My name is Nicole Hartman. I have an Associates in Science and Biology, from Atlanta K Community College, and I'm currently working on my associates in Applied Science at Mercer County Community College. For funeral service, I am achieving a license and a certificate to be a mortician.
Do you remember the beginning of COVID. And what was it like,
I definitely remember the beginning of COVID, 19 and 2020. And what it was like to be a student at that time. Towards the beginning, when the pandemic first started to surface, and you know, we all collectively started to address it as a heavy problem. I was working full time as an essential worker. And at the time, I was still working on achieving my Associates in Science, in biology at my local community college, but I had just been accepted into my internship at a local funeral home near me. So I left my essential worker job. And I was solely focused on school and also on my internship, being a funeral service worker, or even a funeral service student at that time was this very strange gray area. And what I mean by that is, there was so much information, but in the same breath, there was very little information, our guidelines and our rules, and our regulations, especially in the death industry have been in place for years. They change every now and then. But for the most part, there's consistent PPE involved, there's consistent rules and regulations on keeping things sanitary and keeping things clean. And any pathogens that have the ability to be passed, have been under control for the most part, but when COVID-19 came on the scene, it threw everyone for a loop. The foreign director that I do work under, it was very difficult for not only someone like me, who was working as an intern. But seeing people who have been in the funeral service industry for years and try to navigate such a strange and convoluted time, there was an excess of information. But in the same breath, there was so little information. The CDC guidelines were ever changing. There was constantly new information being brought up. There was information being redacted. Nobody really knew what was going on. And there was a lot of stress and just overall confusion among all of us. Being a student at that time, was relatively difficult. And especially being a student in such a heavy science and very rich in biology major was relatively difficult. I learned a lot of hands on, I'm constantly in and out of labs, I'm constantly doing dissections and even our lecturers had to change the way that the curriculum was set up. It was a very strange and just confusing time for all of us. I definitely can say that it added a lot more stress, going for any type of education in the funeral service industry is stressful nonetheless. But COVID-19 came up and added just that much more stress of the matter do we do we stop classes altogether? Do we stop labs do it was very much everything was up in the air everything was very chaotic. And it was just overall a very difficult and stressful time. The constant ebb and flow of information coming in and information going out and everyone being afraid and making decisions based on the fact that they were afraid they were very fear based. It was a really trying
time as going virtual due to COVID impacted your education
going virtual has absolutely affected my experience as a student. There was a point in time after not long after the mask mandate came into effect that a lot of them My labs altogether had ceased and they had stopped, there was a lot of questions of when are we going to be able to get back into the lab, when am I going to be able to focus on my education at a hands on distance, it was really confusing. And for the most part, it felt like everything had came to a screeching halt, overnight almost. For a long time, I felt like it was ultimately going to stop it was going to get bad enough to the point where none of us were going to be allowed in the lab anymore. Because there was just so much that we didn't know. And the information that we did know was very scary. So when my labs did cease all together, it was difficult, because it felt like that part of my education, that pivotal part of being a student, in the funeral industry just came to a screeching halt. There's only so much that you can learn about the death industry from a textbook or from a lecture, or from quizzes and exams, it's very hands on, it's very something that you want to apply the knowledge that you've learned in the lecture in the lab. That way, it has the ability to click in your head, it's right in front of you, you're dealing with a hands on, and it becomes a lot easier to remember you have that fulfillment, and that enrichment of being able to see in front of you, what you're actually learning and what you're reading about and listening to your professor speak about in lectures. And for that to have stopped. It almost felt like I was putting my education on hold. And someone else was telling me that I had to put my education on hold because we could not get into the lab, it was really frustrating, it was really difficult to deal with, because I felt like I had this giant void in my education where there's only so much that I can learn in a lecture and not apply it in a lab. The labs did try to go virtual. But it is nowhere near the same capacity as doing something yourself and working with your hands yourself, it did not have the same effect. Watching someone else do it over a webcam or on a zoom, it was very difficult to adhere to the new curriculum. And everyone knew not only my fellow students, but my professors, everybody knew they had this feeling that it wasn't going to last long. Because there was only so much that you can do virtually. You want to be able to get hands on and up close and very personal. And be able to apply the information that you've taken from your lectures, being virtual over a zoom just really wasn't cutting it. It was really difficult. And it was very frustrating for all of us, not just for me as a student. But I would assume my professors were extremely frustrated because they went to become an educator to teach kids in the class face to face and be able to watch and observe how they apply the knowledge that they've learned in lecture. And it was it was very frustrating for all of us. And virtual is not something that I It has its place and it has its setting. In regards to the funeral service and death industry it is when it comes to learning it and being a student and an intern of it. I don't think that it has any real value it does for a little while. But ultimately, that's something that you want to learn in person and do it yourself with your own hands. Instead of watching someone else do it and explain it to you. You want to be able to see it for yourself face to face in person to be able to know that you've learned and applied the knowledge that you've taken in lectures to the lab and you're confident in your own capability of doing it yourself. Do you feel that you've missed out on aspects of your college experience due to COVID As far as my college is experience, I do kind of feel a little jaded when the term COVID-19 gets thrown