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Locals' opportunity to mourn together postponed by coronavirus
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Locals' opportunity to mourn together postponed by coronavirus


When Jeanine Porr’s 38-year-old son, Dustin Tortu, died last week, her loss and grief were compounded by requirements of the COVID-19 crisis that prevented her from seeking solace in the company of friends and family.

“It’s hard at a time like this when everyone is sad and distraught,” said Porr, of Northfield. “You want to give them a proper service, and you can’t.”

The order canceling social gatherings in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 applies to funerals as well, causing families and funeral homes to adjust quickly to a new norm during times of mourning.

Porr’s family is Catholic, and she had hoped to have a traditional memorial Mass and service open to everyone but was told she couldn’t. Funeral homes are following state guidelines that limit gatherings to 10 people and funeral services to family only.

“It was me, my sister, his grandmother and his dad,” Porr said. “We couldn’t have any friends. We’re hoping that in six months or so we can have a celebration of life and have a memorial Mass for him and have more than just the three of us there.”

Delayed memorial services is one way many locals are addressing the communal needs of grief in this time of social distancing. Obituaries are full of notes indicating a private burial with a future public celebration of life.

Porr worked with Director Jack McAvaddy at Gormley Funeral Home in Atlantic City to prepare her son’s cremation. He said people are using new methods to overcome some of the sadness and problems under the current restrictions.

“In most cases, you don’t experience funerals many times in your life, you’re used to things as they’ve always been done in the past, and that’s hard for people to grasp,” McAvaddy said. “The people I’ve dealt with seem to be very accommodating and understanding. They don’t want to put other people in danger.”

Both families McAvaddy was working with this week were choosing to have a celebration of some kind after the pandemic quiets down.

Dennis Spilker owns Spilker Funeral Home in Cape May, where, like at many other funeral homes, they’re using live-streaming to help family and friends attend from a distance.

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“You watch a newscast and a lot of broadcasting is being done from home,” he said. “Well, we’re broadcasting from our home. Physically this is private, but virtually we’re going to be having a funeral on that day.”

Just three weeks ago, Spilker live-streamed a funeral on YouTube for the family of a local man with relatives in Ireland who couldn’t attend.

“We learned some things,” Spilker said. “We wanted to keep it a little more private by keeping it through a closed broadcast.”

YouTube is available to too many people, he said, but someone using their phone to video the service includes too few people.

“We needed to hit that spot in between,” he said.

Spilker is using an online service called TribuCast designed for that purpose and explained that the family is able to adjust the camera so it broadcasts what they want seen. A link in the obituary takes you to the live service, and a note advises virtual attendees that a given service is open casket and they should be prepared accordingly.

“For some families it will be OK to do something private and then something public later, and for some it’s important to do something now,” he said. “I think everybody grieves in their own way. If you want to have something more engaging with hugs, that’s going to have to wait months and months, but we can still do something now.”

Porr said waiting to have a service for her son that includes all of his family and friends makes the process harder.

She’s found some comfort in phone calls and social media, where people have been able to reach out and offer their sympathy, but it doesn’t replace being together.

“Every time I go to the (mail)box, there’s a card,” she said. “Flowers came to the house. I have so much food (because) people are sending deliveries. (But) my friends are in their 60s, and they couldn’t come up to my house to visit, to give me a hug, because everyone’s afraid. I get it, but it’s nice to have a hug.”

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