You are using an older browser version. Please use a supported version for the best MSN experience.

Coronavirus NJ: Funerals with no visitation, few mourners and 'impersonal' services

APP.com (Asbury Park, NJ) logo APP.com (Asbury Park, NJ) 4/20/2020 Joe Strupp, Asbury Park Press
a man smiling for the camera: Bucky Grimm, manager of the Glenwood Cemetery in West Long Branch, at the cemetery on April 16, 2020. © Peter Ackerman Bucky Grimm, manager of the Glenwood Cemetery in West Long Branch, at the cemetery on April 16, 2020.

When Joyce Lynch died on April 8 of what her family suspects was coronavirus, her children had not seen her for nearly a month.

A resident of the Genesis Southern Ocean Center nursing home in the Manahawkin section of Stafford, the 84-year-old Lynch was unable to have visitors since mid-March due to the policy adopted in the wake of the virus outbreak.

Coronavirus in Lakewood: 15 charged for attending evening funeral

Coronavirus NJ: Lacey man's fatal veterans home infection makes daughter fear mom is next

Lynch’s daughter-in-law, Janet Hugg of Barnegat, said they were not even able to see her before or after her death, being told via a phone call that she had passed.

To make matters worse, Hugg and her husband, Raymond, have had to put off any kind of formal memorial service until social distancing restrictions are lifted. The usual face-to-face meeting with funeral home staff is not possible and plans for her cremation and final arrangements are being done from home.

“Everything was done online and over the phone, we were signing forms by email,” Hugg said in an interview. “It seems a little bit more impersonal. She is being cremated and after this is over we will put together a memorial service.”

UP NEXT
UP NEXT

Losing a loved one is difficult enough for family members faced with the grief of death and the almost immediate task of organizing a funeral.

With the loss still fresh in their minds and hearts, next of kin have to reach out to relatives and friends, contact funeral directors for arrangements and make sure the final resting spots are reserved.

But since the coronavirus pandemic has struck, all of those needs have become much more difficult to handle, funeral directors say. Not only for families affected by the deadly disease, but for others who have lost relatives to more common causes of death.

Keep up with more local business news on our business page. Make sure you don't miss a thing by purchasing a digital subscription to APP.com and downloading our mobile app today.

Coronavirus in NJ: Two men connected to Lakewood public schools die, says attorney

Coronavirus deaths in Lakewood: 'We're entering the most difficult time'

“It is not business as normal. It has shaken up and changed traditions,” said George R. Kelder, CEO and executive director of the New Jersey State Funeral Directors Association. “People are still dying of heart attacks, people are still dying in car accidents, of cancer.”

He said the coronavirus has not only increased the number of deaths each day statewide, adding to the demands for service, but taken away the traditions that often help families cope.

These include large family memorial services, in-person meetings with funeral directors, and being able to say goodbye in person to a dying relative.

“If someone is ill and in the hospital or a care facility, they have no visitors,” Kelder said. “There is no comfort in being present for that loved one that’s dying.

"The new normal is a telephone call telling them they died.”

New Jersey usually averages about 6,300 deaths each month, or 210 per day, Kelder said. “We are seeing another 50 to 100 being added to that daily total,” he said about the coronavirus impact that has resulted in over 3,800 deaths across New Jersey as of the end of last week.

That increase means more deaths to process at a time when limitations on gatherings and personal connections are more restrictive.

a man wearing a suit and tie: Freehold Mayor J. Nolan Higgins © Joe Strupp Freehold Mayor J. Nolan Higgins

“We are making arrangements over the phone and by email and have very little face-to-face contact,” said J. Nolan Higgins, owner of Higgins Funeral Home in Freehold Borough.

Higgins said that personal contact and comfort is a key part of his job and is now lost. “You can’t do that over the phone. A lot of families we have served are families we have served in the past or are longtime friends," he said. "We are forced to do things this way.”

COVID-19 visiting nurses home care: 'Extremely rewarding … and extremely scary'

Coronavirus NJ: Brother's nursing home death evokes 9/11 memories for Neptune City man

The trusted place to find the best home service providers. Find local pros.

Families are barred from holding visitations or viewings because the state restrictions disallow gatherings of 10 or more people. Church services are also not allowed, with most families holding graveside burials with smaller groups and a requirement of remaining six feet apart.

“We are doing everything backward,” said James Pfleger of the John P. Pfleger Funeral Home in Middletown. “We do the final disposition first, the cremation or burial, then the families can have memorial gatherings when the restrictions are loosened up.”

Pfleger said some cemeteries have even tighter restrictions on the graveside attendees, allowing just three people — a clergy member, a relative and a funeral home employee.

“A lot of the national cemeteries and northern cemeteries do not allow more than those three,” said Pfleger. “Some local cemeteries limit to immediate family, but spaced out six feet.

"It is still a very small service," he said, "but most families have been understanding.”

The Archdiocese of Newark has instituted a three-person limit at graveside memorials for its cemeteries, while the Diocese of Trenton, which includes both Monmouth and Ocean counties, is following the 10-person restriction.

The restrictions have resulted in some legal action against mourners who gather in groups of more than 10, including 15 people charged on April 1 in Lakewood for attending a service.

There is also some uncertainty over the handling of bodies of those who have died from coronavirus, funeral directors say.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that: “A funeral or visitation service can be held for a person who has died of COVID-19. Funeral home workers should follow their routine infection prevention and control precautions when handling a decedent who died of COVID-19.”

But the World Health Organization issued a stronger warning: “If the family wishes only to view the body and not touch it, they may do so, using standard precautions at all times including hand hygiene. Give the family clear instructions not to touch or kiss the body. Embalming is not recommended to avoid excessive manipulation of the body.”

Kelder said, “there is relatively little transmission from the deceased to the living. But there is an absolute positive community spread from living to living. Our concerns are with the next of kin.”

Pfleger said the gathering limits can hit some large families hard. “We had a family with 10 kids,” he said. “How do you keep the numbers down with 10 kids and 20 grandkids? It is getting them to understand that the grandchildren don’t need to be there.”

Bucky Grimm, office manager at Glenwood Cemetery in West Long Branch, said his policy is for 10 mourners or less at a graveside and a 20-minute time limit.

“That reduces the interaction with people,” he said. “If the time is restricted to 20 minutes than the contact is very minimal.”

He said the impact can be severe for graveside groups that can top 50 people in normal times.

“I think everyone understands it isn’t going to last forever,” Grimm said.

But, he added, “For those people that have lost someone, this is an opportunity they are not going to recover."

Joe Strupp is an award-winning journalist with 30 years’ experience who covers education and Monmouth County for APP.com and the Asbury Park Press. He is also the author of two books, including Killing Journalism on the state of the news media, and an adjunct media professor at Rutgers University and Fairleigh Dickinson University. Reach him at jstrupp@gannettnj.com and at 973-763-0361. Follow him on Twitter at @joestrupp

This article originally appeared on Asbury Park Press: Coronavirus NJ: Funerals with no visitation, few mourners and 'impersonal' services

AdChoices
AdChoices

More From APP.com

APP.com (Asbury Park, NJ)
APP.com (Asbury Park, NJ)
image beaconimage beaconimage beacon