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Unexpected loss: local funeral homes on accommodating the deceased during a death spike

Posted at 7:30 AM, Jan 05, 2021
and last updated 2021-01-05 15:53:18-05

When the President of Green Lawn Cemeteries, Jim LaMar got a phone call from a hospital Sunday that another local funeral home had to turn away a family, he said he felt fortunate that they have the space. This is because, since the pandemic began, Green Lawn purchased refrigerator units that hold an additional 80 deceased.

“For us, it was foretelling that we needed to ramp up even if we didn’t use the space to purchase it,” LaMar said. “So I'm really thankful now, because we have ample space and don’t tell a family no.”

This is in addition to the units they purchased three years ago. Whereas now, doing so is difficult because hospitals, he says, need units. Meanwhile, managing partner of Mission Family Mortuary, Kenny Mount says their funeral home has not seen more deaths than usual and is not worried about running out of space, with them having 50 people they can hold at a time.

“If we were to do an embalming preparation where refrigeration is not necessary, we’d be able to hold a lot more than that,” Mount said. “But there’s what, 28 mortuaries in Kern County? That’s a lot of holding facilities.”

Green Lawn, on the other hand, has seen 50 percent increase in calls in December between their two Bakersfield locations, 20 percent at their Tehachapi location, and 40 percent with their online cremation business.

They prepared for it twelve years ago, long before the pandemic, through companion graves. To accomplish this, they bury the deceased deeper into the ground in case families want to make room for other members.

“At our southwest location, we own the land that’s freeway adjacent and the majority of the land on the west side of us too. So we have future space for, gosh, hundreds of years,” LaMar said.

LaMar explained that increased cremation requests also contribute to the amount of space still left for burials. And the pandemic, like any financial crisis, has contributed to that increase.

“We say that death doesn’t take a holiday, so the deaths still occur and families are needing to find ways to have service for their loved ones. Maybe they lost their jobs so they choose cremation more often,” LaMar said. “So, We make sure that every cremation family still has the option of having a funeral service.”

Green Lawn and Mission Family Mortuary are offering services during the shutdown. Both also say with the right handling, a departed loved one with COVID-19 can have a proper burial without worry of spreading the disease.