A lot of what has been happening with the coronavirus outbreak made me think of something that happened a few years ago.
Not long after my mother passed away, I had to sign some paperwork from the funeral home in the town she lived in. Now, she had been dead for a couple of days and they had taken really good care of her.
When I had to talk on the phone with them, for a moment I went from a grown man having to handle some paperwork to a small kid again, asking the simplest of questions.
Mom liked lighthouses, so I asked if they could put a picture of one near where they were holding her for the time being. It was my little way of saying goodbye until I could fly to where she was. It’s an important thing, how we handle the deceased.
Simple things like what I just mentioned, or giving someone a proper burial, are very important to show the respect we had for people.
On the other side of this coin, I had to empty the garbage can in my kitchen last night. A candy bar wrapper fell out of the bag. Without thinking, I placed the wrapper back in. A lot of people that are getting sick and dying are becoming the candy bar wrapper.
Hospitals have adopted more stringent rules regarding the handling of the dead, who need to be placed in a coffin straight away without being clothed due to the risk of infection posed by their bodies.
“Families can’t see their loved ones or give them a proper funeral. This is a big problem on a psychological level,” said Ricciardi.
“But also because many of our staff are ill, we don’t have as many people to transport and prepare the bodies.”
For those who die at home, the bureaucratic process is lengthier as deaths need to be certified by two doctors. The second is a specialist who would ordinarily have to certify the death no later than 30 hours after a person has passed away.
Stella, a teacher in Bergamo, shared the story of one of the deceased with the Guardian. “Yesterday, an 88-year-old man died,” she said. “He’d had a fever for a few days. There was no way to call an ambulance because the line was always busy. He died alone in his room. The ambulance arrived an hour later. Obviously, nothing could be done. And since no coffins were available in Bergamo, they left him on the bed and sealed his room to keep his relatives from entering until a coffin could be found.”
Adding to the torment is the fact that relatives cannot visit their loved ones in hospital, or give them proper funerals.
“Usually you would be able to dress them and they would stay one night in the family home. None of this is happening,” said Alessandro, whose 74-year-old uncle died in Codogno, the Lombardy town where the outbreak began. “You can’t even see them to say goodbye, this is the most devastating part.”