'It's heartbreaking': Funeral director calling for changes to gathering limits in funeral homes
WINNIPEG -- The General Manager of Voyage Funeral is calling on the Manitoba government to make changes to gathering sizes at funeral homes to allow families the grieve properly.
Michael Vogiatzakis said right now the current restrictions only allow 50 people in the building.
"That's including our staff, so if you have five staff people, plus the pastor…you're dropped down to 45, 44 people," said Vogiatzakis.
He said because of these numbers it makes it hard, not only for the family but also friends of loved ones who have passed away, to grieve properly.
"Families are by-passing services altogether. They are not having services at funeral homes, not having services at churches, which means they are grieving alone," he said, "Grieving takes place as a community and when a community grieves together, the healing process starts."
He added many families are opting for cremation and hoping to have a service later, but he said that just delays the grieving process and it's like putting a band-aid on a big cut, it continues to bleed and hurt.
Vogiatzakis said he feels it isn't right that other industries such as restaurants and casinos have seen restrictions lifted but changes haven't been made for funerals.
"I think the government is going to cause a lot of mental illness amongst families that haven't had a chance to grieve properly, haven't had closure, there is no healing," he said. "It's just death and we need to deal with death. Death is not something we can't just stick on the shelf and pretend it didn't happen. Everyone has lived a life and everyone deserves to be acknowledged."
'UNFAIR BUSINESS PRACTICE' VOGIATZAKIS SAYS
On the business side of things, Vogiatzakis said because of the restrictions it has really hurt his bottom line and essentially cut his business in half.
"We still need to pay taxes, we still need to pay our bills and we still need to move on in the city of Winnipeg."
He compared funeral homes to churches, noting churches can also hold funerals but they don't have the same restrictions. Churches can have up to 30 per cent capacity, which Vogiatzakis said could be much more than 50 people.
"It's unfair business practice," he said.
If funeral homes were to be allowed the 30 per cent capacity rule as well, Vogiatzakis said his business would be able to hold 75 people.
On Monday, Dr. Brent Roussin, the province's chief public health officer, said funerals are super spreader events and that there is no plan to increase the gathering size at funeral homes.
Vogiatzakis said he doesn't agree with Roussin's decision, adding if churches can have larger sizes, then so should funeral homes.
"It is totally unfair to treat us any different than any other business in the city. If you can go to a restaurant and sit there with your family, or if you can go to a patio, or if go to the casino, or if you can go shopping, now they are allowing kids back to school. How's that fair? It makes no sense whatsoever what Dr. Roussin is doing."
He said he feels Roussin needs to change what he is doing and he invites him to talk to a funeral director to understand what they do.
Vogiatzakis said rules could be changed at funeral homes, such as people wearing masks to make it safer for those attending.
He thinks Roussin and the provincial government should take a look at changing the rules so more Manitobans have the chance to say a proper goodbye.
"I don't think the government has any business in our personal lives when it comes to dealing with the death of a loved one. Dealing with the death of a loved one, you only have one chance to do that. There is no coming back from that," he said. "It's heartbreaking, it puts tears in my eyes."