved ones are laid to rest with dignity and respect. And although we are experiencing something unprecedented we are all going to have to work together to get through this.”

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