No sobbing but a lot of haggling at busy funeral home
IMUS CITY—Never has a funeral home come so alive.
In a community mortuary, at the center of this city in Cavite province, is a never-ending traffic of people inquiring about services for their dead.
No quiet sobs or condoling hugs among the bereaved. Instead, a lot of haggling over prices of funeral packages and talk about how to best express grief in these most uncertain times when communities around the country are on lockdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.“Just place [the ashes] on an altar [at home]. I can give you flowers if you want” was how part of the conversations went.
“If the dead is lean, cremation is quick. But there’s a queue,” went another.
No burials, no wakes
On Wednesday afternoon, the manager of the funeral parlor received a burly man, her ninth client for the day.
The man said his 45-year-old neighbor, a “brother” in the fraternal Knights of Columbus, just died, and the body was left in the dialysis center nearby.
No burials today, or even wakes, with all viewing chapels empty and shut, explained a staff through a tiny square of a hole cut out of the plastic sheet between them.
Also, no priest is willing to lead a funeral Mass anyway.
What the funeral home offers is a cremation package—P45,000 all-in, with a P5,000 discount for senior citizens.
“Is that the last price?” the man asked.
That price is actually half the cost of cremation services in Metro Manila at P80,000.
For poor families here, the city mayor or the congressman give at least P10,000 assistance for new coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases, and a little less than that for non-COVID-19 deaths.
The owner of the funeral parlor, who also runs a flower farm in Tagaytay City, decided to give away for free the bouquets of Malaysian mums. But the establishment ran out of marble urns from Romblon province due to the lockdown; the available granite urns would cost an additional P2,500.
Since March 23, the mortuary has cremated 120 bodies, of which only 29 had hospital documents showing they were COVID-19 cases. The ash is sealed in double ziplock bags then placed in a cloth sack.
“How do we really know which is which?” the 55-year-old funeral home manager asked. “Many others died in their homes. When we talked to the families, they always said: ‘He was still OK last night until he couldn’t breathe anymore.’ Or the chest suddenly tightened, or the fever and then diarrhea.”
“Aren’t these the same symptoms as those of the virus?” she asked.
Cavite has more than 100 confirmed coronavirus cases, with the number of suspected cases nearing a thousand. Case bulletins from the Department of Health do not reflect the deaths of the suspected or probable COVID-19 cases.
Dead coming in
“From just one or two, sometimes none at all, there are now a load of dead coming in in a day,” the undertaker, of 30 years, said in between phone calls from hospitals or residences asking the morgue to pick up bodies.
Aside from the urns, body bags are running so low that, in a few instances, corpses came wrapped in sheets and went straight into the incinerators, said another funeral home worker.
Personal protective equipment or hazmat (hazardous materials) suits are scarce that crematorium workers handling the dead resort to using garbage bags and disposable masks to protect themselves from leachate.
At the cemetery on Wednesday, the cremation viewing room was empty, except for employees waiting for the furnace to complete its job. “We’re not scared of the bodies because they’re already dead,” one of the male workers said. “What we’re scared of are the families (picking up the ashes as they could be potential virus carriers).”
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