These past 15 months, no matter how “hard” or “easy” any of us had it, we’ve learned a lot. Good stuff even. Our learning, you could say, has been one of the pandemic’s silver linings. To acknowledge some of those Silver Learnings, we’ve invited friends from different walks of life to share what they’ve learned from the pandemic. Our guess is you’ll hear some voices that sound like your own, and some that offer a window into a world you’ve not known but from which we can all now learn.
Joe Casario is the owner and operator of Edwards-Dowdle Funeral Home in Dobbs Ferry, NY. Joe is married to Carolyn Casario. They have two children, Christopher and Victoria.
[Billy’s note: Joe and I have taken care of many families across the years. As the pandemic began, when New York was utterly inundated by what seemed to be out-of-control deaths, with bodies having to be stored in refrigerator trucks, Joe shared with me how very difficult it was for the funeral homes to keep up. They were working around the clock and were exhausted. Whereas the world was learning about and honoring first responders, these folks were the “last responders” and their service was also essential, but largely unknown. I’m honored to include Joe’s voice in “Silver Learnings.”]
As a funeral director, we must always separate ourselves from the natural sadness we face each day. Beginning in March 2020, everything changed. The volume of death and sadness became overwhelming. As the leader of my team, I had to maintain a level of leadership and calmness so that morale could stay strong and our work could continue. Privately, however, things were much different. My staff arrived daily at 8 am and often didn’t go home before 10 pm. My own days usually went from 5 am until midnight. This continued for nearly two months without relief.
One story that sticks out most in my mind was when an older man with a thick Italian accent called and in broken English cried, “I heard the funeral home isn’t picking up the dead. Please help me.” He went on to say he’d not been able to visit his wife in two months and now she was dead. I didn’t know the man’s name but I was able to determine that she had been living in a nearby nursing home. While I was still on the phone with him, my nephew walked in to report to work and I told him to head over to the nursing home. At this point, he didn’t even know who he was picking up. I was so worried about this man on the phone that I kept asking him, “Are you with anyone? Are there any neighbors you can call?” Still crying, he said to me, “I’m not a rich man. I’ll give you everything I have to please pick up my beautiful wife.” While still on the phone, my nephew arrived to the nursing home and I assured the man that his wife would be in our care within thirty minutes.
After I hung up the phone, I couldn’t help but cry. This man’s situation – not being able to be with the woman he loved as she lay dying – hit me the hardest. Our entire staff cried that day together.
The next day was Easter Sunday. We all ate together as one family in our conference room. My mother cooked for us, leaving the food outside her door for us to pick up without risking our passing the coronavirus to her.
We were barely able to socially distance from each other at work. We knew that if one of us got sick, we would all fall like dominos. Unable to see our husbands, wives and children because we knew that we had all been possibly exposed, we carried on.
Our work – helping these families bid an unseen farewell to the ones they loved – had to be done.
Joe Casario, Owner and Operator
Edwards-Dowdle Funeral Home, Dobbs Ferry, NY