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Grieving alone at a social distance — or online

Marylynne Pitz, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on

Published in Health & Fitness

PITTSBURGH -- Family members prayed beside the grave, listened as Colin Aikens sang "Time to Say Goodbye" and placed white roses on Norbert Coyne McDermott III's coffin before they left Mount Royal Cemetery in Shaler, Pa.

But as business associates, friends and legions of cousins bid farewell to the lighthearted Irishman on Saturday, they stood alone or in small groups, honoring his family's request to stand at a distance "to preserve the lives of our cherished elders."

A livestreaming camera, microphone and speaker allowed mourners to see and hear the funeral service, but they also learned a hard truth in the age of COVID-19: You might have to grieve alone, without comforting hugs from friends and family.

Mr. McDermott's fun-loving nature made him the unofficial activities director of the Shaler High School class of 1978, said his widow, Terri Hardt McDermott. For 42 years, he hosted a Christmas in July party that began with cutting down a tree at a Butler County farm, followed by cocktails and a turkey dinner.

After a seven-year battle with cancer, he died at age 60 on St. Patrick's Day.

People closest to Mr. McDermott visited him as he lay dying in his Hampton home. But at Neely Funeral Home, due to the pandemic, there was no visitation. Only immediate family members and a handful of very close friends were present.

 

"He had a very giving heart. For people not to be able to share that in return -- that was very, very hard," said John Cigna, of Shaler, Mr. McDermott's lifelong friend and business partner.

Inside the funeral home, Mr. Cigna stood several feet from the open coffin and eulogized the man he met in the fourth grade at St. Bonaventure elementary school in 1969.

"We always said he was angelic until he met me," Mr. Cigna joked.

Outside, in the parking lot, men sipped Crown Royal Canadian whisky, their late friend's favorite libation.

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