I have a canned speech I give over the phone to people when they explain that what I’m doing isn’t right – usually regarding cremation arrangements. By law, if a person’s children are making the final arrangements, they need to be in agreement on choosing cremation, since of course it is irreversible. So, all surviving children need to sign the cremation authorization.
“But we don’t need to involve that asswipe Bobby! The three of us all agree, and he never really cared about Mom anyway, and he never even visited her in the hospital and also he lives in some other country and we haven’t heard from him in years and he doesn’t have email.”
I have no doubt that Bobby was an asswipe who never cared about Mom. But he still has the legal right to say yes or no to the cremation. So I simply explain, “There’s the right thing to do and then there’s the law, and if I want to continue practicing funeral service in this state, I need to follow the law.”
Not much you can say to that. This usually leads to them remembering asswipe Bobby’s email address, and I take care of his part by fax.
There are things I’ve had to do that I hated doing, simply because the law told me to do so. I knew it wasn’t right. It wasn’t right to take a woman out of her casket right after the funeral and send her off for an autopsy that much of her family objected to, but the few family members who wanted it to happen got a court order, and I can’t disobey that.
But there are rules I can bend, and if it’s your family’s funeral, you should ask that they be bent for you as well. If you hear “It’s our policy,” it’s NOT a law and it can be bent. (Side note: ask to see the policy. If it exists, it will be in writing.)
It’s the cemetery’s policy that the casket not be opened at the graveside, but when it’s a 17-year-old homicide victim and his mother is begging me for a last look, I don’t give a damn about the cemetery. They can stand there at the graveside and give me the stink eye, as they did today. They can’t really complain to my employer – for one, I’m an independent contractor, and besides, what are they going to do – turn away all burials conducted by me? Not likely, when they have already been paid thousands. They can’t complain to my professional board, because it’s not illegal. This is MY embalming job and MY family. It will never be up to anyone else whether or not I open that casket at the graveside. This sure won’t be the last time.
“It’s our policy that we don’t have to allow you to view the body, since you weren’t legally married.”
Yet, it’s not illegal for me to allow an unmarried person to view his partner’s body. And I will allow it every time.
“It’s our policy that when a body arrives in this condition, we recommend that you not view.”
Recommend it all you want. I strongly suggest that a family not view an unembalmed body that has not undergone reconstruction if needed, but if they insist, I can allow it. I evaluate these situations on a case-by-case basis. If a family wants to view an open autopsy or a gunshot with brain matter spilling out – and they have asked – I will say no. If they insist, I will make them sign a waiver. Nearly all families can be talked into allowing embalming or not viewing, but I did have one family who insisted on viewing their mother when she was in an advanced state of decomposition. They signed the waiver and viewed.
I did have one young motorcycle accident and I was told by the medical examiner and a few embalmers that he was not viewable, and I made the choice to allow (unembalmed) viewing anyway. His face was shattered and every bone in his body was broken. He was impossible to dress; I just draped the clothing on him. I warned the parents that he looked “like someone who has been in a motorcycle accident.” Yet they, and their 11-year-old daughter, not only viewed him, but came back every day to view him again and again, for several hours at a time, over the next week. They were laughing and hugging me when they left. I’m glad I did not take that away from them.
Another request: interring a pet’s urn with the casket for burial. I’ll allow it. The pet meant something to the deceased and to the survivors, and that matters more to me than the cemetery’s policy. I caution families not to mention it to anyone at the cemetery. God, I’m a real jerk.
Today’s service was extremely emotional; one that will stay with me for a while. I even had thoughts of showing up at the murder trial when it happened, only to find out no one had been arrested and there were no leads. I hate things like that. I hate what I see sometimes.
The mother had to be carried to the graveside, the grandmother had to be restrained from throwing herself in the grave, and the father had to be pulled off the open casket. I have no regrets. That family meant more to me than a useless policy.