Gathering Limits Hit Funeral Homes, Families in Time of Greatest Need

Losing a loved one under any circumstance is difficult enough. For the foreseeable future, those who are mourning the passing of a relative or friend won’t even get to properly pay their respects.

The limits on gathering imposed by New York State in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic has all but eliminated wakes and services at funeral homes for the time being. No more than 10 people can be in the building at one time, including staff, putting an even greater strain on those grieving.

Families also don’t have the option of holding a funeral service at a house of worship, since gatherings there are off limits as well.

“Healing is a huge part of what we do here and we’re trying every way humanly possible for us to help these families heal from their loss with the limited visitation we’re given,” said Matt Fiorillo, president and owner of Ballard-Durand Funeral & Cremation Services in White Plains.

Because of the restrictions, funeral homes have been forced to shuttle in small groups of family and friends to make a brief visitation, said Craig Kretzner, the family care coordinator at Cassidy-Flynn Funeral Home in Mount Kisco. Regulations have also been tightened to the point where public viewings are being curtailed, he said.

“We have some families with seven or eight children,” Kretzner said. “What we do is have the most immediate family members come in first, they have their private time, they step out, a few people step out, new people come in and it’s a very limited time and everybody has to stand six feet apart.”

There are even tight restrictions imposed for graveside services, which differ from cemetery to cemetery based on the amount of space near the plot, said Bill Flooks, owner of Beecher Flooks Funeral Home in Pleasantville. He said there have been more services at the cemetery and an uptick in cremation in the past few weeks.

For families looking to have a religious service, many funeral homes are offering to schedule a memorial service at a future date when it will be safe for crowds to gather again, Flooks said.

That doesn’t make it any easier on families in their time of greatest need, particularly in the first several days after a loved one has passed away.

“It’s been very difficult because a lot of times if you’ve been in the hospital or in a nursing home, they probably haven’t seen their loved one in probably two to three weeks,” Flooks said. “That makes it even more difficult because you don’t even have a chance to have a good final goodbye. We’ve never faced this in our lifetimes.”

Fiorillo said one option to families at Ballard-Durand is live streaming a funeral service that adheres to the gathering limits. The funeral home was one of the first to offer that option for friends and relatives who live far away or those unable to attend a funeral on short notice.

“We’ve always used it in that fashion and now we’ve used it more than ever,” Fiorillo said.

Even most of the handling of the arrangements has changed, he said. Families have typically come in and finalized the arrangements face to face, but now that is being done through a computer screen.

Despite the hardship caused by the unusual circumstances, Kretzner said that the families he has dealt with have been understanding. They realize it’s out of anyone’s control and the precautions are being done for everyone’s safety, as heartbreaking as it may be.

“It’s something that we have to adhere to, the rules and regulations of what the state is telling us what we can and can’t do,” Kretzner said.