Rose Hills Memorial Park and Mortuary in Whittier, California, may be the biggest cemetery in North America, but the 1,400-acre park is struggling to cope with the number of bodies awaiting funeral services because of an increase in COVID-19 deaths.
Despite the numerous facilities at Rose Hills, there is about a month's delay before families can receive funeral services for their loved ones.
Patrick Monroe, CEO and president of Rose Hills, told Reuters via Zoom that there had been a sharp increase for services since the Thanksgiving holiday in November, with demand nearly doubling.
Rose Hills has brought in a large number of refrigeration units to deal with the additional bodies.
The park has also set up tented areas to replace on-site chapels and is using new methods like livestreaming to bring services to families.
"You can't replace a hug," Monroe said. "There's an old saying that grief shared is grief diminished … you can't really do that very well on Zoom."
Staff at Rose Hills are also finding it extremely stressful, Monroe said, as they witness grief from families.
"Unfortunately for many families this is the first time they're seeing their deceased in person because they weren't able to visit at the hospital so it's already making a very traumatic event even more sensitive," Monroe said.
"Funeral workers, cemetery workers, I think are heroes just like the health care folks," he said.