Temperatures will dip back down into the single digits over the next two days and the high isn’t expected to rise about 20 degrees, but the arctic blast isn’t postponing funeral services in the Bristol area.
David Akard, third-generation owner of Akard Funeral Home in Bristol, doesn’t recall canceling services because of the cold and admits his staff will do whatever it takes when the thermometer drops below freezing in the Mountain Empire.
“Sunday was a good example,” Akard said. “We had a graveside at the Jewish cemetery on Bradley Street. It was cold — but we put walls around the tent and even had a heater inside.”
Akard and his employees wear layered clothing, including long underwear, and keep plenty of hand warmers in stock during the cold months.
“It affects the families we serve more than it does us,” Akard said. “We’re used to doing what they want and being outside in the elements — it’s just making sure you’re prepared for it too.”
Brent Buchanan, manager of Oakley-Cook Funeral Home in Bristol, Tennessee, added that funeral services in this region are rarely postponed because of cold weather and ground that is frozen.
“Our services don’t stop because it’s hot or cold,” Buchanan said. “There are people who are constantly losing loved ones, and we have to keep in mind graveside services and burials.”
Oakley-Cook works with families to provide items like blankets and hot beverages during graveside services on frigid days, according to Buchanan.
“From a scheduling standpoint, we try and schedule graveside services during the warmest part of the day,” Buchanan said. “That’s getting hard, though, because it has been so very cold.”
When the ground is hard due to a long spell of cold weather, it can impact funeral services, he added.
“It can cause some issues because when it’s cold outside, the ground does get harder,” he said. “You have to check on those things, and there have been times that I’ve called up to New York, and they’re not doing any burials because the ground is too hard. We’re blessed with not having those long stretches of cold — but I have to admit — this is a pretty hard, cold stretch that we’re dealing with right now.”
This time of year, including Christmas, often means more funerals. Several national health studies published recently show people have a greater chance of dying on Christmas, the day after Christmas or New Year’s Day than any other day of the year.
This is true for those who die of natural causes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Akard said it’s not the holidays that kill, but the cold weather. The 74-year-old said he sees an increase in the number of deaths and funeral services during the winter months.
“Think about it,” Akard said candidly. “If you go outside without your coat on, what’s that going to do? Chances are the older generation will catch some type of virus and not be able to fight it off.”
When dealing with the cold temperatures, Akard added that some families might opt to have a committal service at the funeral home or church instead of at the cemetery.
According to information provided by local funeral homes, there will be at least 12 funerals in the Twin City today and Friday, when high temperatures are expected to hover around 20 degrees. All of those reported services will be held in churches or at funeral homes.
Even though the region will face tough weather conditions over the next several days, Akard said the decision to postpone services comes down to the wishes of family members.
“We will go out in 2 feet of snow if it’s plowed,” Akard said. “There’s no reason to delay due to the cold except for the people that are coming in. If we postpone because of the cold weather today — it could be even worse tomorrow.”