KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — His funeral, held at any other time, would have drawn 1,000, or 1,500 people, maybe more.
That’s how beloved and well known Albert “Tic Toc” Tinoco and his large family have been in Kansas City’s Hispanic community. When Tinoco’s wife, Angelina, died in 1999, some 1,500 people packed beneath the stained glass of Sacred Heart-Guadalupe Parish, where she was a fixture. The crowd stood in the aisles, amassed upstairs, flowed out the door. Her funeral cortege was so long, a traffic helicopter tracked the procession, The Kansas City Star reports.
But not on Monday for Tinoco, who died of pneumonia at his West Side home at age 86 on March 19 — three days after Mayor Quinton Lucas restricted public gatherings of 10 or more to help squelch the spread of coronavirus in the Kansas City area.
The Tinocos knew then that a massive funeral would be out.
But on Saturday, the mayor announced a stay-at-home order effective 12:01 a.m. Tuesday and effective for 30 days that also banned all weddings and funerals as non-essential. Wyandotte, Johnson, Jackson and all area counties have joined in.
The Tinocos were forced to scramble, to hurriedly move their father’s funeral from this coming Friday to Monday. Hard choices had to be made:
There would be no flowers, except the spray atop the casket.
Loving family and friends were limited to 10. No grandchildren. No nieces or nephews. Not a single friend.
There would be no string of limousines for what will now be marked as one of the last funerals in Kansas City until the COVID-19 pandemic abates to a degree that stay-at-home orders are lifted.
A middle-aged grandchild broke into tears at the news he would not be allowed to say goodbye to his grandfather.
“It hurts. It hurts,” said son Daniel Tinoco, 66, standing feet away from the hearse bearing his dad’s casket. The children, together, would carry their father’s casket up the stairs, through the wood doors and into the sanctuary.
When Tinoco is buried on Friday, the ban is such, said his son, David Tinoco, that no one will be at the graveside to see him laid to rest.
“We respect what’s going on,” said David Tinoco, president of the Greater Kansas City Hispanic Heritage Committee and also the 60-year-old lead singer of the well-known local Tejano band Las Estrellas. “We’re grateful that we’re able to bury him.”
His voice caught with emotion. “We’re torn,” he said.
His father, known variously as “Tic Toc,” “Uncle Albert” or “Grandpa T,” was a presence in the community for decades. The guy razzing and yelling “Sit down!” to opposing players at countless Mexican American fast-pitch softball games? Everyone knew: That’s Tic Toc.
“He was everyone’s grandfather,” David Tinoco said. “We believe there were a lot of people who would love to have honored him.”
Now that will have to wait, as it presumably will for thousands of people in Kansas City whose loved ones die over the coming weeks or longer.
NO FUNERALS ALLOWED?
At 2 p.m. Monday, David Tinoco, his wife, a handful of his siblings and their spouses stood inside Sacred Heart in the shadow of the marble altar. They were a tiny, lonely group inside an empty church.
But they felt they had to act now, fearing what will happen as time passes and ever more bodies begin to inundate local mortuaries — not from COVID-19 deaths, but through the natural course of days.
They didn’t want their dad to wait to be buried, nor did they want him cremated. “He wanted to be buried next to my mom,” Tinoco said.
Lucas’ edict on Saturday seemed clear: “Essential Activities do not include weddings, funerals, wakes, memorial services, or similar gatherings.”
Steve Pierce, the owner of Muehlebach Funeral Care in Kansas City, said that people in the business are not certain about what it all means — questioning whether funerals can still be held as long as they include 10 people or fewer who practice social distancing.
“We’re trying to get clarification,” Pierce said. “We’re getting conflicting information from different sources. We’re getting told you can’t have anything. Others are saying you just have to be within the 10-person limit.”
The governors of neither Kansas nor Missouri have issued stay-at-home orders like the Kansas City area’s. On Saturday, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson did ban gatherings of 10 people or more. Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly did so Monday.
