Jeff Christiansen spends his working days dealing with people who are experiencing one of the worst times of their life.
As vice-president of operations at Speers Funeral and Cremation Services, countless families have come to him during those difficult times.
Now, everything is different.
In addition to the tremendous weight on people who have lost a loved one, COVID-19 complicates everything.
“Over the last month and a half to two months, this has been the period since March where we’ve seen the greatest impact of the disease in terms of people coming into our care having died because of COVID,” Christiansen said.
In December — the deadliest month in the province during the pandemic to date — half of the services Speers handled involved people who had died from COVID-19. He estimates that nearly 40 of the funerals they performed were for people who died from the virus.
What’s more, staff have to treat every body as though that person had COVID-19, which requires different procedures and use of personal protective equipment.
The spike in deaths from COVID-19 has spurred the province into action too. In late December, the Saskatchewan Coroners Service obtained two refrigerated units to be used as temporary holding facilities in the event more morgue space is needed.
In the early months of the pandemic, Christiansen said people held off on planning memorials, hoping the pandemic would subside in a couple of months. Now that it’s more clear COVID won’t disappear anytime soon, people are deciding to go through with smaller services, he said.
The current public health orders say a maximum of 30 people can attend in-person memorial services in Saskatchewan.
Despite people’s best intentions, Christiansen said it’s hard for people to be perfect during such a hard time.
“One of the things we find is that it’s hard for people not to visit with each other if we allow them to gather, even if they’re distant. As you watch people, that distance [between them] gets smaller and smaller and smaller as they talk,” he said.
“Our natural impulse as human beings is, when I see a friend whose mom or dad has died, I want to reach out and shake their hand, I probably want to hold them in a warm embrace — and that’s pretty hard to resist.”
When people arrive at Speers and fill out some COVID safety forms, they are seated immediately, in an effort to make sure people observe physical distancing. In general, people have been amenable to the changes, Christiansen said.
Christiansen said he and his staff work hard to create an environment where it’s easy and natural for people to follow the COVID-19 protocols while mourning their loved ones.
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