The coronavirus pandemic doesn’t kill a person once, but twice. At first, the virus isolates you from your family and friends right before death. When death does arrive, your family, friends and near and dear ones don’t have the authority to arrange the funeral or even look at the body one last time, as the risk of contagion is high. Hospital authorities seal the body immediately and take it away for cremation.
“This pandemic kills twice. First, it isolates you from your loved ones right before you die. Then, it doesn’t allow anyone to get closure. Families are devastated and find it hard to accept,” Andrea Cerato, who works in a funeral home in Milan, told the BBC.
In Italy, where the coronavirus is killing more than 600 infected people everyday, all of them are dying in isolation without any family or friends as visits are banned due to contagion. However, health authorities revealed that the virus cannot be transmitted posthumously, but it can still survive on clothes for a few hours, adding to the long chain of contagion.
Many families ask us to show the dead body just once, but we can’t
Massimo Mancastroppa, an undertaker from Cremona, told the BBC that hospital authorities receive countless requests from families of the deceased to show the body one last time before cremation, but sadly said that it is forbidden. “So many families ask us if they can see the body one last time. But it’s forbidden.”
He also revealed that the dead cannot be buried in their finest gown, suit or favourite clothes but with just the grim anonymity of a hospital gown. “We can’t dress them up, we can’t brush their hair, we can’t put make up on them. We can’t make them look nice and peaceful. It is very sad.”
In these tough situations, undertakers are suddenly finding themselves acting as replacement families for the deceased, as people close to those who die from the virus are mostly in quarantine themselves and helpless to act in any way. Andrea Cerato said: “We take on all responsibility for them. We send the loved ones a photo of the coffin that will be used, we then pick up the corpse from the hospital and we bury it or cremate it. They have no choice but to trust us.”
Just like his father before him, Andrea has been an undertaker for close to 30 years now and says certain things are usually important for the deceased such as “Caressing their cheek one last time, holding their hand, and seeing them look dignified.” He added: ”Not being able to do that is so traumatic.”