Muskegon Co. funeral homes strained by COVID-19 workload

Michigan

MUSKEGON, Mich. (WOOD) — A recent surge in COVID-19 deaths has Muskegon County funeral homes scrambling to keep up.

Dale Clock of Clock Funeral Home in Muskegon said nearly every day in November, his team got a call from a grieving family that had just lost a loved one to the virus.

“Fifty-five people died that called us to take care of them,” Clock said. “Typically, 30 to 35 people is a normal month for us.”

Of those 55, nearly half died after contracting coronavirus, he said.

The surge in calls came as Muskegon County in November doubled the number of COVID-19-related deaths it had seen in the previous eight months combined.

“We weren’t expecting that major of an increase in the amount of deaths,” Clock said.

Also caught off guard were the families of those who unexpectedly died from the virus. Three weeks after his father’s death, Jack Clark Jr. returned to Clock Funeral Home Wednesday to collect his father’s ashes.

Clark’s father, Jack Clark Sr., was one of 96 Muskegon County residents who died from coronavirus in November.

“I lost my father, my best friend,” Clark Jr. said.

A father of five and husband of 55 years, Clark Sr. died Nov. 10 at the age of 79.

“I was expecting him to live a lot longer,” Clark Jr. said. “He was in the best shape of his life. He was vibrant, he was healthy.”

Funeral directors across the county have been working around the clock to console families in similar situations.

“Everybody in the Muskegon area is this busy,” Clock said.

Aside from working late nights and long hours to meet the needs of grieving families, funeral home staff are running into delays processing the paperwork. Clock said the spike in deaths has the system backlogged.

“What people don’t realize is that death certificates have to get filed and doctors have to fill out that information and that all gets backed up,” Clock said.

Clock said this can mean waiting an additional 10 to 15 days before being able to begin the cremation or burial process.

Due to state COVID-19 restrictions, families are limited in the type of funeral services they can hold. For Clark, only immediate family could attend. Like many other grieving families, the Clarks plan to hold a celebration of life in their loved one’s honor once restrictions are lifted.

“We’re planning for something after this (pandemic) passes,” Clark Jr. said. “Obviously, we want to bring everybody together, family, friends, and say their piece and have closure of the person we lost.”

As funeral homes continue to work overtime to meet the needs of the rising death toll, the Michigan Funeral Directors Association told News 8 the state isn’t experiencing a shortage in personal protective equipment or strain on capacity to hold remains. The association remains on the lookout for any potential shortages in an effort to prevent a repeat of the crisis that unfolded in Southeast Michigan in the spring.

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