Estelle Kearns, '22

The Realities of Loss: Funerals in the Pandemic Age

My project was entitled “The Realities of Loss” and it looked at death and dying during the pandemic. One of the biggest things to take away for me was how traumatic this pandemic was for a lot of people and how difficult it is to document people’s feelings of grief and loss and struggle. I focused on the story of a family funeral home in Queens, New York, and through the interviews with people who worked in the death care industry I really got a sense of the pain they experienced, especially in the early months of pandemic when the death tolls in NY were incredibly high and people were prevented from being with their loved ones when they died and then from holding traditional ceremonies to mourn them after they passed. The people I interviewed at the funeral home had to turn people away and even those that they could help, couldn’t be comforted in the same way through traditional rituals of shared grief. Even if families could find a Funeral Home to take their loved ones, Funerals were not allowed to operate as normal. Only ten people were allowed to be present, and everyone had to wear masks and be socially distant from one another. One of the workers that I interviewed expressed a deep sadness and frustration at this. He said that, as the death toll rose, he wanted to hold “good funerals” for victims and honor their suffering, and that these were not good funerals. There was no sense of closure for the families or for those who worked the funerals. Speaking as a historian, I think it was and still is very important to try to document and remember the experience of loss that has occurred this past year, whether that be a loss of loved ones or other losses.