While there remain many when, where, how, and why questions about COVID-19 as it spreads across the country, there is one sector of society that experiences no relief day to day no matter the crisis at hand: The nation’s funeral directors whose main purpose is to clinically direct the process from deathbed to gravesite for the bodies of the country’s dead.
While continuing to abide by their traditional obligations, the National Funeral Directors Association and its 20,000 members are also in constant contact with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) as they face the possibility of a large-scale increase in their caseloads with the coronavirus pandemic at hand.
“We have all sorts of obligations during this crisis,” said Jed Dolan, whose family operates homes in Lower Mills and East Milton. “To our staff members and their families and, of course, to the families we are assisting in their time of grieving.”
He added that the government-driven guidelines being drawn up these days make organizing visitations and funeral services extra-sensitive matters.
“Families don’t always come in numbers that suit these times,” Dolan said. “But for the most part, they understand what needs to be done and why.”
Funerals are ongoing, he said, but the funeral home ambience has changed dramatically. Just the family and maybe a few close others at the home, and the priest and family at the church and gravesite.
So public grieving is taking a big hit.
On Tuesday this week, the Globe published 36 death notices, which ordinarily would mean information about the dates and times of wakes and funerals and burials of 36 people. But on that day, notice was given of strictly private services this week or memorial services later for 34 of them.
As to the CDC, Dolan said that his firm’s homes, like most others, follow the common-sense advice the agency is delivering.
“We do the deep cleaning and we watch comings and goings,” he said, “and we know what is called for to keep our staff members safe as they help families mourn their loved ones. In our case, we have stopped moving our staff between the two homes. Those in Lower Mills stay there, and the others stay in Milton. We also have scheduled a staff member to work from home and supervise the clerical work on line.”
According to the CDC, at this time there is no known risk associated with being in the same room at a funeral or visitation service with the body of someone who died of confirmed or suspected COVID-19; however, federal, state and local public health guidance will continue to impact the size of the gathering a family is able to plan.
Depending on a family’s preferences, their loved one can be safely embalmed and transported in bags that have been disinfected with the appropriate safeguards in place for the bags and funeral home staff. Families still may choose either burial or cremation as usual.
As to what will be available if the crisis unfolds badly by way of funeral home space and services availability, not to leave out the question of expanded real estate for gravesites, Jed Dolan, like everyone else, can only wait to see.