PASADENA, California - A young Filipino-American entrepreneur has seen an unexpected but emotionally challenging business boom as the COVID-19 pandemic impacted his sector in a unique way.
Lawrence Suarez’s workplace has been providing services for COVID-19 patients who did not survive.
Suarez owns Allay Direct Cremation.
The 35-year-old has been in the industry for 10 years, starting as a receptionist, and eventually working for other mortuaries before he branched off to start Allay in February of 2020, a month before the COVID-19 pandemic began.
"The company started when the pandemic started. My social media wasn't built up, my ads weren’t built up, that takes months to build up, your presence online. I was worried. I definitely was, but I was lucky, wouldn’t say lucky but I was able serve people that called us. When the pandemic happened it was an influx of calls just really fast," he said.
Servicing families in grief has always been a tough part of the job, but he said the emotional impact has gotten worse as morgues were constantly flooded with COVID-19 casualties.
While the daily death rates have dropped dramatically, Los Angeles County saw 23,000 COVID-19 fatalities.
"During the pandemic, it’s gotten worse, I feel emotionally, it’s hard for me to tell families, it's so hard to see their loved one. Their loved one who dies by themselves at the hospital, nobody could go there. Emotionally now it’s a little harder because we can’t do viewings," he said.
With the virus attacking its patients in different ways, many families have been caught off guard by the sudden deaths. The pandemic’s economic impact also worsened the stress.
Suarez said even during non-pandemic times, people must prepare for the eventuality of death.
"A lot of people aren’t prepared, and it's just so hard for them, a lot of them don’t know what to do, they feel they need to call someone right away and it’s gotten so difficult for families to make that arrangement because it's unexpected. They had no plans ahead of time, they don’t know who to call, now funeral [services] have to turn them away. So on top of their loved ones passing, it's gotten more, difficult," he said.
While deaths have slowed down in recent weeks, some families are finding some financial relief.
Suarez is now finding himself busy helping families file for FEMA’s COVID-19 funeral assistance by supplying his clients with their paperwork as the government helps pay for the funeral services of those who died of COVID-19.
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