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Funeral Monitor
2001 Funeral Monitor Back Issues

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January 2003

Week of January 6, 2003

  • Burial or Cremation? The Seminarians Share Their Personal Preferences
    The words of an early cremationist 125 years ago illustrate some of the same divided sentiments among attendees to the recent seminar in Tiburon. There was a lot of talk about burial vs. cremation and how much consumers should, need, or want to know about either method of disposition. But one of the issues not discussed -- in light of knowing what they know, and seeing what they've seen -- is what the industry leaders are planning for themselves. We asked and received some surprising responses.

  • If Necessity is the Mother of Invention, Beware the Unitarianss
    This article was originally published in the Funeral Monitor January 14, 2002. At least one funeral director has taken parts of the memorial service described in the article and incorporated them into his business.

  • Monitoring...
    • It's Not the Collecting of Orthopedic Devices, but Their Disposition
    • New Trial for Florida Funeral Director Who Murdered His Wife

Week of January 13, 2003

  • "For the Life of OUR Business"
    "Many have profited handsomely by the National Funeral Directors Association's new focus and new direction unveiled a couple months ago at its national convention in San Antonio. There is little doubt the association's costly effort to reinvent itself in the minds of consumers, public officials, and the media has been good for the ailing economy; but what it's going to do for the rank-and-file members who pay the freight is unclear.

  • New Jersey FDA Walks the Talk
    There are no shrinking violets in the leadership of the New Jersey FDA when it comes to tossing out a member caught with her hand in the till.

  • Monitoring...
    • SCI Institutes New Payroll Procedures
    • ICFA and NFDA to Hold "Great Discussion"
    • Not in MY Backyard
    • Another Celebration
    • Hello? It's 2003
    • Federated's Monthly Averages
    • Extreme Funeral Inflation
    • Is It Real, or Memorex?

  • What Would YOU Do?
    Beacham McDougald of Laurinburg, North Carolina, is either the MOST conscientious of FDs alive, or the most blissfully Pigpen-like in attracting trouble. Here's rundown of his latest travail. How would you handle it?

  • Burial Grounds of Unkept Promises
    According to an editorial in the New York Times, "It has been more than a decade since contractors excavating for a federal office tower in Lower Manhattan came upon a Colonial-era cemetery for slaves and others of African descent.

  • Driving Down Suicides
    Environmentally friendly car engines aren't just saving the planet. They are also helping to prevent suicides.

Week of January 20, 2003

  • States Back Off on Prepaid Plans
    How do prepaid college tuition plans differ from preneed funeral funding? While many funeral homes continue to sell tomorrow's funeral at today's prices, the 20 states that encouraged tuition prepayment in the booming 90s are now rethinking the wisdom of guaranteeing prices.

  • Quid pro Quo in Pennsylvania (or FD Protection in a Bear Market)
    SecurChoice, the prearranged funeral trust program owned and endorsed by the Pennsylvania Funeral Directors Association has all the regular consumer-confounding bells and whistles. It also has something else.

  • Monitoring...
    • Hillenbrand Settles for $250m
    • Prime's Audit May Yet Be Completed in Our Lifetimes
    • It Might Not Be Ethical, but It's Not Fraud If It's Legal
    • Florida Couple Jailed
    • New York FD Slammer Bound
    • Total Restitution May Depend on Ex-cemeterian's Health
    • FSF Board a Who's Who in FS
    • Art, Poetry, and History

  • The Smallpox Vaccine Program
    Now that President Bush has ostensibly received his smallpox vaccine, it's time to look at what our friends at Health and Human Services have planned for us.

Week of January 27, 2003

  • Hoping to Avoid More Menorahs, SCI Institutes Buck-passing Scheme
    If a minister conducting a committal service at an SCI cemetery were to inadvertently slip on the plastic grass around the freshly dug grave and break his leg by falling partially or totally into the hole, who would be liable for the accident?

  • On Top of Everything, Funeral Homes Expected to Guarantee SCI Cemetery Charges
    It appears Service Corporation International has rolled out a couple more cover-their-fanny and improve-their-accounts receivable requirements in Florida.

  • Monitoring...
    • Florida Seeking Tougher Laws?
    • Texas Trumps North Carolina in Solving Cremation Authorization Dilemmas
    • VA Increases Cash Allowance for OBCs
    • Protect Your Car's Finish Into Perpetuity

  • FTC Needs Cash Before Curbing Telemarketing
    Buried on page 20 of the January 9 New York Times is a report by Adam Clymer sure to gladden the hearts of telemarketers "While members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee praised the Federal Trade Commission today for seeking to curb telemarketing with a national 'do not call' registry, the chairman of the committee suggested it was unlikely to make that happen soon".

  • Cardiac Arrests
    This is a story of a seventy-one-year-old man who had lived alone in a local trailer park, and a forty-two-year-old woman from out of town, who came to bury her father presumed to have succumbed to massive heart attack. From the book from I Thought My Father Was God, edited by Paul Auster, Picador USA, 2001

February 2003

Week of February 3, 2003

  • Prearranging for Heaven's Sake
    The Archdiocese of Milwaukee has given good Catholics yet another reason to preplan and prepay their burials -- to ensure they're in the right place at the right time when Judgment Day rolls around.

  • What Is It About Florida?
    Trying anything has, indeed, helped make Florida the poster-state for funerary funny business in the last decade.

  • Osceola's Head
    History shows nothing that happens in Florida should take anyone by surprise. Osceola -- a Seminole Indian warrior who was captured by the militia in 1837 on his way to peace talks in Fort Peyton, Florida, and eventually imprisoned at Fort Moultrie in South Carolina.

  • Monitoring...
    • Newark Archbishop Bans Personal Eulogies from Funeral Mass
    • Accessorize, Accessorize, Accessorize
    • Embalmers: Unite
    • Moving Day Blues at Rose Hills Cemetery
    • BYO to a Restaurant? It'll Cost You
    • Paradise Lost for Some if Pagoda Comes Down

Week of February 10, 2003

  • Christmas in February
    It was Christmas in February when I read the following letter regarding the Funeral Monitor 1/27/03 from funeral director Miles Martin in Mt. Morris, Michigan.

  • Monitoring...
    • Opinions Fly Re: SCI's Marsellus Casket
    • Corporate Culture
    • A Simple Mistake
    • PA Institutes New Security Measures
    • Will Tennessee FDs Appeal to the Supremes?
    • Dust to Dust, Jelly to Jelly
    • Federated's Monthly Averages

  • No Irrational Exuberance for Short Sellers
    Gretchen Morgenson reports in the January 26, 2003 New York Times: "If you own shares in a company that declares war on short sellers, there is only one thing to do.

  • Will the New Congress be Kind to Small Business?
    Bush Tax Cuts that includes repealing the estate tax, which Republicans like to call the "death tax." Repeal is viewed as a boon to small-business owners who wish to pass their companies on to their children.

  • Ex-FD a Born Again Shipping Mogul
    A funeral director stripped of his license to run a funeral home 20 years ago for the unauthorized shipment of donated cadavers from the University of North Carolina to medical schools in the Caribbean. Is the surprising subject of a lengthy and mostly flattering article in the January 26 News & Observer by Molly Hennessy-Fiske.

Week of February 17, 2003

    "Applicant must be a US citizen, less than 35 years of age, and in good health…Position will require relocating."

  • When A Soldier Dies
    Very few people prepare for the day when a family member might die, but the reality is that a death could happen at any time, especially when the family member is a soldier.

  • Employer Responsibilities
    Several of my employees are in the reserves: the National Guard, the Army, and the Navy. If they get called up, what are my responsibilities?

  • Patently Coincidental
    An article regarding Taghulk v. SCI and Batesville Casket suit.

  • The Independent Alliance Wants to Know What You Think
    Independents have begun to form a national alliance to foster and coordinate communication between established independent groups to develop a regulatory consensus.

Week of February 24, 2003

  • Pentagon Eyes Mass Graves
    An old tradition could come to an abrupt halt if large numbers of soldiers are killed by chemical or biological agents, according to a proposal quietly circulating through Pentagon corridors.

  • Monitoring...
    • Does HBO's 6FU Ad Offend or Amuse?
    • Six Down, 275 to Go

  • A Little Learning, a Lotta Lunch
    NFDA is promoting its Professional Women's Conference, April 11-14, in Newport Beach, California, by saying one thing and perhaps delivering another.

