Pubdate: Mon, 10 Oct 2016
Source: New York Times (NY)
Copyright: 2016 The New York Times Company
Author: Michael Wilson


They are not like other mourners. They are raw. "Hysterical crying,"
said Jackie Berger, a florist.

Some arrive at the other extreme, showing quiet resignation, even

"They knew this day was coming," said Frank Lettera, a funeral

They are the parents and relatives of young men and women who died on
Staten Island after overdosing on heroin. The grieving families are
passing through the rituals of death in numbers never seen before: a
record 72 suspected overdoses so far this year. That number far
surpasses the previous record of 41, in 2014.

Florists and funeral homes on Staten Island have had an uncomfortably
close view of the rising death toll. There are a limited number of
these businesses on the island, and many of those who work in them
said in interviews last week that they had helped lay overdose victims
to rest. They described the broad range of emotions on display within
this subsection of grief, from denial to blame - of others, of oneself
- - to disbelief.

"It's insane," said Ms. Berger, of Eltingville Florist. "It's every
week. Some weeks I feel like we have five kids. Once one comes in,
we'll have another one in a few days. I don't know if they had the
same batch or what."

She dutifully takes the orders: carnations; roses; arrangements shaped
like broken hearts, or bleeding ones with red streamers; arrangements
with sports themes indicating a love of the Mets or the Yankees, the
Giants or the Jets. Absent are the sorts of tributes that those who
die later in life receive: loving parent, beloved husband or wife.

"The family's been robbed of all these things that could happen," said
Kevin Moran, a funeral director at the John Vincent Scalia Home for

Mr. Lettera, of Hanley Funeral Home, began his work in 1983. "If we
had one overdose every two years, that was a big deal," he said. There
is no comparison to what has happened in recent months.

"At one point in the funeral home, we had three overdoses all laid out
together," he said. "All different ages, all different walks of life."

The young people in the coffins - and the friends who come to say
farewell - look different from those of past years. "You used to have
an overdose from someone in the bad neighborhood; it was their
lifestyle," Mr. Lettera said. "The kids who hung out with him looked
like trouble. Now, they're gentlemen. They're ladies."

Mr. Moran estimated that he had arranged about 100 funeral services
for people who died of overdoses in the past five years. He posts
portraits beside the names of the dead on the announcement board in
the lobby, which directs visitors to the proper rooms. The pictures of
the overdose cases show young, unlined faces that are jarring beside
the much older ones for other funerals.

He puts the overdose deaths in Chapel B because it is the largest.
Wakes for young people bring crowds.

"Most young people have a big circle of friends," Mr. Moran said.
"They have a sibling or two, and you have all their friends," along
with parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles. "The only person who
won't show up at your wake is your dealer," he added. "You're no good
to him."

But what the dealers sell is close at hand. "You have a wake here, and
you go outside and somebody's snorting coke," Mr. Moran said. "You
hear in the lobby, 'I need a pill.' Are you kidding?"

He said he would gladly do without this busy source of

"I don't want this business," Mr. Moran said. "I don't want to deal
with it. People think that we don't feel anything. We're not robots."
He has two daughters in their 20s. "This tears you apart," he said.

Ms. Berger said a mother and son entered her flower shop last month
and saw a broken-heart arrangement that read "Beloved Son." It was for
the funeral of a young man who had died from an overdose.

The mother and son, it turned out, were there for the same reason.
They ordered the same arrangement.

"I have kids," Ms. Berger said, adding of the mother, "I don't even
know how she's standing." Her work, once so often joyful, has peeled
away a veneer. "I don't want to live here anymore," she said.

Chad Cannizzaro, of Carroll's Florist, said funerals for the elderly
were different. "It was sad, but it was a life that was lived," he
said. "It doesn't seem to be that way on Staten Island anymore."

Funeral directors have seen their jobs change to include the role of
counselor to parents.

"There's a lot of guilt," Mr. Moran said. "'Did I do this right? Did I
do this wrong?' There is no right or wrong."

They also hear denial.

"A lot of parents defend their children," Mr. Lettera said. "'It must
have been his first time.' You don't have to defend them. It's an
epidemic. We tell them, 'You're not alone.'"

Eventually, the talking done, the arrangements complete, all eyes turn
toward the body in the coffin.

"It's so sad," Mr. Lettera said, "to see a parent in front of a child,
on their knees."
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