What About the Last Responders?

by | May 12, 2020

*Photo: Kearney Funeral Services Care Centre team members in full PPE.

There’s an outbreak of COVID-19 and no visitors are allowed in the care home where my mom lives. A recent update from the care-home manager included a link to a local newspaper article with the headline, “Community association donates 450 COVID care packs to front-line workers.”

Mom’s care home and the local hospital were the recipients of these love bundles, which included Girl Guide cookies, hand creams, water bottles, savoury treats, specialty coffee, chocolates and more. Gestures like this and the 7 PM cheer convey our individual and collective gratitude to the essential workers and first responders. These are the people who care for our sick and dying in hospitals and care homes and those who make it possible for us to buy groceries and get the medicine and gas we need.

Why are we so slow and reluctant to celebrate those who care for our dead?

Until just weeks ago, the hard work, dedication and sacrifice of the bereavement industry, or death trade as it’s sometimes called, wasn’t even listed as an essential service. Despite this recent shift in designation, I’ve heard no acknowledgement nor praise for the essential workers like the ones named by our provincial government. This includes coroners and workers performing mortuary services such as: funeral homes, crematoriums, cemeteries and workers supporting the appropriate handling, identification, storage, transportation, and certification of human remains.

Is it our historic disdain for the business of deathcare that perpetuates this disregard for last responders? Or is it our relationship to death and the denial of our own mortality that keeps us distant or detached?

The pandemic care chain does not end in our hospitals. 

Do we give any thought at all to what happens to our person after they die? What do we even know about what happens after we leave our dead in the hospital or care home? We’ve shut out from our hearts and minds the emotional and physical well-being of the workers—the many hands and hearts that transport, bathe, dress, casket, burn, bury and carry out the necessary vital-statistics paperwork to count and care for our dead.  

A recent news story recounted how personal protective equipment destined for funeral-home workers was diverted to healthcare. Another news item reports on a local cemetery needing a new public education campaign to remind oblivious recreational users to respect the mourners gathered to honour, remember and lay to rest their dead.

It’s time to honour our last responders.

When reflecting on the care packages received by staff, the manager of mom’s care home was quoted as saying, “It makes us all feel so much better knowing that we are not in this fight alone.” I wonder what difference it would make to our many funeral, cemetery, crematorium and community deathcare workers if they were honoured by similar community support.

Chaos would ensue without these essential deathcare workers. A robust, responsible continuum of care depends on the health and safety of our last responders. Let’s give them the respect, appreciation and applause they deserve.

Our thanks to Ngaio Davis, Managing Director KORU Cremation | Burial | Ceremony for igniting our thoughts on this topic.  

What about you? 

What does the work of last responders mean to you?

Why are we so slow and reluctant to celebrate those who care for our dead?
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The pandemic care chain does not end in our hospitals.
(tweet this)

It’s time to honour our last responders.
(tweet this)


  • Thank you Michelle & Reena for an invitation into this potent portal for deep inquiry. Curiosity for our not so distant ancestor’s loss of collaborative care for the dead…turning away from the details and transitioning care into the hands of “providers” has contributed to these care providers being easily projected upon as “others” and subject to a loss of respect, avoidance or acknowledgement. KORU and others are welcoming families into creative and collaborative care in person or at a distance (in these times) Yay, blessings upon all death care tenders for supporting this important part of life.

    • Thanks so much for these words of wisdom and context Penny. It’s a very important piece of this puzzle and helps people understand and hopefully take some responsibility for why things are they way they are and how to collaborate to co-create a new reality. This article will be shared on our social this afternoon and we’d love you to share your comments on any and all platforms as you see fit. We need your voice!

  • Recently in Richmond, VA on the local station WTVR 6 paid recognition to we Funeral Director. See if you can goggle it.

  • Thank you for highlighting the incredible work of last responders. What a thoughtful and timely article. I produce a podcast called Dead Honest (www.deadhonest.com) which celebrates their contribution and the extraordinary humanity they bring to their work: including memorial photographers, death doulas, funeral directors, DVI experts, coroners officers etc. Next season will feature a police diver mortuary technician & forensic fire investigator. They are all people doing a job we hope someone else is doing and we rarely acknowledge. Thank you for highlighting their importance.

    • Your encouragement and cheers warm our hearts Georgina. Thank you for the important work you do to shine light on the important and impactful work done by so many across our many lands. We are cheering you on and would love to contribute if you see a fit.

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