EPISODE 19 — Where There Is Smoke, There Is Fire
CJ and I were down in the storage room, taking inventory of our chemicals on another slow, simmering summer afternoon. There are so many kinds of powders, solvents, fluids, fillers, cauterants, creams, gels, waxes, and disinfectants! There are other supplies CJ refers to as sundries: rolled cotton, suture threads, eyecaps, crash bags, and OF COURSE gloves…and many other items too numerous to count. So much goes into the work of preparing a body for viewing and burial it boggles my little mind!
Mr. Becker came in to tell CJ that she should go on home and take the rest of the afternoon off— he needed her to meet him out at the crematory around 7 p.m. Since this funeral home was currently experiencing a lull, I wondered what in the world it could mean…
Later, CJ and I showed up at the crematory, as directed. Mr. Becker sat down at the desk with her to tell her something rather disturbing…and that this conversation would have to stay here. Apparently, a funeral home in the remote edge of the county was going to be coming soon with six bodies, all to be done overnight and ready to send back by the next evening. CJ’s brow furrowed at this. Mr. B said that the state inspector had called to tell him that this particular establishment was under surveillance and being investigated for some very serious offenses, allegedly. The inspector said we were to take this work on and accept the bodies, reporting the conditions of the remains to him.
CJ cringed at the thought of having anything at all to do with a rogue director or whatever that director was allegedly doing which would prompt such an investigation. She knew that there were some bad apples in this profession, as there are in every other profession. She and Mr. Becker often talked about these rogues, trying to figure out what had made them turn to criminal acts or other inappropriate practices as they had. With the death care profession, such behavior was reprehensible. Trust placed in funeral business is viewed as sacred. To act or seem to be acting with malice here undermines the trust of the community and creates suspicions of goings-on in funeral homes, where the processes of preparing the dead for burial is already shrouded in mystery, myth, or taboo.
The rogues in this business hurt the entire profession when they engage in bad practices or illegal activity. Most of the bad apples are found to be committing fiduciary offenses, or misappropriating pre-need trust monies. However, a very small number also commit offenses that involve the dead bodies themselves. Those offenses could be accidental, meaning mistakes made without intent to do harm. Mr. B and CJ knew one thing…they believed that all ‘accidents’ happen because somebody was in too much of a hurry to bother with standard protocol or due diligence. They believe there can be no accidents in this business, period.
There are some rare cases, unfortunately, that grab headlines. Perhaps bodies were mixed up and one was cremated when it should have been a burial. There is NO remedy for such a mistake. For every one of those events, the profession is dealt a terrible blow. Rumors start going around in a huge way, until it seems most people believe EVERY funeral home engages in this chicanery or negligent behavior.
By dark, the bodies had all arrived, in three vehicles. CJ and Mr. Becker were professional in their duties, treating the ‘rogues’ in a business-like manner, as usual. The drivers unloaded the cremation containers and departed. CJ and Mr. B assessed the bodies, completed the packages of documentation for each one, and made notations to report to the inspector. The bodies were all of elderly people. Several appeared with sunken orbs, desiccated lips, and obvious signs of advancing decomposition. Each was double-checked for implanted pacemakers or defibrillator devices. These devices were removed. The first cremation was started, and after that one, the next and so on. Mr. B left after a couple of hours to go home for the night. CJ and I remained for the entire night and well into the next morning, finally finishing all of the cremations by noon.
The following week, another four cases were brought. This went on for a couple of months. Then, there were no more. The rogues were shut down for absconding with the trust funds, which had caused the backlog of bodies. The director was also extorting more money from the families by lying about the actual values of the pre-need trusts and holding the bodies until the families could make up the ‘shortfalls.’ That is why the bodies were in such poor condition and several in number, when they finally made it to the crematory.
Thank heavens these things happen so rarely. The horrible thing is, somebody’s family was traumatized or otherwise victimized in each case. Wrongs done by a scant few damage everyone in the picture.
That is why the other 99.8% of the funeral service professionals work so hard to build and retain the sacred trust placed upon them as they care for the dead. They believe with the core of their being, that every family deserves to receive compassionate care and service, as they deserve and expect. Every life is precious, and the utmost respect is given to each after life ceases. It is a ‘calling’ and people doing this special work take it very seriously. Funeral directors are tasked with many legal duties and responsibilities by statute. Compliance and the strictest adherence to laws and these duties are overseen by regulatory agencies, which consistently inspect and audit the establishments with regularity.
Rest assured, the bad guys don’t fly under the radar for long.
The best thing the consumer can do is ASK if he or she has any questions, doubts, or reservations. If a consumer has that ‘somethin’ ain’t right’ feeling, they need to contact the agency which regulates the profession and express those concerns. That’s the best way to handle just about ANY problem with any industry.
©2013, C. S. Thompson.
- Billings funeral home fined for accidental cremation (billingsgazette.com)
- Sunset Finances Applauds Inventor of MemryStone for Cremation Innovation (prweb.com)
- Deltona man, 114, may have been country’s oldest (news-journalonline.com)
- Forbidding Enbalming at a Jewish Death (judaism.answers.com)
- Cremation: An inside look at the process (cjonline.com)