Funeral homes make ‘tough decisions’ on how services are provided

Stricter guidelines on public gatherings caused funeral home directors to amend how they conduct funerals and provide grief support.

Nearly every day in New Jersey, the state announces its deaths from COVID-19. What comes after are now postponed or telecasted funerals.

“[Families] all sadly understand the circumstances going on in this world,” said Harry Platt,  manager at Platt Memorial Chapels in Cherry Hill. “They talked about having a proper memorial in the future, but the question arises when? When is the time going to be?”

An executive order issued by Gov. Phil Murphy in mid-March reducing public gatherings to 10 people has challenged area funeral homes as they adhere to distancing measures while offering support to grieving families.

John A. Healey IV, of McCann-Healey Funeral Home in Gloucester City, said while some families have revised funeral services on their own through postponements, his home has had to make adjustments for those previously scheduled.

The Kain-Murphy Funeral Home has seen neighbors park across the street and hold up signs showing support and love for grieving families; some have sent condolence letters.

“We try to be extra compassionate and be comforting without violating any guidelines,” said Pamela Bowers, funeral director at Kain-Murphy. “If a person passes away and they have a spouse, only the spouse can go in and not the children.”

As some families have postponed arrangements, others have opted to conduct services via Facebook Live, allowing for more families and friends to grieve. Online services are at the behest of families and funeral directors ensure what is seen on Facebook shows the proper respect for the family and the deceased.

Having a livestream of services, Platt added, has allowed more family members and friends to mourn than might have attended a normal funeral. He pointed to the April 12 livestream for ShopRite stores owner Steve Ravitz, who passed away on April 7 from complications related to COVID-19.

“If the family wanted to, they have the opportunity to read through the comments and see how much support they have out there,” he explained. “It’s certainly helpful to know that people are out there for them and I would hope it’s a help to them, but it’s not the same as getting a hug.”

A Jewish funeral service, the ceremonial shiva usually done a short time after a death, is now conducted over Zoom video conferencing. Some Christian families have been forced to forgo the celebration of life services following a funeral because of the social distancing guidelines.

Anthony E. Primo, of Costantino-Primo Funeral Home, said families have mostly accepted the current way of doing things, but it still “takes a toll” on them. His funeral home has been doing more cremations than burials since the order on social distancing.

“I think we’ll really be able to see what happens with this after it’s lifted and families get to revisit these funerals,” he added. “That’s going to be the key as families come back and revisit the funerals and their loved ones.”

Healey acknowledged that when things return to normal, his home will still have to change the way it does business, including more virtual or videotaped services.

“It’s not like we’re going to flip back to what we did before,” he admitted. “We’re going to adapt to new changes.”

Platt emphasized, however, that “nothing good” has resulted from the current situation and that  the recently dead are not afforded a timely memorial service to fit the “personalities of the people and family.”

“Nothing good or positive has come out of this,” he said.