I recently read an article called “Five Things a Funeral Director Should Never Say” which seemed to center on not saying no to various things a family might request.
The author, Ryan Thomgartin, has many people commenting that he must not be a funeral director himself if this is truly how he expects us to work.
I get it; funeral service is a selfless profession and we will miss out on many things because someone died. We might not make it to our kids’ games, or we might have to cancel a vacation. We might pick up bodies on Christmas and Thanksgiving. I understand all that comes with the job, and I accept and welcome it. But…seriously? Not tell a family that the funeral home is closing; allowing them to turn a 4-hour visitation into an all-night affair? And they will. They’ll trash the place, too. Mr. Thomgartin seems to think not only should we allow this, but we should not even charge the family extra.
Christmas Day services at no extra charge? Again – bro, do you even funeral?! Most funeral homes will not do a service on Christmas for any amount of money. Picking up a body is different; people can’t help it if they die on Christmas. I would never ask a family for more money because their loved one died on Christmas. But I’d also say no to a request for a Christmas Day service. (If the person dies a few days before Christmas and the family wants a home vigil, that would be possible, because the funeral home does not need to be involved.)
I try to accommodate every request a family might have, as long as it’s legal and respectful. If they can’t pay for it, it depends on the situation. If you have no money and you want a last-minute look, I’ll make it happen. No money and you want a limo? No sympathy.
Visitations suck, which is why most funeral directors don’t work them. They hire an hourly or contract employee, and it’s only fair to that employee to let him know when his start and end times are, and what sort of cleanup is expected. If you schedule an employee for a four-hour visitation and let him know he should spend 30 minutes afterward taking out trash, vacuuming and locking the doors, the evening needs to go exactly like that. If the family is still there six hours later and have started breaking things and fighting, the employee working the visitation needs to have the option of leaving. He might not be an aspiring mortician, ready for a lifetime of selfless service and back problems. Maybe he’s a high school student, or a single parent, which is why he took a night job in the first place. Maybe his life matters too.
I let my families know EXACTLY what they are paying for – a four-hour viewing – and what the charges are for extra hours. I’m not going to make a big deal about ten minutes, but if they stay an extra hour, I will bill them for an extra hour.
Sometimes we just plain have to say no. At some point the funeral has to end. I’ve closed a casket while the whole family is screaming at me not to. They had over a week of viewings in their home, their church and the funeral home, and I had opened the casket at the graveside against the regulations of the cemetery. But then it was time to go.
Regarding extra charges on removals – I am a firm believer in funeral service being a profession of serving ALL people, and not all people are 80-lb old ladies who die clean and in bed. So I won’t charge extra just because a person is fat, or decomposed, or in pieces. But, not all removals can be completed by one person, and if there is an extra person, he needs to be paid too. I can (and have) picked up many 300-lb bodies alone. But, I can’t pick up a 400-lb body alone. The largest pickup I made was 575 lbs, which took three people, and this man also could not fit on a cremation tray. He had to be cremated on an air tray – wooden box used for shipping caskets by air – and those cost extra.
We are often asked to do things that are rarely possible – “Can you put a rush on those death certificates?” “Can he be cremated today [12 hours after death]?” I have no control over when the doctor will sign the death certificate. A rushed death certificate is not something I can request, or something you can pay extra for. “Can I have her gold tooth?” No. I can’t legally remove a tooth, and if you can find a dentist who will come in and do it, it’s yours, but you need to find another funeral home. I’m not serving someone who would mutilate their mother’s body for a little bit of money.
We each have our ways of going above and beyond for our families. I’ve dressed a body in one of my own suits; others I’ve worked with have bought clothes for people who couldn’t afford them. I’ve worked off the clock. But I don’t ask my hourly employees to work off the clock.
I guess if any of us have a visitation that’s starting to run a bit late, Mr. Probably-Not-A-Funeral-Director Thomgartin would be happy to cover for you.