Love and Death in the Time of Coronavirus

BAY RIDGE — On Tuesday, March 17, a very close friend passed away. He had been struggling for a while with a number of health-related issues and finally succumbed to his ailments.

My friend was a community leader who ran a foundation that supported numerous charities and institutions throughout Brooklyn and beyond. And while he was born in New York City, he spent the majority of his life in Bay Ridge.

Normally, his death would have brought out civic leaders and elected officials from all across the city. But these are not normal times and his death just happened to coincide with some of the most drastic measures taken by the church and the state during the time of the coronavirus outbreak.

Wake was by invitation only

The wake was by invitation only at the discretion of his immediate family. No more than 10 people were to be in the funeral home at one time, and due to social distancing, at least six feet apart from each other.

Throughout the viewing those coming to pay their respects adhered to the restrictions. Rather than hugging the family to offer their condolences, they instead touched elbows and exchanged meaningful words and pained expressions.

The following morning at the funeral mass, the monsignor presiding over the service announced that this would be the last funeral mass in Brooklyn Diocese. The cemetery was also scheduled to close at 12 noon on Friday, March 20.

Diocese statement

The Diocese statement explained that funerals, weddings, and baptisms would no longer be permitted in church. For funerals, graveside services outdoors would be permitted, maintaining the recommendations of the CDC regarding social distancing and at the discretion of the cemetery administration.

The Diocese further stressed, a memorial Mass for the deceased can be celebrated later. Weddings and baptisms would be postponed to a later date.

“We want to ensure that there cannot be any more possible exposure to the virus at one of our Churches in Brooklyn and Queens,” said Brooklyn Bishop Nicolas DiMarzio.

“This was not an easy decision to make, however, the safety of our parishioners and our priests, deacons, and religious and parish staff weigh heavily on my mind,” DiMarzio added.

The final funeral mass

The final funeral mass for my friend was surreal. In a church that under other circumstances would have been packed with mourners, there were at most 25 people in attendance including his immediate family. There was one former state senator in attendance and the owners and friends from the restaurants my friend frequented. That was it. My friend would have understood, but I couldn’t help but think he deserved better.

In what would have been a convoy-like processional of cars heading to the cemetery – there were only four – the hearse, an SUV with my friend’s immediate family and two other cars with four close friends. And because of the Diocese’s edict, there was a long line of processionals all trying to enter the cemetery before the noon closing.

“The passing of a loved one is always a difficult time for a family and those closest to them,” Monsignor Kieran Harrington wrote in a statement from the Brooklyn Diocese. “My message to those who are afraid is that a priest will always be available graveside as loved ones are laid to rest,” he added.

Photo courtesy of Green-Wood Historic Fund Immediate family and close friends gathered at graveside.

Short graveside service

There was a short graveside service before all threw the final rose on the casket and headed home. Restaurants and bars were closed so there was no opportunity for a mercy meal to share warm memories of the departed or raise a toast to a life well lived. We all just nodded, tapped elbows and blew kisses to each other, comforted only by the fact that my friend was no longer suffering and finally reunited with his wife, the love of his life, who had preceded him in death.

And while the entire nation is now enduring the impact of the coronavirus crisis, here’s hoping that the dark cloud hanging over us will be lifted and we can better remember and pay tribute to all of our departed friends and family members . . . sooner rather than later.

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