Saying goodbye to loved ones in the age of COVID-19

These days even mourning a loved one requires a coronavirus workaround. Jude Ann Cote said goodbye to her mother, Juliette Kehoe, who died late last month of natural causes at 102. With government restrictions on large gatherings, the family was afraid they’d be unable to say a proper goodbye to their matriarch, but the family had an idea.

“It originated actually with my sons who said to us, ‘Well, mom, maybe you could do it on your cell phone so we could be with you.’ And I brought that up with Nick at Vander Plaat and he said I think I can do it,” she said.

Nick Vander Plaat is the director at Vander Plaat-Vermeulen Funeral Home in Franklin Lakes.

“Unfortunately, families are not able to have a time for the public and their friends to come in to pay their final respects,” he said. “So I kind of came up with a way to livestream their services whether at the gravesite or the funeral home here.”

Like most workplaces that have been forced to use a variety of platforms to get their work done, funeral homes are no exception and Vander Plaat has used a variety. For Jude’s family he set up a livestream that anyone could watch.

“I bring a camera with me and it’s livestreamed, whether it’s here in New Jersey, whether it’s California, the west coast, anywhere in the world,” Vander Plaat said. “It’s not the best scenario, but at least it’s, for what we’re going through, it’s something for them to have their closure.”

For Cote, the opportunity to have her family gather virtually was a fitting farewell to her mother, who was the last of her siblings to pass and whose passing was of great significance to the family.

“More than anybody, my mother would have loved it. She would have supported it immensely,” she said. “She would have definitely been right there and she was totally with us cognitively right until the end, so she was quite aware of the virus and people staying safe.”

“In this particular case, we had 40 people watching live from all around the country, whether it was another child or the grandchild. They couldn’t have the family come here because of the flying restrictions, so they were able to all be a part of it. Not the best scenario obviously, but it was something for them,” Vander Plaat said.

The stream of the gravesite service for Juliette Kehoe has so far received over 140 views, pretty good numbers for a matriarch who would have appreciated the turnout, made possible now by technology that helps to bring families together in a time of great loss.