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Writer, Messenger, and Professional Weirdo
Usually when our customers forward their lines it’s because they leave the office and go home for the night. But one or two of our customers actually do things the old fashioned way and by old fashioned I mean they really do still live in the funeral home. So when they forward their lines at night it’s because they want to sleep. But there are a couple who, when the phone rings, will hear it, let it ring to us and then call us five minutes later to find out what the call was.
You can set your watch by it. I usually take my time, even waiting up to a minute after finishing the call, to let the director on those specific accounts call us. Most of the time they do. At three in the morning we really only take one type of call and while it saves them from paying for us to call them about it, all I can picture every single time they call in, is this:
I sincerely hope that, however you celebrate it, the holiday season was a good one for you. It was a good one for me! Mostly. I worked all of it. But then I’m easy to please and the post-holiday breakdown didn’t happen until the morning of the 26th when EVERYBODY DECIDED THAT SIX AM WAS THE PERFECT TIME TO ASSUME OFFICES ARE OPEN.
People. If the sun hasn’t come up yet and nobody is dead: go back to sleep.
Sometime in the last couple months (probably November) I took a call and ever since taking that call it’s been preying on my mind, like a brain worm. Since I’ve been scatterbrained and other things have been popping up hither and yon, I haven’t gotten a chance to write about it, but here – let me paraphrase it for you:
Me: Good Morning. This is [FUNERAL CHAPEL HOME PLACE], my name is [REDACTED because Olivia is a pen name yo] how can I help you?
Caller: Hello? Can I speak to [DIRECTOR]?
((It’s about 2am, so you know. Eyebrows.))
Me: I’m sorry, s/he is not in at the moment, may I take a message or did you need to speak to someone right away? I have [REDACTED – who was not the director she asked for] on call for emergencies.
Caller: Oh. Oh dear. No, s/he just told me to call when my family member, [REDACTED], passed away. I just wanted to give a head’s up.
((I actually do not roll my eyes at this point, because grieving family members get breaks. They just do. I hate it when they call in death calls because they never have any of the info and I feel awful asking them dozens of personal questions, but they’re upset and doing what they were told, so it’s a get out of jail free card.))
Me: Oh! Alright, well, I can certainly reach someone for you–
Caller: Oh no, please don’t bother them. We’re not ready or anything, this is just a head’s up for …well, for whoever.
Me: ((Patience padawan…)) Alright, well, what usually happens is when the facility is ready they go ahead and give us a call. We have a removal person that we can contact at that point who will come out and pick them up. If you like, I can take what information you have and get a hold of them for you?
Caller: Is that the director?
Me: No, in this case it’s a separate in-house removal person that we contact for death calls. I can certainly reach a director if you need to speak to them though. May I have your name please?
Caller: I don’t want to give that out just yet. The facility can call when they’re ready? We’re just getting ready to go up there now, so they should be ready when we get there. So …this is just a head’s up, I guess. No need to bother anyone.
((At this point, in case it’s not obvious, we’re speaking at cross purposes. I really can’t help her, and it’s sort of drilled into us that we’re to take messages all the time, hence all the “no seriously do you want me to reach someone?” questions. See, head’s up calls are messages, that will be cleared, provided I have the info.))
Me: If I take a message now I will have to page someone, so if you want to hold off and just want to have the facility call–
Caller: Wait, so you’re just an answering machine?
((Congrats random answering service drone, you’ve been upgraded to a T-1000 answering MACHINE!))
Me: I’m with their after hours service, yes.
Caller: Oh! Oh, how awful.
I wish I could make this one up, but that last line is a direct quote. And yes, if you’re reading it in a certain upper crust, prim and proper accent, you’re reading it correctly. In fact, it’s the only quote I really remember because it bothered me that much. The rest is paraphrased but essentially breaks down to someone not understanding that she actually was jumping the gun. Badly. After that, she muttered some more things and hung up on me. About an hour later we did get the call from the facility, so no business lost, I guess?
If you think I’m taking the comment the wrong way, let me assure you, from tone and context (let’s not get into the things she muttered after the awful comment), she was just mortified that she had to talk to a service. I don’t know why. I don’t pretend to understand, but when she found out I was a lowly worker drone, she just couldn’t take it.
Look, up until that point, the caller was extremely nice, if a bit scatterbrained, and also gets the “grieving family get out of jail free” card. But two things here:
1. No, what I do is not awful. What I do makes sure you got to talk to a living, breathing human (now with action punch empathy!) at two o’clock in the morning. Not a voice mail box. Not a calling tree. Do not pass GO. Do not collect $200. Go straight to person. Sometimes people are surprised when that happens, but it’s always a pleasant surprise and you know what? I enjoy that part of my job. I’m the filter between slightly scatterbrained family members who called not really knowing what they wanted and the directors.
But you know, filters can get worn out, which is why #2 is so degrading:
2. I am not this:
And I am definitely, most assuredly, no seriously please knock it the fuck off, NOT THIS:
I am a human being. Nothing gets you put on my shitlist faster than asking if I am an answering machine. If you can’t tell the difference between a person and a machine then Skynet can’t wipe out humanity fast enough because frankly, I can’t with you anymore. I can’t even English. That’s how mad that question makes me.
Damn those birds.
So to recap: Please never assume the person you’re talking to is a cyborg, unless they introduce themselves as Siri and even then it’s probably best to err on the side of them having a fully functioning organic heart, brain, nervous system, and other assorted squishy bits. We’ll love you for it! Thanks!
