Gene Guarino, Director of Graham Funeral Home
The Chance to Say Goodbye
By Robin Jovanovich
Gene Guarino has been in the funeral parlor business for nearly half a century, the last 15 years as director of Graham Funeral Home in Rye, but he says he has never been as busy as he is today. In addition to holding services for the rising number of local residents who have died during the last six weeks, the majority of whom were older individuals with underlying health issues, he’s trying to accommodate New York City families who’ve lost a loved one and can’t find an available funeral home. So far, Guarino has held services for residents of Queens, Brooklyn, and the Bronx.
“Over my career, I’ve certainly worked 12-hour days, but I’m now working 12-hour days seven days of the week,” said Guarino. A good part of his day is spent just answering the phone. “Families have so many questions and concerns. They want to know if it’s safe to hold a wake. I always tell them, ‘Rest assured it is.’”
A number of families have asked for Guarino’s help in sending the body of a loved one home to their native country, but his hands are tied as long as the country is on shutdown. All want to know what the new regulations are regarding funeral services.
Following rules mandated by the governor’s office and sent down from the State Health Department, funeral homes inform families that the allowed time for a service is now 30 to 60 minutes and that only immediate family can attend. “In the main chapel we’ve reduced the number of chairs by two-thirds and spread the remaining ones out to meet social distancing guidelines. We provide masks and hand sanitizer.”
How are families holding up? we asked Guarino. “Remarkably well. For so many, especially those who were unable to say goodbye to a loved one who died in a nursing home or hospital, they very much appreciate the chance to see the individual for the last time.”
Most families plan to hold a religious service once the shutdown ends, reported Guarino. Meanwhile, burials are occurring, but cremations are on hold because the crematoriums can’t handle the volume. “County Executive Latimer has been very helpful in arranging for a refrigeration unit to be installed at Grasslands to hold those remains for the time being.”
Asked how he’s holding up, Gene Guarino responded that he wouldn’t be without the help of his daughter, Anne Marie Getlik, who works by his side. “I’m always amazed how Anne Marie, who’s the mother of three, handles all that she does. She and her family live with us and we’re always saying to one another that we can’t get sick because families need us now more than ever.”
Last Sunday, with a few hours unspoken for, Guarino walked on the Playland Boardwalk. “It was the best vacation I’ve had in a long while.”