With tears and memories, loved ones are still saying their final goodbyes. But rules in place to prevent more cases of COVID-19 have meant fewer hugs and tributes and less togetherness as memorial gatherings are limited to immediate family.
And the ban on get-togethers has temporarily halted a longstanding tradition in Darrington, where the community is known for its old-fashioned funeral dinners.
Gov. Jay Inslee on Saturday announced guidance related to funerals as part of his “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” proclamation.
The state Department of Licensing, in partnership with Inslee, sent a letter to funeral homes and cemeteries that outlined limits on gatherings. As the licensing agency for mortuary services, the department said funerals may be conducted at licensed funeral homes or graveside in cemeteries.
“Funerals are only attended by immediate family members of the deceased,” the letter said. And “family members in attendance must maintain proper social distancing, defined by the Centers for Disease Control as staying six feet apart.”
Sue Burrows, whose 94-year-old father, Verner Tovrea, died March 8, said her family hopes to honor the World War II veteran with a service this summer. Tovrea, who lived in Marysville, would have turned 95 in August.
“A delayed memorial takes away the chance to have some closure. Everyone’s life is kind of in limbo,” said Burrows, of Bainbridge Island. She said her dad knew hundreds of people, and his family has chosen to wait until they can host a larger memorial. Her father was cremated, and the family has his ashes.
Tovrea taught geology and life sciences at Everett Community College for 28 years. An Army veteran, he was featured in The Herald in 2015 when a family picnic at a Snohomish park turned out to be a big surprise — a long-overdue Bronze Star Medal ceremony. The recognition was due his to heroic actions while serving on Mindanao in the Philippines in 1944.
“It’s terrible to lose someone. It’s a huge loss to our family,” Burrows said. She’s grateful she at least was able to see Tovrea in his final days. His death was unrelated to COVID-19, she said.
In Darrington, Jean Nations is mourning the loss of Charles Nations, her husband of 57 years. He died March 17 at age 77 after a long struggle with dementia.
“He was a very sweet, loving man,” Nations said. His life was celebrated at a private graveside service Monday in Darrington. “I wasn’t even sure we could do that,” she said.
Pastor Sandi McCaulley of the United Methodist Church in Darrington officiated. About 10 people were there, said Nations, who has long been involved in Darrington’s memorial dinners.
A whole-town custom, those dinners at the Darrington Community Center traditionally follow funerals of all who called the place in the shadow of Whitehorse Mountain their home.
The Darrington Community Center is the town’s heart, a combination gym and rustic meeting place that welcomes locals and out-of-town visitors for hearty home-cooked meals following memorial services. With Darrington being a long drive from anywhere, and without many restaurants, the dinners feed hundreds and provide fellowship to families in mourning.
“It shows love and affection for their loss,” Nations said. “It’s a blessing.”
Now the one grieving, she’s been a loyal contributor to the dinners for years. Her specialty is a Mexican-style casserole, but as elderly helpers have no longer been able to cook, she’s been making potato salad.
“As the older generation has passed, the next generation is kind of taking this over,” she said.
Like many in Darrington, Nations and her husband were born in North Carolina. The dinners reflect the community’s Tarheel country heritage.
While there was no communal dinner following her husband’s graveside service, “women brought dishes and put them in my garage,” Nations said. The bounty included ham, chicken, potato salad “and those famous Southern green beans.”
It’s a real help to have food for her family in their time of sadness, but Nations is missing the hugs of her community. Throughout Snohomish County, the state and country, people are paying final respects without the solace of friends gathering to share kindness.
Officials with Texas-based Dignity Memorial, the company that operates Everett’s Evergreen Funeral Home & Cemetery and several other local funeral providers, did not return calls this week.
At the Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Cemetery in Snohomish, manager Luke Reading said Saturday’s email from the Department of Licensing specified that mourners stay six feet apart. It wasn’t specific about the number of people who could be considered immediate family. Reading sees it as fewer than 10.
“Tomorrow a son is coming on his own” for his father’s burial, Reading said. “Other family members will come later.”
How sad that is. I know this, though. When families choose to honor their dear ones, those gatherings will be meaningful.
Having endured two unexpected deaths, I made different decisions. My late husband’s life was celebrated with a funeral Mass five days after he died of a heart attack in 1998. After my 18-year-old son was killed in 2017, we waited a full year to host a remembrance gathering at Everett’s Legion Park.
Grief is hard. There is no wrong choice.
Jean Nations isn’t sure about a larger gathering — perhaps, “if it isn’t too long,” when life returns to normal.
“It’s kind of hard,” she said. “We have so many wonderful friends.”
Julie Muhlstein: 425-339-3460; firstname.lastname@example.org.