In other areas of the state, which don’t have stay-at-home orders, that reality has left families with difficult choices: hold a very small service now, or bury or cremate the body and hold a memorial service later, said John Moore, president of the Missouri Funeral Directors and Embalmers Association.
“I have families that have 8, 10, 12 kids,” Moore said. “And by the time you add spouses and grandkids, 10 people or less is nothing for a family nowadays.”
When they do gather, most people are inclined to hug or shake hands to greet and soothe each other, he said, But those actions could further spread the coronavirus.
“That’s human nature,” Moore said. “And now we have to turn that human nature off.”
He said some funeral homes are live-streaming services to keep in line with the regulation.
The association’s executive director, Don Otto Jr., said that funeral homes across the state lack the capacity to hold on to bodies indefinitely.
“There are very limited abilities to store bodies for the long term throughout the country, let alone any particular locality,” he said. “An embalmed body can be preserved for a very long time, but it still eventually degrades no matter what you do.”
Pierce of Muehlebach said that he has heard nothing that, at this point, would require funeral homes to cremate bodies that are not buried.
“There is nothing that is dictating that people have to be cremated,” he said. “I really can’t imagine that happening.”
Otto of the funeral directors and embalmers association said his group contacted the Kansas City mayor’s office looking for clarification as to whether the stay-at-home order does, for example, apply to loved ones leaving their homes to go to a funeral home to make arrangements for a husband or spouse.
“We’re not looking for an exemption for a funeral,” Otto said. “But we need to make it clear that the funeral director is not going to get in trouble for going to a nursing home and picking up the deceased or that a husband won’t get in trouble going to the morgue to identify his wife.
“Until we get clarification the safest thing is to not hold funerals or visitations that potentially violate any order.”
WATCH FROM THE CAR?
Joanna Wilson, whose husband, Dennis Wilson, was the first to die from COVID-19 in Johnson County, wrote extensively about the “immeasurable suffering” her family endured during her husband’s illness. After he died, she also pointed to the complications of trying to plan his final goodbye while she was quarantined at home.
“And now I start another complete quarantine, and think what kind of funeral I can plan from home knowing it might not take place for quite awhile and might be a lot less than I think he deserves,” she wrote on Facebook. “More travesty!”
Jeff Bowker, owner of Highland Park Funeral Home and Crematory in Kansas City, Kansas, thinks little clarification is needed.
“Well, we don’t have any choice. We’ve been told no funeral, so we are having no funerals,” he said.
The order certainly hurts the bottom line of his business, which centers on affordable burials. The National Funeral Directors Association in 2017 listed the average cost of a funeral and burial at $7,360. Bowker charges $2,000 for a burial, and an added $1,000 for a service at the chapel.
He does about 50 services a month. Without people present, he will be losing about $50,000 each month.
“It means a huge loss in revenue,” he said.
But he’s not complaining, noting that the The Highland Park cemetery is full of hundreds of unmarked graves from the 1918 flu pandemic.
“It has to be done,” Bowker said, “if we want to stop this virus. I don’t need everyone I know to be sick.”
One possible, but melancholy alternative:
“Families can, I think, go by the cemetery and stay in their cars to see that the burial is done,” Bowker said. “That’s what I’m hearing other funeral homes and cemeteries are doing. If you can go to the store, surely you can drive and watch your brother being buried. But they won’t be allowed out of the car.”
While the coronavirus has complicated arrangements for grieving families, Otto of the funeral directors association said most understand the reasoning behind the regulations.
“Families are incredibly understanding about this situation,” he said. “And they realize that these rules are there not just to protect the family. They’re there to protect your whole community.”
The Tinocos understand that. The pandemic will pass, they know. Restrictions will be lifted. When they are, the Tinocos said they plan to throw a massive gathering in Albert Tinoco’s honor, with a live band and food for everyone.
The last celebration they held in his home drew 600 people.
“He loved to party,” David Tinoco said. “Our house was the party house.”
That’s exactly what they’re going to do.