What COVID has done to the ritual of saying goodbye.

Every year, Merriam-Webster comes out with the word of the year. This year, conversely, there would be a competition for words we never want to hear again. Words such as Covid, pandemic, social distancing, quarantine, unprecedented, and new normal have become words that are inscribed in our brains. These are words that have new meaning and made a significant impact on life as we knew it. Here’s a word that most do not know: ubiquitous, which means existing everywhere, especially at the same time. And for us today, that would be uncertainty. 

There are so many unanswered questions today and for tomorrow. Funeral service is NO exception. I get comments on a very regular basis, “How has Covid affected what you do?”, “There’s no way I could do what you do!” or “I feel so bad for you, how do you do your job with Covid?”. In the beginning, I shrugged it off as I always have. What we do is not a job; it’s a way of life. I have always felt in my heart that what we do is critical and sets the foundation for healing following the loss of a loved one. I have endured great loss of my parents and my brother, both of whom I had the privilege of working with side by side in the funeral industry. I do know what we do as funeral directors are critical for us to heal! I feel it every single day as I walk with mourners in their grief journey. 

Covid has me feeling handcuffed and downhearted. You see, we don’t have the tools we usually do to help a family begin their journey of acceptance and grief. 

When you sit across from a family who is heartbroken because they can’t celebrate their young daughters life because of restrictions for public gatherings, or an elderly mother who cannot attend her daughter’s service out of fear she may contract the virus, or how a family is disappointed the attendance of their son’s service was minimal because of Covid, you feel powerless and disenfranchised. 

Funerals, visitations, viewings, and burials are the foundation of our emotional wellbeing, or at least if we have them. We only get one opportunity to celebrate a life with a funeral. These rituals and services cannot be replaced, no exception. But trust me when I say, we are creative, innovative, and prolific in creating a meaning, healing, and memorable experience during these unprecedented times. We have a simple motto when it comes to funerals: Let’s not focus on what we cannot do with Covid, let’s focus on what we can do and create an extraordinary service. And that’s exactly what we have done. Some of our most memorable and invigorating services have occurred during these past several months. 

In all fairness, Covid has brought some changes that will stay with us. I’m guessing many like me had never heard of Zoom before, but we sure do now. As a society, we have found unique ways to communicate during our stay at home sheltering. That has been evident in making funeral arrangements too. We have zoomed, Facetimed, sat outside a screen door, and met with people who stayed in their car! It’s been an amazing test of fortitude, as well as having to be resourceful. The other powerful element that covid has brought to the forefront is our own mortality. Everyone has given thought to contracting the virus. What would the effects be on you? For those older and with pre-existing conditions, it has brought real fear to them. It has brought a genuine panic that they could realistically die from it. 

This legitimate concern has created a surge in pre-arranging their services. As a result, we are hosting a pre-arranging seminar on Thursday, September 24th. Our first program will be at 10 am at our Baldwin Chapel and again at 6 pm at our Hudson Chapel. We will have Jennifer O’Neill, an Elder Law specialist discuss living wills, probate, power-of-attorneys, and creating an estate trust. We will also discuss important aspects of applying for Medical Assistance (Medicaid). As we live longer, we are outlasting our assets to pay for our wellbeing. Medical Assistance plays a critical role in our care for an increasing number of our elderly population.

A relevant term to understand is Spend Down eligibility. Medicaid has a five-year look-back period when applying for aid. In other words, gifting money to family members during this time is not allowed and will be collected. Funeral trusts are a critical allowance for eligibility. A significant, but not well-known component of the spend-down process, is the ability to use an individual’s money to create funeral trusts for their children and spouses, as well as siblings. This is a legitimate spend down opportunity. This was created by the State of Wisconsin and is highlighted in their Medicaid eligibility handbook. September 24th will be full of free information that will be invaluable. Planning one’s funeral does not have to be overly stressful. Give your family peace and tranquility, knowing you have given them one of the greatest gifts you can—the gift of Grace. 

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