Indian Time - A Voice from the Eastern Door

Donaldson Funeral Home continues to hold services amongst pandemic


By Mahlon Smoke

For the past 75 years, Donaldson’s Funeral Home has been serving the families of the North Country and Akwesasne, helping to put their deceased loved ones to rest. Since the pandemic, their services had to change. Following COVID regulations, fewer people are allowed in the building as well as how long families can gather to mourn the deceased; it’s something that the management is prepared to do to protect the families and community from COVID.

On January 1, 2010, the Donaldson Funeral Home saw the retirement of the Donaldson Family and the sale of the corporation was given to long time employee Chad W. Green. He continues to run the funeral home with Akwesasne traditions and families in mind as well as giving “Personal, Yet Professional” funeral services.

Pre-pandemic, Donaldson’s Funeral Home helped at ‘home wakes’ for Akwesasne community members. They also respect traditional protocols of taking care of the dead, such as dressing their deceased, staying with the deceased person and holding wakes in the homes of family, friends or relatives.

“There are many firms that wouldn’t do something like that,” said Green in regard to what makes the Donaldson Funeral Home different from other funeral homes.

Green would also say Akwesasne traditional funerals have some customs that Green usually doesn’t see in other non-native funeral proceedings - he is honored to be trusted by Akwesasne families, pre- and post-pandemic.

Things had to change in how to conduct funeral proceedings; with limited occupancy only a certain number of people can enter the funeral home at any given time. There are many families who by-pass services due to Covid-19 travel restrictions, especially with family members who can’t travel from across the country or other parts of the world to attend services. Green said one of the bigger changes to holding proceedings is scheduling, especially in regard to how long families need to mourn while also keeping in line with COVID restrictions. Usually one family will max out ‘limited occupancy’ and allowing only one family in the funeral home at one time.

“Our facility can have two visitations at a time, but now (because of COVID), we can’t do that,” Green said.

He mentioned never in his entire career he would have to plan for what services would happen next week. For lack of a better term, they’re booked all the time, and some families are forced to delay the funerals because of it. Because of this scheduling change, the grief cycle, while different for many people, have had to adjust and may give families less time to mourn than needed.

Green believes that this might become a long-term effect of COVID. Grief is a process along with the funeral, but because of COVID it seems that a lot of the process have to be time-sensitive and this does not allow for some families to grieve properly.

When a person died because of COVID or was exposed to it - the process for funeral homes changed dramatically. In Canada, services are not to be held if the death was COVID related. The United States does not have that restriction. Because of this, Donaldson Funeral home has had to prepare a body that had been exposed to COVID with extra precaution, making sure the virus does not infect staff members. One of these precautions is letting the body rest as the disinfectants work to rid the body of the virus, which needs a living host in order to survive.

Despite this, some people are still afraid to hold wakes and funerals, due to the fear of COVID. Green agrees this is scary and understands why so many would prefer to hold off on attending or having wakes altogether. While many things have to adjust and change due to the pandemic, the Donaldson Funeral Home are doing what they can to care for the deceased and let families grieve as best they can before letting the next funeral proceed. Green is grateful for the families that trust him and the Funeral Home to continue doing what they can for them and their deceased loved ones. He assures that services will continue among the changes and hopes that the Akwesasne Community will continue to put their trust in him and Donaldson’s Funeral Home itself.


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