May 26, 2020

Collapse in cremations and mourning in the distance

As a measure within everyone’s reach to avoid the psychological onslaught that the coronavirus outbreak (and the confinement) that Spain has been fighting for weeks can cause, psychologists encourage to give importance to the positive notes that exist among the tangle of data that arises every day.

In it are the 2,575 discharges confirmed by health professionals yesterday, in addition to the promise of the authorities that we are close to reaching the long-awaited peak of the curve that measures the evolution of the number of new cases. But that does not mean that the situation in hospitals will improve overnight and the number of deaths will be halted.

However, despite the fact that the number of infections and deaths continues to grow, none of us want to think that the country will reach a situation similar to that of Italy, and specifically that of the Lombardy region, current epicenter of Covid-19 all over the world. There, the funeral services are completely overwhelmed and the images of military vehicles transporting hundreds of coffins in a silent funeral march due to the saturation of their cemeteries have crossed their borders. But how is the situation of funeral homes in Spain at present?

Undoubtedly, the most delicate panorama of the entire Spanish territory is experienced in the Community of Madrid, the region most plagued both in number of deaths and those infected. According to the data that was handled at the end of this edition, they are 1,021 and 9,702, respectively, waiting for the second number to skyrocket when the quick controls begin to be carried out, those that will allow confirming a large number of less serious cases than they are passing the disease in quarantine at home.

It has been more than a week since the Community of Madrid, through the Mortuary Health Unit, announced the prohibition to hold funerals for the deceased with coronavirus, a measure that yesterday extended to all the deaths that occur in the region until the end of the crisis. In this sense, one of the first measures taken at the state level was the obligation to watch over the dead with the coffin closed. For this reason, due to the impossibility of saying the last goodbye and also because of not being able to hug those closest to them, experts warn that the process of mourning loved ones can be seriously altered.

As a consequence, Madrid funeral homes have had their routine altered. The lack of family members watching over loved ones who have left has not translated, far from it, into a drop in their workload. In fact, some sources say that they already accumulate delays of more than three days to carry out incinerations, terms that are expected to increase even more this week. For this reason, those responsible are already beginning to refer cases to neighboring provinces.

The procedure

In addition to all this, a special procedure must be applied to those who died from coronavirus, which takes more time than the one used in other types of deaths. The protocol prepared by the Ministry of Health records the lack of scientific evidence that certifies that corpses can transmit the disease, but, since nowadays all precaution is little, the decision to take additional measures is irrevocable.

For this reason, the procedure that has been adopted by the vast majority of funeral homes in the capital is as follows: workers go to the hospital where the death has occurred to directly refer the body to the cremation room. If it is not possible to do it directly due to congestion in the facilities, it is reserved in a closed chamber. In addition, everyone involved in the process must be equipped with personal protective equipment. The bag to which the deceased is transported in these cases is thicker than usual and is completely closed, as is the case with the coffin.

For its part, the Madrid Funeral Services Company (SFM), which reports to the City Council of the capital, has been forced to reinforce the service in its four ovens, which are divided between the La Almudena and Carabanchel cemeteries. Now they work non-stop 24 hours a day.

All these processes, which no one doubts are necessary to contain the spread of the virus, only cause added pain for the family members. Therefore, psychological attention becomes vital to overcome grief. Social networks give a good account of it.

«A relative of my partner has died of coronavirus. I do not count it out of pity, but so that you think of all those people who are at home today, respecting the isolation and they cannot join their family to mourn the loss. That they haven’t even been able to say goodbye. They cannot meet in a funeral home to tell funny anecdotes about the one who has left, hug each other and mourn. Not even bury him. Death is real, but with all this it remains as if in suspense, in a situation of unreality ». It is the story of the journalist Bárbara Ayuso, a message that went viral and unleashed a wave of virtual solidarity.

Antonio Martínez recorded a similar story: «Today my maternal grandmother has passed away, my whole family is in Mérida, my mother has not been able to go to say goodbye to her mother (we live in Alcorcón). What’s more, I can’t even kiss my mother who lives five minutes away by car. It is very sad”.


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