  • Kill the Messenger
    A new website has been set up that offers to deliver messages to the dead for a price of $10 a word – with a five-word minimum.

March 2003

Week of March 3, 2003

  • Pentagon Says No to Cremation (for now)
    A panel of military health and mortuary affairs experts had been considering whether years of U.S. military mortuary policy should be amended to include cremation. The concern was that in the event of a mass-casualty attack in the Persian Gulf, mortuary teams could become overwhelmed with large numbers of contaminated remains.

  • Shepardson Dies at 59
    Tom Shepardson the creator of the Disaster Mortuary Operation Rescue Team (D-MORT), died February 18 of an apparent heart attack while plowing the parking lot of his funeral home to get ready for funerals in the morning.

  • Are You Too Flexible?
    By their very entrepreneurial nature, small companies are especially vulnerable to Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA) violations. When it come to employment law, an entrepreneur's flexibility could be a liability if it leads to playing fast and loose with workers' schedules or asking people to put in long hours and then promising them "comp time."

  • Idaho Reinvents Two-tiered Licenses
    Thirty years ago, Idaho rolled its funeral directors and embalmers into one category called "morticians." Now it looks as though they're going to be separated again.

  • Monitoring...
    • FFDA Provides Valuable (but Regrettable) Support
    • Denying Death
    • "Prime Time" Still on Hold
    • A Year After Noble, Families Still Furious
    • Menorah Hearing Resumes
    • No Damnation from the Archdiocese

  • Cremation Authorization Conundrum in North Carolina
    In North Carolina, the chief medical examiner comes to the rescue when funeral director Beacham McDougald of Laurinburg could not get an authorization to cremate a man's decomposing body he'd been refrigerating for three weeks.

Week of March 10, 2003

  • A Race to the Bottom?
    On February 24 when Stewart Enterprises announced the upcoming report of its first quarter earnings will miss earlier, rosier expectations, the market reacted immediately and in the negative. By the close of trading, Stewart shares tumbled $1.19 (25 percent) to $3.60 in possible response to Chairman and CEO William Rowe's finger-pointing to fewer deaths, more cremations, low consumer confidence in the national economy, and decreased trust earnings.

  • Monitoring...
    • Hogan and St. Pierre Vie for Secretary's Slot
    • Must Miss TV
    • Enough Already, With the Fighting
    • Funeral Home Owner Goes Bankrupt
    • Federated's Monthly Averages
    • FDs in Trouble

  • Funeral Directors Aid in Identification of Rhode Island Fire Victims
    In the aftermath of the West Warwick nightclub fire, area funeral directors are stepping up to the front lines. On Friday, the state medical examiner's office contacted Ralph Lewis, president of the Rhode Island FDA, and asked if his membership could help in the daunting work of identifying the 97 victims.

  • Business Interruption
    Before September 11, insurance coverage against property or business-interruption damages as a result of terrorist attack was rout-inely included in a comprehensive-risk policy for little or no additional cost. Not so afterward.

  • News and Comment About Caring for One's Own Dead
    Maryland State Senator John Giannetti is perhaps courting the Muslim vote with a bill that would bypass traditional funeral directors and permit imams (religious leaders) to transport and prepare human remains for burial. Followers of Islam believe no toxins should be introduced into a body after death, including chemicals used in embalming procedures, reports the Laurel Leader February 13.

  • The Anonymous Deciding Factor
    Hollie Caldwell Campanella of Klamath Falls, Oregon, recollects her own final wishes in I Thought My Father Was God, edited by Paul Auster and published in 2001 by Picador USA, a division of Henry Holt and Company.

Week of March 17, 2003

  • Do As He Says, Not As He Does
    Following a six-month investigation, Comptroller Daniel W. Hynes turned over to local law enforcement officials evidence that a former employee of a Westchester funeral home misappropriated payments from five clients, despositing funds totaling $32,655 into his personal credit union account.

  • Monitoring...
    • More Dishonest Operators
    • Blast From the Past
    • Time Runs Out for Menorah Refunds
    • This Can't Be Good for STEI
    • War is Hell
    • News from NFDA
    • A Little Perspective on Code Orange
    • Washington State Statutes Give FDs a "Right to Rely"
    • Utah Readies Funeral Bill Rewrite
    • PFDA on the Move?
    • States Clamp Down on Pee Producers

  • Monitor Question & Answer:
    Cash Advance or Cash Cow?

    When a woman who had prearranged but not paid for her funeral died, her son went to the designated funeral home now under corporate ownership to arrange for a viewing, a mass and cremation. He was told to make out two checks: one to the funeral home and the second to "cash." He was told the reason he'd have to make out a check to cash was that the funeral home "had been having problems with corporate headquarters." What's going on?

  • The Incredible Shrinking Importance of a License
    Will today's licensed funeral directors/embalmers become tomorrow's dinosaurs?

Week of March 24, 2003

  • Navy Says Signing Bonuses Based on Supply and Demand
    Denying any perceived connection between signing bonuses up to $6,000 for morticians and a possible war, the Navy says cash incentives are business-as-usual and it's just trying to fill vacant positions.

  • Monitoring...
    • SCI Lobbies for "Special Ticket" in FL
    • Raiding Florida's Funeral Fund (AGAIN?)
    • Lag Time Theory Difficult in Practice
    • Chicago Cops Want Out of Body Transporting
    • ICFA and NFDA Nearly Agree on AHPs
    • The FTC Mum on Funeral Rule in Report
    • Pentagon Memorial Design Chosen
    • AARP and FDs Push for Legislative Protections
    • Look for the Silver Lining
    • Dead Ahead

  • Theft of Nearly $1 Million Brings Three Years
    There is definitely something wrong with a legal system that punishes the theft of $960,000 over a six-year period with a sentence of 15 years, 12 of them suspended. This is the case of a 53-year-old Vivian Howe, a 12-year employee of Radney FH in Mobile, Alabama, who was arrested last summer.

  • Priestly Ban on Eulogies Heading West
    First it was the Newark, New Jersey archbishop who, in late January, put the lid on those distracting and emotional personal eulogies during the Catholic funeral Mass. Now the practice is spreading as the priests of St. Albert the Great Church in Royalton, Ohio, have followed suit with a memo to funeral directors.

  • When is Embalming Embalming?
    The Funeral Ethics Association of Springfield, Illinois, provides an answer, courtesy of Robert Ninker, association excecutive.

  • Gratuities Appreciated
    The Onion, a free weekly newspaper of satire and silliness, presents a "helpful guide to planning a funeral" in their March 6-12 issue.

Week of March 31, 2003

  • Remembering Lucy and Titus and Mary Fay
    Beacham McDougald of Laurinburg, North Carolina, provides a momentary escape from the daily barrage of war and its consequences in the following story of the power of a life well remembered.

  • Monitoring...
    • Timing is Everything
    • Tri-State Plaintiffs Get Class Action
    • New York Update
    • Where's Willie?
    • Where's Vanessa?
    • Where's Myra?
    • Tennessee Entrepreneurs May Now Sell Caskets
    • At Long Last, a New VA Cemetery for Pittsburgh Area

  • Monitor Question & Answer:
    Reputations Ruined as Technique Backfires

    After the death of her husband his widow went to the funeral home to make arrangements for a direct cremation. She was told she would have to sign a lot of paperwork, and went prepared to do just that. She dealt with the owner of the funeral home. He kept throwing in the idea of a $3,000 pecan casket. She was very explicit in the fact that she knew what she wanted. He proceeded to start explicitly explaining everything, down to the gas-powered oven, temperature, description of the inside of the oven, firebricks, etc. "Then he told her how they would put her husband into the oven and the fact that when the cremation was finished, they would not be able to get all of her husband out, that some of him would remain in the oven. It might not have been so bad, but he kept on using her husband's name instead of saying 'the remains.' She is still having a problem with that emotionally. Was the funeral director ethical and professional?

  • The Gifts of Life Carry High Installation Prices
    On March 16, Naomi Freundlich writes in the New York Times' magazine that people might be surprised where their donated body goes and who makes money from it.

