Business

COVID-19, funeral directors, and a viewpoint from one of our colleagues north of the border

I recently came across this article from Toronto Life.  It is excellent . . . you should read it.  I found it heartwarming, compassionate, and sincere — it is about a funeral director and a funeral home trying to give care in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here’s a quote from the article which I thought very appropriate, not only to this time, but could be relative to “normal” times in the funeral business as well.  “It’s a calling for people to do this job. It’s not a Monday to Friday job, and it’s not a job you can go home and shut off. We’re just doing our best to help people and get them through this time.”

The article centers around the Cardinal Funeral Home in metropolitan Toronto and features 4th generation funeral director and Cardinal President, Jimmy Cardinal.  Here’s what Mr. Cardinal says about himself and about the situation his funeral home finds itself in now:

“I’m a fourth-generation funeral director: my great-grandfather founded Cardinal Funeral Home in 1925, and my grandfather and father were both funeral directors, too. . . .I’ve worked in this business pretty much my whole life: in high school, my younger brother, Andrew, and I would work here every summer. We did everything from washing cars to painting fences to parking cars to delivering flowers. . . . 

. . . .Covid-19 has changed our interactions with the living more than the dead. . . .We’ve had a few families who still want a fairly traditional visitation, so we make people wait in their cars and and come inside one by one to greet the family. . . . It’s very awkward.”

Funeral Director Daily take:  I really gravitated to what was said in this article.  A lot of hit home and was very familiar territory to me.  You see, I was also a 4th generation funeral director and a lot of Jimmy Cardinal is in me.

Just as Mr. Cardinal, I was studying something else in college when I decided to enter the mortuary field.  Jimmy says in the article he “decided to follow” in the family footsteps. . . for me it was the untimely death of my father and the realization that somebody had to step in or Mom would have to sell the funeral home.  But, just as Mr. Cardinal, the funeral business was somewhat of a 2nd thought for me.

And, just as Mr. Cardinal has rummaged around in the basement and looked at old funeral home records that bear his great-grandfather’s name and handwriting. . . .I have done the same.  A couple of my prized possessions are legal documents from my great-grandmother, Anna Anderson.  In 1872 as a newly immigrated American from Sweden she signed the property deed for the original family business building with an “X”.  In 1905, 33 years later, she signed the estate documents upon the death of my great-grandfather with her own name in signature.  In addition, from that “X” beginning in America, she parented at least one son that went to college and continued the family business and one son that served in the State Legislature.

To me, those documents, and that history, proclaim the essence of the American dream. . .the ability through hard work to earn a living and better yourself in a

Tom Anderson
Funeral Director Daily

new country.  I’m sure that Jimmy Cardinal, whom I’ve never met or talked to, has some of those same feelings about his family in Canada.

Another thing Mr. Cardinal says in the article relates to our fraternity as funeral directors.  He states, “Our biggest challenge is trying to figure out the best way to serve our families”.  While, he says that statement in relation to the COVID-19 situation of today, it certainly is true of funeral directors on the job every single day.

I would guess that Mr. Cardinal and I, separated by countries but working in the same profession have something else in common. . . that is we just want to comfort our clientele as much as possible through our services. . . . that also is the essence of funeral directors.

Mr. Cardinal does also quote something about funeral directors that we all can relate to.  Again, this is quoted in the COVID-19 context, but certainly is meaningful to funeral directors every day that they are on the job. . . .“This experience has been tough on our funeral directors. They come to work every day, putting their lives at risk to help people during their worst moments, whether it’s a pandemic or not. And now they’re not able to help the families as well as they have. A couple of them have come to me and said they’ve had to take a moment to go to a room and cry because of the sad stories they’ve been hearing. “

After I read this article, I thought about all of the first responders and health care workers who have been singled out for their devotion to their work and to society during this pandemic. . . . . this article helped me to understand and appreciate that funeral directors should not be left out of that group.

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