Death without ritual

He went into the lobby to greet the family. Joe Jr. began printing the El Niño Divino prayer cards he’d forgotten, then slipped into a room to put on his black suit, white shirt and tie.

It was just after 10 a.m., and along a folding table, fresh intake forms were piling up — cremations on one side, burials on the other, almost all of them covid-19 cases, including two whose families asked to have a viewing, which Joe Sr. had okayed despite his growing unease.

Omar took a bottle of disinfectant and sprayed the chair where Joe Jr. had been sitting and the table where there was a fax machine and a letter coming over it from a company that helped transport and embalm bodies for funeral homes during busy times.

“Effective immediately,” it read. “Please understand that this policy is not something that we are taking lightly. It has come about only with an abundance of caution and someone has to fire the first shot in a war. We are no longer embalming remains unless it is required by law. . . . We will not transport hospital deaths. . . . We currently do not have facilities to hold the number of deaths we are experiencing.”