April 2003

Week of April 7, 2003

  • RIP, Marsellus (As We Knew You)
    Things are not as hunky-dory at Marsellus Casket in Syracuse, New York, as we reported about a month ago after labor and management ironed out their differences and averted a strike. In fact, the physical plant is in the throes of buying the farm, kicking the bucket, or biting the dust according to a report first released by WSTM-TV, a NBC affiliate in Central New York.

  • Are the Hidden Weapons in Plain Sight?
    Have Military planners considered the possibility surrendering Iraqi troops may be infected with germs causing anthrax, smallpox, or plague, haven't they?

  • NFDA's Language of War
    It's been about a month since NFDA added the "World Crisis Center" to the members-only section of its website to provide FDs "the latest information on world events." Well, maybe not the latest – I wouldn't unsubscribe to cable news or cancel the New York Times if I were you– but at least a compilation of links to government websites including the White House, reprints of articles from the Director, and various other "information pertaining to the war in Iraq.

  • The Double-edged Sword of Endorsements
    NFDA is only one of thousands of organizations that need every dollar of nondues income they can lay their hands on; but when it comes to putting one's name and reputation on the line by endorsing a virtual stranger's product or service for a few cents on the dollar of their profits, it is probably better to be safe than sorry.

  • Monitoring...
    • Maryland Muslims Lose Bid to Care for Own Dead
    • Shooting in FH Leaves Three Dead
    • Haitian Coffinmakers Short of Raw Materials
    • NFDA Reschedules Education Campaign
    • Federated's Monthly Averages

  • Suicide Bombs Leave Trail of Disease
    Israeli doctors have discovered a gruesome new way to catch hepatitis and possibly other blood-borne diseases: from suicide bombers.

  • Help From Beyond the Grave
    When 20-year-old Phyllis Burn succumbed to flu during the great pandemic of 1918, she was just one victim out of an estimated 25 million across the world. But her wealthy family's decision to bury her in an expensive, lead-lined coffin will help a present-day virologist in his quest to understand what turns an ordinary flu virus into a killer.

Week of April 14, 2003

  • You Wanna See Shock and Awe? Read NFDA's Latest Director
    "Preneed is killing your profession," writes Chris Raymond, editor of the National Funeral Directors Association's Director magazine in the March issue. "And not corporate preneed; not independent preneed; not third-party preneed; not trust- or insurance-based preneed. No, just plain ol' preneed as practiced differently by 50 states, the majority of which operate with a loosey-goosey patchwork of regulations that enable the unscrupulous to make a different kind of removal in the dead of night and leave you holding the bag in the harsh light of public and media scrutiny the following morning."

  • A Heartbreaking Tale of Familial and Legal Abuse
    Many of us fortunate enough to have avoided any first-hand experience with the courts believe, nonetheless, they exist to protect our unalienable rights. Ask Margaret Meaney about that – who lies dying of cancer in Seattle; depressed and disbelieving Florida's so-called legal system may prevent her from being buried with her parents in Massachusetts.

  • Monitoring...
    • 21 Missouri FDs Now Seek $3.5 Million Tax Refund
    • Smallpox Vaccines Not for the Weakhearted
    • Pot Calls Kettle Black for Vehicular Commingling
    • Have Music Licenses Become a Nonissue?
    • IRS Puts Small Businesses in Crosshairs
    • Syracuse Seniors Threaten to Boycott SCI Firms

  • Diseases are the New World Travelers
    The drama unfolding in the wake of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) proves the point. In the past, such an infection might have emerged in China and stayed there. Now it turns up in Canada, Germany, and elsewhere within weeks.

Week of April 21, 2003

  • Deathcare Regulation Headed for Reorganization in Florida
    If current proposals circulating in committees to unite funeral, cemetery, and preneed regulation stay on track and are passed by the Senate and House by the first week in May, come 2004 the seven-member 470 and 497 boards will be history, replaced by a new "super board" of ten members under the purview of state CFO Tom Gallagher. The broadening of the powers of his office also gives him oversight of the state's insurance industry and financial institutions.

  • Monitoring...
    • The Family's Got It Wrong
    • Little Room at the Permanent Inn for Northern California Soldiers
    • South Dakota Revokes First License in 10 Years
    • Coffins Become Coin of the Realm at Serbian Resort

  • Is Your Disinfectant Safe?
    Gary Finch, founder and president of Compliance Plus, a Nixon, Texas, company that focuses on OSHA compliance and funeral home safety, cites ample evidence that the risks of glutaraldehyde exposure outweigh the possible benefits. Finch, a funeral director and embalmer, believes the industry needs to be alerted to potential problems.

  • Darkness at Noon
    A dense fog settled over London on the night of December 4, 1952. Held in place by cold air above and with no wind to blow it away, the fog grew thicker for five days, trapping in its damp clutches the smoke of a million open coal fires. The streets filled with a choking sulfurous smog. So did hospital wards and cinemas. It was darkness at noon. When the Great London Smog lifted, it left behind mortuaries full to overflowing. Undertakers didn't have enough coffins; florists ran out of flowers. But the pea-souper to end all pea-soupers also left in its wake a heated dispute between government and scientists about exactly how many had died.

Week of April 28, 2003

  • NFDA's Prognosis: Not Good
    Everyone knew it was bad when the doctors wouldn't even make a prognosis once the cancer was discovered in this patient kidneys, lungs, and brain. Nancy died in hospice just a few weeks later. Judging by the National Funeral Directors Association's unpredictable and startling actions lately, it might be on Nancy's same path from perfectly fine to perfectly dead.

  • Monitoring...
    • Membership Drive
    • Hill-Rom Plans to Pass Out Pink Slips
    • Oh What Slippery Tales We Weave, When We Practice To Deceive
    • Pack Rats Get Own Estate Planners
    • Got Forms?

  • Eulogy Limits and More Spread to Vancouver Archdiocese
    Has the Catholic Church finally had enough of lighthearted stories during a serious ceremony, or is it bringing the hammer down on inappropriate eulogies, cremated remains, and too many flowers because – unlike its other, really big challenge – these are problems within its control? First it was New Jersey, then Ohio, now the seven bishops of British Columbia and the Yukon Territory in Canada have banned eulogies.

  • Competition for Cadavers Heats Up in Oregon
    Dr. Karmen Schmidt, who leads Oregon Health & Science University's body donation program, said she recently received several inquires from senior citizens concerning nonprofit BioGift Anatomical's solicitations to donate their bodies. Schmidt urged the Oregon Donor Program Advisory Council, composed of regional tissue and organ donor banks, to invite BioGift program director, Walter Mitchell, to speak about the agency.

  • Any Parallels to Draw?
    An article describing the WorldCom downfall.

  • Remaining U.S. CEOs Make a Break for It
    The now-defunct SatireWire reports a band of roving chief executives has been spotted miles from the Mexican border.

May 2003

Week of May 5, 2003

  • You're Not Going to Find It Fast (if at all) in NFDA's Internet-based Directory of Members
    Say what you will about NFDA's newly designed website with its stars and clouds and pictures of a far more ethnically balanced population than the organization itself. I am not yet convinced the information is kept current and up-to-date, and I know for sure the directory of members portion is a bust. Time was, I could grab my trusty Directory of Members, conveniently stored in a place of prominence among my reference books, when I wanted to locate a state association officer or executive, or find a member or even the name of a newspaper in a particular town. Information retrieval was simple and easy and logical. It isn't any more if you want to do it electronically – which you'll have to do very soon, now that the bound directory has moved off the endangered species list and teeters on the edge of extinction.

  • Monitoring...
    • Letter to the editor
    • Bread-waving San Rafaelites Protest Planned Crematory
    • Three Strikes and the Sacramento Discounter is Out
    • Funeral Director Diverts $100k and Gets Probation
    • Alabama Embalmer Arrested
    • Mississippi Funeral Homes Exempt from Call Limitations
    • Labor Shortage in Saudi Arabia — Where Rewards are Delayed Until Heaven

  • SARS Update
    As of April 23, the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta reported 246 total cases of severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) in 36 US states; 207 of which are considered "suspect," and 39 "probable." There have been no recorded deaths, so far. A case turns "probable" when a "suspect" shows radiographic evidence of pneumonia or respiratory distress syndrome or autopsy findings are consistent with respiratory distress syndrome without an identifiable cause.

  • Silence is Fatal
    SARS is a wake-up call for governments who try to cover up outbreaks.

