Funeral home cosmetologist worked day and night as death toll rises amid coronavirus
Editor’s Note: This profile is one in a series of stories about the women of Staten Island who have outdone themselves during the coronavirus pandemic. These are women who have played a vital role in maintaining vital functions as the health crisis hits our community, our city and our nation. Staten Island Advance / SILive.com is proud to dedicate its annual Women of Achievement program, established in 1964 and celebrated annually since, to these local heroes; we call it Staten Island Women of Achievement 2020 – The Front Line. Congratulations to this Woman of Success 2020: Joie Lanza.
STATEN ISLAND, NY – First responders have rightly received adulations during the height of the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) for their tireless efforts and personal risks amid a crushing loss of life. Yet each day from mid-March to mid-May, Joie Lanza practiced her own quiet heroism, much of it in solitude.
She served on the front lines, but did so in a back room – as a last respondent.
A cosmetologist at Colonial Funeral Home in New Dorp, Lanza uses makeup, hair color, styling tools and accessories daily to put the finishing touches on the late Staten Islanders, giving grieving families what they desperately need – one last glance at a loved one they won’t see again in this lifetime.
At the height of the pandemic that killed nearly 1,100 borough residents, these final farewells took on even greater significance as so many people died while isolated in nursing homes and hospitals. hospitals, their relatives refused the chance to be by their side.
‘SO IMPORTANT’ TO SAY GOODBYE
“It was so important for us to say goodbye – even if it was only an hour, to say goodbye and to have a little closure,” said Lauren Bruno, whose grandmother, Rosemarie. Giampiccolo, lost his life to COVID-19 at a Staten Island retirement home in April.
Giampiccolo had died in isolation after a long battle with dementia, at a time when everyone from government leaders to health workers was terrified and barely beginning to understand the risks of infection. It would take more than a month before a funeral was possible, as cemeteries were closed and funeral homes were teeming with victims.
While the circumstances surrounding the 85-year-old’s death were particularly heartbreaking, Bruno said Lanza’s willingness to risk his own health and work long nights made the pain a little more bearable.
“She made her look beautiful,” Bruno said. “To be honest with you, the last time I saw her she wasn’t at her best, and I was very worried about what she would look like.
“Joy made us feel like it was our grandmother again,” Bruno said. “She did an incredible job for us at a time when I know she was very overwhelmed.”
NORMAL WORKING LOAD 4 TIMES
Colonial Funeral Home handled more than four times its normal workload during the months of March, April and May, said Michael Lanza., her husband and the operator of the funeral home, which also has branches in other boroughs. Its staff worked around the clock for months, even on Mother’s Day and Easter Sunday, he said.
In fact, many New York City funeral homes – overwhelmed by the number of deaths from COVID-19 and crippled by social distancing regulations – have turned away families, refusing to prepare the deceased and organize tours for grieving families. As families requested visits, Joie Lanza and Colonial staff refused to decline, he said.
Joie’s dedication made this possible, he said.
“She’s there 99% of the time,” he said of his wife. “With COVID, she was there 150% of the time. ”
She is also the least likely to seek recognition, he said. Although she is not usually present during the viewings, family members often ask to meet her to thank her for the gift she has given them. Once, a grieving woman simply asked for an opportunity to hold her hand.
“My job is nothing compared to what these families face,” said Joie Lanza. “The first question I always ask my husband is, ‘How is the family? “
The mother of two boys, Michael, 21, and Anthony, 20, said she knew firsthand how grieving families felt, having lost her own father when she was just 21.
“He suffered for 11 weeks in the hospital and we saw him deteriorate. We saw him at the funeral home and he looked at peace. I’m happy to be able to bring this comfort to people,” said himself. she remembers.
“WE HAVE NOT REFUSED ANYONE”
Most of the time, however, “it’s kind of a thankless job,” said Michael Lanza, but one that is essential in his profession. “We didn’t turn anyone away. Every family got a visit. And that was only really possible because we had someone like her to do it.”
During the spring months, the virus passed through his family and all staff, Lanza said, but it never stopped Joie.
“She came on her own when there was no one there,” he said, noting that much of her work was done after midnight when the funeral directors finally finished their work.
The New Dorp resident, 48, is humble when asked about her contributions, choosing instead to praise the funeral directors and other staff. But she admitted that spring was unlike anything she had ever known. It was both overwhelming and scary, she said.
“I didn’t even have time to think about it,” she recalls. “I had never seen so many people… It was terrifying. I was afraid for my own family.”
While many might view her job as morbid, Joie Lanza said she sees her profession a little differently.
OFFER CLOSURE, COMFORT
“She’s somebody’s mother,” she said. “It’s not scary. I wouldn’t want anyone to be afraid of my mother. It’s very difficult when they’re young. It’s never easy. But I really think families need to see a being. expensive just to have closure, and I can provide them with that comfort.
She said the hardest part is holding back tears when comforting a family.
The pandemic, she said, has brought unprecedented pain, reminiscent of a man who lost his brother, mother and father – all to COVID-19. “He came to the office with his mother’s clothes on and his brother had also just passed away,” she said. “We set up the room so that he could see his whole family at the same time.”
Giving mourners a chance to celebrate life, she said, is a gift, not a chore. But she would prefer to do it in moderation.
“I signed up for it and never liked coming to work,” she said. “But I hope we never see something like this again.”