With the onset of the current pandemic, Texans of every ilk have joined forces in an attempt to defeat COVID-19.
As the year progressed, it appeared the virus was winning as hundreds, and then thousands, of Texans lost their life.
Like metropolitan areas along the East Coast, our local hospitals and city morgues were soon overwhelmed with the bodies of the pandemic’s victims. The days became weeks as families waited for burial in overtaxed cemeteries or cremation in crematories that were running 24/7 just to meet demand.
As the virus migrated across the country before moving into Texas, the American way of death was upended into an unrecognizable new ritual.
As executive director of The Texas Funeral Directors Association, I have had an opportunity to witness the men and women of Texas funeral service as they’ve comforted hundreds and now thousands of families, many of whom were not able to be present at the bedside of their dying loved one.
Our funeral directors, the unnoticed responders to every tragedy in our state — from plane crashes and the Columbia accident to hurricanes and floods — never seek credit for their professional services or simply providing manpower in retrieving the innocent victims of these unthinkable events.
Even at this moment, funeral directors from around the state are responding to the needs of directors in the Rio Grande Valley as the death toll along the Texas-Mexico border continues to climb.
Funeral homes accustomed to making four to six funeral arrangements a week are handling triple that amount on a daily basis.
Refrigerated vans managed by Texas Funeral Directors Association members are in place to assist in holding bodies until burials and cremations can be carried out. In the meantime, crematory operators are sleeping in their cars a couple of hours each night before returning to their work.
Using electronic technology, funeral directors are making it possible for scores more than the allotted eight mourners to attend masses, rosaries, chapel services and final rites at graveside virtually. Even with the barriers presented by COVID-19, funeral directors are working overtime to create meaningful celebrations of lives cut short by a pandemic that respects no boundaries.
To the public, funeral directors appear to be the men and women who wheel caskets into position for the funeral eulogy, shepherd mourners as they leave chapels and churches, and drive hearses that carry caskets to their final resting place. They are always the last ones to leave the cemetery after overseeing the closing of the grave.
But these legions of professionals do much more for the families they serve and the communities where they live.
The lives of funeral directors revolve around responding to the needs of others. They sacrifice attending graduations, ballgames, dance recitals and holiday gatherings to help neighbors in their time of need.
Unknown to many, a majority of funeral directors today have been called to this special ministry and their singular purpose is to make the darkest days and the most difficult journey for a family a little easier.
As of today, COVID-19 claims another victim every 80 seconds. That translates to a funeral director somewhere in America answering a family’s call for help.
These funeral directors — the invisible responders, the dedicated shepherds of their communities — don’t ask for celebrity status. Over the past six months, they have answered the call for their services and expertise in the wake of COVID-19’s carnage, always ready to serve.
Harvey Hilderbran is the executive director of the Texas Funeral Directors Association and a former state representative from the Texas Hill Country.
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