Archive for crematory

EPISODE 21 — Final Flight

Posted in Airplane, Airplane crash, bereavement, Cemetery, Death, Grief, Loss, Mortuary, Tragic death with tags , , , , , on July 21, 2013 by Morguie
Cessna 182T 'OK-POH'

Cessna 182T ‘OK-POH’ (Photo credit: Hawkeye UK)


In recent weeks, there was an item in the paper, about 2 small paragraphs in length. It was incredibly brief but hit with huge impact. It described an airplane crash in Alaska that killed two families from Greenville, South Carolina. Go ahead; let that soak in for a minute. There were nine people killed between the two families. That is unspeakably tragic. Imagine being a child who went to school with several of the children in that city. It will be very difficult to explain to that child why their classmates will never again be seated in class or on the playground at recess time.

Sometimes CJ is asked what the very worst sort of thing has been to see in her mortuary career. She says they have been many awful sights before her there, but air crash victims rank at #1 or #2 on the list. Why? Because air crashes involve such force upon impact, but on top of this destructive force, there is nearly always incredible heat from fire. Charred bodies are an awful thing to see, smell, or touch. In addition, thermal stress fracturing causes a body to twist and bend into unnatural poses. Sometimes, when there is a face still visible, it is impossible to avoid thoughts of that person’s final agonizing moments on this earth. The faces are frozen in time showing extremely disturbing expressions which incredible pain and terror are easily read. Usually, though, there aren’t faces.


On a hot summer day, CJ was just finishing up work on a case in the prep-room when the intercom rang. Mr. Becker needed her to accompany him to the crematory. Together they rode in the van out to the cemetery, where the crematory was located. It was quite a lovely, if not scorching day. CJ loved being out in the cemetery. On a good day there wieeUnitretortould be many wild birds, lizards, and even a coyote on occasion. In the evening it would cool with a light breeze and be a tranquil place, indeed.

As they pulled up to the back of the building, CJ’s focus on the work returned. She had no idea what she would be walking into as they entered the large room housing the ‘retort.’ That is an overall word for the massive cremation unit. Mr. Becker’s crematory was only a few years old, so the unit was state-of-the-art. Bright shiny steel with colored buttons and gauges, a digital read-out for the temperature. An electric door opened to reveal a large, smooth brick surface and overhead burners and vents. CJ kept the unit immaculately cleaned; when she finished a body there, she swept every bit of the remains cleanly from the chamber. (Over her short career, CJ would cremate hundreds and hundreds of people.)

Body bag

Body bag (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

They walked over to the small cooler there and Mr. Becker opened the door to reveal a single body bag on the roller. They needed to decide how to best manage the remains inside the bag. CJ gasped when the bag was unzipped…

Mr. Becker explained that this was all that was recovered from a small Cessna crash in the remote desolate region of the county. This was all that was left of a man and his two teenaged boys.

CJ looked incredulously down at an incredible mass of charred remains, in which a phenomenal amount of shrapnel had become embedded. The thoughts that raced through her mind were unreal; she kept mentally trying to picture this ghastly, massive, burned ‘glob’ as ever having been three separate human beings. It was her first time dealing with such a situation. First air crash remains she’d ever laid eyes on.

This was an exceptionally rare situation indeed. How would they handle this? The laws strictly prohibit the commingling of bodies or remains. There were three people here! In one metal-studded unnatural conglomeration. Mr. Becker said the coroner had documented the condition of the bodies from the accident, along with photographic evidence,   justifying the necessity for all three to be placed into the retort and cremated together. No laws were being broken this time. Only the laws of nature, perhaps. Mr. Becker left her to go back to the mortuary.


CJ numbly completed the paperwork, placed 3 identification medallions into the retort with the glob of bodies, and began the process of finishing what the fiery crash had not — rendering the mass into bony rubble. When the cycles were complete, CJ swept the remains out of the chamber, realizing that before she could pulverize the bone into a powder,  she would first need to hand-pick the shrapnel and metallic bits out. This took a great amount of care and time. She set out three temporary urns, each had their own label affixed, and readied them for filling. She would divide the powder three ways.

 As the remains cooled in the large tray, she read the reports and learned that the man and his sons had come to the U.S. on holiday, from Europe. The father was an experienced pilot who rented the newer plane from a coastal airstrip. They were due to reach their destination about 75 miles east of where the crash had occurred. The witnesses in the local area had observed the attempted landing on a private airstrip, and reported seeing the plane overshoot the dirt runway before crashing into a hill. There were no services at this strip and worse, no water or nearby first responders. The plane burst into flames on impact and the three perished in the fiery wreckage. Tears began to roll down CJ’s cheeks as she signed her name on the cremation documents. All of the urns were to be mailed to an address in Europe. The family had come over without the wife and mother, as she had just had a baby, according to some of the notes the coroner had included in the report.


CJ finished up and silently got into the van when Mr. B returned to pick her up. The beautiful summer day in the cemetery had been forgotten. CJ could not get the tragedy of this day’s tasks out of her head. She quietly offered a prayer for the remaining family, her heart aching for the woman who had probably smiled and blown kisses to her husband and boys as they departed for their adventure. She would soon be receiving them in plastic boxes with only her precious memories of them to comfort her in this most sorrowful time of darkness.

©2013, C.S. Thompson.

EPISODE 19 — Where There Is Smoke, There Is Fire

Posted in Death with tags , , , on July 15, 2013 by Morguie


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!

Embalming Chemicals

Embalming Chemicals (Photo credit: bsimpsonuk)

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.  

English: Cremation is the process of reducing ...

English: Cremation is the process of reducing dead bodies to basic chemical compounds in the form of gases and bone fragments. This is accomplished through burning—high temperatures, vaporization and oxidation. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.


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