‘The whole landscape of funerals has changed’, says Cork man running funeral home in virus-hit New York 

‘The whole landscape of funerals has changed’, says Cork man running funeral home in virus-hit New York 
Clive Anderson on the steps of Pelham Funeral Home.

A CORKMAN who runs a funeral home in New York has spoken of the devastation caused by Covid-19 and the challenge of giving dignified burials to the deceased.

The death toll in New York from coronavirus has reached 3,000, with the city and state now the epicentre of the outbreak in the US.

There are more than 100,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in New York. Hospitals have effectively turned into ICUs for Covid-19 patients.

Clive Anderson, originally from Ballinhassig, is the owner of Pelham Funeral Home in Westchester County in New York, which he bought over six years ago.

He said the impact of the virus is everywhere.

Clive Anderson on the steps of Pelham Funeral Home.
Clive Anderson on the steps of Pelham Funeral Home.

“There are temporary morgues being established outside hospitals which are essentially just tractor-trailers with freezers,” he said.

“There’s not a soul walking around. People can’t sleep because the sirens of the ambulances are so loud — there’s no traffic or street noise to muffle the sound. It’s very eerie.”

Funeral homes have been deemed essential by New York governor Andrew Cuomo, but wakes have had to be massively scaled back.

Now, just 10 people can be in the funeral home at any given time to say their goodbyes.

“It’s so difficult for people because it’s the time in their lives when they most need a pat on the back, a handshake or a hug,” Mr Anderson said.

“That can’t happen now but what we can provide is meaningful, small wakes to give people the opportunity to grieve.

“Members of the clergy can no longer hold funeral Masses and they’re not allowed into funeral homes.

“Neither myself nor my staff are members of the clergy, but we’ve been officiating the wakes.

“We try to provide words of reassurance to people. We can still play DVD tributes for people and it’s those kinds of details that people really appreciate.”

A Samaritan's Purse crew and medical personnel work on preparing to open a 68-bed emergency field hospital especially equipped with a respiratory unit in New York's Central Park. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)
A Samaritan's Purse crew and medical personnel work on preparing to open a 68-bed emergency field hospital especially equipped with a respiratory unit in New York's Central Park. (AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

Mr Anderson said his line of work is one that few people would choose to pursue, but he could not imagine doing anything else.

“Life is full of second chances, but when it comes to funerals you only get one chance to say farewell to your loved one. It’s important that it’s done properly” he told The Echo.

The 37-year-old decided to enter the funeral business, which he calls his vocation, after he lost his father to cancer when he was just 15.

Cork’s Jeremiah O’Connor was the funeral home which looked after Mr Anderson’s father’s funeral and the respectful and caring manner in which they handled the situation made a lasting impression.

“It had a profound impact on me. I then started working in Jeremiah O’Connor on ~Coburg St at the weekends when I was still in secondary school.”

Clive Anderson with Paddington the dog.
Clive Anderson with Paddington the dog.

At age 20, Mr Anderson emigrated to Boston to study mortuary science at the New England Institute.

“In Ireland at the time there wasn’t anywhere that I could study mortuary science so I moved over to America.

“I originally intended on studying and returning to Ireland but I ended up staying,” he said.

After graduating, Mr Anderson moved to New York where he worked as a sales rep for a casket company for about seven years.

“There was one particular funeral home, Pelham, which wouldn’t buy caskets off the company I worked for.

“They were buying from my competitor for the previous 46 years, but I’m a pretty determined person.

“One day I said ‘enough’ and ended up buying the funeral home! If you can’t beat ’em, buy ’em,” he joked.

With years of experience of being there for people in their greatest hour of need, Mr Anderson is now facing the immense challenge of trying to provide meaningful wakes for people in the midst of a global pandemic.

“The whole landscape of funerals has changed since the outbreak of Covid-19.

“Once upon a time, you’d sit down with family members gathering information for obituaries, going through all the paperwork, but that’s all done over the phone and through email now.

“People are now picking out the casket online,” he explained.

“Of all life’s challenges, losing a loved one is the most difficult thing to go through, I know that through experience, and it’s even harder for people at the moment. People are calling us up not even sure if we’re open or not. A lot of the time they might just have lost their jobs too.

“We’re there to reassure people that we’ll help them,” he said.

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