With strict restrictions on funerals, it is incredibly difficult for the loved ones of COVID-19 victims to say goodbye. To a large extent, it is up to the funeral homes that receive the bodies of such victims to provide the families with a sense of closure and the knowledge that their loved ones were treated kindly and with dignity at the end.
Sadly, crematoriums in New York state are under immense pressure from the overwhelming number of COVID-19 victims, and the result is that funeral homes have to wait between four and six weeks before a cremation can be performed.
As bodies build up, funeral home directors become desperate, and some resort to “unconscionable” solutions. This was the case recently with the Cleckley Funeral Home in the Flatlands section of Brooklyn, when operator Andrew Cleckley resorted to storing up to 100 decomposing bodies in unrefrigerated rental trucks. (Related: Dead coronavirus victims found stacked in U-haul trucks in front of New York City funeral home.)
As reported by the U.K.’s Daily Mail, police officers were called on to investigate the funeral home by neighbors who had been complaining for weeks about the foul smell. Some neighbors also reported having seen the funeral home’s employees loading body bags into the rental trucks.
Cleckley claims that a combination of the backlog at state crematoriums and the fact that the home’s freezer had stopped working forced them to start using the trucks while the bodies awaited cremation or burial. (Related: Health authorities aren’t certain 17-year-old CA boy died from coronavirus, but his funeral may have spread it.)
But New York Mayor Bill de Blasio refuses to accept his explanation, insisting that the state would have stepped in if authorities had been notified.
“Why on Earth did they not either alert the state who regulates them or go to their NYPD Precinct and ask for help,” de Blasio said. “Do something rather than leave the bodies there. It’s unconscionable to me.”
One wonders if the state really would have been quick to render assistance, however, considering it took weeks of constant complaints from distraught neighbors before the authorities even came to investigate the situation. And Cleckley reportedly told authorities that he had been waiting for weeks for the bodies to be collected and taken to the crematorium.
There are some who empathize with the incredibly difficult position that Cleckley found himself in.
“This funeral home is over-capacitated with human remains and that is true,” said Dr. David Penepent, a funeral director brought in by the state to help. “He got overwhelmed with the number of remains that he had and he didn't know what to do and I'm here to assist him in this operation.”
Nonetheless, no matter what the reasons might be for this tragic situation, the families of the deceased piled in those rental trucks are understandably absolutely distraught.
“I expected to lay my mother down properly and with respect and at a reasonable time,” said Tamisha Covington, the daughter of a woman who was supposed to receive full funeral services from Cleckley.
Clearly, the state will have to implement the necessary changes to ensure that all New York families who lose loved ones to coronavirus can be sure that their friends and family will be treated with the care and respect they deserve at the end.
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