With morgues overflowing, one woman puts grief on hold to find her father’s final resting place
When Tamika Hall’s father passed away from cancer in his Harlem apartment Thursday morning, she had no idea where his body would go.
“We had to straighten him out and tie up his head so he doesn’t develop rigor mortis,” the heartbroken daughter tells The Post. “Because we don’t know when someone is coming.”
Instead of grieving, Hall, 45, spent the entire morning frantically calling New York City funeral homes to see if anyone would take him.
“One hasn’t even called back,” she says. “Another said they couldn’t service us.” Eventually, Benta’s Funeral Home, in Hamilton Heights, agreed to pick him up. But even so, they couldn’t guarantee an appointment time because of an enormous backlog of clients due to the coronavirus.
As funeral homes and morgues across the city rapidly run out of space to keep up with the spiking death toll, families are running out of options for what to do with their loved ones. And while Hall could have her father, Vivian Charles Wesley Hall, stored in a city morgue, she can’t bear the thought of him being kept in a mobile refrigerator, or worse.
“I definitely can’t have him thrown in some freezer trailer, it’s just inhumane,” Hall says. “If my dad knew he was in there, he’d be furious. I mean he would really be cursing somebody out.”
Plus, she says, “I don’t want him caught up in the city system because what if they take him and, God forbid, we can’t find him afterwards? It’s mind blowing.”
The city’s morgues filled up so quickly with corpses that they’ve had to resort to using portable cooler fridges to keep bodies from decomposing, the New York City Office of the Chief Medical Examiner confirmed to The Post.
That’s why, when Hall knew her 68-year-old father’s death was coming soon, she started canvassing funeral homes for space right away.
“I called at least 25 different funeral homes in New York and New Jersey and none of them could accept bodies, because they were all at capacity,” says Hall. “As of yesterday, I had no idea what I was going to do.”
She was already dreading the process, since she faced the same heartbreaking problem when her grandmother, Virginia Rountree, 89, died from the coronavirus and pneumonia complications in the Rockaways on April 8.
“Meserole [funeral home] committed to taking her, but the next day, they found out the crematory wait list was two weeks long,” says Hall, who lives on the Lower East Side. “So they were like, ‘We don’t have enough freezer space here, and we’re going to give her to the city morgue.’ ”
Perplexed, Hall and her family pleaded to have Virginia kept at the home, a wish that the director eventually honored. But Rountree is still awaiting cremation.
“It’s just not how I envisioned any of this,” says Hall, who works as a marketing manager for Yellowbrick education center. “I don’t want them to be shuffled around in some f – – king unorganized makeshift plan because no one is prepared to handle the situation. It’s crazy.”
The journey up to Vivian’s death hasn’t been easy either. When he was diagnosed with stage 4 terminal gastric cancer and elected for hospice care in late February, Hall never anticipated that she would be stepping in as his full-time caretaker.
Instead of a nurse helping out 77 hours a week, like they originally planned, their hours were cut to only 28 hours a week because of the virus and a lack of protective equipment.
At one point, Hall had to meet nurses from the Visiting Nurse Service of New York on a street corner, to avoid infection, so they could hand her a book on how to administer end-of-life care, called “Gone From My Sight: The Dying Experience” by Barbara Karnes.
“I administered his morphine, changed his diaper, rolled him back and forth, changed the sheets, took his temperature, everything,” says Hall, who has six children of her own ages 7 to 20.
“I couldn’t even be the daughter in the situation — I had to be the medical person because the daughter was going to fall apart,” Hall says. “Every morning I woke up, cried for 20 minutes and then thought, ‘Ok, put your pants on — you have s – – t to do.”
Now, Hall is still unable to properly mourn her family as she awaits both her father and grandmother’s cremations.
“The grieving process can’t begin until this is completed,” she says. “I just want to lay them to rest, but I can’t.”
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