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Three Ways Funeral Homes Fail

Article provided by: Caleb Wilde, CalebWilde.com

As of today I’ve been working for 18 days straight.  Full days.  And my next official day off is September 1st, when my wife and I will celebrate our 10th anniversary.

Death is a tyrant.  And those who work for It are slaves.  And when there’s too much work, and we lose sleep and miss meals, we can become nearly mindless drones who are prone to mistakes.  Some mistakes are caused by this Tyrant-induced drone state.  Yet, other mistakes are due to negligence and poor practice standards.

We fail.

Type of Failure #1: Gross Negligence

Back in 2010, funeral directors were carrying a casket into a church when they dropped the casket, the casket broke and the deceased rolled out onto the ground.  Honestly, this sounds like a scene from a comedy movie (like this still from a Jackass episode on the right).

But, it actually happened.

The family of the deceased sued the funeral home and won an $80,000 settlement this past week.

Then there was the infamous Tri-State County Crematory failure that celebrated it’s 10th anniversary this past February.  In 2002, 334 bodies were found in the back yard of the Crematory.  According to the Crematory’s officials, the retort broke so they threw the bodies in the back yard and gave the family wood ash instead of cremains.

The 334 families were awarded a 100 million dollar settlement.

If your funeral home fails massively, contact your lawyer.

Type of Failure #2: Failures We Can Fix

Can you identify this scene from “Death at a Funeral” (the British version)?

There’s a difference between fixable and non-fixable funeral home failures

Eyes slightly open.  Misspellings in the obituary.  Skin discoloration.  *Some* forms of “duck lips”.  A drip of blood clinging to the casketed deceased’s arm.

All fixable.  Easily fixed.

If you see something that is obviously wrong (like a slightly opened eye lid) or something you simply don’t like (maybe we combed the hair in the wrong direction), YOU NEED TO SAY SOMETHING!

Many (if not most) failures are fixable.

My facebook friend asked me this question:

I had an experience years ago where I buried someone whose eyes weren’t even shut all the way, and the corpse was purple. The mouth had been gathered together in such a way that the corpse appeared to have duck lips. When we complained, the funeral home simply said they do their best, and shrugged us off.

First off, my friend did everything right.  She identified a fixable problem and complained.

It’s now in the funeral home’s court and this funeral home responded poorly!  A professional would have attempted to rectify the problem.  If a funeral director/home doesn’t respond to your request, DON’T EVER GO TO HIM/HER/IT AGAIN FOR SERVICE!  If they can’t serve you in your grief, you shouldn’t go to them when you’re grieving.

Type of Failure #3: Failures We Can’t (Or Won’t) Fix

Rumors travel fast in the funeral business via the ever talkative door to door casket salesmen.  The following is one such rumor I heard from a first hand witness.

Sometimes through a mixture of disease, medication and death, bodies will arrive into our morgues in a state of extreme discoloration.  Some discoloration we can literally drain away (this is called intravascular discoloration).  Other forms of discoloration have become permanent and literally change the color of the skin (this is called extravascular discoloration).

When a body comes to us with extravascular discoloration, we can’t do much except cake on the makeup.

Back to my story.

So a body arrived at a funeral home with natural looking black colored skin.  The funeral home saw curly hair, they didn’t know the family, didn’t know the deceased so they assumed the deceased was of African-American decent.

The family arrived the day of the funeral and started screaming, “That’s my husband … but my husband is white!!!”

The family may have been able to sue (either the hospital or the funeral home), but instead the funeral home responded by ripping up the funeral bill.

Some bodies we simply can’t fix (we couldn’t have made this black white guy white again without spreading on the makeup) and we’ll let you know if we can’t fix it.  We aren’t magicians.

But sometimes, we make mistakes … and those mistakes aren’t fixable: like burying jewelry that wasn’t suppose to be buried, cremating jewelry that wasn’t suppose to be cremated, not correctly embalming a body.  If there’s a mistake and we can’t offer you a good explanation, you have the right to ask for a bill adjustment.

Often, the funeral home will make the adjustment themselves, but if they don’t, ask them for one.  For the most part, we are understanding people.  And if we aren’t, go to one who is.

Caleb Wilde

I'm a sixth generation funeral director. I have a grad degree in Missional Theology. And I like to read and write. Connect with my writing and book plans by "liking" me on facebook. And keep tabs with my blog via subscription or twitter.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Gail-Rubin/1203602051 Gail Rubin

    Great stories! That scene from the U.K. version of Death at a Funeral is when the funeral director discovers that the body he has delivered to a home funeral is the wrong person. Great film – I recommend those funeral directors with a sense of humor (I know you’re out there) hold screenings of comedy films like these to encourage pre-need planning.

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