The last few months have stretched the staffs of area funeral homes.

Tallapoosa County funeral homes are seeing the seasonal increase in deaths they are used to seeing but they are also seeing more deaths due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Generally, we see the most deaths from November to early spring,” Radney Funeral Home manager Brian Cummings said. “Most often times, this is thought to be due to the colder weather and it is the peak season for cold or flu, but what we have been experiencing for the last eight to 10 weeks is certainly abnormal. With the current times and the presence of COVID-19, this has increased our death totals significantly. To date, we can estimate that we have served families of COVID positive patients to be around 70 since the beginning of the pandemic.”

Gregory Wright Sr. said Wright’s Funeral has definitely seen the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“COVID-19 has definitely caused more deaths,” Wright said. “The number of deaths for this time of year is definitely higher.”

Cummings said that Radney Funeral Home has seen an increase of 60% in the number of deaths the funeral home has handled over the last 3 months, as compared to the same time frame a year ago.

Radney Funeral Home owner Randy Anderson is also president-elect of the National Funeral Directors Association. Anderson said he can’t speak to an increase in deaths across the nation. Anderson does see an upward trend in deaths in the area and says supplies for funerals are in higher demand, but it hasn’t become an issue.

“The casket companies are manufacturing seven days a week to meet the demand,” Anderson said. “The two companies that we use have shifted to making only their core line caskets. If a family chooses a casket not in our inventory we confirm it’s availability with the manufacturer before finalizing with the family. If the casket is prearranged and not available, the company will upgrade the casket to a similar one at no extra charge. While funeral homes in some areas of the country have difficulty receiving caskets we are still able to get what we need.”

Anderson said there has been an increase in requests for cremations in recent months. But cremations do not necessarily do away with traditional funeral services.

“Just a little more than a fourth of the families are choosing cremation,” Anderson said. “Families who choose cremation have the ability to have a full funeral with visitation, just a visitation or a memorial service. Those services can be held at the venue of ones choice.”

It takes years of training and a special calling to be involved in the funeral business according to Wright.

“It’s not like we can hire just anybody to help,” Wright said. “The funeral business always affects personal life but it is something you know getting into it. The thing for us is we haven’t gotten much rest.”

Cummings said the staff at Radney has been dealing with the challenges as well.

“With the pandemic, we’ve also been challenged with sickness among our staff also which has limited the amount of staff we’ve had available to take care of the increased workload,” Cummings said. “We also want to take care of our staff by fulfilling their off times, but it has been difficult due to the increased workload and everyone has had to sacrifice and work additional shifts to be able to serve our community. I’m very proud of our staff in that they have stepped up and made the sacrifice during this very difficult time.”

The pandemic has forced changes to how funeral services are held to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

“In the beginning of the pandemic, the extent of our services to families had been limited with the gathering limitations and that had been one of the most difficult challenges during this time,” Cummings said. “However, we had to turn our focus on what we can do for families versus what we cannot do in order to continue to serve our grieving families and meet the expectations that have been set.”

Wright said the Black community was used to coming to chapels and churches in numbers to grieve and support one another at the loss of a loved one, but has accepted the recommendations of social distancing, wearing masks and limited occupancy at services and visitations.

“They have come to the realization this is the new trend,” Wright said. “We have to get used to the protocols from (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). We do it to protect the rest of the family. You have to protect everyone.”

More than grieving families are having to figure out how to deal with death.

“Funeral homes across the country have been busy dealing with an increased number of deaths, be it from COVID-19 or other causes,” Cummings said. “The increased number of deaths and the emotionally difficult nature of many of them, has taken its toll not just on families, but funeral home staff as well. It can be emotionally, mentally and physically exhausting. Those of us that work in funeral service are called to serve. It’s who we are and it’s what we do. We serve our community during a very difficult time.”

Cliff Williams is a staff writer for Tallapoosa Publishers.