Mt. Hood funeral services program holds exercise

Coffins, urns, funeral arrangements, oh my!

There may be cookies and refreshments, but this isn’t your average volunteer experience.

For 17 years, Mt. Hood Community College has held a mock funeral arrangements exercise on campus as a way for second-year Funeral Service Education students to gain experience in making arrangements with families.

by: OUTLOOK PHOTO: JIM CLARK - Volunteer Shadow Fann, left, talks with Davis LaMuerta, a second-year student in the Mt. Hood Community College Funeral Service Education program, during the annual Funeral Arrangements Exercise.

While some curious onlookers were spooked by the exercise and quickly retreated from the college’s Town and Gown Room on Tuesday, Feb. 19, just as many were intrigued enough to participate.

Volunteers from the campus and community posed as bereaved family members, discussing with students funeral service options, urn and casket selections and other topics such as environmentally friendly “green” burials (picture old-school burials before people were embalmed, with caskets made out of wicker and no grave liners).

“Some people will visibly back off and think you’re weird because you decided to do this work,” said Casandra Hardman, a second-year funeral student. “Personally, I think of (funeral services) as honorable work. It’s something not many people want to do and takes a lot of inner strength because you’re dealing with other people’s grief most of the time.”

Nine years ago, Hardman’s experience with her great-grandfather’s funeral planning in Idaho inspired her to pursue funeral services, and today, the 23-year-old is training in embalming and funeral directing to become a crematory operator.

“People will say, ‘Oh, you like to work on dead people,’” Hardman said. “No, I like to work with the living and help the living. They are the ones who have to continue on. You help them to facilitate their grief and moving-on process.”

Instructor Terri Canfield said the exercise not only prepares students to interact with grieving families, it also offers volunteers an opportunity to think about arrangements in a setting that isn’t emotional.

She likened funeral planning to car maintenance — the more you plan ahead, the less likely you’ll be caught off guard.

“The experience helps to alleviate the stress and anxiety that comes with the real death of a loved one,” Canfield said.

While some volunteers chose to make preparations for a loved one, some made their own funeral arrangements.

“Now I have a plan,” said Shadow Fann, a volunteer who created her own arrangements with student Davis La Muerta. “It helps you to accept death.”

Mt. Hood’s Funeral Service Education program is the only one of its kind in Oregon and one of three in the Pacific Northwest. Students often pursue careers in embalming, crematory operations, funeral direction and management.

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