Virus forces grieving families to adjust or delay funeral services

Virus forces grieving families to adjust or delay funeral services

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When Jason Zandri’s grandmother died about two weeks ago, his family was faced with a difficult choice.

Is it safe to hold the funeral service or are we putting our loved ones at risk? 

Gathering bans and social distancing mandates prompted by COVID-19 have affected many things, including funeral services. 

Anita Zandri died on March 14 and her funeral was held on March 19 in Wallingford, just days after Gov. Ned Lamont issued a recommended ban on gatherings of 50 or more. The ban has since been reduced to five. 

Close family members decided not to invite anyone outside the immediate family. 

“I think rather than subjecting family and friends to having to make that decision, the family just opted to not have anything (open to the public),” said Jason Zandri, a Wallingford town councilor. 

The family didn’t have a viewing or a church service open to the public, but about 20 family members gathered for a brief service and burial.

The Zandri family was able to say goodbye to their loved one on a relatively normal timeline, but many families have chosen to postpone services for months.

Because of this, many local obituaries now read  “a celebration of life ceremony will be held at a later time.” 

David Warren MacDonald, funeral director at Wallingford and Yalesville Funeral Homes, said the families he’s worked with in the last few weeks have been understanding of limitations and don’t want to put anyone at risk. 

“The families I’ve dealt with have been embracing and have been appreciative of what we can do,” MacDonald said. “They’re taking it in stride.” 

For most families that means having a very small gathering.

Not the same

Some families are also taking advantage of live streaming and video recording offered by funeral homes. MacDonald said his funeral homes have always offered the service, but it was never used much until now. 

While watching a livestream or a video is better than nothing, MacDonald recognizes it's not the same experience as attending in person. 

“Nothing feels better than a hug,” he said. 

At Alderson-Ford Funeral Homes in Cheshire, Naugatuck and Waterbury, owner Daniel Ford said they adopted a “Hugs from Home” program to allow people to write and submit notes of condolences to be tied to balloons at services. 

“These balloons will fill our chapel as hugs for the families,” the funeral home’s website says. “They will be able to read your heartfelt messages and hopefully know that many others are there with them in spirit.”

One family separated geographically made a video slideshow to commemorate a loved one. 

“There was a sense of all of them being together and collaborating together to create this,” Ford said. 

Extended grief

Other families are choosing to postpone for months. 

Patrick Ferry, vice president of John J. Ferry & Sons Funeral Home, said a delay in services can also extend the grief period.

“Folks are going to have kind of an extended period of grief, because they can’t necessarily close a chapter until these services happen,” he said. “They’re not going to have that closure right away.”

Even for those that do gather, the services is different. People are hesitant to touch and be close to one another, Ferry said. Instead they offer condolences and words of comfort from a distance.

MacDonald said most funeral directors get into the business to serve families. Now, their ability to do so if limited. 

“We’re not used to saying ‘we can’t do this’ because we try to do whatever we can,” Ferry said. 

But Ford said families can always rely on their funeral director.

“The funeral directors in this area are really fantastic,” he said. “People just need to lean on their funeral directors and say ‘OK, what are my options.’”

bwright@record-journal.com203-317-2316Twitter: @baileyfaywright

"Folks are going to have kind of an extended period of grief, because they can’t necessarily close a chapter until these services happen. They’re not going to have that closure right away."

-Patrick Ferry
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