Stewing Away on the Back Burner

I know I should let it go. There’s nothing to be gained except a small satisfaction for me and perhaps my brother. My mom wants to just forget about it.

But I don’t want to let it go. I want an apology. A real apology, not an offhanded remark about “getting off on the wrong feet”.

And then there is the fact that perhaps there is nothing to apologize for. That we were hyper-sensitive and that any rational person would have let it slide. Perhaps we should have not gone to the funeral home the day Dad died, but waited until the next day. But we were ready for it to be over. We’d already spent 4 and a half days knowing that this was how it would probably turn out.

Here’s what happened. (I know I’ve mentioned this on Facebook and have told many friends about it — so feel free to ignore this post if you already are sick of hearing me talk about it).

In a nutshell, we believe that the young man who helped us plan my father’s funeral was rude to us in the initial moments of the planning process. I called him on it and he changed his attitude. Perhaps that is all that needed to be done. However this was not someone selling us a wrench at Ace Hardware. This was someone who was supposed to help us deal with the grief of losing a loved-one.

I stewed about this for about a month, then wrote a letter to the director (who was out of town when we used the services of his funeral home). I’ll post the letter (names removed) after the break.

When another month passed and I’d not heard back from the funeral home director, I sent him an email. I never got a response to the email.

I sort of figured that if he got the letter and the email and didn’t respond, it was not worth dealing with anymore. I’d gotten it off my chest and that is all that mattered. I nearly forgot about it until my mom callled me a few days ago and said that the funeral home director left a message on her answering machine. I asked her what he said and she said he wanted her to call him back but she was reluctant to do so. She thought she’d ramble on and make no sense. I said I’d send her a copy of the letter I’d sent him and then she’d know what was in it.

That evening I accessed Mom’s voice-mail account — we had it set up for that when she was here and I was curious to know what he said). Here is, verbatim, what the funeral director said:

Yes, [Mom’s Name],  this is [funeral home director’s name] of [name of funeral home]. I’ve been meaning to get ahold of you but I’ve…I’ve…it’s just been on my back burner and I really wanted to talk to you regarding a letter that Dona had sent me regarding the funeral services for your husband. I just wanted to kinda touch base with you and I had a couple of questions for you. So if you could, at your convenience, give me a call back [phone number] I’d appreciate it and I’d like to speak to you. Thank you.

The next evening I called my mom to see if she’d called the funeral home back. She hadn’t and pretty much said she didn’t want to and didn’t know what the big deal was. Maybe the person who helped us was young and inexperienced. She said it was part of the past and didn’t want to deal with it any more.

I can completely understand her point. After all, I was already done with it before she called to say they had called. But now I’m upset again. Upset that it took him 70 days to call. Just another, in my opinion, insult to us.

I may call him myself to tell him that Mom’s done with it and doesn’t want to reopen old wounds. I may tell him that I’m disappointed that it took so long for him to contact us. I may write a review on Yelp. Or I may just sweep it under the carpet and move on.

There are not too many other options for funeral homes in my home town. This family owns the two main ones and as Pastor Keith said on Facebook the other day, they’re the “biggest game in town”. I don’t know what we’ll do when we need funeral home services again — many many years from now of course.

Letter I wrote after the break.

November 29, 2010

Dear [Name of Director]:

On October 22, 2010 my mother, brother and I visited your funeral home to plan for my father’s funeral. My mother wanted to use [Name of funeral home] because she was impressed with you, [Name of Director], and the fact that years after a funeral you remembered having coordinated the funeral for her good friend. I was also interested in using your services because you and I graduated from Larkin High School the same year, although we did not run in the same circles. My mom was disappointed that you were not available, but assumed that she’d be treated appropriately by your employees.

Shortly after my father’s death my brother called your funeral home to see if we needed to make an appointment to plan for a funeral. He spoke to [employee] who said he’d be at the funeral home that afternoon and the next morning. We were anxious to get that part of the planning over, so we decided to visit that afternoon.

When we arrived at your funeral home in the late afternoon on Friday, October 22, 2010, no one was in the main office. We thought that, as there was a visitation of a prominent Elgin citizen going on at the time, everyone was busy. My brother called the number he’d called earlier and spoke to [employee] again. My brother felt that [employee] sounded annoyed and thought it might be because we were there that afternoon instead of the next morning. I think that [employee] was expecting us the next day because my brother had not called back. Regardless, [employee] did come down to meet us and took us to his upstairs office.

The first thing [employee] asked, after expressing his condolences, was when we wanted to have the funeral. Because we’d expected to have to follow the schedule of the funeral home we said we were not sure. We began to talk among ourselves about when we should have the funeral. I may have asked [employee] what he suggested. We also wondered if my mother’s church could handle whatever time we chose. At some point during this initial discussion, [employee] pushed his chair away from the desk, sat up, crossed his arms and said something like, “Well, what’s the point of today’s meeting?”

