A funeral home copes with the surge during the coronavirus pandemic
During normal times, Joe Ruggiero Jr. might hold 25 funerals a month; this April there have been 71. Due to a surge in COVID-19 cases, his family’s funeral home in East Boston is so overrun that the tribute lounge and cafe normally used to display portraits of the departed has been turned into a makeshift storage space. A thin white sheet of plastic held together with binder clips is all that separates the hallway from the caskets. The white board in the office downstairs is overflowing with funerals. Three on Wednesday. Four on Thursday. Five on Friday. Joe Jr., his son, Joe III, and his daughter, Catie, work tirelessly to make sure that everything is as perfect as it can be in order to bring some comfort to families in grief. They solve an endless string of coronavirus riddles, like what do you bury someone in when their family can’t go back into a nursing home to retrieve their clothing? Or how do you explain to families that they can’t have more than 10 people inside at a time? The biggest one of course, is how do you console someone when you can’t place a comforting hand on their shoulder? Families filter into Ruggiero Family Memorial Home all faced with the prospect of saying goodbye to a loved one without the comfort of an embrace. I photographed six funerals over three days, each death caused by COVID-19. A woman told me that her 100-year-old mother would have kept going if not for the virus. Her wake and funeral had six people in attendance. You could hear a pin drop in the chapel as they sat silently in rows of chairs spaced 6 feet apart. At the next funeral, there were a line of people in masks and gloves waiting outside to pay their respects to a 57-year-old father who was taken by COVID-19. Many used their cellphones to stream the funeral for those who couldn’t be there. One family member just wanted people to see how serious this was so that they would stay indoors.