Funerals, cemeteries work through increase from COVID-19 deaths

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GROVETOWN, Ga. (WJBF) – We hear about coronavirus infection cases rising and even how the spread has impacted our daily lives, but the pandemic also touched people grieving those who died from the virus.

Saying goodbye to loved ones took on a completely different look in 2020. And while hospitals were full, funerals and cemeteries saw an increase in families during those final moments.

“All last year we saw a little bit of an increase, but nothing notable. And about December 1, we saw maybe a 50 percent increase in the number of families we were serving,” said Posey Funeral Directors Owner Walker Posey.

It’s the side of coronavirus you don’t hear about much, but Posey said in just the past six weeks, he’s seen a larger volume of families due to COVID-19. That’s driven them to ramp up something they’ve done in the past 20 years already, stream live services. He said there is the option to record too.

“We’re able to have families come in for private family viewings,” he said. “So, we’re able to isolate folks in the building. Use different parts of our building so that people are safe and that we’re able to provide the cleaning protocols that we need. Primarily, we’re seeing a lot of outdoor services for burial, mostly graveside.”

Posey told us they have seen roadblocks with vendors, such as its casket provider now having to double its production.

At Bellevue Memorial Gardens in Grovetown, grave diggers are working seven days a week because those graveside services are piling up.

“Just the week after Christmas we had 11 services called in, just that week between Christmas and New Year,” said Miranda Baker, General Manager at Bellevue Memorial Gardens.

Baker, who has been working at the cemetery since 2010, said she’s now seeing funeral plans families spent their entire lives organizing changed to avoid coming in contact with the virus. Earlier in the pandemic, Bellevue’s chapel was closed forcing people to bear extremely hot and cold temperatures during services.

“There’s more and more cremations because of the fact that families can wait and have a memorial service when hopefully some point in time we’re able to travel and be together,” Baker added.

And comforting families can be a challenge too for staff at funeral homes and cemeteries.

“I think our tradition, especially in the south, is to gather, to hug, to be together, to eat food together,” Posey said. “That’s very important. Those traditions help us feel better in times of grief, so what we’ve had to do is take some of those traditions and make more of a virtual gathering.”

Baker said another unexpected impact of this pandemic when burying loved ones is there is a delay for some manufacturing companies that make grave markers.

She said Bellevue has worked hard to keep some traditions, such as Wreaths Across America. While many cemeteries canceled the event, it remained in Grovetown in a socially distant manner to honor the many veterans buried there. Baker said wreath donations, however, were down.

Photojournalist: Gary Hipps

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