Covid in California: Life, Legacies and Love at Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary

April 27, 2021  •  Leave a Comment

"We all die. The goal isn’t to live forever, the goal is to create something that will." - Chuck Palahniuk

"Some people are so afraid to die that they never begin to live." - Henry Van Dyke

“Even death is not to be feared by one who has lived wisely.” – Buddha


The words “death” and “cemetery” often conjure up frightful and disturbing thoughts for many people.



If I’m being completely honest, I, too, used to be scared of death. That was until I experienced the loss of a loved one, pretty early on in my life.


"Death is a challenge. It tells us not to waste time. It tells us to tell each other right now that we love each other." - Leo Buscaglia

When someone close to you dies, it is often very hard to fathom the reason why and to actually conceptualize it. It tends to make more sense if the individual was battling an illness or if old age was a factor. Regardless, death is a part of life and it is truly inevitable.



"I regret not death. I am going to meet my friends in another world." - Ludovico Ariosto

My great grandmother, Ruth Channon, used to talk a lot about death, not in a morbid way, but rather, as a natural subject of conversation.


She often spoke about her parents and recalled how great her childhood was.


Most often, she told me (and several others) stories about her son, Richard (“Dick”) Channon, my great uncle, who I sadly never got the chance to meet.


"Our dead are never dead to us, until we have forgotten them." - George Eliot

   

Dick tragically passed away in 1988 on Super Bowl Sunday, at just fifty-four years old. It was a devastating day for my family, as he really was, “one of a kind.”


Dick suffered from severe asthma, which ultimately led to his death.


I am so sad that I never got the chance to meet Dick because I know how amazing of a person he was. Mina (as we called my great grandmother) talked about him as if he were still alive - she kept his legacy strong and memorable.

(Photo above was taken during Tova's first visit to see Dick in September of 2020 - she was just three months old)

(Here is Tova on April 1st, 2021 at ten months old)


"To live in the hearts we leave behind is not to die." - Thomas Campbell

The silver lining for me is that I was born a year later and my parents intentionally named me “Robin”, after him (Richard).  I take so much pride in being named after such an incredible person.

Dick is buried at Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary in Los Angeles, whereby there were hundreds (yes, hundreds) of people at his funeral.

Photo courtesy of Hillside

He made a difference in so many people’s lives, and when he died, everyone who knew him wanted to pay their respects and attend the memorial service.

Photo courtesy of Hillside

"I think of death as some delightful journey that I shall take when all my tasks are done." - Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Mina took me to the cemetery to visit Dick ever since I was a child. I don’t remember the first time I stepped foot at Hillside, but I do recall being struck by how peaceful and special this place was.

Photo courtesy of Hillside

Up until then, I hadn’t been to a cemetery, so I didn’t really know what to expect. What I can tell you now, is that having been to other burial sites, Hillside is a very unique place.


Photo courtesy of Hillside

“For more than 75 years, Hillside Memorial Park has provided members of the Jewish community the means to honor and remember their loved ones in beauty, tranquility and the comfort of Jewish traditions.”

Photo courtesy of Hillside

The name holds its meaning - there are hills and it feels like you are indeed in a park. The grounds are well-manicured with beautiful trees, vibrant flowers, and freshly cut, green grass.

Photo courtesy of Hillside

I feel at ease there. Going to visit Dick, and now Mina (she passed away at one hundred and a half years old in 2015) is something I enjoy and look forward to.

Photo courtesy of Hillside

As fate would have it, Mina resides in the “Court of Love”, and she is buried next to her mother, Regina (my great great grandmother), while Dick is located just down the way, next to his best friend, Marty Nadel.

"The fear of death follows from the fear of life. A man who lives fully is prepared to die at any time." - Mark Twain


On April 1st, 2021, Mina would have turned a hundred and six. My Mom, Dad, Tova, and I went to visit her and to wish her a “Happy Birthday.”

We brought balloons and sang a tune to honor Ruth Channon, the Matriarch of our family.

According to the New York Times, there have been 574,000 more U.S. deaths than normal since Covid-19 struck in early 2020.


“For comparison, around 600,000 Americans die from cancer in a normal year. The number of unusual deaths for this period is also higher than the typical number of annual deaths from Alzheimers, stroke or diabetes.


