At the height of the COVID-19 outbreak the Ruggiero Family Memorial Home was processing dozens of funerals for those who had succumbed to the virus.
From the end of March to the virus’s peak in mid-April Funeral Director Joseph Ruggiero III reported 28 COVID-19 related funeral arrangements in a two-week span. The funeral home ended up processing around 70 COVID-19 funerals throughout April.
The pandemic not only increased the volume of funerals Ruggiero was arranging but also forced funeral homes like his to change how they operated.
For months the Ruggiero Family Memorial Home was unable to provide full-scale wakes and funerals for Eastie families due to the state’s shutdown and stay-at-home order.
While funeral homes were still considered an essential business and remained open during the height of the pandemic, they were forced to hold ‘private’ services for immediate family members only. There were no funeral masses, no graveside burial services and no wakes.
However, under the state’s Phase II COVID-19 reopening plan funeral homes have been able to increase capacity and return some dignity for those who have passed away.
“We can do 40 percent capacity, everyone has to wear masks and we have to keep people six feet a part,” said Ruggiero.
The Orient Heights Square funeral home held its first publicly advertised wake on Tuesday.
“Chairs are being placed six feet apart,” said Ruggiero. “Hand sanitizer is on hand and we are making sure everyone follows the new restrictions.”
Ruggiero said funeral masses have also resumed but like visiting hours at the funeral home the masses are limited to 40 percent capacity.
“They are also allowing graveside services that are outside with family and friends wearing masks and social distancing,” said Ruggiero. “I think a lot of people will still be cautious. We have the capacity to stagger visiting hours and keep people outside while we are at a 40 percent capacity inside. I think a lot of people will just quickly pay their respects and leave quickly to allow others to do the same. For the time being I don’t think a lot of people outside of immediate family will hang around for a long time like they would have before the pandemic.”
As for the community’s support during this difficult time, Ruggiero said Eastie has been tremendous.
“We have had tons of food delivered by residents and neighbors, people have volunteered to wash our limousines and other cars, and we’ve received a lot of messages of support,” said Ruggiero. “It was a tough time for a lot of our families and staff and the community’s support really helped.”
Over at the Magrath Funeral Home in Day Square, the Magrath Family will also begin hosting limited public services.
“On May 25, 2020 Massachusetts Governor Baker issued the Phase Two reopening order limiting gatherings to 40 per cent of the approved occupancy limit for gathering of individuals,” said the family in a statement. “In keeping with Governor Baker’s directive in response COVID-19, all funeral services must be limited to that amount of attendees only. It has always been our goal to strive to make every funeral to be a meaningful and dignified experience for both our families and their loved ones. As we are encountering these very troubling times in the world with COVID- 19, we must follow specific orders from Governor Charles Baker, the Center for Disease Control, City and Towns Health Departments as well as the Archdiocese of Boston and other Religious Denomination guides for Funeral Services. Thank you for your understanding, please keep yourselves safe,” Magrath Family said in a statement.