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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:
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.
Full disclosure: This is not a funeral home whose phones I have ever answered but the “it’s taking too long to get the cremains back!” is a message I’ve taken many, many, many times for several dozen different places.
Unfortunately where I am I can’t watch the video and it doesn’t say in the article how long the families were kept waiting. To be honest though, I think anything over a week is too long and I’ve talked to families who’ve been kept waiting several weeks. Understandably, they were less than thrilled.
Of course my first instinct is to shield the director because he pays for the service that gives me a paycheck and there are several people in the world who don’t understand that the one thing funeral homes don’t usually do is pick the body up and immediately chuck it in the fire. I have talked to nurses who make sure I know to tell the director to not cremate the body until the family has had a chance to view it.
So. Um. Speaking of people who should know better…
Things that I know that I can’t actually tell you while I have you on the phone because I’m expected to play a certain degree of dumb: A funeral home cannot (and will not) cremate a body until all the i’s are dotted and t’s crossed. If they don’t wait until that’s done, they’re either in a place where the laws are really relaxed (not likely) or in big trouble because that is a HUGE no no. Oy.
So I’ve heard anywhere from 24 hours (if it’s prearranged and the family/doctor/coroner has already signed off on it and even then, while close, it’s not a pick up-chuck into fire situation) to a week. If it takes anything more than that people start getting irritated because memorial services start getting pushed back. Burials don’t happen (yes, people bury urns – my grandfather was cremated and buried in a garbage disposal at his request …that should tell you everything about my sense of humor right there). Stuff like that.
And like I said, my first instinct is to shield the director, but I can’t wrap my head around this one. How long did the families wait? The wording on the article is weird and sounds like the bodies were actually just stashed in the shop. If that’s the case: dude wtf?!
Also: Y’know. Randomly. I think the comment on the article calling for the directors to be jailed for life is a tad excessive. Perspective, my darlings. The dead don’t care if they’re left hanging before the barbeque. They ain’t goin’ anywhere on account of a sudden case of dead.
I feel for the families. I do. Every time I take that sort of message I feel bad, because I am a human being with who still knows what the word empathy means. But the dead have no such feels to give. They weren’t killed by the director. They were just left hanging, and there is a massive world of difference between the two.
I also note that nobody’s pointed this out:
WTF is a funeral home doing with a second hand store? Think about that for a minute. Do you really want to shop there?
Happy Memorial Day! Since I’m getting 14 hours of holiday pay while you lucky ducks get your barbeques and whatnots, have a fluffy fun lil post and remember why we get to do fun things like barbeques and picnics:
My job is full of fun. Considering how often we deal with death and those left grieving, you wouldn’t think so.
But then we get the weird callers. Of course, my first instinct upon getting a weird caller is to make them feel at home by being equally weird:
After suppressing that temporary urge, I’m able to deal with the call in a professional manner but every once in awhile I’ll get one that just makes me stop and stare at the computer for several seconds while my brain blue screens.
These are very real things that very real human beings have said to me. Nope, I am not naming the business they were calling and yes, this covers more than just the ones calling funeral homes.
But first, a PSA:
“I just killed my husband/girlfriend/dad/mom/poodle you need to come pick him/her/it up.” – is a running “joke” among funeral home prank callers. I’ve gotten several variations on this over the past couple years. It wasn’t funny the first time. It will never be funny.
If you’ve ever been tempted: Don’t.
And now, onto the actual really strange stuff (hopefully funny or at least groan-worthy)! Wording has been slightly changed to protect the not-so-innocent.
“I am a certified, licensed prophet. That’s prophet with a ‘ph’.” – funeral home
“My toilet has gremlins.” – plumbing company (no, they were not joking)
“Are you a person?” – every account ever
“My dog is having the butt problem again. …They’ll know what I mean.” – veterinarian
“Do you sell formaldehyde? I want to preserve this animal embryo I found when I went hunting.” – funeral home
“Do I have to be dead before you’ll cremate me?” – funeral home
“So I used to be a stripper.” – funeral home (an elderly woman told my male co-worker this …at 2am)
“NO WAR IN DETROIT!” – funeral home that is no where near Detroit…
At least no one can say my life isn’t interesting.
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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