For the past few months, professional funeral services have been available in Hay River, as Jacky Kruger is now a funeral director in training.
She is in an apprenticeship program with McKenna Funeral Home of Yellowknife and taking online courses from Mount Royal University in Calgary.
“I just wanted to make it professional, because people in our community deserve that kind of service,” said Kruger.
Since entering the apprenticeship arrangement, she has helped with several funerals under the name Hay River Funeral Service.
Before that, Kruger was a volunteer helping with funerals in the community, which is common practice throughout the NWT.
As a volunteer, she said she assisted at over 100 funerals.
Kruger said that assistance included everything she is doing now, including washing a body, shaving a body, preparing the remains for cremation, co-ordinating transportation, working with families and helping them with paperwork, and ordering caskets.
“I did everything I do now, but as a volunteer,” she said. “And now what I do is even more professional because I have help now.”
She does not do embalming, but that will be part of her training during her apprenticeship.
Kruger noted she began volunteering to help with funerals about two years ago, following in the footsteps of Al Schofield, who volunteered for many years.
“We were lucky enough to have him for all this time, and then I kind of like little bit by little bit took it on,” she said.
While volunteers would usually help with funerals, sometimes funeral homes elsewhere would provide assistance, even some from Alberta.
“Any funeral home can come here,” said Kruger. “It’s not exclusive.”
She said the community would come together to help with funerals, including the Town of Hay River, which owns a hearse.
Kruger believes she got into helping with funerals after the experience of losing her father, Jack Kruger, almost five years ago.
Her father died in Edmonton and was cremated before being returned to his family.
“And I didn’t realize at that point how much it is important, even if you do cremation, it’s important to a lot of people to actually acknowledge that somebody has passed by a viewing,” she said. “And by not having professional services here, everything is rushed because we don’t know.”
Kruger said she never had an opportunity to grieve for her father.
“And being able to offer it to other people, I kind of developed a passion for this industry,” she said.
The 40-year-old mother of three said it is not always easy directing funerals.
“You get attached to the family,” she noted. “You deal with these families at their most vulnerable time in their life.”
Kruger works as the French language co-ordinator at the Hay River Health and Social Services Authority, but her work with McKenna Funeral Home is completely separate from her full-time job.
She is hoping to have her apprenticeship completed in the next year and a half, and plans to stay in Hay River and with McKenna Funeral Home afterwards.
Janice McKenna, owner of McKenna Funeral Home, said she had been considering offering services in Hay River, but the right person could not be found.
“When Jacky came along, it was awesome because then I could relook at helping the community out with professional funeral directing and she’s the person,” said McKenna. “Jacky and I are the first established service for Hay River.”
Kruger is a perfect fit to help people in the community, said McKenna. “She is awesome. People love her. She’s really a member of the community there.”
Erin Griffiths, the CEO of Hay River Health and Social Services Authority, mentioned the new services from McKenna Funeral Home in an appearance before town council on Feb. 18.
“We are working with them to come up with a partnership that we could possibly do for a trial for one year,” said Griffiths. “The interest that they have in us is obviously we have the morgue.”
The CEO also noted the health centre has a viewing room for families and a small chapel.
“So we are currently working with that company to see if we can come to an agreement for them to utilize our space,” she said.
Griffiths said an agreement is getting closer.