Photos of the deceased were lit by candles, and some of the bereaved wore their coats indoors as many funeral homes proceeded without electricity this week across Connecticut.
On Sunday and Monday, obituaries had already run in newspapers with the times and dates of calling hours, wakes and funerals. In some cases, family members traveled in from out of state. The event was difficult to reschedule at that point, even if a snowstorm left most of Connecticut without electricity or heat.
Several funeral homes offered families the option to have a wake in the dark, to reschedule the event or to move it to another funeral home in a different town. At Stempien Funeral Home on Broad Street in Meriden, a wake proceeded as scheduled Monday morning.
"We had candles. We had the sunshine, you know, the sunshine had come in through the windows. Obviously people put their coats on," said Patricia Stempien, one of the directors.
Funeral homes need power for equipment used in embalming bodies. Although gasoline-fueled generators are capable of providing enough power to embalm, many are not powerful enough to keep all the lights on and to heat a large building. Once bodies are embalmed, they can be stored for long enough that a funeral could be pushed back if that is the families' request.
Funeral home operations this week "are going along … not as bad as the "Little House on the Prairie" days, but they're pretty darned close compared to what we normally have," said Jonathan Raymond, who manages Glastonbury Funeral Home, Newkirk & Whitney Funeral Home in East Hartford, New Britain Memorial-Sagarino Funeral Home in New Britain and Benjamin J. Callahan Funeral Home in East Hartford.
Lack of Internet access has been a major snag this week for funeral directors who typically file their obituaries online with photos. Instead, many are calling in the information, faxing — if they have a functioning phone line, or handing the information over by hand. Any of those options takes time, and, in some cases, the fewer obituaries in newspapers this week is a result of families pushing funerals back as they deal with urgent matters like day care for out-of-school children, work, trees on cars and finding a place to stay while their home is cold and dark.
Funeral home directors, however, say they are holding calling hours as usual, if that's what the family wants — particularly early in the week.
"That's the kind of thing where the obituary probably ran two days before the storm, or a day before the storm," said Diana Duksa-Kurz, past president of the Connecticut Funeral Directors Association who oversees Newington Memorial Funeral Home and Burritt Hill Funeral Home in New Britain. "So, everybody is planning on it. The family's planning on it. Relatives may have flown in or traveled together."
Duksa-Kurz said she didn't lose power at her funeral homes, but she was without Internet service. In order to file obituaries, a funeral home employee loaded the information and photos onto a flash drive and filed the details online from home where he had Internet access.
"Maybe school's been canceled, but the funeral goes on," Duksa-Kurz said. "Very seldom do we actually cancel services that have already been scheduled. And sometimes they may be simplified a little bit."
In at least one case, though, the funeral didn't go on as planned. Anne O'Brien of Great Barrington, Mass., said she got a call from the funeral home that was planning a wake for her aunt Elizabeth.
"He called and said, 'I don't think we can do this. The power's out,' and I said, 'You're not going to get it back?'" O'Brien said. "I had no idea."
O'Brien said she and the family agreed to postpone the event. The funeral home called O'Brien because they couldn't get in touch with family members in Connecticut due to the power outage. She then tracked down people who planned to attend and told them the funeral will be next Monday. O'Brien also canceled a post-funeral gathering at Mario's Tuscany Grill in Winsted. She said the owner told her to call back later in the week in case she needed to cancel again if power wasn't restored.
Funeral directors say they and families have been understanding and flexible to change this week. Duksa-Kurz said she was happy to comply with additional requests this week.
"Some people even have come to the calling hours, and they've got their phones plugged into the outlets," she said. "They've called and said, 'We're coming to the calling hours tonight, can we bring our phones and our chargers?'"Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun