When Larry Jensen passed away unexpectedly in May, his family wanted to honor him in a way that fit him and who he was.

“We asked ourselves how we could make it more about him,” said his son, Matthew Jensen, owner of La Ferme in Alexandria.

Matthew said that the family also wanted to make sure that those who lived in other states could attend, so his dad’s celebration of life took place nearly a month after he passed away. Larry died May 24 and his celebration was held June 22.

Larry Jensen, 73, lived in Starbuck, owned the Minnewaska Bait and Tackle in Starbuck with his wife, Diane, and would be on Lake Minnewaska fishing whenever he had the chance, said his son.

“Starbuck was his life,” said Matthew. “We wanted what we thought he would want and we came to the conclusion to have his celebration of life at the city park in Starbuck. Our hope and goal was to have as many people show up by boat as possible.”

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Matthew further explained that his father’s celebration of life was casual. People were encouraged to bring their own lawn chair as the service was held outside on the lawn. They were even asked to dress casually, even if that meant showing up wearing a life vest and fishing hat with lures dangling from it. That didn’t happen, he said, but noted it would have been great if they did.

“The setting, the lake backdrop, it was awesome,” said Matthew. “Everyone thought it was great.”

He noted that even the funeral home people were asked to dress casually as he said his dad wouldn’t have wanted suits and the whole formality of a traditional funeral.

And they did.

Unique services

Curt Lind, Peter Lind and Paul Diedrich, from Lind Family Funeral and Cremation Services, all showed up in golf shorts and company logoed polo shirts. Curt Lind even donned sandals and a company logoed baseball hat. And Peter Lind, who is also now a certified officiant besides being a funeral director, officiated the service

Curt Lind (middle), owner of Lind Family Funeral and Cremation Services of Alexandria and Parkers Prairie, along with his son, Peter Lind (right), a certified officiant and funeral director, and Paul Diedrich, one of their associates, wore casual clothing while working a celebration of life service at the request of the deceased's family. (Contributed photo)
Curt Lind (middle), owner of Lind Family Funeral and Cremation Services of Alexandria and Parkers Prairie, along with his son, Peter Lind (right), a certified officiant and funeral director, and Paul Diedrich, one of their associates, wore casual clothing while working a celebration of life service at the request of the deceased's family. (Contributed photo)

“It was one of the more unique services we’ve had and is definitely a product of the ‘new’ COVID-19 funerals we are seeing today,” said Curt Lind, who with his wife, Barb, owns the funeral home with locations in Alexandria and Parkers Prairie.

When COVID-19 hit and the governor’s mandates were put in place, funeral homes – among many other types of businesses – were shut down and/or were forced to do business differently.

Funerals for many families were put on hold or if they were held, it was on a much smaller scale. Funeral homes learned to adapt by offering livestreaming to their customers as a way to adhere to the restrictions put in place on the number of people who could gather together in one place.

Grieving process important

Craig Buysse, a funeral director at Anderson Funeral Home in Alexandria, said it is important for families to have closure when a loved one dies. That closure usually comes in the form of a funeral or celebration of life attended by the deceased’s family and friends.

He said although COVID-19 complicated the funeral process, Anderson’s was able to adapt and families were still helped through the grieving process.

Buysse said an instructor when he was a student in mortuary school shared with him that “grief shared is grief diminished” and that he agrees. People who lost family members during COVID-19 were still encouraged to have some type of smaller service right away for immediate family members and then were offered services later after everything was opened up.

Craig Buysse
Craig Buysse

Some families have now chosen to do that. Some are having the traditional style funerals in churches, some are choosing to have graveside services or even services at a park, said Buysse.

“Just being able to honor their loved one is important for families,” he said. “It’s hard, but it is all a part of the grieving process. It’s healthy to grieve with those we love. It helps people heal.”

Positive changes

One of the positives to come out of COVID, according to Lind, is the livestreaming of services.

“One of the biggest changes for us was being able to offer that service to our customers,” he said. “It wasn’t really a thing before, but COVID forced funeral homes to offer it. That is something for us that will stay. People like it.”

Buysse said pre-COVID, Anderson’s recorded their services but never livestreamed. Now, it is a service they continue to provide. He shared how valuable it was for a deceased person's family that lived out of the country. They were able to be a part of the service even though they couldn’t be at the funeral in person.

“Families really appreciate that option,” said Buysse.

Lind also said that the smaller, more intimate services that had to take place because of gathering restrictions were actually welcomed by some families and that some are still happening.

The bottom line, according to Lind, is that families have even more options now and that they get to make the decisions when it comes to honoring their loved ones.

For example, he said if a family prefers for people to wear masks, even though the mandate has been lifted, their wishes are respected. If a family wants to wait a month or two or even longer to hold a funeral, celebration of life or other type of service, Lind said it can happen.

“It is up to them (the family) to make those decisions,” he said, noting that if the family asks for him and his staff to wear shorts, they’ll do it. “Families are still in charge.”