By Jason Meidl, funeral director at Creston Valley Funeral Services
In November, I had the privilege to be a part of the PARTY ((Prevent Alcohol and Risk-Related Trauma in Youth) Program at our local high school. If you haven’t heard of this program, it’s all about prevention and awareness. It’s about learning through vivid and emotional experiences. It’s about learning from real people through their very real experiences. PARTY takes young people through the path of a trauma patient as they are rushed through the trauma room doors, into surgery, rehab and, if lucky enough, recovery. PARTY is about experiencing what happens when young people make a decision that changes their life forever. I had the opportunity to speak to the students as the “last responder”, a term that seemed to really stick with them. Out of this conversation with multiple groups of students, a lot of good questions came out which I wanted to share this week.
“What is a last responder?”
The term last responder really came out during the pandemic as the funeral profession was facing an unprecedented crisis.
“A last responder has the ability to muster the courage to squelch their own fears and anxieties about the pandemic to support the families they serve. They are unsung heroes that have emerged during the worldwide crisis working in conditions of silence, no machines buzzing, no one talking… just being with another human being in silence. Similar to first responders and frontline workers, they work 24/7, risk their health, quarantine from their families and endure unimaginable circumstances.” – Rachel Kodanz
Although the term last responder has come out of the pandemic, I think it has always applied to what we do as a profession. When I explained to the students this idea of being a last responder in the context of the PARTY program, it was explained as when I arrive at a scene, I am not there to save your life or rescue you, that’s what our first responders do. I am there because you have died. My primary role at that moment is to physically take care of your body, and then my role is going to shift into an emotional role as I take care of your families left behind. In this, we as funeral professionals are truly the last responder.
“Is there a difference when a young person dies as opposed to an elderly person?”
This is a question I got more than once and, to be honest, one that I believe really hit home for a lot of the students. I have always said that a death is a loss no matter the age or who they are. Dealing with death is never easy. The difference I have found is that when a child or a youth dies, it can have a tremendous effect on the parents. As a parent, I find myself looking towards my future, and in every scenario, I think of my kids there with me. A good portion of my future milestones include or are directly related to my daughters. Seeing them graduate, walking them down the aisle, holding my grandchildren, retiring and having family dinners with my girls, just to name a few. When a parent loses a child, especially when they are in their youth, we lose a big part of our future. We lose all those life events that won’t happen now. As I spoke to the students and explained this, I saw a lot of eyes peeking out over masks showing understanding in what I was saying. Even those students who had seemed to be resistant to this whole PARTY program had nothing to say as they took it all in.