‘We can’t be around each other in the way we want’: Funerals amid coronavirus crisis

One Philadelphia family said coronavirus tainted their funeral plans. With limits on guests and a traditional repast, this family honors life amid social distancing.

Three generations of the Beverly family attend LaVoe's housewarming. (Courtesy of Desiree Beverly-McBride)

Three generations of the Beverly family attend LaVoe's housewarming. (Courtesy of Desiree Beverly-McBride)

Desiree Beverly-McBride said the coronavirus crisis has completely altered the way her family can honor her brother’s memory.

LaVoe T. Beverly, passed away in his sleep on the morning of March 14 due to pre-existing health complications. He was 57. After missing his Friday dialysis appointment, police were called to his Philadelphia home the following Monday for a check-up, where they eventually found his body.

LaVoe’s daughter, Vernea Berry, said a lot of restrictions have been placed on the family as the city and region continue to deal with the spread of the virus.

“It’s been crazy, real crazy,” Berry said. “We haven’t even gotten to see his actual body since he passed…because everything is shut down. We will only get to see him during the funeral.”

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Immediate family members were barred from entering the medical examiner’s office to identify the body and were informed that only the funeral home would be allowed to pick up the deceased.

LaVonda Casey, LaVoe’s youngest daughter, said the funeral home’s coronavirus guidelines have also posed some challenges.

“It’s tough because a lot of people are not trying to come out because of this coronavirus,” she said. “We’re limited to having 50 people at the funeral. We cant even have a proper repast.”

Fifty or fewer close family members will be admitted to the funeral service. Friends of the deceased are being asked to attend the viewing only. They will be instructed to walk up to the casket in pairs (still staying six feet apart), write their respects in the funeral guest book and immediately make their way out of the funeral home.

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Casey said social distancing is taking its toll.

“We can’t be around each other in the way we want,” Casey said. “[ Social distancing] is giving us limited access to family and friends. They don’t want us to go out, they don’t want us to be around large groups…You see someone cough, you’re on alert.”

Vernice Casey, Lavoe’s daughter, is just praying the funeral — planned for March 27 — doesn’t get canceled altogether.

Though coronavirus is putting a halt to the ways people traditionally gather, LaVoe’s family and friends are coming up with creative ways to celebrate a life while staying safe.

Left to right: LaVerne Levine, Desiree Beverly-McBride, Leon Beverly, Dawn Bostic, & LaVoe T. Beverly celebrate Leon’s 60th birthday. (Courtesy of Desiree Beverly-McBride)

Beverly-McBride said the immediate family plans on hosting a small, private meal at the home of LaVonda Casey. Instead of putting family and friends at risk for contracting the virus, Beverly-McBride suggested offering catered, to-go meals, so attendees who are not the immediate family can grab on their way out.

Despite the growing anxieties of this time, Vernice Casey says it’s her father’s memory — his bigger-than-life personality, his humor, his love of Star Trek, and the unyielding love he showed his family — that is keeping her and the family going.

“My dad was a chocolate-holic, so for his repast, we’re gonna get a double chocolate cake,” Vernice Casey said.

LaVoe, who grew up in West Philadelphia’s Cobbs Creek neighborhood, was a lover of music. Family members said you could always catch him listening to Earth, Wind & Fire, Teena Marie, or the O’Jays. Beverly-McBride said LaVoe taught her to love singing.

“I remember some of my best memories of him way back when he was in elementary [school],” Beverly-McBride said. “LaVoe loved to sing… he was in the glee club. [Some] of the main songs he would sing were ‘Children Go Where I Send Thee’ and ‘If I Could Save Time in a Bottle.’ Imagine a little Black kid singing these country songs,” Desiree recounted, laughing.

A few days ago, the family jumped on a group phone call to plan LaVoe’s obituary. While social distancing rules require separate households to avoid in-person contact, technology has kept this family connected. FaceTiming and reaching out through text messages and social media has been their main mode of communication.

LaVoe — or Vorie as he’s affectionately called by his siblings —  is remembered as a supportive and grounding force in his family.

“He always knew what to say,” Vernea Berry said about her father. “I would always call him for advice…for anything.”

LaVoe is survived by his mother, Phyllis A. Beverly, his four children, Vernea, Vernice, LaVonda, and LaVoe II; his four siblings, LaVerne, Desiree, Dawn, and Leon; the mother of his children, Candy, and three granddaughters, Anissa, Laila, and Ela.

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