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Chicago funeral home director laments strained relationships with hospitals

Leak & Sons Funeral Home in Chicago (Photo credit: Eddy “Precise” Lamarre)

The world has been turned upside down. Many of our most sacred and personal rituals have been adjusted to accommodate these changes. As a result of the global pandemic, deaths have spiked, affecting both hospitals and funeral homes. The relationships between the two have been strained because of the volume of bodies that must be dealt with on a daily basis.

Leak & Sons Funeral Homes in Chicago has been a staple in the Black community for more than 86 years. Rolling out spoke with Leak & Sons vice president Spencer Leak Jr. about how the business has changed and how he has adjusted to this new normal.

How has this pandemic changed the idea of what a funeral is?

Everything has changed. I was just telling the media the other day that it’s like I’ve only been in the funeral business for two-and-a-half weeks because everything that we have been used to doing is totally changed. The 10-person-in-a-funeral rule that the governor set has become one of the most difficult parts of the process as the funerals are today. Families are just now getting to understand this 10-person rule is not the rule of Leak Funeral Homes, per se. It is pretty much the law in the state of Illinois now and around the country in certain places. Families are beginning to understand that. Normally, the day before a funeral there is a visitation, however, many families are just choosing to have that visitation with just immediate family members.

How has this affected your staffing?

A couple of weeks ago everybody was scared. My father even came to me one Sunday morning, maybe three Sundays ago, and asked should we just shut down. My mom and my wife talked to my father and said we don’t want to do that, we’ve got a job to do, and let’s do the job we’ve been doing for 86 years. My father was just concerned about the staff. So, we polled the staff. We had a staff meeting one Sunday morning with everybody social distancing. I went one by one, called out their names and asked if they want to work — yes or no. Every staff member said yes.

What has been the most challenging thing about this?

The fact that we and other Black funeral homes are so busy. Our funeral homes are not set up for what is going on right now. Our funeral homes are set up to remove remains, embalm remains, have the funeral, go to the cemetery or crematory. However, there are so many people passing. Fortunately or unfortunately, we are one of the popular homes, so we are getting a lot of the calls. It’s about the space. We have hospitals pretty much harassing us, saying, “Come pick up these remains now.” What I’ve been trying to say to the hospitals is that these deceased [persons] were your clients before they were even our clients. You all need to do what it takes to serve your clients.

Watch the full interview after the jump.

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