By Tim Kalinowski on June 19, 2021.
Coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, the members of the Alberta Funeral Services Association have chosen a Lethbridge resident to help lead their post-pandemic recovery efforts.
Chris Martin-Jong, general manager and funeral director for Martin Brothers Funeral Chapels, was elected president of the AFSA back in late April, and has had to get right to work as Alberta prepares for potential Stage 3 re-opening later this summer.
“It is kind of looking now like there is light at the end of the tunnel,” says Martin-Jong, speaking about the challenges AFSA members and local grieving families have faced over the last year. “The last year and a bit has been challenging – we went as low as 10 people for funeral services.
“We are currently at 20. Some provinces were down to zero people for funeral services. There were no funerals allowed. We have been advocating for more.
“There are a lot of families, especially in southern Alberta here, ten is not enough people,” he adds. “Some families have more than 10 children. It has been very difficult for them, and for us, trying to navigate this pandemic.”
Many people who lost loved ones in 2020 and early 2021 have put off having funerals until they could fully gather as they wish to say their final goodbyes to their loved ones. Martin-Jong says that’s why it is so important to get funeral chapels back up to full capacity again sooner rather than later.
“We (at Martin Bros.) have already taken phone calls from people who are trying to book services into September now,” says Martin-Jong. “That’s not to say we are fully booked until then, but people are starting to see September and going, ‘Maybe by then we will be completely out of this,’ and people are starting to book some of those times.”
The pandemic also “sidelined” a lot of the important policy discussions the AFSA had been having with the province on changing regulations and other orders of business. It will be Martin-Jong’s task to find a way to restart those conversations to help the funeral industry meet the challenges of the future.
“So we are going to be refocusing on some of those things,” he says, “and the regulatory framework, and looking at some of those things to see changes to the acts and regulations.”
Martin-Jong says he is honoured to be chosen to lead the AFSA for these important discussions and in these challenging times, and says he will draw on his family’s 100 legacy in the Alberta funeral business to give him purpose and context.
“It is an honour to be president,” he states. “I am the fourth person in my family to be president of this association in the last 100 years, and so that’s pretty special to me and my family.”
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