Thursday, January 5, 2012

Things Learned About What Happens Next

It's been a couple of days, and most of the details of my mother's passing have been attended to. Thank you, everyone, for your expressions of support and love! My family and I very much appreciate every one of you, and it is of great comfort for us to know that you're out there.

I said before that I was learning a lot about this whole thing, and I thought it might be useful to share some of that. Here's what I've learned:

  • The task of informing people takes more effort than one might at first believe, especially if, as in my family, most people are spread to opposite ends of the earth and have no desire to talk to each other. The Digital Age has made finding people a great deal easier, but it still took a full two days before all of my mother's kin were contacted.

  • When someone dies and there is any question about the manner of death (even if that person is elderly), an investigation is undertaken to determine factually what happened. A detective is assigned, and the coroner arranges for whatever procedures are necessary. Because coroners are often country government officials, they don't have the facilities to do much more than basic procedures and bodies are often shipped to other places.

  • It often takes a month or more for such an investigation to be concluded.

  • My mother's primary wish was that her body be left to science and medicine, but because of the length of time between her passing and her arrival at a place that could preserve her body under refrigeration, no organ or tissue donation programs would take her. She was also over the weight-to-height limit that most programs have (she was very short, which meant she had to weigh about as much as a ham sandwich), and so she would have been ineligible for that reason, in any case. My parents made a mistake in expecting that all they had to do was call and offer their bodies after the fact. In particular, they erred in relying on such programs to take on the cost of disposing of the bodies. They didn't have a Plan B option, and that made for more stress, not less, in terms of what to do.

  • A forensic donation might have been possible, but there are no programs nearby that would have made such a gift practical. A forensic donation is different than a medical one in that there are almost no qualifiers to participate. Unfortunately, there are only a couple of programs in the country. The nearest one to my folks was in Tennessee. The university would have taken the body, but we would have had to pay to transport it there, which made no financial sense and meant additional costs.

  • Every state has its own laws regarding how bodies must be handled. In Alabama, for instance, a body may not be transported out of state unless it is embalmed.

  • Funeral homes take care of much of the paperwork associated with someone's death, but there is much in the way of detail that they require in order to do that job well. I didn't have much of that when I started making arrangements and it took a while to pull it together.

  • There are several different kinds of services that funeral homes offer. The most basic (the default for my mom) was what is called a Direct Cremation. That is, they'll cremate the body, but not offer their facilities for services or memorials of any kind. This service, at its cheapest, was more than $1,000 (several charged twice that figure). Social Security, by contrast, offers a benefit of around $250 for burial services.

  • Funeral homes are a "money-up-front" business for the most part. This makes sense when you think about it, but it does present certain problems when you consider the following:

  • Funeral homes are usually the ones generating the death certificate.

  • No insurance in the universe will pay out a policy with a death benefit until they receive a death certificate.

  • Funeral homes will not generate a death certificate until the check clears.

  • No matter how well you might deal with the passing of someone close to you, the task of dealing with everything you see above (which, you will note, does not include going through possessions and settling other matters like bills, property or inheritance) is more exhausting than you'll expect. I offered to take care of most of the details on behalf of my father because I could tell he was not mentally in a place that would allow him to do it. I'm glad I did; it was more than enough for *me*.

Now that things are largely taken care of, I can go back to work and actually focus on all that goes into teaching.  I have grades due on Monday and an intercession activity to set up.  The world keeps on turning, after all.


Mrs. Chili said...

I had the benefit (?) of knowing well ahead of time that my mother was going to die in relatively short order and, as such, I had the opportunity to make a number of the arrangements and have all the information collated and ready to go. When she passed, I withdrew a folder from a box I kept with her and handed it to the duty nurse; within were all the papers, documents, numbers and facts that needed to be in one place for all the various agencies to do their thing. Literally all I had to do was drive to the crematorium to pick up her ashes.

I've said it before, but I'm saying it again; anything you (any of you) need is yours for the asking.

running guy said...

In the neighborhood my family is from the Magni family has run a funeral home for about three generations. Andrew Magni grew up with my parents. His father started the funeral home and his son is taking it over. When my mom died we called Andrew and he came by and took her body. We did the same with my Dad. The day after my father died my sister Kim, my brother Rick, and I met with Andrew. We planned the wake and funeral, picked out the coffin, and arranged the for the event. No money changed hands.

We had to find a place to have a post funeral reception with food ( we are Italians). The funeral was on Thursday December 24th but the sons of Italy was available for the reception. The next morning at 7:30 a fast talking Italian woman who ran a local catering service called me. We talked about food for 75 people, chicken parm, pasta, salad, two soups, assorted Italian pastry, meatballs sausages....

I asked if she took credit cards, she said no. I said I would drop off a check that day if I had to. She said there was no need. I could pay her at reception. Site unseen she provided us with a great feast for $1250. Talking with her later we realized that she had done the food for my mother's funeral.

I don't know if Lisa talked to you, but we would love to feed you folks tomorrow night if that works for you (it's an Italian thing).

I told Suzanne that we are available for anything you and your family need. Talk to you later.

Mark Mazzola said...

By the way, running guy is Mark Mazzola.