I got myself pretty banged up when I was in the Army and after I was back in the U.S. and out of the hospital I was not fit for regular duty for a while so they made me a funeral escort. My job was to be the liaison between the Army and the family of the deceased soldier, arrange for the honor guard, make sure the funeral was handled properly, and to present the folded flag from the casket to the family. It was absolutely the worst experience I ever had in my life.

I was 19 years old, a month out of combat, and the only training or preparation we received was in how to conduct the military funeral and what paperwork needed to be handled. Besides that, the only rules/advice I was given was don’t sleep with the dead guy’s vulnerable wife or sisters, don’t talk bad about the Army or the war, and under no circumstance allow the family to see the body if it was a closed casket marked RNV (remains not viewable). If they HAD to know their son/father/brother was in there I was supposed to look before the funeral and then tell them he was intact and looked peaceful, but because of the time spent shipping him home his body had started to darken. You don’t want to know what I saw in some of those caskets, and after the first two or three, I never looked again, I just lied to them and gave the standard Army response.

Some families appreciated my being there, others hated me because I was the symbol of the Army that took their loved one away and killed him. More than one father demanded to know why a slacker like me was alive and their son was dead. How do you respond to that question? I already felt immense guilt just for being there.

I did a dozen funerals, one right after the other, in about 45 days, and then I cracked up. I was in my motel room one night and totally lost it. I’m talking babbling idiot. I couldn’t even form a coherent sentence. I called the colonel I was working for and begged him to send me back to Vietnam instead of doing one more funeral. To his credit, he sent somebody to pick me up and take me to a shrink that same night, and they relieved me from the detail. I just could not handle it emotionally any more. I have friends who work in the funeral industry and I have tremendous respect for what they do every day.

However, there is another side to the business that appalled me way back then, and which I discovered is still going on today. That is the greedy, unscrupulous funeral service providers who are like vultures, taking advantage of people at the most vulnerable time in their lives, to squeeze every possible dollar out of them.

Back then, as I recall, the family of a serviceman killed in the line of duty received $10,000 in life insurance, and the military supplied a casket and paid for the funeral. But in a number of the funerals I participated in, the local mortuaries did everything they could to convince the family to spend at least part of that life insurance money on an upgraded casket or other funeral arrangements. I remember one in particular telling a young widow, “The Army took your baby’s father away and killed him. How can you disgrace his memory by burying him in that cheap casket they have him in?” That was about the time my emotions were crashing and I sent the wife out of the room and then explained to the SOB that if he didn’t stop haranguing her right that minute he would be laying in that fancy casket of his!

A few days ago a dear friend of ours passed away, and her husband asked me if I would make the initial contact with the mortuary in their hometown, 180 miles away, to arrange for her cremation. They quoted me $2,150 for the basic cremation service and $940 for transporting her remains. They also wanted to be informed the minute our friend passed on, and even called several times to see if she had died yet. Like I said, vultures waiting to sweep in at the first opportunity.

Fortunately, a grief counselor at Hospice of the Valley here in Phoenix suggested we call a local mortuary and told me that out of town funeral homes usually subcontract the service to them anyway. I did and was shocked to learn that their price for the same service was less than $600! And while the person I talked to would not say they specifically worked with the first funeral home I talked to, she acknowledged that they did work with many out of town mortuaries and shipped the cremated remains (cremains) to them by Priority or Express mail.

So how could the hometown funeral home justify charging an extra $1550 for cremation that they apparently don’t do themselves anyway, and over $900 more for less than $20 postage? There is only one word for that; greed.

In talking to a friend who is a funeral director, he told me that more and more small funeral homes are being bought up by corporations that run hundreds of facilities nationwide, and that shady practices and huge prices for simple services were common tactics among many of the corporate outfits. After talking to him, I spent just a few minutes researching online and came up with all kinds of horror stories such as these in the Ripoff Report.

And for a look at the corporate funeral industry from the inside, check out this story from a former employee of one of these money hungry outfits. These bastards make the most shady used car salesmen that ever lived look like Boy Scouts!

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13 Comments on Disgraceful Vultures

  1. T.J. Lane says:

    I couldn’t agree more Nick. My brother Larry had a paid in advance plan that was supposed to cover all of his and his wife’s funeral expenses. He even had me read it over and it said everything was paid in full. He was still around when his wife passed on and he said they tried to change some stuff on him but he stuck to his guns and got what he paid for. But when he died 3 years later his daughter got taken to the cleaners. Even though he had paid for it all, the funeral home told her that the casket he wanted was no longer available and charged her another $2400. They also told her she needed to pay a $500 fee for “processing” the prepaid contract. My wife and I were not there and did not know about all of this until after the fact when we arrived the day of the funeral. I raised hell with the funeral home but they refused to discuss it with me. I tried to get my niece to take them to court but she’s not much more than a kid and was overwhelmed by the whole mess.

  2. Charlotte Jaeger says:

    My husband worked for a small family owned mortuary for 9 years starting right out of high school and became a licensed funeral director and embalmer. It was a good career and he loved it. But when the owner of the business was ready to retire he sold out to one of the biggest funeral corporations in the country. He wanted us to purchase it, but the big guys made it impossible for us to do so.

    Instead Rich became the manager of the business as an employee of the corporation. He experienced everything that was talked about in your links from your blog and more. He was told that he needed to reach certain sales goals that were 3 times what the business had ever done in the past. To accomplish them he was ordered to do whatever it took to make the sale.

    Basically that meant to lie to customers and use high pressure tactics that he refused to do. They brought in a new manager from out of town and Rich was demoted to just embalming and not allowed to work with client families. After being continually pressured to cut corners in the embalming process and refusing to do so he became a nervous wreck. Then one day when he came to work the locks had been changed and he was told that his services were no longer needed.

