Anthropology Ph.D. Teresa “Lilly” White has spent the last couple of months in New York City as a condolence specialist responsible for helping Covid-19 deceased patients’ families in the New York City boroughs through the recovery process. Her story is truly inspirational and we are truly proud of our doctoral graduate and the important work she is doing in the center of the virus pandemic. It was this time a year ago that President Bodnar presented Dr. White with her Ph.D. in Anthropology. Who would have thought a year later that Lilly’s work using anthropological methods to help tragic victims’ families would have been so impactful?
Hi Lilly, thanks so much for taking time to talk with UM Anthropology. We are proud of your work as an important alumnus of our program. You received your Ph.D. in Anthropology in 2019 with a focus on death and, in particular, the notification process from coroner’s offices to the families of deceased individuals. How has that research at the University of Montana prepared you for the work you are now doing in NYC on Covid-19?
Thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak with you about my work. Although nothing can wholly prepare a person for the powerful and emotional work surrounding death during a pandemic, my previous education at MSU-Billings on death, dying, and medical ethics as well as my studies/research at UM in forensic and cultural anthropology and, specifically, death notification interactions have certainly prepared me for this amazing work.
The work you are doing in NYC is amazing. Who do you work for there?
Thank you. I was hired through my business, Bone & Stone Anthrosciences, LLC, as an Independent Contractor/Consultant to go on a three-week deployment for Kenyon International Emergency Services to New York City.
Can you explain your job in NYC, in terms of your role in helping families after the death of a loved one due to the virus?
My role with Kenyon was to assist families by picking up decedents where the city needed our help, which was primarily from residential areas and nursing homes, as city officials were spread thin from attending to deaths in area hospitals. Most often, I would offer my condolences and help family members with contact information and case numbers so they could track their loved ones through disposition or repatriation.
Where are you based in the city and what is the area in which you are responsible?
I stayed with our Kenyon Team at a local hotel, and we worked out of NYC.
Is there danger in your job, in terms of contracting the virus, or is it mostly remote contact (e.g., phone/internet)?
None of my work occurred remotely. Instead, I conducted all work on the death scenes which, consequently, put me in danger of contracting the virus. With that said, all possible precautions were undertaken to ensure I did not contract or spread the virus to others.
When will your job be completed so you can come home to Missoula?
I was deployed for a 3-week period.
When you arrive, will you have to be quarantined at home or elsewhere?
I returned to Missoula on April 24th, and will be quarantined for 2 weeks at our apartment while Stocky and Nub (our Boston Terrier) stay at our home in Bigfork, MT.
Thanks so much for your service to New York and the nation. You are an inspiration to us all, especially those of us with family in New York and vicinity.