John Sisto, funeral director at Sisto Funeral Home in Bronx, N.Y., says his small, family-run operation has seen a significant uptick in funerals over the last month as the coronavirus pandemic continues, in a video series TIME is producing with Katie Couric.
In the video above, Sisto speaks with Couric about how the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way funerals are handled. With social distancing protocols in place throughout New York City and much of the U.S., families and friends cannot gather as they typically would to pay final respects when a person dies.
“Every aspect of our day-to-day has been upended,” Sisto tells Couric.
Services at the funeral home now resemble an “assembly line” of those who have died, according to Sisto.
“We are, in many cases on many days, using the same room four or five times a day to handle what you would not normally call a wake, but what we’re calling a wake now,” he says. “The family will come in for an hour for an ID, or for a short visitation, a short service. We’ll go to the cemetery, we’ll wheel another casket into that room, and the next family will come.”
Beyond the challenge of navigating new ways to help loved ones mourn, Sisto Funeral Home is also facing obstacles in getting the right products, such as caskets, to properly conduct funerals. The Bronx funeral home is also handling services for people from all across the New York metropolitan area because there isn’t enough capacity at other funeral homes, according to Sisto.
“There’s not enough help. It’s very difficult,” he says. “I don’t know if it’s a general feeling or if it’s more something that I’m going through, but I feel the grief is at a higher level now.”
This interview is part of a special series produced in collaboration with Katie Couric. Read more from TIME Reports with Katie Couric, and sign up for her weekday morning newsletter Wake-Up Call with Katie Couric.