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!
Tags: cremation, cremation service, funeral arrangements, funeral escort, Funeral Home, greedy funeral directors, Hospice of the Valley, life insurance, Military funeral, mortuary, Ripoff Report, ripoffs in the funeral industry, serviceman killed in the line of duty, Vietnam War