Funeral homes and family members move through unfamiliar territories after losing a loved one during the COVID-19 pandemic.
During this unprecedented time, funeral homes and families of those who have lost loved ones to the coronavirus are searching for ways to navigate unfamiliar ways of mourning. While private graveside services and streamed online services are occurring, families still are searching for that fulfilled sense of honoring and memorializing their loved ones.
As of April 22, Michigan has seen 33,966 positive cases of COVID-19 and has reported 2,813 deaths.
Jonathan Dorfman, co-owner of the Dorfman Chapel in Farmington Hills, told the Jewish News that around 70% of funerals in the past month have been COVID-related.
“The hard part right now is just families not being allowed to be there with their family members and not being able to celebrate their lives like they normally would,” Dorfman said. “Everything is being limited to 10 people or less, so it is just a difficult time emotionally for families and for us, too.”
Dorfman and the staff are making sure they are available to honor the wishes of families they are working with.
“Trying to help families has been very difficult for us. We are trying to livestream all services so families can have others out of state watch the service,” Dorfman said. “One of the options a lot of people have talked about is doing something at a later date, maybe some type of public memorial service, or we have been talking about doing Zoom shivas right now so they can still help celebrate their life in a way that works right now.”
Jacquelyn Bell lost her mother JoAnn Bell, 73, on March 30 due to the coronavirus. The family had a private family graveside service officiated by Rabbi Tamara Kolton on April 2. JoAnn was a beloved wife of 51 years to Marshall Bell, mother of Jacquelyn and Gregory, and nana to Jonah and Riley Bell.
JoAnn Bell was living in TowneHall Place, an assisted living facility in West Bloomfield, since she was battling multiple sclerosis. On March 27, she was admitted to St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Pontiac and diagnosed with double pneumonia.
“The hardest part for us, and I believe for her too, was knowing that she was all alone there,” Jacquelyn Bell said. “Usually my dad, my brother and I would go visit constantly, but instead we had to just receive updates from the doctors and nurses. On March 28, her test came back positive for COVID-19.”
Each day her mother’s progression worsened, before she passed away on March 30. Due to the gathering restrictions, the family had to have a private family graveside service with only immediate family there. They streamed the funeral online so other family and friends could watch it.
“In the Jewish community, especially, you have this funeral where you can show your respect to the family and can see your friends, and I would have been able to be close to her and this was just devastating trying to make funeral arrangements,” Bell said. “We could only have 10 people at the graveside service, and we all had to social distance ourselves from each other. We couldn’t even comfort each other and truly be there for one another.”
However, Bell is grateful for the Ira Kaufman Chapel and Rabbi Kolton for providing as much comfort as they could given the circumstances. Besides the live-stream service, they had family and friends send in emails and messages about the memories they once shared with her mother.
“Whenever anyone thinks of my mom, they just think of her big smile. She just had this huge smile and would be so happy whenever anyone would come visit her,” Bell said. “This just feels like a fresh, open wound because I don’t feel like we were able to have the proper closure and memorialize her the way it should have been.”
David Techner of the Ira Kaufman Chapel in Southfield told the JN that roughly 20-25 funerals they have overseen in the past five weeks have been related to COVID-19. However, that number could be higher. If somebody was not tested for the virus before they passed, it would not be listed on the death certificate.
“It is never easy losing a parent. Several people have lost both parents to the COVID virus and it is very painful for people,” Techner said. “What further makes it difficult is that all of our traditional norms are pretty much out the window. I think the hardest thing for me when I am helping a family is when I can’t give them something that they had for generations, such as service at the chapel, a graveside and a shiva. All of that is pretty much gone.”
While this is unprecedented for everyone, including the staff at the funeral homes, Techner understands the difficulty of losing any family member and is striving to provide as much comfort as they can to families.
Rick Davis lost his mother Gladys Davis, 90, on March 21. Gladys had tested positive for the coronavirus on Thursday, March 19. She resided at All Seasons of West Bloomfield.
“At the time, this was so new to us. We didn’t get the privilege of a shiva and just met as an immediate family,” Davis said. “The tragedy of my mom’s death wasn’t that she died because of COVID, it’s because she died during it.”
The whole mourning and grieving process was interrupted and completely altered for Davis and his family. They are hoping to have a celebration of his mother’s life down the road, once this has subsided.
“Right now, the world has a view that these deaths are just statistics, but this is much more than just statistics,” Davis said. “We didn’t get the chance to grieve. We are being denied because of this separation.”
Davis remembers his mother as someone who could make friends anywhere she went. He believes that if they would have been able to have a proper funeral for her, there would have been over 100 people there.
“She truly collected friends, and to the world, she was this wonderfully connected, loving, giving [person] and life of the party,” Davis said. “She engaged with everyone and truly made everyone feel great.”
On April 9, Linda Jacob lost her father, Marvin Talan, 93, to the coronavirus. He was a resident at All Seasons of West Bloomfield and was the husband of 69 years to his wife Beverly, a father to three girls, a grandfather and a great-grandfather.
Jacob’s mother, Beverly, 90, also contracted the virus but is recovering.
“Our mourning process has been very difficult. One because of the impact of the virus and not being able to mourn in our traditional ways, and it also took away the opportunity to be with family and friends,” Jacob said. “Not being able to see my mom and hug her and kiss her has been very difficult. This whole process has been just horrific.”
Jacob and the rest of her family were unable to be with their father at the time of his passing. It was not the closure that they were hoping for, and being at the cemetery alone and keeping their distance from one another, was not easy for anyone.
“Ira Kaufman streamed the funeral service to our family and friends that couldn’t be there with us,” Jacob said. “The virus had taken away our way of being able to reminisce and have people around us to celebrate his life. We did what we could for now, and we will make it right when it is right in the world to do so.”
Jacob remembers her father as someone who took pride in his family. He made sure that his family was taken care of and was always there for each and every one of them.
“He was always warm, had a positive outlook and everyone loved him,” Jacob said. “It didn’t matter who we talked to, everyone knew that we were Marv Talan’s daughters. He was such a people person and was so giving. We love him.”