Arkansas newspaper staff struggles emotionally as number of obituaries spike

A newspaper staff in Conway says the obits typically fill a single page, but lately it’s two pages due to deaths caused by COVID-19.

CONWAY, Ark. — The COVID-19 pandemic is impacting people and jobs from every angle, but we are less likely to think of the less-obvious.

“It depends on the day,” said Eleisha Wolverton.

We asked Wolverton how she’s holding up as an employee at The Log Cabin Democrat in Conway.

Her job of combing through obituaries has become mentally exhausting.

“You get those that are of younger age, and those hit me the hardest because they are unexpected,” said Wolverton.

Wolverton and her co-worker Jeanette Anderton pulled records.

They’ve noticed an increase in the number of obituaries since the pandemic hit.

They both say it’s taken an emotional toll on them because they seem to read about more younger adults dying and many of those losing their lives to COVID-19.

“I’ve seen the obituaries where they’ve died from COVID-19,” said Anderton, an editor. “The families use that as an outlet to say, ‘Hey guys, please socially distance, please wear your mask.'”

The obits typically fill a single page, but lately it’s two pages.

The newspaper office keeps them on-hand, knowing families are coming in for a copy.

That’s when Wolverton said her job gets even more difficult.

“The customers that I’ve had, I’ve actually sat and prayed with them. I let them know that I’m thinking of them, and praying for them, and they’ll just cry, and it’s so heartbreaking,” said Wolverton.

The two women are fighting through their emotions on the job and hoping for relief sooner than later.

“I know we are all kind of tired of it and that we trying to get back to some sort of normalcy and that this isn’t our normal,” said Wolverton.

Comparing numbers from June 2019 to December 2019 and June 2020 to December 2020, the paper published nearly 100 more obituaries.