SUFFOLK COUNTY

Grieving without gathering: How funeral homes helped families during COVID-19

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During the height of the pandemic last year, while so many people were at home quarantining with their families, one profession faced the toll of COVID-19 head-on.

“That was a scary time for us,” said Rich D’Andrea. “Obviously, it kind of came out of nowhere.”

D’Andrea is the owner and operator or Raynor and D’Andrea Funeral Homes, which has facilities in West Sayville and Bayport. He described the uncertainty the industry felt during that time and the sheer influx of families the company served last spring.

“We were overwhelmed,” D’Andrea said. “Normally, we serve about 30 families a month or about a funeral a day on average.”

In April 2020, Raynor and D’Andrea’s served 102 families, and in May they served 82. About 80 percent of the death certificates the funeral home was seeing at the time stated COVID-19 as a cause of death.

In order to serve families, funeral homes were forced to pivot quickly in order to comply with New York State mandates.

“From a staff perspective, we came together as a team and knew that, as essential workers, we have a responsibility to our families,” said Pete Moloney, of Moloney Family Funeral Homes. “It was really an emotional time for everybody involved. We just provided the best support that we could for our staff and for the families.”

“It was horrible,” D’Andrea added of last spring. “You know, we’re in the business of helping people and our hands were tied. So, it was very frustrating. It was really, really tough.”

D’Andrea said they were able to provide small, intimate goodbyes with loved ones for about 10 to 15 family members. Moloney held drive-through funerals under their porticos for family members to say goodbye.

Because of COVID restrictions in hospitals, many family members hadn’t seen their loved ones in the weeks before they passed.

“We know the importance of family during this time and coming together for an opportunity to say goodbye is a huge part of the grief process,” Moloney said.

Today, restrictions have loosened, but facilities can only have one family in at a time as well as limited capacity, which D’Andrea said can be a “juggling act” for him and his staff.

“I’d like to think that we’re on the backside of it, and hopefully getting ready to open back up,” D’Andrea said.

One positive thing that came out of the pandemic for both funeral homes is that they now live-stream their service so anyone who is not comfortable or unable to come can still participate.

“Historically, even before the pandemic, there was always a relative, a grandson, that couldn’t come in because of college, or someone that’s out of the country or in the service that couldn’t attend,” D’Andrea said.

“We did whatever we had to do to meet the needs of our families,” said Moloney.

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