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Facing mortality during a pandemic

First slide

It was the first time Fairfax Memorial Funeral Home Manager Archer Harmon heard the phrase, “Thanks for tuning in,” after a visitation. “Usually I hear family members after funerals or visitations thanking (guests) for coming and how important it was that they were there,” said Harmon. “Now we’re hearing it on their iPhones and iPads.” At this virtual funerary gathering, attendees saw the deceased and one another on a video-conference call. They told stories and said their goodbyes. All that was missing was the hugs and handshakes, said Harmon.

 

As with everything, dealing with death in the time of the coronavirus pandemic is complicated and difficult. Being unable to be with a loved one at the time of their death or unable to attend their funeral is deeply unsettling, said Harmon. “People who have gone through this have been robbed of their grieving process,” he said.

 

With or without losing a loved one, many people are taking this time to put their affairs in order. “I think we’ve seen the realization that death is not optional,” said Mike Doherty, president of Fairfax Memorial Park and Funeral Home and a parishioner of St. Bernadette Church in Springfield. “It has led to people making more advance planning for their funerals and burials. It hasn’t slowed down, let’s put it that way.”

 

“We’ve been very busy with people wanting to do prearrangements online, (because) you have no idea where this is going to strike and who is going to get it,” said Harmon. “On a personal note, I had been vacillating about getting my will updated and this happened, and I finished my will about two weeks ago. The attorney I talked to told me that his phone has been ringing off the hook with people wanting to get directives and all of this done.”

 

Early in the pandemic, PJI Law in Fairfax offered to remotely create free advance medical directives for health care providers in Northern Virginia. An advance medical directive is a legal tool that allows a person to designate someone to whom doctors can look when making medical decisions in the event that person is incapacitated. The founder of PJI law is Paul Abraham, a parishioner of St. Theresa Church in Ashburn and president of the Thomas More Guild for Catholic Legal Professionals, a local chapter of the national Catholic Bar Association.

 

“For Catholics, it’s extremely important that their advance medical directives and their living wills have language in there to make sure that their wishes are consistent with the teachings of the Catholic faith,” said Abraham. “By way of example, my wife and I, our advance medical directives say that the person we designate must make decisions that are consistent with the teachings of the Catholic faith after consultation with a Catholic priest.”

 

Several people took the firm up on its offer, said Abraham. “People have been very grateful because medical professionals are very high risk compared to the rest of us, and they don’t have time to go around and ask questions and research and call a bunch of law firms,” he said. “People aren’t so much worried about themselves but about their kids and elderly parents.”

 

In pre-coronavirus times, Abraham could see the relief on his clients faces after completing an advance medical directive or other end-of-life document.  “It brings great peace of mind,” he said. “It's something that should be done regardless, so best to do it in a time when it's not in an emergency, so you have time to do it right.”

 

Abraham likes to give his Catholic clients a Tiny Saints key chain of their favorite saint alongside their completed end-of-life documents. It's a little reminder a fellow faithful sojourner who passed through this world and into eternal life. 

 

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2020

@ZoeyMaraistACH