"Tsunami of Bodies": Covid in the Funeral Profession

By: Sarah Reid
Friday, April 8, 2022

"Tsunami of Bodies": Covid in the Funeral Profession

Author’s note: since writing this, I contracted Covid as so many in Ontario have in late March/April 2022. I know first-hand that we are not leaving Covid behind but learning to live it.

We had no idea what was coming in 2019. What came, “Covid-19,” was ironically named from my perspective. It wasn’t until March 2020 that I understood a nightmare was coming. In a webinar, we in the Ontario funeral profession were warned by the Bereavement Authority of Ontario to be ready for a tsunami of bodies. “Tsunami” conjured up for me the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami and its helter-skelter destruction as depicted by the movie “The Impossible.”  https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Impossible_(2012_film)

Bodies pushed by tidal waves to the doors of the James Reid Funeral Home was my nightmare in March 2020. As an Assistant Manager at our family funeral home, I felt responsible to house and care for this tsunami of bodies that was coming to us, to protect our staff from this disease, and to treat the tsunami of devastated families with patience, compassion and legal compliance. I felt a new kind of scared.  

It is now April 2022. Our Kingston-world never experienced this “tsunami of bodies.” My early fear gave way to studiousness as I put my head down and did what needed to be done. Our staff did too, adjusting, coping, carrying on. I attended many more webinars, spent hours on the phone with Public Health, talked through all this with our Management Team and staff, adjusted our operating practices and issued new policies, and well, got by.

Now that our world and its Covid restrictions are thawing, my heart is also thawing. Personally, I’ve been through some of the biggest stressors in life these past two-years. As I get to gather at church, visit faraway places, and sit at cafes again, I feel the pain of these things in these safe places. Suddenly, away from the next email about vaccine-status, I remember something I went through. I feel it deeply, the moment cutting away from the present to an experience I submerged.

As a Bereavement Support Provider, I encouraged grieving as a necessary process. With so much unknown to respond to daily, my grief has largely been on hold.

My brain is holding back, saying Covid wasn’t really that bad. Unlike all-out wars, in 2020 and 2021 in Ontario we were not afraid of violent death as we’re seeing it in Ukraine. Unlike the starvation of societies such as Yemen, Afghanistan, and parts of Ukraine are going through, how can I say that fuzzy raspberries in the produce aisle, inability to gather with large groups, and inflation less than 50% are life-threatening?

I’m just going to have a little talk with my brain.

The secret, brain, is that you’re right that Covid didn’t create for you a tsunami of bodies that you had responsibility for. (Yes, I know it did in NYC and Italy). The other secret is that it created a maze-like series of walls that prevented you, brain, from working with all the other elements that are necessary to live a life. If a human life is a story, it is told through setting, characters, atmosphere, plot and theme. To get at the awfulness of Covid, you have to validate, brain, the losses of these elements of fiction and life:

  • Shrunken settings.
  • Only main characters in our space, not enough comic relief from supporting actors.
  • A grey atmosphere of impatience, worry, and caution.
  • Plots including
    • children falling behind and alone in virtual school
    • teenagers stuck in the country while parents worked
    • that man who dropped his sick wife off at the ER never to see her again 
    • those intimate partners and children abused while everyone was home for months 
    • those millions following rabbit holes into Internet worlds rather than connecting with humans in the real world.
    • And your own plot too, don’t forget.

Yeah, the awfulness of Covid is here for each of us to pick through as its waves retreat and leave flotsam and jetsam on our shores to find the themes. The themes? That will take a lot more processing, more grieving. 

May more safe places open up to us where we can feel the feelings we held back. We in the funeral profession are well-positioned to promote the powerful tool of grief. It’s not only the bodies of the deceased that we need to care for. We need to care for the bodies of the living, especially if they are our bodies, and help them to breathe again after the tsunami of stress.

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