Ashes and grief: the pandemic's footprint in a Los Angeles crematorium

(Reuters) - A cremation chamber, like a large stove with golden doors, sits in a room with dimmed lights, a few brooms and a cart with heat protective gear.

Eddie Martinez has been spending a lot of time here lately as the increased demand for funerals and cremation services has stretched his role at Hollywood Forever Cemetery, a Los Angeles landmark and resting place for thousands of American movie legends.

"I used to be just a funeral coordinator. Now I assist with cremations as well. I assist with casketing, with dressing," Martinez, 31, said.

The team handled two cremations a day at most before the pandemic, said Martinez, who has worked at the cemetery for six years. The process can take up to six hours.

A few months ago, a second shift was added to conduct four cremations daily. A second cremation chamber will soon be added.

At Hollywood Forever Cemetery, cremations tripled to about 60 in January from the year-ago total. In mid-January, the South Coast Air Quality Management District lifted air quality regulations that limited the number of cremations to protect public health.

The work comes with an emotional toll but is gratifying, said Martinez, a father of three who has been fascinated with death and mummies since childhood.

"It was definitely an eye opener when it started hitting close to home, and to seeing a friend come to me, letting me know that her relative was in our care," he said.

"I feel like I'm doing my part in helping the families ... and try just avoid any negative thoughts."

Social distancing signs are displayed throughout the cemetery, but it is difficult to restrain mourners.

"Families' emotions come over them and they just go for it and they hug each other," he said. "We can't tell people to hold their emotions in until they get home."

(Reporting by Norma Galeana; Editing by Richard Chang and Rosalba O'Brien)

03/04/2021 21:35

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