Even though some losses occurred with COVID-19 more than a year ago, an important step in the grieving process for those some friends and families is just starting.
Local funeral directors are reporting that they are holding small numbers, but far more than pre-pandemic, of delayed funeral, memorial and committal services for those who died while the pandemic raged. Restrictions barred any traditional large gatherings, so much a part of the first stages of grieving.
“We’ve seen about 30 of these kinds of services since May,” said Chris Quinn, funeral director at Fagan-Quinn Funeral Home in North Kingstown. Anthony J. Nardolillo agreed that his family’s funeral home, with a chapel in Narragansett, is seeing the same.
He said, “We’re seeing quite a few after the tight restrictions of the pandemic.” During that time mourners were severely numbered to a handful at wakes and graveside services. That roadblock in grieving brought as much pain as the loss, both funeral directors said.
With all restrictions lifted since May in Rhode Island, family members, such as those of Mary Gloria Sherman of North Kingstown, are continuing with the traditional process of service, burial after cremation or a memorial gathering somewhere.
Sherman died April 4, 2020, after a short illness. Her funeral Mass will be August 26 at St. Bernard Church, 275 Tower Hill Road.
Quinn and Nardolillo said that sometimes families continue to feel something is incomplete because a service as planned didn’t happen and a part of closure or acceptance is also delayed.
Glenn Stinson’s Decision
Jan Hall-Stinson, also of North Kingstown, died March 10, 2020, unexpectedly. Her family, along with her former employer, Crossroads Rhode Island, held a service Aug. 6 at Kingstown Crossings to unveil of a garden and plaque dedicated in her memory.
In the midst of constantly changing conditions, the family decided nearly a year and a half ago to forego the traditional calling hours completely while also planning a broader memorial event with Crossroads Rhode Island for some time later.
A few weeks after she died, her husband, Glenn, told The Independent, “As a family, we decided early on, before enforced business closures, that, in this moment, we would not be able to do what we hoped. We also heard from family and friends who expressed reluctance or inability to travel, and this influenced out thinking as well.”
“The virus concerns were absolutely central to our thinking about Jan’s memorial, and finding a meaningful path forward. We (the family) obviously wanted to be able to bring both some closure for the family and also reach out to Jan’s many friends and colleagues and provide a time and place that we could all share our grief, memories, reflections and stories,” he explained.
This week, following that long-awaited memorial service, he said that grief is a shared experience. Until close friends and family have an opportunity to share a loss, like his wife’s, it still evokes strong emotions, which sharing helps to lessen.
“Being able to get together with family, friends, members of the Crossroads community, share stories, and just be able to express what Jan meant to each of us, brings some tangible closure,” he said.
He said that the Aug. 6 dedication was an opportunity for people “who were significant to Jan, who may have never crossed paths with each other, to have a chance to meet each other, share and maybe to establish a really meaningful personal link that might otherwise have been lost.”
The Need for Services
Megan Devine, a therapist specializing in grief and the author of the book “It’s OK That You’re Not OK,” talked recently to The New York Times about the importance of services.
“One of the big things that a memorial service does is it’s a collective acknowledgment. (The)acknowledgment really is one of the only medicines we have for grief,” she said.
Devine added, “There’s that belief, which is a myth, that you get closure and then you go back to life really quickly. Memorials and funerals are not the end of the grieving process. They’re part of the beginning.”
With the delays in services of varying kinds, families across the country have had to devise new and creative ways to celebrate lives lost, the paper reported.
Some have opted to hold memorial services over Zoom, where they observe religious rites like sitting Shiva or reciting the Janazah prayer, or having virtual brunches or dance parties. Others have decided to postpone, holding a larger, in-person memorial months or even a year following a loved one’s death.
Postponements and some lingering constraints can take an emotional toll on families who feel left in limbo, but at the same time, they may also provide an opportunity to reframe the roles funeral rituals play, according to the paper’s research.
Ultimately, Nardolillo, Quinn and other funeral directors said, is that people need to carve out time to mourn together at the time of the loss or later. These services help the move along the grieving process.
Nardolillo said that he has seen a mix of remembrances ranging from traditional church or cemetery services to “something at a restaurant where you might have an urn there. I wouldn’t say there has been one trend or another.”
In terms of notifications that these delayed ceremonies are happening, some people ask for a reprint of the original obituary with updated memorial service details while others may depend on using social media, such as Facebook or Instagram.
In addition, funeral directors said, people often ask for an update to the online information the funeral home posts and then email that link separately to friends and family members they want to invite.
Some funeral homes for these delayed and other services have gone broader in scope and offer to make arrangements for food and beverage catering.
Jeff Davis, general manager of the Cherry Place Waring-Sullivan Homes of Memorial Tribute on Winter Street, in Fall River has moved in that direction.
Davis said his Cherry Place funeral home recently began booking reservations for on-site memorial services and life celebrations that include catered food and non-alcoholic beverages, according to the Fall River News.
Even before the coronavirus pandemic became a national emergency in March 2020, Davis says he knew there would be a market for food catering services at Waring-Sullivan.
“It was becoming so popular that we hired our own event planner in November 2019,” he said.
Quinn and Nardolillo said that they are still just seeing mostly traditional approaches without much fanfare.
“We had a discussion internally about what a funeral would look like post-COVID,” Nardolillo said. “We found that when the restrictions lifted, people went back to the traditional funerals and low-key memorial services.”
“Rhode Island is still a pretty traditional place,” he added.