In black-owned funeral homes, many staff feel exhausted.

For black-owned funeral businesses, the pain of the coronavirus pandemic has been twofold: many funeral directors mourn their own collea...


For black-owned funeral businesses, the pain of the coronavirus pandemic has been twofold: many funeral directors mourn their own colleagues who have died from the virus, while suffering burnout after having to preside over countless services for their clients black people and neighbors died at disproportionate rates from Covid.

More than 130 black funeral directors and directors have died across the country since the pandemic began, according to Hari P. Close, president of the National Funeral Directors & Morticians Association and operator of a funeral home in Baltimore. The true death toll is unknown because the association does not keep an official tally of deaths among its members. The number of black funeral staff who have died from Covid is also unknown, but could number in the hundreds, Mr Close said. There are approximately 3,300 black funeral directors and directors in the United States, and approximately 2,000 black-owned funeral homes and services.

“In the black community, funeral directors and funeral directors are often the mainstays of their city,” said Mr. Close. “But beyond that, it’s friends and family. And so our industry has been completely devastated by this pandemic. “

Over the past 18 months, funeral home and morgue workers across the United States have been on the front lines of a pandemic that has killed more than 675,000 people. The toll has been particularly hard for funeral homes in black communities. The death rate of black Americans with Covid-19 has been almost twice that of white Americans, according to the Centers for Disaster Control and Prevention.

Jeffery F. Wakefield Sr., the owner of Poteat-Wakefield Undertakers in Albany, Georgia, recalled when his chaplain got out of a truck in late August with shaking legs and insisted he could still preside over a funeral service that afternoon, despite feeling ill.

“His speech was inarticulate, very weak, and he said, ‘We have to do the service,'” Mr Wakefield said. “I said, ‘You can’t do a favor. You have to go to the hospital.

After a short drive to a hospital, the man, who was not vaccinated, learned he had Covid-19. Four days later he died. His family requested that his name not be disclosed.

“He was a reliable and dedicated employee,” said Mr. Wakefield. “Losing him was devastating.”

At Ramsey Wallace Funeral Home & Chapel in Sacramento, Calif., Vanessa Thomas has lost count of the number of times she believes she has been in close contact with an infected person who walks through the doors of her family business.

Many funeral homes have tried to stay safe throughout the pandemic by requiring service participants to wear masks or provide a negative Covid test. But for some, the dangers have persisted, despite precautions.

“The majority of our services have recently been linked to Covid,” said Ms. Thomas, general manager of the funeral home. “And it’s not just the elderly. It is also young people.

It was exhausting, she said, witnessing so many deaths among the black community in Sacramento for months. Black residents, who include approximately 11 percent of the population of Sacramento County, represents approximately 12% of county deaths.

“We just had a funeral for a mother and her son last week, and they died nine days apart,” Ms. Thomas said. “And we don’t even know if the mother knew her son had died because she was already in intensive care for Covid. “

Martavius ​​Marcus, the director of operations for Poteat-Wakefield Funeral Directors, said about half of the funeral services this year were linked to the coronavirus.

“There has certainly been some exhaustion, some frustration,” Marcus said. “We saw people coming to us. We saw our friends, our neighbors, our pastors. We saw them die with this virus. “

Mr Close said the mental health of funeral directors has been severely affected by the pandemic.

“We cry, we comfort,” he said. “We too are suffering.

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