Saying goodbye: Funeral homes working through pandemic backlog

Published: Jul. 12, 2021 at 6:21 PM EDT
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RUTLAND, Vt. (WCAX) - Families across our region are finally getting a chance to say goodbye. Many burials and funeral services were postponed during the pandemic but that is changing now that vaccinations are up and gathering is allowed.

It’s one of the ironies of the pandemic-- more deaths but fewer funerals. That delay in grieving deeply affected families and the funeral industry. But now, funeral homes and cemeteries are working hard to help everyone say goodbye.

“We’ve been extremely busy,” said James J. Clifford of the Clifford Funeral Home in Rutland.

After months of waiting, families are finally able to come together to grieve. Clifford says that’s meant a very busy spring.

“We were just backlogged,” he said. “Families didn’t know which way to go and we just had to wait it out to have a funeral ceremony and burial.”

Clifford says his home is about 85% caught up on their backlog of services.

Many families postponed their final farewells until everyone could be there in person.

“We were very slow when the pandemic happened,” said Michael Cavacas, the superintendent and groundskeeper at Evergreen Cemetery in Rutland.

In May 2020, Evergreen Cemetery had one casket and one cremation burial, which Cavacas says is not normal for spring.

“If you had a lot of people, like in Florida and so forth that were going to have people buried here, they couldn’t come here. There was no traveling. A lot of states were in the red for many, many months,” he said.

When the vaccine began rolling out and Gov. Phil Scott predicted reopening the state in July, people began planning services for their loved ones.

“There was a big ramp-up and interest in planning from those early months of the year through now. I know a lot of funeral homes have services scheduled into October,” said Chris Palermo, the president of the Vermont Funeral Directors Association.

Cavacas says this spring was extremely busy and his cemetery has cremations scheduled into September.

“This May was actually crazy for us, we had so much to dig, a lot of casket burials this May,” Cavacas said.

Funeral homes can have calling hours again, which means bringing all family members together in the same room, eliminating the need for livestreaming services and finding outdoor venues.

“They don’t have to worry about any pandemic problems anymore,” Clifford said. “They are welcome to have church services and gatherings here.”

Funeral directors still ask those who are not vaccinated to wear a mask when they attend a service.

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