Although the funeral business is a trying one in the best of situations, the Riekens are dealing with a whole new level of commitment to their field as they manage the COVID-19 complications. Marty and Kristy Rieken own and operate 3 funeral homes in Southwest Iowa in Griswold, Shenandoah, and Oakland. Marty has been very active on the state level in his profession so when COVID-19 hit, he and his colleagues were already pondering how to address regulations and emotions tied to their trade.
With 4 memorial services already postponed to a later date and visitations without family present, he was already knee-deep in managing the COVID difficulties. Then the call came that a local 2 ½ year old had passed away. As a family of 7 themselves, the Riekens were struck by the need to make sure this would be handled delicately.
The Riekens’ general philosophy towards any death is to work with the family in a way that’s meaningful for their loved one, work within their means, and best accommodate requests in order to honor the deceased. The duo had already made many changes to their usual procedures by keeping arrangements to 10 or less people, having open visitations with no family, doing more of the preliminary pieces via phone and email, and doing live streaming of the graveside services to name a few. Kristy mentioned it had been quite a learning curve to all of it. Yet, this one was different.
Marty and Kristy listened carefully to the family and after further discussion, Marty suggested they do a drive-thru visitation. It was agreed upon. A tent was set up for the family and Kristy put out a call for red hearts as they had always used a hashtag involving hearts as the child was born with a heart defect. Paper heart chains flooded in as did red ribbons on poles.
The funeral was done in the family’s own horse arena. Friends and family were asked to stay in their cars and the service was live-streamed from the middle of the arena with the family on hay bales and the child at rest on a horse-drawn wagon, her own horse at attention nearby. Microphones were used so people could roll windows down and hear or simply watch the live stream on their phones from the car. It was a very windy day and sound was an issue as was the sun for showing the video footage, but having closure and providing a meaningful send off for the toddler was the goal for so many people who had followed and been a part of her journey.
As the Riekens will tell you, COVID-19 has brought additional challenges to an already tough profession. Simple things like wiping down in between each person visiting or having smaller group gatherings is hard. Waiting to do a memorial service leaves family and friends in limbo stretching the grieving process. Perhaps though, the largest factor is human contact. Grieving involves holding hands, wiping tears, and hugging loved ones, none of which is allowed in a pandemic.
So as the complications mount, the Riekens say they never forget that families entrust them in their darkest hour. They vow to continue thinking outside the box and providing closure in a time where uncertainty is vast and human compassion is necessary.
Thank you, Marty and Kristy, for being servants to our community and to the greater good of Pottawattamie County.