I feel compelled to address a few things that the funeral meme of the month that has brought to light.  An anonymous funeral director(?) (arrghbrains) posted in Reddit, a massive rant/exposé of the ills that afflict the funeral industry. Take a moment to read it, as it will help to make sense of the soliloquy that on which I’m about to embark.

I have to give kudos to this person because as I read it, I had dueling thoughts of “You’re moronic wolftit” and “That’s right, you tell it like it is!” While this person has hit some nails on the head, the extremity and shock value that they are playing on stands to set back set those of us that are trying to change an industry with action and process rather than 75 seconds of internet fame. And there’s our industry rag popping up with “Who’s going to stand up and defend our profession?” I’ll get to them a little later. And I’ll try not to “hyperlink the shit” out of this post.

The graphic and pissed off nature of the post is what seems to be compelling people to retweet and post, and I have to say – it’s a pretty gripping account.  And what arrghbrains is saying, for the most part, is grounded in some facts. What I can’t get on board with is the notion that everyone in the funeral home is here to separate you from reality, and spy on your every emotion so that they can sodomize your wallet. I’ve been in the industry for a lot of years and I’ve managed a whole bunch of funeral homes, most of which are SCI firms.  I am definitely not a strong apologizer for Dignity Memorial. In fact, they are so misguided and delusional, it got me off my tail to start my own funeral home. Here’s what I will say about my experience managing their funeral homes: almost every funeral director I worked with or had in my employ was just trying to do right by the families and help them through a difficult time. Training was second to none, and the bottom line for complaint resolution was to tell the truth and make it right.  Despite SCI’s desire to increase margin and stock value and otherwise burn through well-meaning and qualified people. Industry critics are almost always the first to sling poo at the kind hearted and hardworking people on the front lines. If arrghbrains is really one of those front line workers, it is truly sad to think that they aren’t seeing some of the good people in our business.

This graphic shocker of a write-up on embalming is tiresome.  Maybe it’s because I live in, and am a native of, the Pacific Northwest. By and large, we don’t embalm people here. Because it isn’t part of our culture, there aren’t many families being taken for the embalming ride. Yet this whole notion of embalming is still a fascination for people.  I think I could make a career out of just debunking myths of embalming, of which, this joker is perpetuating many. No one is pureeing grandma’s liver and pancreas. Sorry gore lovers, the process doesn’t work that way. Embalmers aren’t Area 51 alien experts that can vacuum out your relative’s organs.  Save that freakish hyperbole for a TV show.

Embalming is the replacement of some of the body’s fluids with a chemical to slow the process of decomposition.

It’s that simple.

And that clinical.

And yes, the blood that gets drained out heads to the sewer. The author is right is that it’s completely optional. There are painfully few times where it would be required, and no one should be telling you otherwise.  To read arrghbrains account of a funeral arrangement, you would think that there’s a bare bulb in the arrangement room and rapid document movements to keep you guessing. No one needs to put a family into zip ties to get them to agree to embalming. All a funeral home has to do is say that it’s “company policy” to embalm prior to viewing and no one is going to argue with them.  The idea that we have some kind of environmental meltdown at the behest of embalming chemical companies is a bit much. Here’s my green take on embalming. It’s morally abject that the industry railroads families into embalming, so let’s have a discussion about reality and not some weird conspiracy surrounding the preservation of bodies and funeral CIA. It’s way easier to change things when you’re dealing with actualities rather than high drama. Drop the drama and tell it like it is arrghbrains.

Caskets. Yay for caskets. Sometimes I wish that people would fixate on the boxes rather than the embalming. Arrghbrains is completely right about being able to get a casket anywhere you want. They are also right that many of them are complete crap. Comparison shopping is something that you should do with any product you buy, and caskets are no different. Score one for arrghbrains for pointing out that you can bring your own casket.  If the firm is smart enough to have a competitive price for their caskets though, don’t go through the hassle of orchestrating a casket purchase and delivery if it’s a matter of a couple hundred dollars.  It’s going to be worth the money to not have to hassle with it. And yes, we actually make money on caskets. Much like a restaurant makes money on entrees.

Guilt and the sales angle. Yeah, it’s true that there have been some really dirty funeral directors, and it’s true that there have been plenty of families that have been taken to the cleaners by way of being guilted into buying expensive stuff in the vein of “if you really loved here, this one over here would be better…” Fortunately, I just haven’t met anyone that works with families that had that motivation, or even had the desire to steer people around that way.

I’ve read over this rant half a dozen times now, and the further I read, the more I’m compelled to think that this person has never had a funeral director or embalmer’s license and they certainly have never managed or owned a funeral home. Not because they have no clue about what they are saying. They have a clue, but because it’s all so hysterical sounding and clouded with half-truth blanket statements that it lacks genuineness.  If arrghbrains worked in our industry, they would be working side-by-side with the good hearted people that are driven to help people at a horrible time far more often than you would be working for/with some crazyass shyster that wants to get his jollies off of demeaning and screwing the greif-stricken.  If arrghbrains does actually work in the biz, what does it say about them that they decide to stay and work for the man, dicking people over and then go into the shadows to write a whistleblower piece in a response to a Reddit thread?

And I have a bone to pick, so to speak, with Connecting Directors and the call to “Defend our profession”: Oh please.  You know as well as I do that some of these things are going on in funeral homes across the nation and people need to be aware of the potential hazards. We’ve been so aggressively “defending our profession” for so many years that our BS defenses got us into this place.  The things that arrghbrains has put out there that are true, are indefensible. The people in this industry that can defend the embalming and sales practices outlined in this rant are revolting and should have been shamed out of our profession long ago. The problem is that we’ve been lying to ourselves for so long that we believe it.  When we read posts as absurd as arrghbrains’ and think that we need to defend something is when we need to take a step back and ask “What is so true in this post that we feel the need to protect ourselves?”

To wrap this up, there’s one last point that I need to make clear. Funeral homes – either shady or reputable don’t qualify as a “pyramid scheme.”  Funeral homes have a business model that is, or should be, sustainable (in the business sense, not environmental) because there is a steady demand and proven model for maintaining the business. There is no way to involve network marketing to establish an unsustainable cash flow model in the servicing of the dead.  You either have dead people to work with, or you don’t.  You can’t get your cousins to register three of their friends to try this wonderful new investment in the dead.

At this point, you should be saying “So, Jeff, for all of your blabbering, what the hell are we supposed to do with all of your protesting of arrghbrains’ compelling and insightful exposé of the truth in funeral?!”

The same message you will get if you read almost every post I’ve put on my blog or have listen to any conversation I have with a family or group that I speak  to:


The way you solve all of this used horsefood that arrghbrains, the funeral homes, the FCA, the National Funeral Directors Assn., SCI, et. al have been feeding you is to TALK!


That’s it!  It doesn’t cost you a penny.  You can pre-arrange, or not. You can sign documents or not. But what you need to do is have an honest, IN DEPTH, conversation about what you want them to do with your body after you have died. Since this soapbox is already running too long, you can read what I have to say about talking to your family here.

Go on. Get out of here. Do some real research and talk to your family.