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Coronavirus restrictions on large gatherings limit size of funerals, but local funeral homes and clergy doing their jobs for families

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60th Annual Field Mass at All Saints Cemetery, May 27, 2019 (Virginia Durkin O'Shea photo)

In Bill Doherty II’s line of work, business doesn’t ever really come to a halt.

As president of Doherty Funeral Homes, he deals with weather elements, large crowds and other potential obstacles, but the threat of coronavirus presents something completely new.

“I’ve never seen anything like this,” Doherty said. He said his business is following all Center for Disease Control regulations, including limiting gatherings to fewer than 50 people.

Father Joseph J. Piekarski, pastor of St. John Beloved in Wilmington said his parish community had 125 funerals last year. They’ve seen plenty of different circumstances, but nothing quite like the unusual restrictions that have come with the coronavirus outbreak.

60th Annual Field Mass at All Saints Cemetery, May 27, 2019 (Virginia Durkin O’Shea photo)

“I just got finished making plans for a woman who had seven children, but they wanted it private so that helped,” Father Piekarski said.

Different options exist even with restrictions of gatherings of no more than 50 people.

“We’re hoping we can segmentize it in some cases,” Father Piekarski said. “Some people at the funeral home, some people at the church itself.”

He said if it’s a large family or someone well-known in the community, families can have a private funeral Mass and later in the year a larger memorial service after the public health threat has subsided. Such methods are becoming more common without the public health threat, he said.

“We’re finding more and more people are having a delayed funeral,” he said, “with family members being spread out.

Father Paul Jennings Jr., pastor of St. Luke/St. Andrew in Ocean City, Md., said he’s seeing some of the same situations in his parish.

“Until restrictions are lifted, attendance is restricted to immediate family,” he said. He’s finding people are receptive to the options. “We have a funeral Mass restricted to immediate family and a memorial service that can be scheduled at any time in the future.”

Rachel Mealey is dealing with it too. She’s supervisor at Mealey Funeral Homes and Crematory in Wilmington.

“The timeline should not change,” she said. “We do have to consider a private ceremony at this time, but we can still have a Mass and burial. It doesn’t mean we have to push it off. We’re encouraging families just to limit it.”

None of the veteran funeral officials can remember anything similar to this.

“Not in my life,” Doherty said. “And it’s evolving every day.”