|Funeral Director Reaction to FCA Article Split|
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.
Ph.D candidate McMaster University
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 www.funerals.org.
Yes, you have read my blogs on Connecting Directors where I contribute as a
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.
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