Frontline Heroes: Md. funeral director helps grieving families during the coronavirus pandemic

EDITOR’S NOTE: During the coronavirus pandemic, there are people throughout the community working on the frontlines. WTOP is honoring essential personnel through its Frontline Heroes campaign. Each day, WTOP chooses two nominees, awards each $100 and donates another $100 to Feed the Fight DC, a D.C.-based nonprofit supporting local restaurants, health care workers and first responders during the pandemic. Some of those honorees will be spotlighted in articles. 

Shawn Johnson helps those who have lost loved ones during the outbreak.

The funeral director at Stauffer Funeral Homes in Frederick, Maryland, was nominated to be a Frontline Hero by his girlfriend, Dawn.

“She didn’t even tell me that it happened and then I just got an email,” Johnson said.

Shawn Johnson is being recognized as a Frontline Hero for his work as a funeral director at Stauffer Funeral Home.

Johnson was surprised to get an email saying he was nominated for his continued work guiding local families through the funeral process.

“It’s totally been different. A lot of the times we are still in close contact with people who have loved ones passed from it and that can be scary,” Johnson said.

He said it has been extremely difficult helping families plan funerals with loved ones because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines allow only a total of 10 people, but they’re continuing to help bring some comfort to grieving families.

“It just doesn’t feel right. When the whole events are over, it doesn’t feel like we’ve done what we got in this business to do — and it’s really a shallow and empty feeling, to be honest,” Johnson said.

Some things can be done remotely, but Johnson said most families prefer to meet in person and that makes it easier on the funeral home as well.

“We can gather some of the vital information that we need for the death certificate, but most people want to come in and they really want to experience getting the casket for their loved one, and writing the obituary together — and just feeling like somebody cares,” Johnson said.

He adds that he’s grateful for the recognition but that the funeral home is just doing its best to give some comfort to those who are struggling with loss right now.

“Heroes — I don’t think any of us call ourselves that. We’re just here to help people as much as we can through this whole thing.”

Valerie Bonk

Valerie Bonk started working at WTOP in 2016 and has lived in Howard County, Maryland, her entire life. She's thrilled to be a reporter for WTOP telling stories on air. She works as both a television and radio reporter in the Maryland and D.C. areas. 

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