HOLLYWOOD, Calif. – Ever since she was a little girl, Chanell O'Farrill has always been fascinated with funerals.
“I love learning about the person, you hear the best about everybody, there’s a beautiful sense of community,” she told Spectrum News 1.
Then, she visited the Hollywood Forever Cemetery with her grandmother and something inside of her clicked.
“My great-grandparents are buried here and as soon as we came through the gates, I literally said, ‘What a beautiful place to come to work every day,’” she recalled.
Two decades later, she’s the funeral director at the very place that inspired her to make a living by dealing with the dead.
But these days, her idyllic cemetery, the final resting place of hundreds of Hollywood legends, is bracing for some tough times ahead.
“We just try and work as efficiently as possible and still maintain the human aspect of it,” she said.
As the coronavirus sweeps through Los Angeles County, funeral homes, deemed essential by the government, are changing the way they do business.
It’s unclear how long the virus can live inside a deceased person. But the Centers for Disease Control has recommended not touching the bodies.
Eddie Martinez, who is in charge of retrieving bodies from hospitals, is at highest risk of infection.
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"I have three children at home and a pregnant wife," he said. "I think about them. I think about what could possibly come home with me."
With social distancing, there is no shaking hands or hugging — not an easy adjustment for someone in this profession.
“You still kind of catch yourself with that instinct of truly wanting to truly be there for somebody and you can’t,” O’Farrill said.
For now, services are limited to 10 people or less. But even that could change at any moment. In the meantime, O’Farrill is getting a video conferencing system up and running, just in case.
If and when the number of bodies becomes unmanageable, the cemetery could decide to do away with services all together.
“Meaning no witnesses, no scheduling of a service not even for the purpose of a webcasting,” O’Farrill said. “Basically means we are in a place that as soon as we have all the paperwork filed properly with our county, we have to bury that person.”