Once their obligatory wellness and temperature checks are done, employees at All Souls Catholic Cemetery and Mausoleum in Long Beach begin their morning meeting with a special prayer.
“Into your hands, oh Lord, we humbly entrust our brothers and sisters,” they begin.
It is a morning ritual that in the wake of Southern California’s Covid-19 winter surge, prepares the staff — among them counselors, embalmers, and maintenance staff — to face human grief and tragedy on a scale that no job training could have prepared them for.
“Our cemeteries and funeral homes are experiencing double or more in the number of at-need services,” explained Brian McMahon, director of community outreach for the Catholic Cemeteries and Mortuaries of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles. “The impact has been seen through all eleven cemeteries and six mortuaries in Los Angeles, Ventura, and Santa Barbara counties….”
MaryAnn McAdams, who oversees operations at All Souls, recalled overhearing one of her employees talking on the phone with a friend on a recent morning.
“I feel overwhelmed just walking in here,” the person said as they arrived at work for their wellness check at the gate.
“The whole world has a broken spirit,” said Ramon Núñez, manager of Holy Cross Catholic Mortuary in Culver City….
Suddenly gone are the large funerals with 150 or 200 family members, the mariachi band offering favorite songs at the graveside. Technically, only 30 family members are allowed at the service and, for much of the winter surge, funeral Masses were held outside under a tent with limited and socially distanced seating….
“There’s generally no vigil, or “velorio,” of the deceased or it’s just limited to 30 minutes for a quick viewing of the body, and then we celebrate the Mass and go to the burial site,” recounted Núñez. “That’s where people gather and tell stories about the person; it’s like a celebration of that life. But that is no longer possible….”
At the beginning of the pandemic, cemetery grounds were closed, and visits not allowed — only burials with immediate family present were possible — something that was very hard on the families, many of whom were not able to be with their loved ones in the hospital as they lay dying.
Eventually, the rules changed and cemetery gates opened again for visits….
But while the cemetery restrictions have relented, the flow of cases has not, especially during the recent winter surge. Recently, All Souls hosted 17 burials in a single day. Burials are up by at least 50% compared to pre-Covid-19 times. In mid-February, there were some 200 families waiting to finalize burial plans at the cemetery. To make things even harder, the required government paperwork for burials is taking longer to arrive than before the pandemic.
At Holy Cross in Culver City, about 80 families were waiting for their loved ones’ burials. Any past January, the cemetery averaged 90 burials. This year it was 150….
The above comes from a March 8 story in Angelus News.