Nothing is immune from the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including the business of putting families’ loved ones to rest.
Funeral homes and cemeteries have been faced with a lengthier paperwork process due to closed government offices and the inability to offer large gatherings to memorialize those who have passed. JoAnna Di Sibio, managing partner at Oak View Memorial Park Cemetery, said she has seen an increase in her business since the beginning of the year.
“January was our busiest month for burials and for cremation in the history of Oak View Memorial Park,” Di Sibio said. “It was really busy in January and now in February . . . in November we had 11 services the whole month, now we are having seven, eight, even 10 in one week.”
Di Sibio noted more people are opting for cremation these days, but could only speculate as to why, suggesting families are waiting to hold memorial services once it is safe to host large gatherings. She said her staff’s biggest hurdles are the ever-changing guidelines from the state and their inability to show compassion to their customers.
“It’s harder in the sense that because we have the masks and because we have all the rules – which are important to follow – it makes our jobs more difficult,” Di Sibio said. “We want to be compassionate and caring with the families, and it makes it hard on us. We want to reach out and give a hug and be there for people, but we have to have the doors locked, we have to ask questions before we can let people in and only let in two at a time, so those rules are making things difficult.”
Oak View Memorial has not yet had an issue with completing burial services, despite a higher volume. Di Sibio said the staff is making an effort to accommodate families and help them through a trying time, but some things don’t have to be so difficult.
“We love it when people plan ahead,” she admitted. “Death is a part of life, and when you are prepared, it is so much better for the families. When people come in and someone has passed, they have to go through everything, and it’s a big ordeal with all the different pieces, it’s like planning a wedding, but you only have a week or two. When someone has planned ahead, all you have to do is come in and sign some papers.”
Darren Carter is a licensed funeral director and embalmer at Higgins Chapel in Antioch. He said he and the other men and women at Higgins are working hard to meet an increase in business and guide their customers through a sad and confusing time. He said the shifting guidelines make it difficult for people to know what to do to honor their loved ones.
“We have had to deal with a lot more folks passing suddenly or from things they weren’t expecting, and there are a lot of limitations because people can’t gather in large groups to memorialize,” Carter said. “There has been a lot of confusion for folks and it’s been hard for them to know what to do and how to honor their loved ones so we have been trying to accommodate them as best we can, but it’s been a real challenge.”
Embalming and cremation processes have been slowed since most of the chapel’s paperwork has to be mailed rather than dropped off in person, but staff is working longer hours to keep up. Carter said he is advising his families to wait to celebrate a passing life, as there is no time limit for such events.
“I try to remind families there is no end to when you can memorialize someone,” Carter said. “In many traditions, there is a time of celebration for quite some time, so I encourage them to maybe not have the big gathering right now, because it’s not safe to do so, but maybe wait until it’s safe and have a party in that person’s honor.”
The extra time can be used to create a project or plan something special. Higgins is also offering virtual events, so loved ones from near and far can tune in for a service or watch at a later date.
Oak View Memorial Park Cemetery is located at 2500 East 18th Street in Antioch. For more information, call 925-757-4500 or visit https://www.oakviewmemorialpark.com/.
Higgins Chapel is located at 1310 A Street in Antioch. For more information, call 925-757-4343 or visit https://www.higginsmortuary.com/.