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Coronavirus upends funeral services and mourning process. 'It's doubly devastating'

Lautaro Grinspan, Miami Herald on

Published in Religious News

MIAMI -- Two months ago, Jorge Rivero thought he knew everything to know about running a funeral home.

But despite a 30-year career and a multi-generational family history in the death care sector -- his great grandfather was the first to get in the business with the 1947 inauguration of a funeral home in Havana -- Rivero said nothing could have prepared him for the way coronavirus has altered his line of work.

"It's a new game," said Rivero, the current co-proprietor of the Vior Funeral Home at 291 NW 37th Ave. in Miami. "Everything has changed."

The pandemic has brought on more deaths and longer work hours, with Vior now taking on double or triple the number of families it might in an average week before. There are also new restrictions on mourners' ability to say goodbye to their loved ones, whether or not they died of COVID-19.

Due to county orders, viewings at funeral homes are limited to only 10 people, as are graveside burial ceremonies. Adherence to social distancing guidelines keeps many mourners from embracing one another.

"It's a very cold scene," said Rivero.

 

Contributing to the uptick in the funeral home's workload is a steady stream of people who have fallen victim to COVID-19 -- Vior deals with at least one such case every single day, a reflection of Miami-Dade's growing death toll.

That means death care workers must come to terms with a potentially higher degree of exposure to the disease.

"The front lines are the doctors and the nurses and we got the back end of the frontlines," said Rivero. "We know we are at risk, we know we are all exposed, but we chose to do this job."

Unlike colleagues working in hotspots from New York to Northern Italy, Rivero considers himself far from overwhelmed. But he said he is starting to feel the strain on resources and on his funeral home's capacity to keep pace. That's partly because cemeteries, having reduced their hours of operation amid the pandemic, are getting backed up with burial requests, which means Vior has to hold on to bodies for longer periods.

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