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Planning a funeral for a COVID-19 victim: Painful choices for grieving families

Deanna Dewberry
Updated: March 26, 2020 08:11 PM
Created: March 26, 2020 07:49 PM

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WHEC) — More than 1,000 Americans have now died from the coronavirus.  

And those families will face planning a funeral in a country changed by COVID-19.  

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That's the case for the family Alvin Simmons, the first person in Monroe County to die of the coronavirus.

The family wants nothing more than to be able to say goodbye.

"It's hard to know that you lost someone that you can't even say goodbye to,” Michelle Wilcox, Simmons’s sister, said. “We couldn't be there to hold his hands while he was on the ventilator, to hold him, to touch him, anything."

That's the reality for families who lose someone to COVID-19.

Because of risk of infection, Wilcox was not allowed to visit her dying brother in the hospital.

"We weren't even actually able to see his body,” Wilcox said. “We were videoed a picture of him after he was taken off the ventilator."

And while she'd like to have a culturally traditional open-casket funeral for her brother, new funeral guidelines from the New York State Department of Health advise you to consider not touching the body.

"It's heartbreaking for me. He was really close to me, so it's heartbreaking to know that I can't hold him, kiss him, touch him, see his face."

That exacerbates the pain of her loss. The health department also requires social distancing at funerals mandating that there be no more than 50 attendees, or the building be at 50% capacity, whichever is smaller. 

That's a tough requirement for Simmons’ large family. He was one of 12 siblings, most of whom have children and grandchildren of their own.

"We're still going to have a service. We’re just going to wait this thing out and try to make it through the summer."

They'd prefer to wait rather than have a service that couldn't include the entire family as well as friends.

"His birthday is in August, so we're planning a memorial service at that time, so that all his family members in Rochester and Georgia and other places can actually come, and we can celebrate his life together,” Wilcox said.

These are the kinds of choices so many families will have to make as the coronavirus death rate continues to climb.

They are choices that Wilcox says she would wish on no one. She has a word of advice.

"Just stay strong. Pray together,” she said tearfully. “Call each other as much as you can because you never know when it's the last time."

Wilcox and her family have decided to cremate Simmons’ body. The family has established a GoFundMe account for his children.


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