Thursday, September 23, 2010

Rest in Peace or RIP Off - A Cautionary Tale

Rest in Peace or RIP Off -
A Cautionary Tale
By Sara L. Shomron

It should have never happened this way. My beloved father of blessed memory was buried several months when my mother and sisters recently asked me to take care of his headstone marker. It is a very sensitive and delicate issue deciding what to inscribe. Does the gravestone tell a story so that others walking by have an inkling of the life lived? What would the deceased have wanted? My mother and sisters wanted it kept simple, and so I did as asked.

Lesson #1: Google search and learn as much information NOW rather than waiting until the information is needed by you or a loved one. Once the need arises people are in grief, unable to function, and may become reliant on funeral services to assist in this delicate time of need.

My initial contact with the funeral counselor employed by my mother got off to an ominous start. The paperwork for my father, of blessed memory, couldn’t be found. Several times I was asked to email the exact spelling of his name. I felt I was getting the run-around and ran a Google search on the cemetery where he's interred. I was aghast to learn of cemetery grave disturbances which reads in part:

“… The evidence indicates there has been a pervasive practice of grave disturbances and desecrations at Eden Memorial Park Cemetery spanning an approximate 30 year time period. A number of groundskeepers and supervisors have admitted under oath they routinely damaged and broke burial vaults containing human remains, sometimes as much as two to three times per week. These groundskeepers and supervisors have further admitted that many times this would cause human remains, including bones, to spill out of the broken burial vaults. According to the sworn testimony, the groundskeepers were often instructed by the cemetery to discard any remaining bones, pieces of burial shrouds or broken casket remnants in the cemetery dump located at the northern most section of the cemetery... ”

I was distraught. Why had my family selected this cemetery? What had happened to my father’s paperwork? How would we know it was indeed him in the grave? The headstone started tugging on my heartstrings.

Lesson #2: When someone offers to help trouble shoot, find out their credentials, job title, and responsibilities. As well meaning as they may be, do not assume they hold the capacity to assist.

Not to cause my mother further duress, I emailed my sister an update. My sister immediately contacted “S” and instructed me that it was with “S” I should be in direct contact regarding the headstone marker. Meanwhile the funeral counselor found the paperwork and instructed me to consult with my family as to what the marker should read. I found the funeral counselor unprofessional and switched to the services provided by “S.” I was pleased to work with “S” who had made a nice marker suggestion saying there would be no extra charge. “S” further told me I should sign my mother’s name and date since my mother’s health is deteriorating. I did as instructed. “S” then informed me that she had phoned the funeral counselor who would put in the order that Tuesday. I thought it all squared away.

Lesson #3: Always ask for confirmation. Don’t assume anything.

Hopeful the timing of a surprise birthday visit to my mother and the headstone unveiling ceremony would coincide, I recently contacted “S” and the funeral counselor asking if it would be possible to expedite the process as I’m traveling a great distance and at a great expense. You can imagine my surprise, aggravation, and disgust when the funeral counselor emailed me he had neither received the paperwork nor the order which I had submitted to “S” three weeks earlier.

Both funeral counselor and “S” remained silent when I shared the email correspondence between “S” and me with the funeral counselor. I also attached the headstone marker order to the funeral counselor which had been earlier submitted to “S”. Mind you, the funeral counselor had my email address and immediately following his phone conversation with “S” could have contacted me saying it was with him, and him alone, I needed to place the order and not “S”. I found him negligent in his job; this negligence directly responsible for my missing the headstone marker unveiling ceremony.

Lesson #4: Contact the employee’s superior when the employee doesn’t give you, the client, satisfaction.

I emailed the funeral counselor and “S” asking for the status and update on the marker. Their silence was deafening. Finally I emailed the funeral home director and marketing office,cc’d “S” and the funeral counselor, providing them with a brief synopsis. I received an immediate response from “S” claiming it wasn’t her job to order the marker. Why didn't “S” state this in our initial correspondence? Likewise the funeral counselor said he put the order in when he received it from me adding that it takes 7 to 10 days for the proof and once the proof is signed off it is another 6 to 8 weeks. And that the headstone marker proof had just come in.

