While Gov. Charlie Baker listed businesses performing funeral and memorial services as ‘essential’ businesses that can remain open during the COVID-19 pandemic and statewide shutdown of other non-essential businesses, local funeral homes have had to adapt to other changes.
With churches closed for Masses, cemeteries and crematoriums drastically changing how loved ones are laid to rest, and health officials urging social distancing funeral homes in East Boston, like the Ruggiero Family Memorial Home in Orient Heights Square, have had to become more creative.
“We are still an essential business but we’ve had to change the way we do things,” said Joseph Ruggiero III. “I just did a virtual conference this week to make funeral arrangements with a family whose loved one succembed to COVID-19. So while we are open for business, we have made a lot of changes to protect not only the families we serve, but the staff at the funeral home.”
Ruggiero said his family’s funeral home is ready and prepared and has software that can still help families plan services, hold a smaller more intimate wake and memorial service.
“All the forms and paperwork can be sent via email and we can consult with families via Facetime,” said Ruggiero.
As for wakes and funerals, Ruggiero said that is where some major changes have occured.
“All wakes and funerals are private services limited to immediate families of under 25 people for the time being to keep in line with social distancing,” he said. “There are no Masses currently being held at churches so many priests have been kind enough to offer smaller memorial services right at the funeral home.”
Ruggiero said the funeral home has also added a virtual link on their website so people who can no longer attend the wake of a loved one can still view the memorial services in real time.
“We are really doing our best to get people through these hard times,” said Ruggiero.
The funeral home has also added more hand sanitizer dispensers and have stopped many of items that people may touch like candy bowls and guest sign in books.
“If you are a friend or relative of someone we are handling services for we encourage you to visit our website, sign the online guest book and tribute page, watch the online tribute videos or take part in the live stream of memorial services,” said Ruggiero.
Archbishop of Boston Cardinal Sean O’Malley made the painful decision recently to suspend funeral masses and other services within the church.
“We recommend that the bereaved be offered the opportunity for a graveside committal service during this time and a Memorial Mass when we are able to again offer the celebration of Mass and religious services at our parishes and churches,” he said. “Thank you for your understanding of the ongoing unprecedented circumstances of the COVID-19 public health crisis and the importance of doing all that is possible in support of the health and well being of the people we serve and the wider community.”
Cemeteries have even suspended some usual services that are part of a funeral.
Over at Woodlawn Cemetery, in order to protect its staff from being exposed to the COVID-19, immediately implemented new procedures.
The following was implemented and will last until at least April;
• No Chapel Services will take place.
• Mausoleum Services will take place on the patio outside Versailles Mausoleum. After committal services, families will disburse. They will not be allowed to view the entombment.
• Columbarium Services will take place outside in the garden area. Families will disburse after the committal service and will not be allowed to witness the inurnment.
• Graveside services will take place as normal, but families cannot witness the lowering of the casket. They must disburse after the committal service is finished. • No cremation witnessing will take place.