Mom passed away three weeks after she broke her hip. We did not expect her to die and we had not made plans for a funeral or cremation in that state. Mom and dad had a permanent home in the north and a winter mobile home in the south. We had discussed end-of-life issues, but we had not made any plans for an out-of-state death.
Mom and dad filled out forms when dad retired in which they stated their preference for a Veterans Cemetery for burial. A few years before mom had told me she didn’t want any funeral service at all, but that dad would want something because he was more religious. I always wondered how that would work. I was about to find out.
The hospital called me in the middle of the night when mom passed away. I guess I must have called back the next day for I can’t remember exactly when they told me that I had just a day or two to determine where her body would go. When I said I had no idea, the person on the phone said usually the family has made plans in advance. “Well,” I said, “We didn’t. I will call you back when I know what to tell you.”
I called her Hospice Team to ask for some ideas as I didn’t know what funeral homes to even call. They gave me a list of funeral homes that other clients had been satisfied with, but didn’t give me any recommendations. I called several for information about cremation and costs. The prices I was quoted ranged from about $700 to over $2500 for essentially the same service. I couldn’t figure out how to determine the right choice.
I asked dad which was a mistake as he wanted to go with the cheapest, and I did. In the end, that caused a lot of problems and I wouldn’t make that choice again. Of course, we won’t be dealing with a funeral home in the south next time either. While dad had Alzheimer’s, he was pretty lucid most of the time after he grasped the idea that mom was actually dead.
Two of my children flew south hoping to see mom before she passed away. They missed her by just 2 days, but were then able to help me make the arrangements for the cremation. My son drove and we all went to the funeral home – me, dad and my 2 children. The funeral home was the opposite of fancy – with linoleum floors and folding chairs, etc. I felt as if we had walked in on a grade “B” movie. Even dad cracked a joke and we all laughed right as the funeral home director walked into his tiny office. They had to bring in extra chairs to seat the four of us.
By that time they had already picked up mom’s remains from the hospital as they wanted her picked up fairly quickly. I figured we weren’t having a service so the quality of the funeral home shouldn’t matter. We discussed what would go in the obituary and signed the papers and paid the bill. I had dad sign too so I could show him later in case he forgot what we had agreed to. They were to ship mom’s “cremains” to my home in the north in about 6 weeks. I would then arrange to have them buried in the veterans cemetery after I returned home.
I never knew it before, but the funeral home is also responsible for completing the death certificate. They fill in the blanks and send it to the attending physician. The physician fills in the medical details and then returns it to the funeral home. The funeral home then sends the forms to the state to be filed and soon the state sends the death certificates to the funeral home. The funeral home then sends the death certificates to the family. I ordered enough to have for all the legal things I had to do. I needed several to file for death benefits from insurance and social security for dad. I needed to send some to banks to close out her accounts.
The funeral home was not very good with the paperwork details. First we noticed they had the date of death off by 1 day in her obituary. I didn’t think that was a big problem so I didn’t call them about it. However, they also had the date of death wrong on the death certificate! They had her dying the day before she actually did. This would cause problems getting her medical bills paid for her last day in the hospital if Medicare thought she was dead by then!
I called the funeral home and told them of the error and that we needed it fixed and we needed new corrected death certificates. Mom had passed away on Thanksgiving weekend. All of the paperwork, etc. was slowed down by the holidays. First, the original papers didn’t come back from the doctor for several weeks. Then they had to go back to the doctor. At each step, staff were on vacation and the papers just sat. When I called the funeral home, the man just laughed at me and said I wouldn’t have it until after New Years. I said I needed it in December as the bank wanted me to close her accounts before the year ended. In the end, I didn’t have a death certificate until after New Years, just as the laughing funeral employee had said.
I learned that there is a big difference in funeral homes and that difference is in the service that is provided. They all might use the same crematorium, but the funeral home’s own staff works with the family (or not), provides the obituary and most will provide a list of other tasks a family should be doing. They provide support to the family in their “time of need”. I would say the inexpensive funeral home we chose failed on everything except the actual cremation and shipping of the cremains.
In the end, going cheap caused me a lot of extra grief when I needed it least. I had taken some books from the library that helped me also to determine all the things I had to do. A good funeral home would have guided me through that. Now I am starting to plan ahead for dad’s funeral. I will use what I learned to make a better decision next time!