  • How We Honor Our Dead
    Many have heard and read that Pfc Lori Piestewa was posthumously honored by changing the Phoenix landmark Squaw Peak to Piestewa Peak. Piestewa is the only woman (so far) to lose her life in Operation Enduring Freedom. We learned who Lori Piestewa was through bloodshed, and she was honored in death after political bloodshed.

Week of May 12, 2003

  • The Squeaky Wheels of Business on the Lift for Government Grease
    "The 13,000 richest families in America now have almost as much income as the 20 million poorest. And those same 13,000 families have incomes 300 times that of average families."

  • Monitoring...
    • Is NFDA To Member Accountability As AAA Is To the Environment?
    • Family-run Companies Face Leadership Crisis
    • Federated's Monthly Averages
    • Parting Thoughts

  • "Regarding Ms. Pepper et al"
    Writes Thomas Lynch, the Milford, Michigan, funeral director/poet/essayist to the three weekly funeral industry newsletters.

  • Rouzzo Raves About PWC (but Agrees It Was Poorly Marketed)
    Peggy Rouzzo, editor of YB News, sets the Monitor's record straight on NFDA's Professional Women's Conference (PWC) held April 11-14 in Newport Beach, California.

  • Funeral Homes Not Covered but Nonetheless Affected by New HIPAA Standards
    After receiving a death call from UNC Hospitals in Chapel Hill to pick up a decedent," says Beacham McDougald of Laurinburg, NC. "The hospital representative would not give them any information as to the next of kin, alleging that it was illegal to do so under the HIPAA act.

Week of May 19, 2003

  • Doing the Math
    George Lemke, executive director of the Casket and Funeral Supply Association, and his constituent members want immediate feedback on NFDA's convention attendance figures, rather than having to wait three or four months for the numbers to be revealed.

  • Costs Up, Profits Down in 2002
    For over 60 years, Federated Funeral Directors of America has been compiling statistics reflecting the operating results of its funeral director clients. The figures are based on an analysis of more than 200,000 services conducted by nearly 1,500 firms in 44 states.

  • Monitoring...
    • Springtime in Lobbyland
    • NC House Bill 859: What, Why, and When?
    • Arizona Board Urged to Tighten Procedures
    • Tenant Reps Not Responding When Rent is Due
    • Funeral Court

  • Financial Guru Not Particularly Keen on Deathcare Stocks
    Malcolm Berko, a nationally syndicated financial columnist and radio host, advises a potential Service Corp investor to proceed with caution after weighing all the facts.

June 2003

Week of June 2, 2003

  • Preneed's Revolving Door Dizzies Funeral Directors When Marketers Forge New Alliances
    Some funeral home owners simply have no stomach for an active preneed sales program, so they satisfy a client's desire to preplan and prepay by putting them in touch with their trusted third party marketer. In the best of worlds, everyone wins: client families buy the funerals they want, the funeral home locks in a future service, the insurance/trust company generates business, the selling agent gets paid, and funeral professionals avoid the perception they're salepersons instead of caregivers. All things being equal and no inflation or deflation involved, the Funeral Director just hopes there'll be enough money in the policy when it goes at-need to pay for the promises made by an outsider on his company's behalf – with maybe a few bucks left over to return to an appreciative family.

  • Ask the Right Questions
    Entire forests have been sacrificed by preneed insurers attempting to get your business, and industry watchers in explaining how FDs need to ask the right questions when finding the company that best suits their needs.

  • Monitoring...
    • All Menorah, All the Time
    • SCI Settles a Different Suit
    • Readers Write Back
    • Scoundrels and Scofflaws

  • Lynn Officials Never Checked Damiano's Background
    Larry Keller of the Palm Beach Post recently reported: "When allegations surfaced that Lynn University's funeral service program embalmed the dead without the consent of their families, university officials blamed body transporter Joseph Damiano for the embarrassing fiasco. But university officials' statements under oath show that procedures were so lax that the school didn't require Damiano to sign a contract. Nor did they conduct a background check on him or ask other funeral industry professionals about his record.

  • FDA Delays Regulation of Tissue Transplants
    "The Food and Drug Administration has delayed regulation of the booming commerce in human tissue transplants for more than six years," writes Robert Pear in the May 14 New York Times, "even though the agency acknowledges that the use of infected tissues poses a serious threat to public health. Federal officials have traced at least one death and more than two dozen serious infections to the use of contaminated tissue. They have received reports of infections possibly linked to tainted tissue in about 35 other cases.

Week of June 9, 2003

  • SCI Must Hope Settlement Disclosures Negate the Taint of Criminal Charges
    The South Florida Sun-Sentinel reports on May 22 that, "State officials will file criminal charges today against the Menorah Gardens funeral home chain……its parent corporation, Service Corporation International of Houston……Jeffrey Frucht, SCI's South Florida vice president, and Robert McKay, the former general manager of two Menorah cemeteries in Broward and Palm Beach counties." "The charges include misconduct and incompetence in the operation of a cemetery," the Palm Beach Post explains in greater detail, "woeful negligence, and two counts of failure to obtain authorization from a family before disinterment." Frucht was expected to turn himself in that day, and McKay (the former site manager who was fired in 2000 for having the sides of two burial vaults blown out in Menorah's West Palm Beach location to make room for new graves) will do so at a later date.

  • Monitoring...
    • Will Casket Prices Decline?
    • Everything's a Cash Advance in the United Kingdom
    • Florida Licenses Held Up as Vendors Squabble
    • There's Always Next Session
    • Australian Magazine Targets Death
    • One Cemeterian Faces Trial, Another Called a Model Prisoner
    • Concerning the Funeral of Rudolph Valentino…
    • "Homegoing" Exhibit at Illinois Museum
    • Aliens Among Us
    • Federated's Monthly Averages

  • The Sales Commission Dilemma
    Hot on the heels of last week's ramblin' rant about what's left to fund funerals in light of third party marketers and preneed's revolving door, entrepreneur Norm Brodsky has an unusual idea about rewarding salespeople in the May issue of INC. magazine that may have application to the business of funerals.

Week of June 16, 2003

  • SCI Leads Industry Push to Pass Its Legislative Agenda in Texas
    Lamar Hankins, a San Marcos attorney and member of the board of directors of the Funeral Consumers Alliance, reflects on the recently concluded legislative session in Texas.

  • Homeless Vets Get Attention After Death
    the US Supreme Court decided it was not interested in hearing a case seeking lifetime medical care promised by recruiters to some veterans of World War II and the Korean War. "Without comment, the justices refused to review a November ruling by the United States Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit," reports David Stout in the New York Times.

  • Monitoring...
    • Field of Dreams on the Block
    • Grave Preparation Rattles Prepayer
    • From the Trenches
    • Correction

  • Unregulated and Unrepentant
    Nena Baker writes in the Arizona Republic the "fast-food restaurants receive more attention from regulators than body-donation programs that procure tissue for medical and scientific research" in the state. "Body donation programs operate within a regulatory loophole that makes it difficult for officials to investigate when consumers raise concerns," she goes on. "The Scottsdale cryonics company where baseball legend Ted Williams' remains are frozen operates in the same loophole.

  • The Sales Commission Dilemma
    Salespeople fall into three categories. First, there are the hotshots – the super salespeople who have all the answers. The second group consists of entrepreneurs, that is, salespeople who really want to be in business for themselves. Then there is the third group, which is the largest – people who do sales for a living simply because they like the work and they're good at it.

Week of June 23, 2003

  • Sometimes, It's Not What You Do — but How You Do It
    Thirty years ago in 1974, Bill Bates founded Life Appreciation Training Seminars (LATS). And before you could say Zen and the Art of Human Potential, he was making true believers and better businesspersons out of small weekend groups of sensitive and smart FDs looking to improve their clients' satisfaction and their own bottom lines.

  • GOP Cancels Comp Time Vote and NFDA Acts Blissfully Unaware
    A week after Republican House leaders scrapped a showdown on substituting comp time for overtime pay because they figured out they couldn't muster the 218 votes needed to pass the bill, NFDA is still strangely silent about its latest legislative miscalculation. The cat's apparently got the tongue of the senior vice president for advocacy in D.C., while the association's website focuses almost exclusively on good news and self-promotion.

