Funeral director Ron Thornson prepares for a service at Peace Chapel Funeral Home in Phoenix on March 8, 2021. The funeral industry has been one of the hardest hit during the pandemic, but these “last responders” often are among the least recognized for providing essential services.
Officer manager Reginald Burgan, left, and funeral director Ron Thornson plan the week ahead in the office of Peace Chapel Funeral Home in Phoenix on March 8, 2021. For months this whiteboard was so crowded with names of people who died from COVID-19 related causes that Post-it notes had to be attached to the sides.
Ron Thornson moves bodies into a refrigeration cell at Peace Chapel Funeral Home in Phoenix on March 7, 2021. During the pandemic, Peace Chapel saw a 50% increase in the number of bodies it was handling.
Cremationist Sean Russo stacks a cardboard casket holding a corpse in the refrigeration room at the Cremation Center of Arizona in Phoenix on March 8, 2021. From August 2020 to early January, the two refrigeration cells at the crematorium were always full, and Russo was working 30 hours of overtime a week because of the increase in COVID-19 related casualties. During that period, the crematorium was operating 24 hours a day.
Ron Thornson embalms a body at a funeral home in Mesa, Ariz., on March 18, 2021. Thornson has helped relieve pressure on other funeral workers in the Phoenix area by performing embalmings at mortuaries with surging workloads.
Ron Thornson paints a woman’s hands to hide discoloration at Peace Chapel Funeral Home in Phoenix on March 4, 2021. Peace Chapel is a family-run business that operates primarily through referrals, which often come because of the attention Thornson pays to details like this.
Ron Thornson holds the hand of a deceased woman before polishing her nails at a funeral home in Mesa, Ariz., on March 18, 2021.
Reginald Burgan makes some final adjustments before a viewing at Peace Chapel Funeral Home in Phoenix on April 8, 2021. When COVID-19 restrictions were still in place, only a limited number of family members could enter the room at once.
Officer manager Reginald Burgan moves a body into the hallway at Peace Chapel Funeral Home in Phoenix on March 8, 2021.
As funeral director Ron Thornson works behind him, Reginald Burgan ties a deceased man's shoelaces at Peace Chapel Funeral Home in Phoenix on March 12, 2021. Burgan, who is the funeral home’s office manager, was hired in August to run the office so Thornson could focus on his embalming work.
Office manager Reginald Burgan places a casket in a hearse at the end of a shift outside Peace Chapel Funeral Home in Phoenix on March 4, 2021. During the pandemic, Peace Chapel workers have pulled 14- to 16-hour shifts to keep up with demand.
Peace Chapel funeral coordinator Claude Robinson and pallbearers lower the casket during a graveside ceremony at Resthaven/Carr-Tenney Mortuary & Memorial Gardens in Phoenix on March 13, 2021. Until recently, funeral services were limited to only a few people to prevent the spread of COVID-19 – bringing more despair on a day meant to help provide closure.