How two funeral workers dealt with NYC’s mounting body count

While the coronavirus tore families apart and took away their right to properly grieve, one funeral director worked hard to meet the needs of the living and the dead at her small funeral parlor in the Bronx.

At the height of the virus’s deadly siege on the five boroughs, Rayna Hewitt desperately labored to secure funeral slots for grieving families, who called from every corner of the city.

They needed a place to put their dead or soon-to-be deceased to rest, but funeral directors across the city were struggling with an unprecedented amount of death, and there just wasn’t enough space for everyone.

“I didn’t want to turn families away but I also have a moral responsibility not to overbook,” said Hewitt, 36, who worked 12 hour shifts, 7 days a week at her home, Legacy Funeral Service on East Gun Hill Road.

She raced to morgues and hospitals across the boroughs to retrieve several bodies a day, often trekking hours away to crematories in Pennsylvania and Connecticut because there was a backlog in the New York metro area.

“We constantly deal with death and sadness but now it is so much more,” Hewitt said.

“I don’t think anyone expected it to be this severe.”

In late April, the challenges of her grim job were proving too difficult to bear alone but the unexpected happened.

Her life partner, Patricia Carter, ditched her TD banking job, rolled up her sleeves and without hesitating, jumped into the family business.

“I literally just quit my job after watching how overworked she was,” Carter, 33, said.

“There was still a need to serve people and I felt like I could help on the administrative side of things.”

The parlor went from holding several services a month pre-pandemic to several a week.

Hewitt credits Carter with keeping operations running smoothly.

“I just couldn’t split myself and I felt my customer service was lacking,” the veteran director said.

“Now I can focus on the logistical stuff and she can man the phones. I am so grateful to her because she’s doing an amazing job.”

Carter feels her background as a fraud specialist helps when speaking to families.

“I put myself in the shoes of the people we serve and try to be as honest and as transparent as possible.”

Many families have been opting for direct cremations and burials because of new restrictions.

“The sad part is they can’t be with their loved one when they’re sick and then when they pass away they can’t be with them either,” Hewitt explained.

“It’s like you don’t even get a chance to say goodbye.”

But the Bronx woman is satisfied she’s able to provide some closure for families by making sure the final wishes of their beloved are honored.

“I have to remind myself I am doing this for a greater purpose,” Hewitt said.

“I am doing it for the people and want them to know they are being handled with the utmost respect and care.”

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