By Zach Armstrong
DINWIDDIE, Va -- For Brandon Williams, the COVID-19 pandemic made him experience something heartbreaking few funeral workers experience: a triple funeral.
One morning when he came into work as he was reviewing the filings of those who have passed, he recognized one of the names was shared with two others the funeral home had in their care. A father, mother and daughter had all contracted COVID-19 and died from the virus within a month of one another. All three funeral services for them were carried out on the same day with all three caskets lined up with three hearses.
As it turned out, Williams would later find out that the service was also personal for him. His cousin’s boyfriend at the time was the son of the daughter who had passed away.
Williams, born and raised in Dinwiddie County, originally had his sights set on a career in the culinary industry before finding his true calling was working in funeral services because of his caring heart and passion for taking care of people the right way.
“When my grandma passed, I arranged her funeral and took care of her body and it didn't bother me because we had a close relationship and that was something I promised I'd do for her,” said Williams. “That’s when I really knew this was my career goal,”
But when the COVID-19 pandemic swept through the country, Williams experienced the immense burden of balancing precaution not to put families and co-workers in danger of spreading the virus while making sure the funeral services honoring those who have passed were done with sufficient ways of remembering people’s loved ones.
As restrictions were placed on businesses in the Spring of 2020, funerals were only doing graveside services while all appointments and arrangements were done over the phone or through zoom. There would also be no public viewings or visitations other than immediate family members whose attendance was also regulated.
Funeral homes would live stream their services as well for people who didn’t feel safe coming to the service in-person.
“We basically did what we all we could do, there were days we made 12 hour shifts just to take care of everything and often we didn’t get a break or help from anyone else,” said Williams. “Different teams just had to rely on each other because arrangements crewed and preparation staff were separated,”
The pandemic also made the funeral industry take unfortunate steps in taking care of the bodies. While body bags are often never used to transport the deceased to funeral homes, those who died of COVID were often transported that way to prevent transmission. Bodies of those who passed from COVID-19 would also be fully sanizited, sprayed with disinfectant and have masks remain on their face in case of accidental leaking of fluids from the nose or mouth.
“This industry is not for the average person, it takes dedication, structure, integrity and having pride in what you do,” said Williams. “Nurses and doctors had it hard doctors but by the time we got the bodies it's like its not their problem anymore, we have to care, you only get one life and one funeral and we want to make it as memorable as possible but can't with restrictions, so it’s been very hard but we've made it.”