LONG BEACH, Calif. — When Ken McKenzie heads into work, he knows it is going to be busy all day long.
He is the funeral director of McKenzie Mortuary Services in Long Beach and said there is just too much to do.
What You Need To Know
- During McKenzie’s 34 years in the funeral business, he has never handled so many bodies on a daily basis
- Before the pandemic, it was two to four bodies a day but lately, it’s closer to 15
- He says 70% of the deaths are due to coronavirus
- His funeral home and crematorium are already filled to the brink
“The pandemic, it’s affected me personally and my staff, [it] is overwhelming. I knew there would be a surge, but I never would anticipate a surge like this,” McKenzie said. “It is uncontrollable.”
During McKenzie’s 34 years in the funeral business, he has never handled so many bodies on a daily basis. Before the pandemic, it was two to four bodies a day but lately, it is closer to 15. He said 70% of the deaths are due to coronavirus.
“This pandemic is not an old person disease. It is not an epidemic of underlying causes anymore. We are now seeing a lot of young men in their 30s, no underlying causes,” he said.
When Spectrum News 1 met with McKenzie, he was frantically making calls to find a massive refrigerator storage unit to store more bodies. His funeral home and crematorium are already filled to the brink.
McKenzie said cremations have been backed up, too. They usually take a day or two but now it is closer to a week because of the overwhelming number of bodies. Over the weekend, Southern California air regulators lifted the cap on the number of bodies crematoriums can process each day.
McKenzie wanted to become a mortician when he was 12, after his father died by suicide. He noticed how quiet it was at the funeral until he lightened the mood.
“I was able to say something my dad would have said, which was hilarious when a 12-year-old kid says it and it made the entire group laugh,” he said. “At that moment, it kind of called me that that is what I’m supposed to do. It made me feel better; watching other people stop crying and I thought, oh, if would be neat to make other people do that again.”
McKenzie started his business at the height of the AIDS epidemic, taking in people who died of the disease when other funeral homes refused to. He said it was a busy time but nothing compared to now.
Last March, he bought a large refrigerator unit to store bodies because he had a feeling he might need it when the pandemic started.
“It sat for months and months and months, not used up and then in November is when we had to turn it on and it quickly filled up,” he said. That freezer is now out of space.
McKenzie was finally able to find a storage unit but it will cost him $15,000. He also got an additional refrigerator unit from the City of Long Beach to handle the continuing surge of bodies.
He hopes by sharing his story, others will take the pandemic seriously and wear a mask.
“The words that usually come easily to me to making people laugh and feel better is becoming more and more difficult,” McKenzie said.