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As COVID deaths hit another record, MN funeral directors ask for compassion

The rise in COVID-19 deaths and the impact of the pandemic on the grieving process is leading to layers of loss for families and communities.

As Minnesota broke yet another daily and weekly record for COVID-19 deaths on Wednesday, funeral directors in the state hope that people focus on the people behind the stats.

"We sit with those families that COVID has touched and has taken their loved one away," said Kelly Kelly, a mortician in Rochester and president of the Minnesota Funeral Director's Association. "That person was a very intricate part of that family,"

Kelly says, instead of trying to comprehend a record 56 COVID-19 deaths in one day, it's more important to think about how families that have lost loved ones due to COVID-19 might need more help navigating layers of isolation and grief.

"Personally, I've had a handful of families who might not have been able to physically see mom or dad since February and now the death has occurred," Kelly said. "So they've never really, physically been able to be in their room. They weren't there when their loved one died, and that's I think been the toughest on the families."

And then, as anyone who has lost a loved one during the pandemic can attest, that isolation can be compounded during the funeral and memorial process.

"It's amazing how a community can help someone heal and right now we're not seeing that," Kelly said. "Even when we're at 50% capacity, people just aren't coming because of being afraid, and rightfully so, but it has been very difficult."

Difficult, not just for families, but for the communities and funeral directors themselves, especially as the greatest impact lately, seems to be in greater Minnesota.

"It is a challenge in the smaller communities where there may be one or two funeral directors," Kelly said. "They run the risk of potentially being exposed, testing positive. We've talked within our own staff, if one of us were to test positive, the likelihood of the entire staff having to quarantine, with us not being here to help the community.

"In our area, we've reached out to other funeral homes," Kelly said. "We've had conversations that, you know, we're all willing to help out each other. It's not about X,Y,Z funeral home right now. We're all in this together."

And Kelly says she hopes we can all get back to that way of thinking. She says one added layer of grief for many families, is the tendency of some in the public to downplay COVID-19 deaths, citing percentages and age groups over individuals.

"It's not their mother. It's not their father. That seems to be that attitude," Kelly said. "You certainly hope it doesn't affect somebody that they love."

For those experiencing grief associated with the loss of a loved one, or the pandemic in general, there are several resources available for both adults and children. Here are a few:

Children's Grief Connection: www.childrensgriefconnection.com

Brighter Days Grief Center: www.brighterdaysgriefcenter.org/

Fairview Youth Grief Services: https://www.fairview.org/our-community-commitment/youth-grief-services

BeliEve Foundation: thebelievefoundation.org

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