Nfld. & Labrador

With St. John's funeral business at a standstill in wake of blizzard, families struggle to say goodbye

Dozens of funerals have been put on hold in St. John's and area because of a state of emergency, and that's putting added stress on families trying to say goodbye to loved ones, and those who take care of the dead.

At one funeral home, two dozen funerals and wakes have been delayed by state of emergency

Funeral homes in St. John's are filling up with people who died just before or during the state of emergency was declared last Friday. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Dozens of funerals have been put on hold in St. John's and area because of the extended state of emergency, and that's putting added stress on families trying to say goodbye to loved ones, and those who take care of the dead.

"People are going to have to be patient. Wait their turn, basically, is what it's come down to," said John Anderson, who manages Caul's Funeral Homes.

"It's very difficult. I feel for them. But that's the reality of this state of emergency at this time," added Father Cecil Critch, a Roman Catholic clergyman at the Basilica of St. John the Baptist.

Father Cecil Critch is a Roman Catholic priest at the Basilica of St. John the Baptist in St. John's. (Gary Locke/CBC)

There hasn't been a memorial service at Caul's since Thursday, the day before a record-breaking blizzard delivered a massive amount of snow and punishing winds to much of eastern Newfoundland.

St. John's implemented a state of emergency as the storm intensified, forcing businesses to close and vehicles off the streets.

In one case, a deceased woman has been in a wake room at Caul's Funeral Home in St. John's for a full week. (Gary Locke/CBC)

While restrictions have slowly been lifted, funeral homes remain closed. Churches are also closed, and most cemeteries — buried in a thick blanket of snow — are not expected to be ready to accept burials until next week.

"It's going to take us two to three days to clear it out," said Gordon Holden, who manages five cemeteries on behalf of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's.

And when cemeteries are finally reopened, said Holden, it will be difficult to find burial plots because most grave markers are buried under the snow.

"We're going to have to start digging," said Holden.

Holy Sepulchre Roman Catholic Cemetery in Mount Pearl is one of the busiest in the province, but there hasn't been a burial ceremony here for nearly a week because of a heavy blanket of snow and a lengthy state of emergency. (Gary Locke/CBC)

There's an unprecedented backlog of funerals at Caul's. Every wake room is filled. Bodies are lined up in the embalming room.

"We have 20 people in the building right now — that could be an urn or a person. That's quite a number of people awaiting services to take place. I've never seen it like this before. Never," said Anderson.

Gordon Holden supervises five cemeteries for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of St. John's. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Anderson knows of at least two cases of people dying during the height of the storm, and not being removed from their homes for up to 48 hours.

One way to correct this in the future is to allow funeral homes to collect bodies during a state of emergency, with assistance from the city or other authorities, said Anderson.

A blanket of snow six feet high in some places covers the hallowed ground at Holy Sepulchre Cemetery in Mount Pearl. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Some remains have been at the funeral home for a week, and services have been repeatedly rescheduled, only to be cancelled again, he said.

So the home has stopped making any plans, until the all-clear comes from the city.

John Anderson is the manager of Caul's Funeral Home in St. John's. (Gary Locke/CBC)

Considering the snow-clogged condition of the streets, he agrees, it would not be wise to allow funeral homes to resume normal operations.

"If we had the general public here today, Lemarchant Road would just be filled. It wouldn't be fair to the neighbourhood," he said.

So while the focus since Friday's storm has been on the living, it clearly hasn't been easy either for those who take care of the dead.

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About the Author

Terry Roberts is a journalist with CBC's bureau in St. John's.

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