How NJ funeral homes are helping you mourn during COVID-19 crisis
They deal with death daily, but funeral homes in New Jersey have never collectively experienced something as grim as this scenario: families who've gone weeks without seeing their sick loved one, and then aren't able to say goodbye the way they'd truly like to when that loved one passes away, all due to restrictions in place to attack the COVID-19 pandemic.
"My heart goes out to them. I feel so bad that we can't do more," said Geraldine Oliverie, manager of Oliverie Funeral Home in Manchester.
Virtual options launched by the funeral home long before the novel coronavirus impacted the United States have become a go-to approach for families grieving at this time. Virtual services run on any number of platforms, Oliverie said — some let individuals communicate between their own home and the funeral home, so they can vocalize their condolences and kind words.
Among the list of executive orders signed by Gov. Phil Murphy in the face of the public health crisis was a ban on social gatherings, no matter the size — including birthday parties, weddings and funerals.
Inside the funeral home during services, up to 10 immediate family members of the deceased are allowed to gather, Oliverie said.
"What we encourage the families to do is have more than one hour so that they can have different shifts," Oliverie said.
Top priority is the safety of the living, said Michael Kulbacki, manager of Brunswick Memorial Home in East Brunswick. Staff are attempting to do everything they can, he said, to give families a chance to mourn and honor their loved ones who've passed, while also sticking to social-distancing rules.
"We're receiving calls from families that are upset that they're not going to be able to do anything, and we're trying to put their mind at ease — we can still honor your loved one. It may not be in the way that we're used to, but here is what we can offer you," Kulbacki said.
Families, for the most part, understand the need for the restrictions, he said. Recently the funeral home has had services that featured only the deceased, funeral home staff and a minister.
"We're offering audio, we're offering video recording for the family," Kulbacki said.
Memorial video tributes can also be posted online by the funeral home, he said.
Funeral directors tell New Jersey 101.5 they have not yet seen an uptick in families opting for an "immediate cremation" without a service.
"We're doing abbreviated services, or memorial visitation and memorial services at a later date," said Frank Galante, an owner at Galante Funeral Home in Union and Caldwell.
Inside the home, family members are keeping a safe distance, along with staff, he said.
"And they're generally only here for about an hour," he said.