As 2020 ended, the United States surpassed 20 million infections from Covid-19. Globally, cases rose to 83,832,334 and 1,824,590 deaths (Source: AJMC)


"Losing your life is not the worst thing that can happen. The worst thing is to lose your reason for living." - Jo Nesbo

Do you ever wonder what it would be like to work at a cemetery, especially during a global pandemic?

I didn't plan to bust out my camera during our visit at Hillside, but as soon as this young man graciously helped us hang balloons up on Mina’s spot in the mausoleum, I knew I had to run to my car and get my gear.


Ladies and Gentlemen, meet Jaime Sandoval, a sincere and kind soul who works at Hillside Memorial Park and Mortuary.


In addition to looking like a model, Jaime is completely genuine and down to earth. 


We spoke for a little while, whereby Jaime explained how Covid-19 impacted Hillside and his job as an employee there.



See below for his interview on Covid in California:


RR: How has Covid-19 impacted you personally?

JS: "Covid has impacted me personally in different ways. It has affected my physical health (due to gyms closing), which in turn affected my mental and emotional health by not being active enough and socializing with loved ones. I felt hindered due to isolation, staying away from the people I care about for long periods of time."


RR: Did you or anyone you know get Covid-19?

JS: "Unfortunately, a lot of my family ended up getting Covid. The only two people in my family that did NOT get it was one of my brothers and me. My parents and the rest of my siblings got it, but I am very thankful that none of them had to be hospitalized because of it. My parents and siblings are located in Virginia and they were fortunately able to cope and fight it fairly well."


RR: What specifically changed your personal / professional life during this time? I.E. What daily routine did you have to adjust?

JS: "Covid changed so many people's schedules, and I'm so sad for those who lost jobs, had to cut back on hours at work, and those that lost income."

JS: "You can imagine with my line of work, our job didn't stop, but we did have to adjust our schedule to make sure that we were following health protocols and being safe during these very unknown times."



"I went from working a full-time schedule to working every other day. We split up the employees evenly in order to limit the amount of people at the worksite. We did this for 3 solid months."


"I think the saddest thing of all was that we had to cut back on the amount of family members allowed to attend funerals."


"Up until now, we are only allowed to have 10 seats (six feet apart, of course), whereas before Covid, we had 25 or more."


"Some families prefer to not even do an in-person service because they are still afraid of contracting Covid. This has resulted in many livestream funeral services, which we started doing during Covid."


RR: What do you miss most about life before Covid-19?

JS: "I miss indoor dining and not having to wear a mask everywhere! I miss the feeling of everyone not being in a constant state of fear and feeling confused over this virus."


RR: What has Covid-19 made you grateful for?

JS: "Covid has made me grateful for many things. It showed me a whole other side of human behavior...do you remember when everyone went crazy for toilet paper!!!???"


"It also made me grateful to see a complete other side of life. Appreciating the simple things. After all, these are times that many of us, if not all of us, have ever seen and lived through."


"Seeing the usual, very busy streets of LA to then not having a soul or moving car in sight with no traffic on the freeways...that really was something. When will we ever see that again? I actually thought that was such a beautiful and eerie feeling."


RR: What has been the biggest challenge for you during this time?

JS: "The biggest challenge for me during this time has not necessarily been the virus or quarantine, but more about myself and how to deal with these changes, emotionally and mentally. What I mean by that, is that the pandemic has made it extremely hard to keep a level-head. It's really all about how you react to things and the pandemic itself."


"Another big challenge I've faced is choosing how to protect myself. I work at a cemetery, so I am around a lot of people and families, often those that are elderly."


"I've seen how different people want to protect themselves...some believe that the vaccine and mask will protect them, while others are completely against those things and believe that exercising, eating well, and having a strong immune system is all they need."


RR: What are you most excited for when things return to “normal”?

JS: "EATING INDOORS AT A RESTAURANT AND TRAVELING!!"


Thank you, Jaime, for your integrity and friendly demeanor. Your smile is contagious and Hillside is lucky to have you as a part of their staff!


"Death is not the greatest loss in life. The greatest loss is what dies inside us while we live." - Norman Cousins


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