    It took him over a year to get his feet under him emotionally and professionally, but now he is working in a different locally owned mortuary and is much happier.

  3. I agree 100% with everything you said. These folks get people at there most venerable times and try to suck them dry. Mike and I hope to save our kids from this greed by being cadaver donors this way they do not have to worry about money they don’t have to pay these vultures. The med school that accepts the body comes to where ever the body is transports it and then when they are done using it, cremates the remains and returns it to the family if they wish, if not they will do it. The fee for this if any is very small.

  4. Kayjulia says:

    I totally agree with everything you wrote. My Mother died while I was still on active duty in the Army and I flew back to Boston to handle the funeral arrangements. She had told me she had paid the local funeral home for her funeral. However, after she died I couldn’t find any paperwork and the funeral home said she hadn’t paid. I knew there was something wrong but time was short I had to get the job done. They charged for preparing the body to go to the crematorium, the trip to the / and from the crematorium the container for the ashes and the trip to the cemetery and the opening and closing of the grave was the same as for a casket. When I was at the grave site the hearse showed up it was a two tone coupe with hearse plates and the ashes where in a box the same size and style as a tampon box including the daisies! The grave was opened by a two handled posthole digger and closed with a shovel. I was charged like they used a backhoe. I and my Mother got screwed over and it was all legally done, because I checked with a lawyer and all he could do was shake his head sadly and say that’s what they do, they know they have you over a barrel and they take you for all you’re worth. I had to make payments to the assholes for a couple of years to cover the expenses for this none funeral service. I’m still pissed thinking about it.
    I want the cheapest funeral possible if in Mexico it will be cheap and quick cremation is a must and scatter the ashes over the Sea Of Cortez have a party and call it a day!

  5. Aaron Borovoy says:

    The entire industry is set up exactly like that. Two and half years ago when my husband died, I was in the exact same spot. We didn’t want a funeral, I just wanted to have a simple cremation and the ashes returned to me. Fortunately, I was also guided by a hospice worker at the hospital who told me what to do–contact a cremation agency directly, and side-step the question “What mortuary are you working with?” Not sure how it is in other states, but apparently in California you’re expected to go through a mortuary for everything, but you’re not legally required to do so. My total costs were roughly $650, from the removal of my husband’s body from the hospital to the time that I received the cremated remains. It’s ridiculous that people who are grieving have to go through these games, lest they spend thousands more than they need to.

  6. John Hargis says:

    Hey Nick, you should read the book, The American Way of Death Revisited, by Jessica Mitford. It’s a real eye opener on the business of death.

  7. Joyce Space says:

    A book called “Burying Your Own Dead,” (or something like that) was written several years ago by a woman in Vermont who did not have money to go the funeral home route. She took her own husband to be cremated and buried his remains on her land. She researched the laws in all the states to find out what an individual can and cannot do in each state and wrote the book. Funeral directors often try to convince a family that something has to be legally done by them when it doesn’t have to. A Google search brings up several web pages of how to do it yourself. That wouldn’t be for everyone, but it would at least give people some options and things to think about before meeting with the funeral directors.

  8. Richard Schell says:

    First, God Bless you Nick! I’m not sure I could be an escort. When my best friend in high school was killed in Nam, I felt as bad for the escort as the surviving family members.

    Second, I worked briefly selling cemetery property in the mid 70’s and soon found regardless of the savings by buying “pre-need”, no one wanted to listen to a 28 year old talk about dying. What I did learn was to prepay everything for my Mother and other than a dress and the preacher it was pretty much done but that was in ’81 and a small mortuary too.

    Lastly, thanks so much for service!

  9. Mike Wallace says:

    Nick could not agree more, went through what you did with my uncle. The vulture had all his “extras” hidden in wall panels that he opened and closed with buttons. Had picture that showed what would happen gift we didn’t get this or that. Luckily my Aunt was not there. After giving him apiece of my mind, told him what my aunt wanted and nothing more, by he way my Aunt & Uncle had prepaid, so we walked out and my Aunt got exactly what she wanted and paid for

  10. Phyllis says:

    When my mom died, the funeral was in our church. The funeral director wanted us to rent a hearse to take her to the grave. RIGHT BEHIND THE CHURCH NO MORE THAN 150 FEET. The charge? $500.00! Did not happen. The cart holding her casket was on wheels!

  11. Dave Walker says:

    I Worked for a Body removal service many years ago. Was able to watch this all happen by some very greedy folks. What I learned was there is no difference in a Batesville (top of the line as they say)Coffin and a thick well made cardboard box( they bury transients in)once it is in the ground. You don’t have to have the body embalmed anymore. You want to be really Fat if you get cremated because the fat takes over and you use less of their gas, gross but true. In many states you can bury or spread ashes on your own land. You can move a casket in a truck bed you don’t need a hearse. You only have to file a death certificate.

  12. Stuart McNicol says:

    Bless you and Terry for being there with your friend. Donna and I have a prepaid cremation plan with the Neptune Society. My experience with them for my Mother, Father and my late wife was outstanding. One phone call and all was put into motion and taken care of according to our wishes. I cannot say a bad word about them, superior in every way. http://www.neptunesociety.com/. My understanding is that it was founded by a gentleman who ran into the “vultures” and decided there had to be a better way. Donna and I believe he found it.

  13. Elizabeth says:

    What you and the others share here is true. Thanks for putting out the truth. My sympathies to you in being assigned that job and after all you went through and so young too…how insensitive. But nothing surprises me either after hubby was 6 years in the Navy during probably the same time frame as you were. We could write a book. I am not sure things are any better for our service people now either. Sadly. But that is another issue.

    So glad you were there to help your friend in the saddest time of life!!

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