COVID-19

For workers in the funeral industry, an unprecedented year

Florian Martin Mar 2, 2021
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Business increased at Leal Funeral Home in the Houston area, along with distress. Florian Martin
COVID-19

For workers in the funeral industry, an unprecedented year

Florian Martin Mar 2, 2021
Heard on:
Business increased at Leal Funeral Home in the Houston area, along with distress. Florian Martin
HTML EMBED:
COPY

More than 500,000 people have died from COVID-19 nationwide.

Economically, this has boosted the funeral industry, but it has also put heavy demands on funeral workers.

In the early days of the pandemic, many funeral homes lost revenue as demand dropped for some of their services.

During that time, Manuel Guerra was laid off from his job as a funeral director in Houston.

“When the corona first came out, a lot of families and a lot of funeral homes were doing only cremations,” he said. “And maybe just have a memorial service, you know, with just a few people present, but not the body present.”

But Guerra didn’t have to wait long for a new job as infections and deaths surged in the summer. He is now the funeral director at one of four branches of another Houston company, Leal Funeral Home. And the job has kept him busier than ever.

“We had almost 39 funerals in one week,” Guerra said. “That’s what some funeral homes do in one month.”

Having worked in the funeral industry for 40 years, Guerra is used to seeing death. But this has been different.

“We had a wife — young — that died in the beginning of one month. And four weeks later, her husband died,” he said. “It’s just sad. It’s tragic.”

Guerra said he himself has lost four family members to COVID-19.

Manuel Guerra, funeral director at Leal Funeral Home in South Houston, experienced both a lay-off and being overwhelmed with work since the start of the pandemic.
Manuel Guerra, funeral director at Leal Funeral Home, has been both laid off and overwhelmed with work since the start of the pandemic. (Florian Martin)

In addition to more burials, funeral homes have had to do more to help overburdened hospitals and medical examiners. 

“All those things that we normally handle, those have all been challenged and exacerbated,” said Harvey Hilderbran, executive director of the Texas Funeral Directors Association.

Many funeral companies are also making more money during the pandemic. Houston-based national funeral giant Service Corp. International reported recently that it brought in $280 million more revenue in 2020 than in the previous year. The company pointed out “significant challenges,” though, and thanked front-line workers for continuing to focus on “the importance of the safety of our client families, communities, and colleagues.”

At Leal Funeral Home, Manuel Guerra said he hopes the vaccine will start to make a difference.  

“And I pray,” he said, “that the cure is around the corner.”

He is a step closer to getting that protection. Guerra recently received his first shot of the COVID-19 vaccine. 

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