We were all shocked at [employee]’s question and demeanor. Later my brother said he was ready to leave and find a different funeral home. My mom was also upset at the question and [employee]’s attitude. She thought she’d chosen the right place. As for me, I knew that my father’s body was already in the building and that you’d probably charge us for transporting the body elsewhere (or for storage until someone else could pick him up). I knew we’d probably need, at least financially, to stay with your funeral home. I asked [employee] if he was the only person able to help us. He said that there were a few others and asked why I asked. I said, “My father died this morning and while you may have done this hundreds of times, this is my first time planning a funeral.” I also added, “I was expecting some warm fuzzies from you and, I have to say, I’m not feeling any.”

[employee] then changed his attitude and we got on with planning the funeral. As we were leaving the funeral home [employee] shook my hand and said something about being sorry we’d gotten off on the wrong foot. Except for some AV equipment troubles (which were fixed by my teenage son [you need to invest in an HDMI cable]) at the visitation everything went fine. [employee] was able to get representatives of the military for the graveside service despite not having my father’s discharge papers at the time.

I wanted you to know what happened when we first talked to one of your employees. I still feel that [employee], despite the fact everything turned out okay, was rude to us at the first meeting. I thought that now, more than a month later, my disappointment would have subsided. It has not. I hope that my calling [employee] on his attitude on the spot might help him be more understanding with future grieving families, but I also feel like you needed to know. I also feel the need for an official apology – if not to my whole family, at least to my mother. Based on earlier experiences she trusted your funeral home to help her in her grieving process, but it only added more grief.

The only other thing I’d like to mention is the fact that I find [employee] to be a little “cocky” or something. He has to realize who he is dealing with when he conducts funerals. Sometimes we are not listening to his directions and might need a gentle, kindly nudge when we don’t do quite the right thing. I felt that there were a few times [employee] was annoyed with us during the service when we didn’t follow his directions immediately. His annoyance showed on his face.
Looking forward to hearing from you soon.

Dona Patrick

7 thoughts on “Stewing Away on the Back Burner

  1. Oh my. If I’d received a note like that I would have taken a deep breath and plunged right in. Biggest game in town or not, this is not how you run a business.

    Would it be possible to not use a funeral home when your mother dies? I don’t know what the laws in IL are or how all that works, having never planned one. I’m pretty lucky here in STL–there are several good ones I’ve had experiences with.


    1. Thanks Bridgett — actually there are 4 funeral homes in Elgin. The two largest and most well-known are owned by this family. I’d not heard of the other two until recently. One seems pretty decent.


  2. I’m annoyed on your behalf, for the way the Director has a) delayed, b) responded to your mother, not you, and c) hasn’t addressed any of the issues you’ve raised. In fact, thinking about it, if the Funeral Director at my dad’s funeral had contacted my mother and not me, when I was the primary contact, I would have been furious! I suspect he’s done it because he thinks he’ll have an easier time with your mother – which means he’s a coward!

    I get the feeling that all you want is an acknowledgement that you’ve been heard, that they are sorry, and that they’re doing their best to ensure other families won’t be treated the same way. That shouldn’t be hard to do.


    1. Thanks Mali — Exactly. All I want is acknowledgement. It wasn’t that I wanted to be primary contact but that’s the way it turned out. I did most of the talking at the planning and the employee turned to me for instructions, etc during the services.

      I think i’ll call the director on Monday and just get it over with. I’m sick of stewing about this.


  3. Did you call the director Dona? I hope that whatever you did or didn’t do there’s some resolution to this. It’s appalling how insensitive people can be, especially when they’re in a line of work that requires just the opposite.


    1. Hi Helen — No I never called the director. I communicate much better in writing than on the telephone, but as I said in the comment to Mali I think I’ll call tomorrow.


  4. Just got off the phone with the director. He said he’d heard about it before my letter. Apparently the employee tried to find someone else to help us when we were looking at caskets. He called the brother of the director who told him go go back in and help us and stop being an a**hole. The brother then called the director.

    Also — the reason, valid or not, for the employee’s demeanor was because he was busy with the big visitation that was going on but didn’t want to make us wait because someone had once walked out and gone to a different funeral home when told to wait. The employee should have told my brother on the phone the first time that we should make sure to call ahead.

    The director assured me that the employee had been “severely reprimanded”.

    I brought up the fact that it took the director far too long to respond and he said he’d tried to call my mom because he wanted her view on the situation. That still rubs me the wrong way, but at least it is over.


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