  • Monitoring...
    • Steel Prices and Caskets
    • Something To Think About
    • The Monitor's Going on Vacation

July 2003

Week of July 7, 2003

  • Artificial Intelligence
    What's behind mandated continuing education? Money, mostly; for the associations that sponsor it and the presenters they select. Where is it going? Nowhere fast, according to fans and skeptics alike. "I'm for continuing education," says a funeral director in the New York City area. "I just wish they had something to tell us relevant to what we do. I've been to very few that were any good – although after September 11, there were a couple excellent seminars on the psychology of grief and dealing with families. For the most part, however, they're a waste of time and I don't learn anything."

  • Monitoring...
    • A Mini-Noble in Toledo
    • Another Thing To Think About
    • Taking NFDA's Name in Vain
    • Pennsylvania Keeps the Courts Humming
    • How Much is That Doggy in the Window?
    • Briefly…

  • OGR Contributes $25k to Protect "Family Funeral Care" from SCI Trademark
    The pump's been primed but a legal battle of this magnitude could wind up costing ten times OGR's contribution. Haul out your checkbook and stand up for your name.

Week of July 14, 2003

  • Fast Cremation Nation
    When Boston Globe staff writer Bruce Mohl revealed (GASP!) Massachusetts' FHs charge anywhere from $695 to $3,345 for a cremation, he concluded it was not necessarily the bargain it was cracked up to be. In a parody of Mohl's investigative style, Beacham McDougald (aka "Goose Mole") draws similar conclusions about restaurants.

  • Monitoring...
    • Estate Taxes and the Silent Majority
    • ICFA Joins Elder Justice Coalition
    • Slocum Succeeds Carlson at FCA
    • Six Iowa FDs Buy Two Troubled Cemeteries
    • Federated's Monthly Averages

  • Bill Bates Rebuts
    Bill Bates will love you," writes a dyed-in-the-wool fan of Life Appreciation seminars featured in our June 23 issue. "With his mastery of Zen, he will channel all of his feelings into love of the messenger. He believes that 'love is the product of communication,' and certainly you and he have communicated.

  • Blessed Are They Who Mourn –When Given the Opportunity
    Steve Palmer of Westcott Funeral Home, Cottonwood, Arizona, a past president of a local Association of Retarded Citizens, provides a national ARC newsletter written by the Rev. Bill Gaventa.

Week of July 21, 2003

  • Don't Be Fooled by Mistaken Identity
    For the past couple weeks I've been hearing stories of a telemarketing campaign hawking an "NFDA platinum card." First Ron received the prerecorded message. A week or so later Lisa Carlson got the call. For its part, the National Funeral Directors Association consistently denied affiliation with any credit card company with which it might be raising nondues income, and further insisted none of its vendors or purchasers of its mailing list were in any way involved. The mystery was solved, however, when Ron received his second telemarketing call from "NFDA" and listened to the spiel long enough to jot down a telephone number.

  • Monitoring...
    • The One-Man Consumer Campaign
    • 6FU Looks to Florida FDA for Inspiration
    • It's Exhumation Time
    • One Hell of a Funeral
    • Conduct Unbecoming a Coroner
    • Less than Sterile
    • More Body Parts News from the www
    • ICFA Reports
    • Tokyo Cemetery Deadline Passes

  • A Tree Grows in Ozone Park
    The New York Times is examining the impact of New York's fiscal crisis on the people who live, work, and spend time on a single city block in Ozone Park, Queens; and the first installment of its series on July 7 focused on the three generations of the family behind the Francisco Funeral Home.

Week of July 28, 2003

  • Prime on the Rocks With a Twist
    It's deja vu all over again. Three years and one day after Prime Succession filed for voluntary reorganization under Chapter 11 on July 13, 2000, it did it again on July 14, 2003. But this time with a twist: Section 363 – a sale predicated on bankruptcy protection that limits a buyer's potential for liabilities. An attorney familiar with this sort of deal calls it, "using the bankruptcy code to buy or sell a troubled company."

  • Section 363 to the Rescue
    When a company is insolvent and has no access to capital……The seller will likely have secured debt in the form of an asset-based lender, as well as significantly delinquent trade debt. Fortunately for both buyer and seller, Section 363 of the bankruptcy code provides a legal framework to facilitate the acquisition of an insolvent entity.

  • The Deal's Not So Hot for Consumers or the States
    If Section 363 of the bankruptcy code gives the seller a better than even chance of getting more for his insolvent company whole than the sum of its parts; and washes away any liens, claims, and perhaps future liabilities for the buyer; what does it do for consumers who purchased preneed contracts from Prime? Not much, it appears.

    Prime Succession's Bankruptcy Should Not Affect Preneed Contracts or Cemeteries in Florida.

  • Monitoring...
    • "What Happens Here, Stays Here…"

August 2003

Week of August 4, 2003

  • Prime-Time At Last –Not Expected, but No Surprise
    The importance of the long-anticipated release of Prime Succession's audit report regarding its Fred Hunter locations in Florida has all but evaporated with the entire company's upcoming sale/bankruptcy. Here is just a small sample of information gleaned from more than 100 pages of filings with the bankruptcy court of the southern district of Florida.

  • Monitoring...
    • "Take This Job……"
    • Donations Returned to Sender
    • Brown Pleads Guilty, Could Face 20 Years
    • Benefits of Membership
    • Baby Accidentally Buried With Man
    • Right Grave, Wrong Body
    • SCI Charged with Violating Labor Laws
    • Alderwoods' Ad Campaign Raises Consumers' Ire
    • Calls Down, Profits Up
    • Priest Sued Over Prediction of Hell
    • Funeral Director/Coroner Arrested
    • Funeral Director's Collection a Tad More than Unusual
    • Death of a Name
    • Fuel Crunch Leads to Rent-A-Corpse Scam
    • Tragedy Strikes Tenuous Gene Pool

Week of August 11, 2003

  • The Devil's in the Details for Prime's Creditors and Customers
    No fewer than 62 affidavits, motions, petitions, notices, orders, declarations, applications, etc. have been filed with the bankruptcy court in the southern district of Florida on behalf of and in relation to the bankruptcy of Prime Succession et al. As interesting as it is to learn the court ordered the roughly 300 utility providers – from Able Disposal in Chesterton, Indiana, to Xspedius in Lake Charles, Louisiana – to "not alter, refuse, or discontinue service" for an extended and renewable period of nonpayment; as a consumer it is disappointing to discover how the courts are requested to protect the "debtor" and its attorneys' interests way ahead of those of its creditors and customers. Say what you will about Prime's "prudent business judgment," there's got to be more to the company's insolvency than not enough people died. On July 14, the day Prime voluntarily filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy, Brian Clary, chief financial officer of Prime Succession Holdings presented a 135-paragraph, 42-page affidavit chock-full of Prime-friendly motions concerning administrative and legal representation, operations, employee compensation and benefits, insurance, and cash management. Prime's obligations to honor, perform, or pay its customers, vendors, and service providers are not even addressed until page 36.

  • Prime's Creditors, Secrecy, and Possible New Money
    With $133 million of secured debt, the Bank of Nova Scotia in New York and Goldman Sachs Credit Partners will surely be standing in line with their hands out when Prime Succession is sold and the money is divvied up. A fly on the wall would probably notice "Secured Note Holders" Wesbanco Bank Parkersburg, Joan and Ernest Stefanelli, Arnice Sherrer, Paul Cooper, Felicia Cooper, Matthew and Vicki McWane, Arnold Brown, and a representative of the John Beck Moore Living Trust as well. While there might be scores, if not hundreds or even thousands, of unsecured creditors hoping to get whatever they can out of the bankruptcy, and the largest consolidated list.

  • New Funeral Regulations Benefit Businesses, Not Grieving Consumers
    David Harrington, an economics professor at Kenyon College in Ohio and an academic researcher of funeral service economics, provides the following comments to the National Review Online in mid-July.

  • EDR Far From Wired
    NEW YORK, July 17, 2003 – Martel Lewis knew her father was a special man, but she didn't realize how unique he was until two months after his death. When Ricard Lewis' death certificate arrived, his daughter noticed that the 83-year-old had been pregnant at the time of his demise. Lewis evidently isn't the only Manhattan miracle male. Other family members have reported receiving death certificates containing mistaken and just plain oddball entries. Their complaints led to several audits of New York City's Health Department and its Bureau of Vital Records. But New York isn't alone in its death documentation woes. Inaccurate death certificates are a nationwide problem that has led to an effort, spearheaded by the Social Security Administration, to develop a nationwide electronic death registry, or EDR, system.