There is no other phrase that I hear while working that makes me cringe quite as much. There are times it’s fine, but most of the “heads up!” calls amount to the caller waking someone up at three o’clock in the morning for no good reason. This is especially true if the deceased is at a facility with access to a morgue.
Most of the time when I get “heads up!” calls, it’s because the nurses will call before they even arrive at the home of the deceased. They want to save themselves some time because they don’t want to wait around for the removal people to show up. They’re trying to time it so that the removal people show up about fifteen minutes after the nurse does. To the best of my knowledge this is rarely, if ever, successful and is only really appropriate in the following situation:
That’s it, really. In that case, by all means, get the director up and moving. If, however, the director is local, or they’re using a local funeral home or removal service, then chances are you’re waking them up to say: “Hey I’m going to be calling you later about this one body that hasn’t even been pronounced yet.”
They can’t do anything in that case and, chances are, they’re just going to go back to bed, grumbling under their breath and calling you names. Many places I answer for have instructions in place that say if the body isn’t ready (and if it hasn’t been pronounced, it isn’t ready) that we don’t even bother calling it out until it is. The only exception to that rule is if the family wants to talk to a director, but if you’re not at the home, how do you know if they do or not?
A lot of the time I’ll hedge when I get these calls and say something like, “Well, I can take the information now and get it to the director, or we can hold off until you get to the home and everyone is ready…”
Every time. Without fail. The nurse will (obviously not thinking this through) have me wake up the director who will then growl, “Okay,” and go back to bed. I’m getting the impression that the nurse thinks the director doesn’t go back to bed, but I can assure you, when we get the second, “Okay ready now!” call, I’m waking them up again. I know this because just waking up people have a distinct, groggy tone in their voice and a tendency to go “Mrfff,” “Grphf,” and “Fffstphk.”
Any hospice nurse worth their weight in student loans should know that a body cannot be moved from the place of death until it has been pronounced. In fact, five seconds with Google will tell you the same thing. Guess what can’t be done if you’re not there to do it? Right.
I also notice that a lot of nurses who do this (call before even getting to the home) will just sort of assume that the body will be ready shortly after being pronounced. Never mind any family members that are coming from a ways away that want to view the body before the funeral home arrives. Never mind any religious or cultural concerns. Never mind a husband or wife who just wants to spend a few more hours with their dearly departed for whatever reason. Never mind actually bothering to ask the family any of that. Just come and get the stiff!
This often ends in several calls back and forth saying the body is ready, then it’s not, then it is, then it’s not. Trying to jump ahead in the queue often leads to things getting messed up and wires getting crossed. It’s unprofessional. It makes the director look unprofessional and it puts a couple extra bucks in our bank account because we charge for every call we take and every one we have to make.
…On second thought, go ahead and make all those calls. Momma needs a new Playstation.
1:04am: “I’m just calling to give you a heads up. The family isn’t here so the body isn’t ready yet. We’ll give you a call when they leave.”
1:08am: The director is called and the call is cleared.
1:31am: “Okay! The body is ready for pickup.”
1:33am: The director is called and the call is cleared.
1:40am: “Hi, I’m with the donor network/eye bank. We will be approaching the family regarding donation. Please hold off on removal.”
1:42am: The director is called and the call is cleared.
2:00am: “Hi, I called almost an hour ago regarding Mr. Doe. Do you have an eta? I’m sorry? Oh. Yes. Well we’re ready now.”
2:02am: The director is called and the call is cleared.
2:05am: “Hello, I’m with the donor network/eye bank. Just letting you know that the family has declined donation and the body is ready for removal now.”
2:06am: The director is called and the call is cleared.
2:45am: “Um hi, yes, um. I called regarding a Mr. John Doe about two hours ago. So it turns out the family gave us the wrong number and will be using a different funeral home. You can disregard the call. Sorry about that.”
2:46am: The director is called and has a nervous breakdown.
To the heroic doctors, nurses, funeral directors, plumbers, HVAC techs, and other emergency sort of workers whose lines it is my duty, honor, and privilege to answer:
I mentioned on Monday that I work for ten hours a night answering other people’s telephones. This is true. I’ve been doing this for almost three years now, and working almost exclusively at night for over two. What this means is that when dealing with the funeral home accounts that make up the majority of our business, I’ve talked to my fair share of nurses.
Let’s be blunt. Nursing – especially hospice nursing – is a very difficult, and mostly thankless career and you definitely don’t get paid enough for it. About 95% of the nurses I talk to are nice, professional, and know exactly what needs to be done and when. They may not like being called out at 4am to pronounce a patient, but they are wise enough not to shoot the messenger. To these nurses I say: I love you. You are, in every sense of the word, a hero.
To the other 5% I say: How the hell did you graduate from nursing school?
I have spoken to hospice nurses who didn’t know what the phrase “next of kin” means. Who didn’t understand why I would ask for something as silly as a contact number for the next of kin. Who didn’t understand what I was asking for when I asked for the time of death. Yes. Those nurses.
So for the 5% who need a crash course, stick around and I’ll try to make it informative. If this all seems like common sense, I agree with you. Go ahead and enjoy the complementary wine and massage by our very own cabana boy, Antonio.
That’s it. See? It’s not hard. You and I are both professionals. I enjoy my job so help me help you and we can help make a very difficult time for a family just a little easier.
Congratulations on passing the course! Antonio will now see to your needs:
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