Easing the pain of long-distance farewells
With mourners unable to gather for funerals as they did before the COVID-19 outbreak, two teachers in the U of M Program of Mortuary Science have led the way in helping funeral directors provide meaningful services to commemorate loved ones.
When Program Director Michael LuBrant saw a need to answer practitioners’ questions regarding the crisis, he turned to Trista Sharkey, a teaching specialist for the program and practicing mortician at Wulff Funeral Home in St. Paul. He asked Sharkey, who had just finished arrangements for someone who had died of COVID-19, to develop content for a free, virtual seminar focused on unique ways to serve families and their loved ones despite stay-at-home orders. When it was finished, the duo contacted funeral service practitioners and students, bringing in 350 attendees from Minnesota and beyond, including Wisconsin and Florida.
Services discussed in the webinar include recording funeral presentations for families, leading processions outside the deceased's home, leaving food on the family's doorstep, creating memory trees, and live-streaming funeral and graveside services. Attendees said they wanted more seminars, either monthly or at least a few times a year.
Alum Colby Voigt, funeral director at Roberts Family Funeral Home in Forest Lake, Minnesota, says the U of M not only laid the groundwork of his skill set, but has continued to provide resources and a network since his December 2013 graduation. He finds the program’s webinars to connect practitioners during the pandemic particularly helpful.
“It is a valuable resource to have the network of alumni and faculty from the program to have in my back pocket to reach out to when I am facing a situation I haven't come across before,” Voigt says. “The education I received from the mortuary science program set me up to be prepared for just about anything. I feel more than adequately prepared to handle the challenges I'm faced with now and in the future because of it.”
Another alum, Brett W. McReavy, a funeral director at Washburn-McReavy Funeral Chapels in the Twin Cities, says that during the pandemic his alma mater's leadership "has been on full display.”