Funeral Director Reaction to FCA Article Split - Page 2

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I have to say, that watching you to do battle is not great sport.

As I made the original comment about families at our funeral homes having to identify their loved one either in person, by delegate or by photo ID, I feel that I should share the reason why this was instituted as a routine precaution.

Several years ago, the ID rule did not exist. The standard protocal when going to a nursing home, hospital or hospice was to check the chart with the toe and wrist tags. Unfortunately there was a mix up at one of the morgues and two bodies who died several minutes apart on the same floor had their charts mixed up. The bodies were taken to the morgue to 2 different funeral homes where they should have been rechecked for ID. Along the way, many mistakes were made concerning these two deceased individuals. One wife signed for direct cremation, the other signed for a traditional viewing including embalming. The latter wife brought her deceased husband's clothes to the funeral home for him to be dressed. The first time she saw her husband was an hour before the visitation. At that time, she entered the room, gasped and cried out, "that is not my husband". The funeral director tried to reassure the woman about the changes in seeing someone who has died, is not animated and is laying in a casket which is not how we are accustomed to seeing someone. As well, he told her about how people frequently lost weight in their final months. Essentially the director did everything possible to reassure the woman who just kept saying it was not her husband. The managing director was called and he too kept reassuring until finally the woman suggested that her husband had a distinguishing mark on his chest which would identify him. Alas, no mark. The fact was that it was the wrong body. Meantime her husband had been taken to another funeral home where the widow had signed for a direct cremation. The coroner had checked the death certificate but not the body and signed for the cremation to be performed. By the time the mistake had been discovered, the wrong body had been cremated. There is no way to retrieve a body after to cremation to return it to the family. The corpse which had been embalmed was returned to its family and then cremated. It is understandable that the family wishing a traditional funeral and visitation were deeply upset. That they were given a cremation and memorial at no charge does not change the mistake that was made or the suffering which ensued for the bereaved. The safety checks were all in place, but as humans are known to do, a mistake or series of mistakes were made. The safeguard which assures the family and the funeral home staff that they do indeed have the right person is to have an ID made by every family. It is free of charge because it really entails the staff showing just a little compassion in how they present the deceased body to the family as well as allowing them as much time as they want to be with their loved one.

To bicker over the semantics of whether an ID is a visitation or not seems petty. It is what it is, a chance for someone to identify their loved one and if they desire to visit with them for a period of time. In a perfect world, everyone would be at the bedside of someone they loved who was dying. Unfortunately this is not a perfect world. In contemporary North America we are often separated by thousands of miles geographically from our loved ones and unable to be present at their side. Nursing homes do not have the facilities to keep a body for any period of time after death occurs. Hospital morgues are cold and for the most part not particularly welcoming to outsiders, particularly family members who would make an ID of a person who has been "bagged and tagged" wrapped in a sheet, sometimes with tubes and monitor pads left on them. Given the choice of being sensitive to the needs of families, it seems to me that the funeral home is the perfect place for a bereaved family member or delegate to make an ID , where there is a staff person who is familiar with the stresses death can have on family members. There is no issue of forcing a family member to make the ID, in fact, most family members would like to see their loved one, one last time, even if they are cold, without any makeup. The fact is that it takes but a few moments to brush hair, to wash a face and hands and to position the deceased in a way that the family is left with a good memory rather than a horror show which they might have had in the morgue.

I think we all need to be sensitive to the needs of the bereaved, to meet their wishes as best we can so that their experience at the funeral home is positive. As funeral service providers it is encumbant upon all of us to listen carefully, act compassionately and to bring the chaos of death into order for the bereaved as well as the dead. There have been many arguments about the pros and cons of seeing our dead, whether we are death accepting or death denying. One of the roles of funeral service providers is death education. I understand that in general terms but also in the more particular, as helping our bereaved families come to terms with the death of their loved one. I believe that Thomas Lynch once said that seeing is believing but more than that, there is a sense of dignity which is accorded to our dead by looking upon them one last time, noting their death has occurred and that the world is a little different as a result.

I stand by my belief that there are many reasons why a family member needs to make an ID, the least of which is to prevent mistaken identity.
Kathy Jackson
Ph.D candidate McMaster University
Hamilton, Ontario

Hi Kathy. I agree that my exchanges with Mr. Slocum were not great sport. . . and uncomfortable.

Good luck with your doctoral degree. I think I've read about your journey on "connectingdirectors" site. I'm also pursuing my PhD in Organization and Management. Thanks. Monica
Monica Vernette Gray, MBA & LFDE
Morticia's Funeral Services, Inc.
Illinois Funeral Directors Association (IFDA) District 2A Secretary

To Ms. Jackson,

I think you and I are far closer together on point of view than we are apart. I can see you are a thoughtful, compassionate person with families' best interests at heart. My only point is that it should be a family's choice whether to view or not, in the end. I've been on both sides of the coin. There was a sudden death in my circle that prevented me from seeing my friend, and I very much regret that. On the other hand, I attended a viewing of a close family member that was most unpleasant and disturbing, and I regret that it happened. It's all situational, and one answer won't fit every family.