around, because I've always wanted to enter the funeral session at about and I always have. And once I got past my prerequisite, you know, kind of refresher courses. And I did get into the lab, I was very eager, and I wanted to learn and I wanted to, you know, apply everything that I had been studying. And I wanted to do it myself, I was very eager to just get in and roll my sleeves up and just go stedfast as quick as I could to the labs. So I could, you know, experience all these things I had read and I had learned about myself. So when it came to being virtual, and having that whole thing changed. It was a it was disappointing, it was very disappointing. Considering that I was so eager, and so happy to be in the lab, as opposed to being in a lecture. It was disappointing. When, you know, everyone started to go virtual, it was very much a learning curve for all of us, and not even just my fellow students, but for my professors as well, because there's only so many ways that you can teach effectively, a dissection over a zoom. It's very difficult, and it was just awkward. It was very awkward. But in a way, yeah, I do feel like it took away from my college experience. Because like, as I said, I was very much looking forward to that time in the lab, and to have to spend that time where I should have been in a lab for two hours or, or however long that allotted period of time was to have to sit in front of my computer and, and not be able to do it for myself. It was very frustrating. And it was very disappointing, to say the least
in terms of internships in the job search post grad. Are you noticing more remote positions being offered? And how
do you feel about that, in terms of internships, and, and job searches, even after COVID Now, it's definitely changed. I know that there was a period of time where my internship had kind of been put on pause altogether, because everyone else in the death industry was trying to figure out how to navigate the choppy waters of, of COVID-19. Funeral Services were starting to be live streamed and consultations for families that were trying to bury their decisions, were starting to be conducted over the phone and also over zoom. And it was very strange. It was all very new. Everyone was trying to just kind of figure out as they went, kind of learn as you go thing. Which in this line of work was relatively difficult because funerals aren't for the decedent more so they are for the family of the deceased. And it's very much a job that's based on compassion and empathy. You want to make this experience as the family of three their loved one, you want to make it just that much easier. And you want to come at it with compassion and understanding and doing those certain things. Where you, you feel like you can't put a personal touch, you can't really convey your empathy and your compassion to its fullest ability over a zoom, or over a phone call. You're very much you want to be there with that person and work with them closely as hands on as you can. And it didn't have the same effect over zoom or over virtual funeral services that were live streamed. I know that my funeral home personally, we never had to have one of those. But there was rules and there was regulations on how many gathers we could have at a funeral or at a viewing or at a service cremations also Though did go up, they started to become a lot more frequent, because overall, people were just fearful and afraid. They didn't want to go through all of the hoops, so to speak of, of having a traditional burial, which was understandable. But in that same breath, our workers at our crematory, were working day in and day out, all of us were very tired. We were very exhausted. And it was just really difficult. As far as the positions being offered, now, I know that if I wasn't already in this line of work, I would be really leery to approach it now. At peak COVID, forget it. But since I was there, in a sense, I was kind of the back end of the frontline. We were you know, the last step, if someone had passed from COVID-19. If I wasn't already in this industry, I would have said absolutely not. Because it was very tiring, it was very stressful. And it was a lot to deal with emotionally. Because you had these people who were coming in and had lost a family member or a loved one, due to an illness, and a virus that they couldn't really understand. Nobody really knew what it was. And the information was very hit and miss. And it was difficult to watch families go through that. Because I do my job with compassion. And with empathy, it was very difficult. And it was really stressful for not only me being an intern, but just being around people that you're working in, you're working with day in and day out, to see that stress weigh heavy on them, was also difficult. And as far as especially finances went during that time, I know that FEMA did offer assistance for post death care to people who had passed due to complications of COVID 19. But also that information wasn't readily available to everybody. It was available to us. But it wasn't readily available to the general public. And a lot of people felt that they needed to take the cheaper option, or they needed to pick a cremation over a traditional burial. Because it was cheaper, and it was very stressful and hectic and last minute and they it needed to be done right then and there. It was strange to for for them as just as much as it was for us. Um, there was constantly CDC post mortem guidelines being changed. As I stated before, the use of PPE is very prevalent in this line of work. You have to go in a print gloved splash, you know, double masks splashguard. There's a very extensive line of PPE that you have to follow. So as I stated before, if I wasn't already in this line of work, seeing how COVID-19 has changed this industry, I probably would not if I was just looking for a job or if I was on the market. I don't think I would opt to do this job. It has changed and it's changed a lot. And over the next couple years, I think we're all going to be very eager to hire people who have the correct requirements and qualifications and certifications. Because after going through this, I don't think that a lot of people who did have hopes of going into the death care industry are going to want to continue that I can only hope so that they hold that same passion and that motivation to continue forward and want to offer families of The president's the best that they can, and the best that they can completely humanly possible provide. But it's, it has changed a lot. And it was stressful. We were kind of the last thought. Because once someone passes away, you're getting calls from nursing homes and hospitals and families and if someone was coming in with possible COVID 19 exposure or died because of COVID 19 complications, it threw everyone for a loop. And it was very much very, is very scary. It's very confusing, especially because there was so much information out there, some of it, misinformation. Some of it information that was being interpreted in certain ways, is very difficult. And I think it definitely had an effect on you know, prospective jobs in this industry.