The ‘last responders’: A year later, the toll of a pandemic

"Last responders" affected by COVID-19 deaths

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (WBTV) - As the coronavirus pandemic continues, the number of Americans that have died continues to put a toll on those who work in funeral homes.

Those last responders have been there for families since day one. The pandemic, undoubtedly, adding a surge to the number of families that would have been usually helped.

“People think well funeral is all business, but we’re people, we’re affected by it,” said Tom Glynn, general manager at Forest Lawn West Funeral Home and Cemetery in Charlotte. “We’ve had own staff members diagnosed with COVID and family members they’ve lost.”

When the pandemic hit last March, they were still there.

“We couldn’t shut down; we were not able to,” Glynn said. “We saw an incline...gradual incline and peaked with the cases. It’s now on a downturn, which is good.”

Now, you won’t find any caskets in-person to choose from. The selection and the planning process, due to the pandemic, is virtual.

For in-person funeral services, COVID-19 guidelines are still in place inside the building.

“It really turned everybody upside down,” Glynn said.

A year later, Glynn said families are coming back.

As restrictions ease in North Carolina, they’re hoping to say a final goodbye to their loved one.

“A lot of families in the height of it had a direct interment or cremation and they’re coming back now as the restrictions are getting eased up and having that celebration of life now when we can have more people together and celebrate those lives that were lost,” Glynn said.

“What does it mean to be the last responder?” Glynn was asked.

“I try and make it with every family I serve, treat them as if they’re my own family,” Glynn said.

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