To Ms. Gray,

I think disagreeing in good faith is fair and healthy. I didn't appreciate your invective, and I didn't think I deserved it. The public can now judge, since I've posted a blog entry of this exchange on the front page of

Josh Slocum

Yes, you have read my blogs on Connecting Directors where I contribute as a guest writer.

I believe that when push comes to shove, that the three of us are very close in our point of view but how we are expressing it is from different perspectives.

I am not sure there are any real absolutes about what works best for the bereaved. Attending a viewing and looking directly at the face of the dead is a choice that the bereaved and their supporting community of family and friends must make. In contrast, making an ID of a body to ensure that the body is the correct body is not a choice, only who and how the ID is made has some leeway of interpretation.

A funeral director recently told me that he believes the art of embalming is being lost. In part he attributes this to central embalming sites in which the embalmer has no vested interest in either the deceased or the bereaved. This is how he explains the number of "bad bodies" which are then "laid out" poorly in the casket. The net result is that when a family wishes that they had not seen their loved one that the next time they have to make a choice, it will be a closed casket or a direct cremation or burial possibly without

a funeral or memorial. His point is that embalmers need to be connected to the families so that they are directly responsible to them for how the body looks. Of course that is within reason, taking into consideration that prolonged illnesses such as cancers and advanced age cannot always be reined in, only decreased in the severity.

There is no one answer that fits all families. That to me is one of the

simple joys of working in the funeral industry. Every family is different,

unique but at the same time they are tied to one another in their


If you are going to put Ms Gray up to scrutiny for those who read the blog entry, perhaps you should also put my entries up as well. I suggest that rather than going too and fro , that you isolate each of the responses so that readers can identify the three strands of the arguments which have become entwined.


Kathy Jackson

Are funeral homes so unsure of the identity of the body they've picked up that they have to rely on consumers to confirm their jobs?

Yes, I understand that bodies can be mixed up, as one poster mentioned, but isn't that the job of the funeral home -- to determine identity before ever moving a body, to avert any mix-ups?

I guess if the FH staff weren't sure at all whose body they had, that might be an exception when ID viewing makes sense. But it seems to me the FDs should settle the identity with the M.E.'s office or hospital or nursing home before ever subjecting a family to the possibility that the ID viewing might NOT be the body of their dearly beloved! If that were the case, I'm sure the family has a lawsuit.

- Lisa Carlson

Thanks for your response, Ms. Jackson. Just so you know, I did put up the entire thread, without editing, including your responses. I think that's only fair. There have been some good, constructive exchanges here, despite some unpleasantness. Readers should see them all and form their own conclusions.

I'm afraid I must disagree that ID viewing a body is "not a choice." In the US, it is, because our Federal Trade Commission gives consumers the right to decline unwanted funeral services. Here's a link to an opinion letter from the FTC that discusses that:

I did read your explanation of the mixup that prompted your ID view rule. Believe me, my sympathies are with the funeral director in situations like this. Everyone is human, but when a funeral director makes a mistake, it's magnified hugely in importance by a family member. Often the first impulse families have - even if the funeral director did nothing wrong - is to take it out on the funeral director. At bottom, I think a lot of it boils down to "I'm mad at the world/God/whoever for not keeping my loved one alive, and I've got to take it out on someone." I can understand that, but it puts funeral homes in a terrible bind. Still, I think the family needs to be given the final choice about ID viewing or not. I think requesting a photo ID, at least, is an option that respects the needs of both parties.

While some funeral directors find it hard to believe, I spend more time than you'd imagine defending funeral directors against unreasonable complaints. Just yesterday a lady called my office, furious that her stepmother had carried out the lady's father's cremation - that he himself had prepaid for - and didn't notify the kids. To complicate this, the lady claimed Stepmom was divorced at the time. "Shouldn't the funeral director have asked the next of kin?" she said.

I tried to explain to her that Dad had a prepaid cremation, and the funeral home had an obligation to honor that. I also said, "Funeral directors don't have a crystal ball or computer database where they can find 'the next of kin.' If the funeral director is unaware that siblings exist, and if your Stepmother didn't tell them about you, how can the funeral director be at fault?"

She replied, "But don't they have to do due diligence?"

I said, "But *how* would they know you existed? If you were the funeral director, do you think you could be blamed for not knowing who all the family members were?"

She reluctantly conceded that was unfair, but it was clear she still wanted someone to blame for what was, let's face it, a dysfunctional family. I hope I convinced her not to vex the funeral director for something that wasn't his fault. I get a lot of such calls, and I don't take the consumer's side if the facts back funeral directors.

Thanks very much for the good conversation. . .