Week of August 18, 2003

  • Reality TV from Cold Calling to Viewing
    There are any number of reasons the "Death's Door" segment scheduled to air on August 27 on the Arts and Entertainment Network's Take This Job series may strike a positive note among the 200,000-strong workforce in the deathcare industry. The episode is honest, uncompromising, and filled with likable, friendly people who happen to make their livings in and around the funeral biz. Just like you and me. The hour-long show takes viewers behind the scenes and into the lives of what it takes to be an embalmer, a funeral director, a business owner, a newbie preneed seller, and an advance planning manager.

  • Monitoring...
    • Milwaukee Archdiocese Cans Two True Believers
    • Prepare to Save Paper and Toner as New Fax Regs Take Effect
    • Never Say Die
    • The Upside of a Down Dollar
    • The Nearness of You
    • If He's Guilty, Throw the Bum Out

  • My Mother: One Funeral Director's Worst Nightmare
    I learned a lot from my mother, now approaching 88: how to bake a cake from scratch because it's cheaper and tastier than a box mix; never to wear white shoes after Labor Day; and to make my bed the moment I get out of it so if anyone drops by unexpectedly they won't think I'm a sloppy housekeeper. She also taught me death is natural, unavoidable, and not scary; and value and cost have nothing to do with each other when it comes to funerals.

  • Big Pose As Small for Federal Money
    Corporations are scooping up government contracts intended for small companies, according to a new report from the General Accounting Office. In fiscal 2001 – the period covered by the study – the worst offender nabbed $330 million in federal dollars earmarked for entrepreneurs.

  • Why Online Exchanges Died
    Back in the late 90s, industries as varied as construction, retail, and biotech figured that buyers and sellers would use websites to find one another, disrupting traditional distribution channels and driving down prices on raw materials, parts, and other components. Yet a report published in the Winter 2003 edition of the California Management Review found that of the 1,500 business-to-business (B2B) exchanges started, only 43 percent remain.

Week of August 25, 2003

  • Prime Update
    Apologies to those of you who have already had Prime Succession up to here but you know what they say: If we don't learn from the past, we're condemned to repeat it.

  • How Much Does Anyone Know About the National Consumer Information Center?
    Something very strange happened the other day to an independent funeral home owner in California. Rather than mailing a post-funeral consumer survey back to the National Consumer Information Center (NCIC) as instructed, a recently served client mailed it to him with the note, "Thanks for a job well done." Trouble was, he never sent out the survey, nor had he requested anyone to do it for him. And he had no idea who was contacting his client on a first-name basis.

  • Telemarketing Do-Not-Call FAQs from ICFA
    The International Funeral and Cemetery Association has done one heck of a job of explaining the impact of the feds' new telemarketing restrictions. Recent legislation by Congress directing the Federal Communications Commission to adopt the Federal Trade Commission's new National Do Not Call Registry for telemarketers making in-state calls has raised numerous questions over how cemeteries and funeral homes are affected.

  • Monitoring...
    • Florida Über Alles in the Newsmaking Department
    • Presumed Consent

September 2003

Week of September 8, 2003

  • First Things First: Put the Money in the Bank
    States can pass laws and regulations to their hearts' content about trusting requirements, allowable retentions, and minimum refunds – but if the money stays circulating and never makes it to the bank, it is nearly impossible to find out a funeral home has run amok until it raises its own red flag by failing to fulfill consumers' expectations in other, less obvious ways.

  • Stefan Continues Sponsorship of Prescription Fund for the Poor
    In a couple weeks, NFDA will kick off its consultant-inspired public relations campaign to educate consumers; elevate the image of funeral professionals; improve credibility and visibility of participating Funeral Homes; and maybe rebuild trust eroded by the plethora of recent negative news stories regarding the mysterious disappearance of preneed funds, botched burials, noncremations, and more. Not that there's anything wrong with that; but Peter Stefan, owner of Graham, Putnam & Mahoney Funeral Parlors in Worcester, Massachusetts, sees the faith, hope, and charity needed to reach those goals every time he looks in the mirror. A longtime advocate for the poor and elderly.

  • Monitoring...
    • The Downside of Cut and Paste
    • SCI's Surety Bonds
    • Menorah Suit Expanded, SCI Plans Appeal
    • More SCI Mix-ups in Florida, in Addition to Menorah
    • Prime's Employment Contracts Valueless in Light of BK
    • N-E-P-T-U-N-E, Disney Makes a Bid
    • "One of the Nicest People" is Indicted on 787 Counts
    • Probably Still Safe from Smallpox
    • Federated's Monthly Averages
    • Bus-driving Funeral Director Harasses Teenager

  • To Heaven on a Hog
    I visualize a thundering, chrome-plated Harley-Davidson roaring down the highway trailed by a procession of other bikers clad in leathers, ponytails flying in the wind under the glorious sun of warmth and American freedom. All following a casket to its final resting place.

    I don't know what the end of the world is going to sound like, but it can't be much louder than the lucky 10,000 Harley riders randomly selected to rumble along the 10-mile parade route smack-dab through the center of Milwaukee last Saturday morning. Want to know what you missed? Get a couple thousand of your closest male friends with extremely low voices together and lead them in an unsynchronized "POTATOPOTATOPOTATOPOTATO" shout for 96 hours straight.

Week of September 15, 2003

  • The Sweet Mysteries of Executive Compensation
    Didja' know John Lacey, chairman of Alderwoods' board since January 2002 and former director, then chairman, of the now defunct Loewen board from 1998 to the bankruptcy, reports nearly twice as much annual income as Service Corp founder, chairman, and CEO Robert Waltrip? Step right up if you can explain how a Canadian broadcast executive turned food and pharmaceutical marketer until November 1998 deserves total compensation of $3,679,008 in 2002 while Waltrip – the visionary with perhaps more than a touch of macular degeneration – earned a paltry $1,889,604.

  • In Corporate Reform, Directors Rake It In
    Oddly enough, Alderwoods provides a link on its own website under "news" to the following article by Martin Howell for Reuters. If I were making corporate decisions, this is not necessarily the kind of information I'd be anxious to share with current or future investors. Oh well, it just goes to prove it's not only the officers who rake in the cash.

  • But Money Can't Buy Them Love
    You can say life isn't fair because precious few of us will ever be paid tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars a year to sit on a board, or over a half million dollars annually for the sweat of our brilliant brows. Then again, we should tell ourselves, money isn't everything when compared to honesty, good citizenship, and respect among clients and coworkers. Service Corp International is currently embroiled in 350-or-so lawsuits – more than one for every 10 locations it owns.

  • Monitoring...
    • When It Comes to Paying for Funerals, Necessity is the Mother of Invention
    • A Reader's Response to "Take This Job"
    • Aurora Moves Clarksburg Production from West Virginia to Tennessee
    • Preneed Envy
    • Lost in Translation
    • FCC Delays Fax Enforcement

Week of September 22, 2003

  • The Broad, Black Brush
    If everything goes as planned next week, NFDA will receive Congressional blessings in kicking off its national funeral service education effort and begin a 10-month campaign to "boost the public image of funeral service." In light of the Boston Herald's four-color cover story on September 3, any attempt at putting a happy face on funeral service can't come a moment too soon. A few bad apples are rotting everyone's reputation.

  • Stiffed Funeral Director Adds Insult to Injury
    Lewis Grizzard pays tribute to a local character in an editorial at Willie Webb was a legend around the campus of Emory university. Thirty years worth of Emory students, faculty, and friends had known him and loved him.

  • Monitoring...
    • The Final Chapter
    • Trouble in Texas
    • Bogus Heart Attack Leads to Fake Death
    • Don't Ask, Don't Tell
    • Health Benefits Go to the Dogs
    • State Farm Cancels My Homeland Security
    • Federated's Monthly Averages

  • Don't Read the Business Pages
    How do you attack the morning paper? Everyone has their ritual. Jocks blitz to the sports section, nursing home residents wobble to the obits, and businesspeople – with no time for diversion – default to the business section. It's an understandable impulse. Isn't the business news exactly what "businesspeople" should be reading?