Lesson #5: Hold fast to what’s agreed.

The funeral counselor emailed me the headstone marker proof but it did not reflect “S’s” suggestion to put a ‘pey nun' inside the Mogen David on top, at no additional cost. I asked the funeral counselor to please make the change and email the updated marker inscription for my signature. I then decided - dash it! Let’s just get this done. So I signed the initial proof and emailed it to the funeral counselor. The following day the funeral counselor emailed that he was making the requested correction and I should receive new proof later that day. Two days have since passed and no new proof. I am still waiting.

Lesson #6: Professionalism demands responsibility and accountability.

This all could have been avoided: 1) had the funeral counselor’s paperwork been organized such that it didn’t take about a week to find the paperwork for my father, of blessed memory. 2) had “S” stated from the onset that it was not her job to order the headstone. Inasmuch as she made suggestions and told me there would be no additional cost led me to reasonably assume she was so empowered.

In conclusion, people in mourning are very vulnerable. The dead cannot repay the living for the honor accorded and this makes it a very special kindness, act of devotion, and mitzvah. A word of counsel especially to those that are of the mindset to purchase a cemetery plot in advance: fill out the forms as to stone preference, and inscription wanted at the time the cemetery plot is bought. It will save loved ones heartstrings from being tugged at by headstones.


Bonnie said...

Sorry to say, that it happens everywhere.

My father's headstone sank many years ago and became nearly inlocatable. I and my sister spent many hours on the phone with the cemetery management office to have this corrected. Finally, as he was a veteran, I contacted a veteran's group who promptly forced the situation to be rectified.

Batya said...

Sara, thanks for posting.

Bonnie, that's awful. Good to know about the service for veterans.

Anonymous said...

How frustrating - I can't believe how incompetent "S" was.

Sara Layah said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Sara Layah said...

What a nightmare! I am glad you had the support of a veterans group to turn to for help.

I hesitated to blog about this but then thought others might benefit from my experience.

"S" was incompetent, negligent, and I would later learn insensitive. Her follow-up email expressed callous indifference to her (mis)handling of the headstone marker and the aggravation she caused. "S" neither offered an apology nor an admittance of any wrong doing; merely chalked it up to a misunderstanding.

abigail said...

This is terrible. May your father rest in peace and may your extraordinary efforts help his neshama to have an aliyah.

Julie said...

I'm SO SORRY!! I always thought my mom and dad's preplanned funeral arrangements to be morbid, but I have since amended that opinion. Your experience further supports a new outlook on such things. Also, as awful as it seems, I doubt the cemetery is alone in what transpires. I would bet that there is some degree of damage and error in most any cemetery, but obviously the one in which your dad is interred seems to have an inordinately humongous problem!! It sounds as though it is under investigation, if there have been sworn testimonies. What is being done about it? I sincerely hope there is a way the cemetery can reassure you that your dad's remains are truly resting in peace as intended.

Sara Layah said...

thanks and amen!

It isn't comforting or easy coming to terms with our own demise. I commend your parents for their ability and bravery to look ahead and make their own funeral arrangements. Hopefully it has given them a peace of mind, and has saved you a lot of unnecessary hassle, anguish, and distress.

It seems the investigation is still in process. I don't think there is any way to know for certain who is in the grave - short of a DNA check - and few will want to go that route.

Anonymous said...

I am so sorry about what you had to go through with your father's (z"l) headstone.

Sara Layah said...

Earlier today the funeral counselor emailed me that the headstone order was submitted yesterday and will take anywhere from 4-6 weeks to be manufactured.

Anonymous said...

Glad it worked out - so sorry it took so long.

Julie said...

Glad it's under control and you no longer have to stress over it.

Sara Layah said...

The memorial marker has been installed!

Anonymous said...

That’s good news. I know that you’re relieved.