Please support the Daily Hampshire Gazette’s COVID-19 coverage

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought the local economy — and many of the advertisers who support our work — to a near standstill. During this unprecedented challenge, we continue to make our coronavirus coverage free to everyone at gazettenet.com because we feel our most critical mission is to deliver vital information to our communities. If you believe local news is essential, especially during this crisis, please donate.

Thank you for your support of the Gazette.

Michael Moses, Publisher


Sponsored by:

Funeral director: ‘We’ve never had anything like this in our industry’ 

  • Jay Czelusniak stands in a room where cremation urns are chosen on Tuesday, Mar. 24, 2020 at Czelusniak Funeral Home in Northampton. Funerals and other gatherings are no longer allowed due to concerns about the new coronavirus. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jay Czelusniak stands in a room where cremation urns are chosen on Tuesday, Mar. 24, 2020 at Czelusniak Funeral Home in Northampton. Funerals and other gatherings are no longer allowed due to concerns about the new coronavirus. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jay Czelusniak stands in a room where cremation urns are chosen on Tuesday, Mar. 24, 2020 at Czelusniak Funeral Home in Northampton. Funerals and other gatherings are no longer allowed due to concerns about the new coronavirus. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Czelusniak Funeral Home in Northampton on Tuesday, Mar. 24, 2020. Funerals and other gatherings are no longer allowed due to concerns about the new coronavirus. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

  • Jay Czelusniak stands in a room where funerals are held on Tuesday, Mar. 24, 2020 at Czelusniak Funeral Home in Northampton. Funerals and other gatherings are no longer allowed due to concerns about the new coronavirus. STAFF PHOTO/JERREY ROBERTS

Staff Writer
Published: 3/29/2020 11:34:24 AM

NORTHAMPTON – Families who lose loved ones often have a grieving process in which funeral homes play a vital role, including providing personal interaction with survivors as arrangements are planned.

But the COVID-19 pandemic has upended how funeral homes handle their work, with the latest directive from Gov. Charlie Baker mandating that no funerals, wakes or other services be held for the foreseeable future.

For local funeral home directors, the death of a family member is already a sad situation that is now being compounded by a public health crisis that is out of their control.

“The big thing we’re seeing, unfortunately, is that families are not allowed to have the traditional services like they have in the past,” said Jay Czelusniak, who owns the Czelusniak Funeral Home in Northampton.  “This is our 110th year, and we’ve never had anything like this in our industry.”

Mike Ahearn, who owns Ahearn Funeral Home, also in Northampton, said the current rules mean only one or two immediate family members may see the deceased before burial or cremation. In-person services can’t happen.

“We are in the business of caring for families. Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do,” Ahearn said.  

At Drozdal Funeral Home in Northampton, funeral director Lindsey Drozdal said she is telling families that a private viewing is possible, but only for immediate family members, such as a spouse or a child. At a later date, when it’s deemed safe, she said a larger celebration of life and memorial may take place.

“For the public who calls and wants to come, I tell them to send a card to the family, or leave a message online at the ‘We Remember’ page on Legacy.com,” Drozdal said. “Most families agree with this, and are very understanding.”

“Families are all delaying services until they can do things at a later date,” said Marc Gaudreau, funeral director for Beers & Story Funeral Homes, which has locations in Belchertown, South Hadley and Palmer. “Our hearts go out to families for what they’re going through.”

Those operating funeral homes observe that they would often visit the home of families seeking their services, or have families comes to them. Most arrangements now are being done over the phone or using other technology, which loses some that personal connection.

“It’s a very different time for everyone across the board,” Ahearn said.

But Gaudreau observes that limiting face-to-face meetings promotes public health.

“We need our people healthy and to be able to respond to families,” Gaudreau said.

Czelusniak said he is still trying to work through the scenarios of having services in unique ways.

“A lot of families are calling to see what their options are, they’re trying to get what they want, as much as possible,” Czelusniak said.

With traditional calling hours not possible, Czelusniak said these alternate arrangements have often been postponing services until late spring or summer in the hope that the situation will improve. 

One family did have a gathering with just five people prior to burial, though that was before stricter rules were put in place. Others have decided to forgo ceremonies entirely and have had some burials done with no people present.

Czelusniak said one possibility is virtual services with a clergy member conducting it using Zoom. 

In fact, Gaudreau said he recently did a funeral from the Belchertown site that was live-streamed on Facebook so family and friends could participate remotely.

“Because of technology, it’s lightened the burden for some families,” Gaudreau said.

Drozdal said she has mentioned to families about video recording or taking pictures for other family members that are unable to come if a small service proceeds.

It makes sense, Drozdal said, because she can’t take chances in the current environment.

“We all need to be highly cautious because, as a funeral director, I also have to think about my own family and my employees and their families,” Drozdal said.

Czelusniak said the pandemic will affect the bottom line for funeral homes, but he anticipates his business will survive, and he is more concerned about how others will be emotionally affected by this.

In addition to changing protocol surrounding services, removal protocols for the deceased have also been adjusted. Ahearn notes that the “universal precaution” always includes wearing gloves, masks, gowns and other personal protective equipment. Funeral homes have always been cognizant of contagions and infectious diseases.

“We’re trained that anybody can carry any disease at any time,” Gaudreau said.

Still, Czelusniak notes what is new is that when going to hospitals, extended care facilities and rehabilitation centers to get someone who has passed away, he and his staff have to be checked to make sure they are not running a fever.

“It’s the first time I’ve ever had my temperature taken to go into a nursing home,” Czelusniak said.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.


Daily Hampshire Gazette Office

115 Conz Street
Northampton, MA 01061
413-584-5000

 

Copyright © 2019 by H.S. Gere & Sons, Inc.
Terms & Conditions - Privacy Policy