  • RIP Smallpox Vaccination Plan
    A plan to vaccinate nearly half a million healthcare worked in the US against smallpox in case of a bioterrorist attack has ground to a halt. Only 38,257 people have voluntarily accepted vaccination, less than a tenth as many as planned. But the failure may run deeper. In a damning report released mid-August, the U.S. Institute of Medicine, an independent advisory body, says the problem is not that so few have been vaccinated, but that so much time and money has been spent on the vaccination program.

  • Hardening of the References
    Every year, Wisconsin's Beloit College publishes what it calls "The Mindset List" to help professors better relate to the incoming crop of new freshmen. Beloit says the list is a reminder that the world view of today's new college students is far different from the intellectual framework of students just a few years earlier and significantly different from our own. Put another way, it is a reminder we are all getting on in years.

  • New Gloves for the War on Sharps
    Needlesticks and scalpel injuries can put embalmers at risk of life threatening infections such a hepatitis C and HIV. But a simple pair of gloves that automatically disinfects the wounds could boost the chances of avoiding infection. Plain latex surgical gloves do not protect people from viruses once they have been punctured or split. But lab tests on the sandwich-like material used for the new glove indicate that it promises to cut the number of virus particles entering a wound by a factor of 15. It reduced infection rates in tests on animals by up to 60 percent.

Week of September 29, 2003

  • Too Much of a Good Thing in California
    I could be wrong, but it seems when the California bureaucrats were attempting to impress the pants off the Government Accounting Office with the thoroughness of their regulation of the state's death care industry, they may have conveniently neglected to mention the extent to which overzealous inspectors do their part to solve the state's budgetary red ink. That's all well and good but I'm reminded of the difference between protecting consumers and generating revenue by a couple stories reminiscent of the last California gold rush.

  • Highlights of the GAO Report on the Death Care Industry
    While NFDA was busy booking Tony Randall to "add credibility" to its September 24 kickoff of a multi-month consumer campaign, the International Funeral and Cemetery Association did a thorough job of synopsizing the meat of the GAO's recent 68-page report for all to see – even the parts to which they may be philosophically opposed. NFDA's reaction, which might be expected to be far more supportive of the possible expansion of deathcare oversight by the federal regulators, remains a mystery to mere mortals, buried in the "members only" area of its website.

  • A Good Time Was Had By All
    "The business plan of the consolidators has failed," thundered Ron Hast at the recent Mortuary Management/Funeral Monitor seminar in Tiburon. "Put your tent up across the street from them, and you'll win." And if that was a truism with which most if not all the 65 independent funeral directors and suppliers in attendance could agree, it was only one small observation in a weekend of learning and sharing and well-catered fun.

  • Casket Snob
    Here is pretty much the sum and substance of what I used to know for sure when I looked at a casket: it was made of wood, or it was made of metal. The metal ones were generally decked out with a rubber gasket; the wooden ones weren't. The details of gauge, finish, hardware, bedding, fabric, decoration, secret drawers, locking mechanisms, or the now verboten "protective" qualities have never really taken root in my mind. To me, a casket is to funerals what a float is to parades – briefly noticed and quickly forgotten.

  • A Motivational Miss from Prime Succession
    As Prime Succession marches toward its concomitant bankruptcy/sale, it appears its employees might be getting a tad nervous about the future of their jobs. In an effort to ostensibly motivate the troops, president and CEO Gary Wright sent a memo to employees on September 17, 2003.

October 2003

Week of October 6, 2003

  • Much Smoke, Many Mirrors for NFDA's Consumer Campaign
    Tony Randall is as likable as any Emmy-winning actor who can be counted on to learn his lines, but whether his fee of $20,000 added a matching amount of credibility to the launch of NFDA's consumer education campaign September 24 in Washington, D.C. is impossible to measure. I've always believed Ed McMahon, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, and even Lance Armstrong cared infinitely more about cashing their checks than they did about my chances to win the Publisher's Clearinghouse sweepstakes, the quality of my haircare products, or what kind of car I drive; but as long as Randall doesn't die in the next few months leaving instructions for a direct cremation with no services, he's probably as good as the next guy if a nationally known spokesman was absolutely necessary.

  • So Long, Farewell, auf Wiedersehen, Adieu
    When Fast Company, a monthly business magazine, decided to look at highly paid executives who managed to hold onto their jobs while their companies shattered around them in its October issue, among the five "CEOs who should lose their jobs" is none other than our old buddy, Robert Waltrip.

  • Monitoring...
    • Bureaucratic Rigamarole
    • Another One Bites the Dust
    • Service Corp Bows (for now) to Independent Opposition
    • New Name, New Money
    • Where's the Flu When They Really Need It?
    • Commissions At Any Cost?
    • When Employees Become Competitors, Smile and Send a Plant

Week of October 13, 2003

  • Loewen's Haunted House of Cards
    Despite its bankruptcy filing in 1999 and reemergence as the Alderwoods Group in 2001, if you thought you'd heard the last of Loewen, think again. A multi-installment "special report" by Norman Sinclair for the Detroit News in late September disinters the Canadians and the funny business they got away with in Michigan while the bureaucrats slept (or counted their days to retirement). Michigan has anticombo laws but that apparently never stopped Loewen from adding cemeteries to its funeral home holdings by buying the burial grounds and immediately transferring the paper to a shell corporation headed by one of its lawyers.

  • Monitoring...
    • Days in Court
    • Only in Florida
    • Viva Las Vegas
    • The UK No Longer "Strategic" to Alderwoods
    • Declaration of Independence
    • Federated's Monthly Averages

  • Bombarded by Death
    With the exception of the FTC's funeral rule which ruffled a few feathers soon smoothed by unanticipated opportunity, funeral directors have toiled in relative obscurity during the last four decades since publication of Jessica Mitford's American Way of Death. Those days are long gone.

  • Dealing With Death Confronting Grief, Not Burying It
    by Ari Goldman. Over the passage of time – two years, five years, ten years – the appetite for civic commemorations for the dead may fade, but religious rituals remain and, psychologists say, help sustain the living.

  • Limits to Life
    People born today won't live as long as was thought, thanks to a statistical flaw in the way life expectancy is calculated. American women will die an average of one year and seven months earlier than expected, and the French more than two years sooner.

  • Napalm Online
    We started to huff and puff with righteous indignation when we came across a site called The site's creator claims to have had official clearance to purchase two and a half metric tons of weapons-grade napalm, which he now offers for sale in individually packaged, "attractive, displayable canisters" each holding a liter of liquid.

Week of October 20, 2003

  • NFDA: Beware the Root of All Evil
    Will Neil Sedaka be remembering his past or predicting NFDA's future when he croons "Breaking Up Is Hard to Do" to attendees at the prom-like closing convention banquet in Las Vegas this Wednesday night? It's a cinch the association's half-a-hundred staffers are doing what they can to ensure their employment futures; but a shame their scatter-shot efforts focus primarily on revenue generation while ignoring their members and the vendors who try to reach them. NFDA has served up any number of surprises and disappointments to both constituencies lately.

  • Monitoring...
    • A Man of Character
    • Brown Gets 20 Years
    • Overtime Overhaul Rejected by House
    • Preneed Leads
    • A SARS Vaccine Will Not Be Enough

  • The Funeral Rule Negates Professionalism
    In concept, the FTC funeral rule is an excellent consumer reference providing information on the availability and cost of various funeral services and merchandise. But the devil's in the details. Written by well-intentioned people with, unfortunately, little knowledge of the day-to-day workings of a funeral home, the rule overflows with capricious and discretionary requirements.

  • I Didn't Know
    A story of a woman after her husband died suddenly at the age of 34. The next year was filled with sadness. Being alone frightened, she felt hopelessly insecure about her ability to raise her eight-year-old son without a father. It was also the year of "I didn't know." The bank levied a service charge on checking accounts that went below five hundred dollars – I didn't know. My life insurance was term and not an annuity – I didn't know. Groceries were expensive – I didn't know. she had always been protected and now she seemed completely unprepared to handle life alone. She felt threatened on all levels by the things she didn't know.

  • From One Company to Another
    More than four million veterans own businesses in the United States, and that number may soon swell when troops from the Mideast come home. In peacetime, 200,000 people retire from the military each year. But that rate can surge as much as 50 percent in the six months following a conflict, experts say.

