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Madrid, May 23 . .- Only flowers were fighting against abandonment in cemeteries during the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic, which has left a daily death rate higher than at any other time. And although it might be thought that this would benefit the funeral sector, the shadow of the crisis also hangs over the marble workers.

Marmolistas consulted by Efe also corroborate it with figures. Thus, some companies have suffered a drastic reduction in their orders and from an average of 65 a month it has gone over these months to four or five.

And it is that the relatives of the victims could not go to stores or cemeteries, where the elements are offered so that the memory of a loved one lasts over time.

With the coronavirus crisis, the funeral decoration sector has been paralyzed by a pandemic that understands neither mourning nor grief, say the professionals consulted by Efe.

“Most of the cemeteries in Spain were closed and they did not even let a single operator in to measure and place the headstones,” explains Francisco Javier Pardo, owner of a funeral art company in Alicante.

But it is also that, as they say from the Spanish Association of Funeral Marble Workers, there has been a lack of information and the messages have been contradictory.

“At first we could work, then they began to close the cemeteries and then some could go, but it was not allowed to collect the tombstones,” the sources recall.

ADAPT TO THE ONLINE WORLD

With all these “obstacles” that forced the control of the COVID-19 contagion, the online world opened up as a real possibility to process the purchase of tombstones and the choice of other elements of funeral art.

But it was not easy. “It is not the same to buy a t-shirt or pants online as a slab”, highlights Efe Noelia Abós, president of the Spanish Association of Marble Workers and owner of Artistic Marbles of Aragon.

A tombstone is an exceptional object that tries to find a place between the client’s emotions, who has to make a decision when the pain is still present and always with the doubt that it raises how to remember a loved one through an image.

During the state of alarm, the marble workers sent photos and videos to customers, but “it doesn’t matter what you send, because it wasn’t enough,” says Noelia Abós. “In the end it is a different object, which we are not used to and people like to touch it, see it in situ,” he adds.

With the start of the de-escalation, the representatives of that association see the rest of the year with hope and their sights set especially on All Saints’ Day.

In addition, these first weeks of de-escalation “are leaving better feelings regarding other times of crisis”, because the people who are ordering pieces of funeral art are not looking much at the budget, the respondents emphasize.

“Yesterday a man came who said: ‘My father is dead and I am going to buy what I like the most because it is the last thing I can do for him and I know he would like it,'” says Abós.

For her, the behavior of clients is very different from previous economic crises, where people used to think more about fixing the tombstone they already had of other deceased relatives or asking for more affordable budgets in case they did not keep their job.

LOOKING AT THE FUTURE

Not everyone sees the future with the same confidence. Among those consulted, there are those who think that marble workers are part of a profession in crisis. The most optimistic ones trust in their adaptation to the new times.

The large pieces of funerary art that populated the graveyards are no longer as popular as before. Now, the ways to remember the deceased have multiplied.

For example, Artistic Marbles of Aragon believes that its “strength” is free design. They collect the ideas of the relatives, order them and shape them with the aesthetics that they think is most appropriate.

“Once a girl came looking for something special. It had been two years since she had buried her baby and had not put a tombstone on her because she couldn’t find anyone to make something different for her,” says Abós.

The mother did not want the baby’s sister to see something tragic on her visits to the cemetery. “In the end we made him a storybook tombstone, with colored balloons and his initials,” explains the marble worker from Zaragoza.

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Despite everything, Francisco Javier Pardo, for his part, believes that the sector is “in the UVI”, which he attributes, among other things, to the boom in incineration. Often, the ashes are scattered in the field or in the sea, and in the event that the family decides to rest in a place of worship, the niches and tombstones are very small and with little ornamentation.

The Alicante businessman also blames the dehumanization of death for the crisis in the sector. “The tradition of going to the cemetery to put a flower and remember a loved one is being lost,” explains Francisco.

Yes there is something in which all the marble workers consulted by Efe agree, and it is in their request for a VAT reduction in funeral services, which is currently 21 percent, since they consider that it is an indispensable and high service need.

Because these days “there is a lot of emphasis on the number of deaths, but no one remembers what the bill means,” they conclude.

Alberto Borreguero

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