TREME COMMUNITY, NEW ORLEANS, LOUISIANA– Early today, the memorial viewing for Leona Grandison, the beloved owner of the Candlelight Lounge in Treme was held. Leona passed away from the coronavirus but the memory of her lives on in the community. Plenty of cars lined up to say goodbye and in grand fashion, her home-going is unique, just like the spirit of New Orleans and the Leona herself. What makes her viewing so unique is that it was a drive through viewing.
Stephanie Simon is world renown as a premier embalmer and funeral director at one of New Orleans’ most popular funeral homes, Charbonnet Labat Funeral Home. As COVID-19 hits the city hard, funeral homes are being filled to capacity as more hospitals make deliveries of people who have succumbed to the coronavirus. Over the past weeks, Simon, just like others in the area in the same profession has had an overloaded work schedule. Sometimes she has up to eight bodies to be embalmed daily.
“It frightens me a whole lot. It’s almost like Russian Roulette. I never thought I would ever experience anything like this…. I had a breaking point right around March the 20th. We had not received any calls with the coronavirus, but I knew it was coming. I came in to work that day and I couldn’t get myself together. That same evening before I left, we received our first call… with the COVID case and I put on my cape and be superwoman. This is what I signed up for,” recalls Stephanie Simon.
Generally speaking, funerals are meant to provide comfort to the family and are tailored in the way the family bests sees fit. In the past, Stephanie Simon has used her imagination to create breathtaking… memorial displays using a creative technique called body staging. Today, funeral directors are limited in terms of what they can offer loved ones. Only ten members of a family can safely attend a funeral at a time and planning a funeral by visiting the funeral home is restricted, as phone calls and web chats are favored to keep everyone safe from the coronavirus. Ten people in attendance is a dilemma. All one has to do is listen to any version of “St. James Infirmary,” to know that a large grand affair of a funeral is tradition. In these solemn days, President, CEO and patriarch of the Charbonnet family, Louis Charbonnet III; came up with the idea to have drive through viewings. In this way, family stays in the vehicles and drives up to see their loved one, one last time and there is no limit to the amount of people who can attend the viewing.
Stephanie Simon believes the solution to giving families a true way to say goodbye is complicated at this time, but believes drive through funerals are a start saying, “It’s giving the full family an opportunity to see her for the last time. At first a lot of people shunned that idea but now I think people are going to embrace it.”