Death of a loved one tops the list of the most stressful losses a human can experience. In the midst of a global pandemic, many experience it alone.
As of Apr. 30, 2020, Gila County has recorded no deaths from COVID-19. Yet dozens of members of our community have died in the past two months, of other causes. Constriction of services and social activity brought on by the pandemic have impacted the way we honor, mourn and celebrate the deceased, how we support the ones still here.
“The immediate family needs the support of as many friends as they can get, says funeral director Ian Lamont, owner of Lamont Mortuary on Hill St. in Globe. “They are limited to ten people, ”
The funeral service, he says, is a “once in a lifetime event.” Ritual plays an essential role in the healing process. Ian was reluctant to restrict funeral services for the communities he serves.
“Obviously I had to,” he concludes, for the health of the entire community.
SERVING THE COMMUNITY
Ian is accustomed to providing services on the San Carlos Apache reservation, where funerals tend to be large community affairs.
“There’s often a wake in the morning or beginning the night before and going all night long,” he says. “Wakes could have 200 people.”
Apaches do not get cremated, he notes, and funerals are so important to the community, they were the last public function to shut down.
“There is a timeframe in which we have to complete the burial,” Ian explains. “Viewings are a huge deal to them. We don’t have a choice.”
With cooperation, Ian and tribal officials have found a way to conduct gravesite services that honor essential customs and respect community health.
“10 under the tent,” Ian says with a firm swoosh of his hand. “Everybody else has to stay back.”
Ian acknowledges that some people need more support than that and is concerned about the long-term impact.
“The manner of death matters,” he says, speaking with both professional and personal experience. “If it’s unexpected, especially if it’s tragic… it can be emotionally crushing.”
Deaths that are anticipated, even planned for, are no less devastating. The loss of a lifelong partner, and often for the offspring, the end of a generation. A new kind of alone.
Peter DeNino died on March 17th. He served as superior court judge in Gila County for 40 years and was best friend to his wife Carol, for 58. With their four children and eight grandchildren living across the country and unable to travel, the funeral is pending.
“There is no closure,” says Carol, strolling in her rose-laden backyard.
Instead, she spends countless hours on the phone, wrangling with understaffed social security and banking services; best-laid plans made with Peter gone awry. She is grateful for the friends that check in on her, and for the work to rise to every morning– horses and property to tend. It’s at night, alone in a houseful of memories, when she suffers the most.
“The nighttime is often the worst,” Ian concurs. “The silence is deafening.”’
What do you want to be.
As a boy, Ian didn’t imagine he’d become a funeral director, although he’d always been interested in anatomy. His top career picks were pilot, doctor and police officer. He sees his job at the mortuary as a little of all three.
“I get to go behind the yellow tape, I see the autopsies, I repair the body,” Ian says.
On a Friday morning in late April, the chapel at Lamont Mortuary is dark, but still, the office is alive with activity. In the conference room, a display of decorative urns fills one wall space. On the other, where Ian sits in his chair to talk, there are two large photos. White jets in blue skies.
Ian Lamont Jr. attended mortuary science college in Los Angeles and apprenticed in Arizona where he obtained his embalming license. He worked in high volume mortuaries in Scottsdale and Palm Springs. In 1986 he met his future wife at an MTV awards after-party.
In 1994, Palmer Globe Mortuary was up for sale and Ian decided to buy it. His father gave him the down payment to purchase the business, which he paid back proudly, with interest. It was the smallest mortuary he had ever worked in, and his first position in management.
“It was 10 years before I sat with a family from Miami,” Ian says, noting that the townspeople were entrenched with Miles Mortuary, which opened in Miami in 1913. “People have got to get to know you before they trust you.”
A year in, he changed the name to Lamont Mortuary, and at the turn of the millennium, as he began “running out of steam” for the 24-7 on-call business, he hired Phil Hobbs to help out as “the substitute”. An independent contractor, Phil covers weekends, vacations, and conventions for funeral directors like Ian who are doing 100 calls a year, and can’t afford a second full-time funeral director.
Much has changed in the funeral business over the past quarter century.
“Nothing is the same,” Ian declares. “At the time, only 20% of bodies were cremated.”
Now, at Lamont Mortuary, it’s 65- 70%, higher than the national rate of nearly 55% reported by the Cremation Association of North America. Ian perceives the shift away from wakes and burials as both cultural and financial.
“Families are more dispersed,” Ian says. “The family cluster is not as strong.”30-40 years ago wakes were standard and people attended.
“If you didn’t, it was disrespectful,” he says, “now, if it makes people uncomfortable, people don’t go.”
It’s always been important to Ian to see the body of the deceased, even before he got into the funeral business.
“People may think it’s kind of ghoulish,” he chuckles, “but it’s a normal part of life.”
On April 6th, 2020 Ian’s father died.
Born to immigrant parents in 1932, Dr. Ian G. Lamont attended the University of Michigan, served in the U.S. Army, and married his high school sweetheart, Joby (Joan) Cooper. He obtained his DDS and moved his family to northeastern Phoenix where he practiced orthodontics until his retirement in 1999. Active in church, civic and professional organizations, he had lots of friends.
“He was my hero,” says Ian, the oldest of his father’s three children.
Although family and colleagues cautioned Ian against being his father’s funeral director, he insisted.
“I wanted to take care of him,” he says, noting that he has provided these services for thousands of people. “Why wouldn’t you want to do it for your own?”
Ian brought his father’s body to Globe, embalmed and dressed him and then returned to Scottsdale and presided over the viewing for his father’s community. Visitors were asked to stagger their arrivals and follow social-distancing and hygiene guidelines. Ian plans a larger service for June 13th, with Amazing Grace on the bagpipes, his father’s singular request.
A traveler, Patti Daley came to Globe in 2016 to face the heat, follow love, and find desert treasure. She writes in many formats and records travel scraps and other musings at daleywriting.com.