- Josh Slocum

Last Updated ( Wednesday, 24 September 2008 19:45 )  
Comments (7)
1 Thursday, 11 September 2008 20:46

Are you implying that most FDs don't know the identity of the bodies they've picked up and therefore have to rely on family ID-ing to be sure? I find that an astonishing admission of industry incompetence.
2 Thursday, 11 September 2008 21:18
Hello Ms. Carlson. In response to your question, I am not implying that most funeral directors do not know the identity of the bodies they have removed from the place of death. Unfortunately, identity mistakes are made at the institutions where the deceased are removed (e.g. hospitals and nursing homes). I did not make any admission of industry incompetence. Rather, I represent and support due diligence as well as carefully carrying out the duties of a funeral service practitioner.

What you are not privileged to is the well-written explanation from Ms. Kathy Jackson explaining why her funeral home requires the identification. That explanation would have fully answered your question, as she provided an example of what can happen when the body is not properly identified.

Unfortunately, Mr. Slocum (the original poster) is not a licensed funeral practitioner. While his watchdog crusading intentions may be pure, it is unfair of him to paint the funeral service industry with a brush of incompetence. It has been my experience that most families want to see their deceased loved ones before they are buried or cremated.

[[NOTE FROM JOSH SLOCUM AT FCA - Monica, thanks for your comments. They're welcome here, even if I disagree. But please don't accuse me of things I didn't say. I certainly did not "paint the funeral service industry with a brush of incompetence." Please criticize me only for the things I did say. Further, I don't believe anyone is required to have a funeral director's license to comment on practices that affect all consumers.To satisfy your concerns, I'll add Kathy Jackson's comments to this thread]].

I am more than willing to answer any questions you may have about the funeral service industry. I can be reached at Thank you for your question.
3 Thursday, 11 September 2008 21:42
Thank you Mr. Slocum for posting Ms. Jackson's latest reply to our discussion on the other thread. I believe that was the right thing to do. I will acknowledge that you did post this response on the other thread.

As far as me accusing you of things you didn't say, I reached my conclusion based on the "feedback" response you received from Lisa Carlson. If she reached the conclusion: "I find that an astonishing admission of industry incompetence," then it's a fair to conclude that your words incited Ms. Carlson to respond in kind.

If we are truly going to be fair, the issue on the other discussion thread was *not* whether funeral directors know the identity of bodies they remove from places of death. However, look at the tone that discussion has taken on this site. It's close, but no cigar. However, free speech is free speech.

I also agree with Ms. Jackson that the three of us are trying to say some of the same things. Competently serving our families is always going to the priority. Thanks for the opportunity to post on your site.
4 Thursday, 11 September 2008 21:50
Josh Slocum
Thanks for commenting, Monica. But everyone has to be responsible for his/her own words. I won't take responsibility for Ms. Carlson's words or for yours, only for my own. Commenters sometimes come to conclusions we don't like, but that doesn't make the original author responsible:) As a former newspaper reporter, I sure know what it's like when you can't please any reader!

You or anyone else is always welcome to comment here, and to say what you need to say. Open dialogue is crucial, and agreement isn't required. It's all to the greater good.


Josh S.
5 Thursday, 11 September 2008 22:12
Thanks so much for this opportunity to post or share with your readers.
6 Friday, 29 May 2009 21:31
Kellyanne Gormley
I am a college student working on a research paper for Funeral Directors and happened upon this site, and this whole episode. I am not in the "profession" either, but I am surprised at the lack of propietry in the discussion by Ms. Gray. If she would like an explanation to the painting of the industry with an unfair label, perhaps she should look inward. It is widely known that there are numerous FD who take complete advantage of the grief of the loved ones, because they know that they can. From unecessary charges of pushing for more expensive equipment and services that are not needed, to trying to sell pre-paid funerals. It is a fact that the average American family spends 2 to 5 times more than they need to.

The responses seem to be extrememly defensive which would make the consumer(me) wonder why she is so quick to defend in such a way. I would agree that viewing should be up to the individual, not the industry. Perhaps she does not want the "secrets" of the industry to get out in the open.
7 Sunday, 18 August 2013 23:17
patrick huey
As both a licensed funeral director/embalmer and a certified crematory operator as well I cannot stress enough the immense amount of liability that is involved regarding proper identification of deceased prior to final disposition, most especially when cremation is chosen. We funeral practitioners have no way of knowing that a body we remove from a hospital, nursing home, medical examiner's office, etc. is actually that of said deceased, unless in a healthcare setting the family happens to be there at the time of removal. I would by all means ask for at least a photo for staff to make positive identification with, otherwise if family refuses to ID the body, then by all means out with the indemnification form for them to sign. Yes, there have been institutions that have mis-labeled bodies that were then cremated without a family member's positive ID. Not only was the responsible institution sued, but both the funeral home and crematory both as well. Unfortunately we live in a society that revels in lawsuits. This can ruin a funeral home instantly as well as place undue anguish on a family. It is an unfortunate fact that all these various indemnification forms are a must now, but one lawsuit is all it takes to ruin a firm and its employees. For my own sake, the families I serve, that of my employer, as well as those that depend on me to keep food on the table, I do all I can to protect all involved regardless of whether a family does not like said indemnification form.

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