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Cemetery suspends graveside services
• Due to Covid-19
Memorial Park Ceres
Policies have changed at Ceres Memorial Park in light of the Covid-19 pandemic. This sign suggests that visitors play it safe, although the park is open for grave visits. - photo by Jeff Benziger

Even burying loved ones has become more complicated in light of the Covid-19 pandemic in America.

Clay Guzman, manager of the Ceres Memorial Park, announced recently that no graveside services are allowed for the time being but direct burials are being offered with no more than five persons to be present when a body is lowered into the ground.

The decision affects the typical five to seven burials that take place at the cemetery each week. In the past, most of those burials were classified as full service, meaning viewing of the body, a funeral service at a church and a committal service at the grave site. Churches have also cut back on providing services.

“Most of the families we’re dealing with are understanding,” said Guzman. “They realize what’s going on.”

Others have been less understanding. Guzman said one person cussed out the cemetery office worker and at one burial earlier in March a crowd gathered and was told to disperse or return to their vehicle.

“It’s unfortunate but I can only sympathize with them but we have to do what we have to do to protect the living.”

For direct burials, the cemetery staff members carry the casket to the grave.

“It takes about six to carry a casket. We have five (employees) in the yard and if the funeral director is there they can help.”

The cemetery office has also modified its business hours to 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays except being closed for lunch for a half-hour starting at noon. Burial arrangements can be made for families in need but the office asks that only two persons in the office to make those plans. All pre-need arrangements can be done through email or wait until things become relaxed. 

The cemetery office may be reached at 537-9013.

The cemetery gates remain open for those wishing to visit graves from 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. daily but Guzman said trips to the cemetery have dropped off in big ways lately.

“If we’re mandated to close them, we’ll close them. When the enforcement rules change where they don’t want these people coming to just visit then we have to shut our gates and have somebody stand there and open it when a direct burial comes in. We have a crematory here so we have to receive cases.”

The volume of cremations has risen recently in light of the temporary ban on graveside services. Since January the Ceres crematory has handled 200 per month. One of those included one Covid-19 victim from Stockton brought directly from the hospital.

Guzman said it’s now not unusual to see a burial plot used for the depository of ashes in an urn.

“It’s kind of a strange time,” said Guzman.