Week of October 27, 2003

  • Funeral Service Squabbles Seek Order in the Courts
    In an effort that looks suspiciously close to setting an example for employees who remain, on October 8 Batesville Casket filed suit against five former sales reps and a regional director with 104 years of combined company experience who've taken jobs with competitors. Alleging everything from breach of employment agreements, fiduciary duties, and duties of loyalty to violating trade secrets, stealing customers, disparaging Batesville's reputation, and more, the suit was filed in the Southern District of Indiana in Indianapolis – a convenient venue for the Batesvillians but not so for the Virginia, Oklahoma, Massachusetts, New York, and Texas defendants.

  • Monitoring...
    • Tough Love
    • BIG News in the Offing?
    • Disney Deal Off for Neptune
    • Grandson Puts Ancestral Mausoleum on Market
    • Apropos of Nothing in Funeral Service

  • Putting Blame in Michigan Where It Belongs
    The former executive director and current president of the Michigan FDA agree: Blame for the cemetery debacle recently reported by Norman Sinclair in the Detroit News [FM 10-13-03], rests squarely on the shoulders of Michigan's bureaucrats, regulators, and lawmakers.

  • Leave the Legal Advice to the Lawyers
    When was the last time you remember giving legal advice to a family you served? A case I was involved in recently revolved around just that.

November 2003

Week of November 3, 2003

  • Good News and Bad From the States
    As many states rush to regulate in light of the Tri-State debacle, they might be in danger of missing the forest for the trees. While they focus on training, licensing, and registration requirements for crematories and their operators, some are ignoring the fact that their funeral, cemetery, and preneed regulations are seldom more than a patchwork of unreadable, nonsensical, and contradictory addendums. There's good news, however, in Massachusetts for a change. By the end of the year it looks very likely consumers will be better protected by three changes to existing regulations.

  • Monitoring...
    • "Kwichurcomplainin"
    • Conduct Unbecoming a Researcher
    • Skeletons in the Closet
    • Thinking On Your Feet
    • Do Not Call 53.7 Million People
    • There Oughta Be a Law
    • Wrong About the Pharmacy
    • It's Time for Chocolate

  • NFDA Delegates Vote for More of the Same
    That "whooshing" sound you may have heard a couple weeks ago has been tentatively identified as the collective sigh of relief from bipartisan NFDA staffers secretly pleased Jack Hogan beat Michael St. Pierre in the runoff for association secretary. Both men are pillars of their communities, highly respected and regarded by their peers, and selfless givers of their time and talents.

  • SCI Says No Refunds for Caskets and Vaults in Florida
    Consumers spooked by the goings-on at Menorah Gardens in Florida can forget about getting a refund on the caskets, vaults, graves, and markers they purchased preneed from Service Corporation International. The Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) national office received more than 120 phone calls from the public after Florida newspapers reported in May that a state's attorney filed criminal charges against several SCI employees for incompetence and mismanagement.

  • "Displaced" Organs
    In the 1920s, when X-rays were becoming common, physicians noticed that a surprising number of people had all their internal organs displaced downwards by about five centimeters.

Week of November 10, 2003

  • Funerals Optional
    If you've ever hosted a dinner, invited friends over for chili on Super Bowl Sunday, or even provided the half-time snacks for the pee wee soccer league, you're a party planner. But if you've never gone out in the middle of the night for a first call, faced unexpected surprises and challenges in the preparation room, or brought order to the chaos of bereaved survivors' lives, you're not a funeral director. So here's another great mystery of life: Funeral directors, knowledgeable and experienced in the bureaucratic and physical consequences of death are being told their traditional bodycentric practices are passe and they need to put a happy face on remembering a life by reinventing themselves as events coordinators, entertainment enablers, and hospitality honchos.

  • Who Do You Know Wants to Give Away Funerals?
    the owners of at least some of Prime's preneed contracts may be on the brink of losing any peace of mind they thought they purchased. Remember, Prime owns more properties in Alabama and Florida than in any other states. Florida trusting laws require the deposit of just over an average of 50 percent of the monies received, and Alabama didn't have any laws until May 2002, when they adopted regulations similar to Florida.

  • Consumer Protection Benignly Neglected
    It may be legal but it sure ain't ethical for Prime Succession to raid the preneed pantries of the firms it's fixing to sell and expect the new owners to prepare years of Thanksgiving dinners-on-demand out of IOUs. But Prime (like our old friends, Service Corp and Stewart, who substituted surety bonds for $80-plus million of Florida preneed trusts back in 2000) is not entirely to blame.

  • Monitoring...
    • Menorah Management: The Oxymoron
    • Sensible Chic
    • Enough Blame to Go Around When Funeral Home Embalms Without Permission
    • Is Hillenbrand on a Selling Spree?
    • House Passes Dubious Recruitment Tool
    • Federated's Monthly Averages

  • Doctors and Priests Disagree
    As if the Catholic Church didn't have enough problems already, it is hosting public condom-burnings in Kenya where a third of the people are Catholic and a fifth HIV-positive.

Week of November 17, 2003

  • Tackling the Trade in Donated Body Parts
    Funeral home owners are not alone in challenging the ethics and methods of at least some procurement companies that advertise "free cremation" in return for whole body donation. The Funeral Consumers Alliance (FCA) seeks reconsideration and possible rewrite of the Uniform Anatomical Gift Act (UAGA).

  • Author Mary Roach Sees Honor and Glory in Anonymous Cadaverdom
    "The way I see it, being dead is not terribly far off from being on a cruise ship," writes Mary Roach in Stiff – The Curious Lives of Human Cadavers, published earlier this year by W.W. Norton & Co., New York ($23.95). "Most of your time is spent lying on your back. The brain has shut down. The flesh begins to soften. Nothing much new happens, and nothing is expected of you… "[But] why lie around on your back when you can do something interesting and new, something useful.

  • Monitoring...
    • NFDA's Fuzzy Math
    • SCI Fights Menorah on Grounds that Negligence is Not a Crime
    • SCI Posts 3Q Loss
    • Hillenbrand Buys Mediq and Moody's Isn't Thrilled
    • Prime's Unsecured Creditors May Face Double Whammy
    • Memento Mori

    Mortuary Science Monitor:

  • CDC Update on Recent Outbreaks
    The Centers for Disease Control recently posted Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) guidelines for pathologists to observe when conducting autopsies on human remains. OSHA published them on their web page. The actual advisory is still up on the CDC web page ("Safe Handling of Human Remains of SARS Patients.

Week of November 24, 2003

  • Donation is Just Another Choice
    Always on the lookout for any way she can help her darling daughter, my mother in Tucson recently responded to a newspaper ad and requested more information on ScienceCare Anatomical, an "accredited research and education tissue bank" in Phoenix that "supports the education of society's doctors and healers."

  • What God Wants
    In the strangest coupling of God and man and tax-exemption, an 81-acre wilderness of oaks, hickories, and pines in East Texas has been donated to the Universal Ethician Church to open the country's third natural burial park and the first to be divided into family plots of up to one-third acre a piece. The Ethicians, as you may or may not know, believe the philosophy of "dust to dust demands natural burial in God's wilderness, and thus protects, preserves, and enriches a part of Creation."

  • NFDA Strengthens Preneed Guidelines (Huzzah)
    Three years ago NFDA developed its preneed guidelines – coincidental (or not) to the news SCI and Stewart had just substituted surety bonds for $84 million of consumers' preneed cash in Florida. The new guidelines virtually combined all known state preneed regulations into a jumble of suggestions and advice, which was subsequently almost universally ignored.

  • Monitoring...
    • No Deposit, No Return
    • Swan Swindles SCI
    • David Trounces Goliath in Copyright Case
    • Paying Respects

    Mortuary Science Monitor:

  • Funeral Ethics Redux
    The Funeral Ethics Association's handbook of case studies has been reorganized for 2003 and while the effort on the part of executive director Robert Ninker might be applauded, for those of us familiar with the 1994 and 1999 versions, there's not a lot that's new – outside of the addition of selected quotations from Jewish Scripture as well as the "Samyutta-Nikaya" (Buddhist), the "Bhagavad-Gita" (Hindu), and the "Koran" (Muslim).

  • They'd Rather be Private
    A recent survey of 209 public-company CEOs found that 80 percent would rather be running private companies.

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