Now, you might not understand why I was so upset to hear about compassion and excellence from this funeral home, but you will understand when I share the following story. I've never blogged about this story, but I promise by the end, you will probably be seething too. It's going to be a long one, but here goes.....
On Tuesday September 14, 2004, Andrew and I walked into the funeral home (to remain nameless) less than eleven hours after the death of our only child. We were joined by my mom, her boyfriend, my brother, his mom and stepdad, and his dad and stepmom. More than a week prior to her death, we had more than one person in the family call to inquire about Allie's burial in relation to my father. We wanted Allie to be buried with my father. Not near my father but WITH him in the same plot. No problem, our family member was told. We were given a price and instructions on what to do when the child passed. This provided my family comfort and peace in the final days of Allie's life, kwowing that she would rest with my father.
So it was a shock to us that Tuesday morning as we sat sleep deprieved and grief stricken when the woman says to us, "Um, yeah, you wanted her to be buried with Gary Larson???" My dad is Jerry Lawson. "Um, well, that area of the cemetary doesn't allow for double dipping." Double Dipping?!? Did she say "double dipping" to refer to the burial of my daughter and my father?!? Oh yes, she did, and she used that term several times that day. So, while I had remained composed to that point, I lost it when I realized that the one thing that comforted me during the death of my daughter was no longer as reality. My daughter would be buried--alone. The woman assures my family that there were plots available near my father and near the tree he is buried under. So, we agreed to go out and look at availability.
It was the first time in four years that I had visited my dad's grave. I went once after he died and had nightmares for over a month about his passing (that's a whole other story though). So, we went out and saw one available plot. In passing, she told us there were two plots up against the retaining wall in the corner that were also available but made it clear that they weren't very good spots. We found one on the other side of the tree and headed back to the funeral home to make final arrangments. One phone call, she said, and we would have it all set. Moments later, she returned to the room to say, "Oh, I am so sorry, but that plot was actually reserved yesterday." Oh, but she had another available that would work--still close to the same area. Would we like to see it? We asked her to check on whatever first, have it staked and we would drive out there without her. She steps out of the room to make another call so we are told. "Oh, I hate to be the bearer of bad news but this plot was sold this morning." WTF?? Are you kidding? At this point, we've been there for hours and if you include the plot with my father, we've been through three plots and still nothing for Allie. No one has eaten, we're supposed to go to the church for the memorial service planning, and we're all frustrated. The next option was no longer under the tree or even that near the tree, but up against the sidewalk. The same process of making a phone call followed. Oh yeah, you probably know what was said next. In she walks saying, "Well..." Jane, Andrew's stepmom, fuming says, "We don't to hear any excuses. is it available or not?" "Well, you know how I told you it was up against the sidewalk?? I read the site map wrong. It actually IS the sidewalk." This freaking lady tried to sell us CEMENT!!! Furious, the family asked her to step out of the room. When she returned, we told her that we would be leaving for a lunch break but when we returned we wanted to have this issue resolved and expected to meet with people higher up than her.
A ranting lunch where we all voiced our anger and frustation followed. Our parents asked us how involved they wanted us to be and how much they could say. Appreciative of their support and feeling overwhelmed, Andrew and I welcomed their thoughts. As we were heading back to the cementary, we appointed Jim, Andrew's stepdad as our family spokesman. Two men in suits were waiting for us as we walked back in. Jim told them our morning's frustrations and how we wanted to have an immediate resolution. He told them of our dissatisfaction of having been told that Allie could be with my dad only to have that shattered on the day we arrive. Their solution was to offer to move my dad to another location of the cementary specially designed lawn crypts (the technical term for "double dipping")
The idea of moving my dad made me queasy. My brother and I said no right away, but my mother said we should consider it. So, for the second time, we loaded up in the car and headed out to see the site. It was awful. Right up against the highway, shady apartments across the street, no pretty trees or babbling brook across the way (as it is by my dad). Not right for two of my loved ones. Not right at all. I turned to the lady and told her that I wanted to be taken back immediately to where my father was and shown each and every available plot in the vincity. Ok, she tells me, if I will just load up in the car with her, she'll take me. Hell no. I'm walking. I wasn't going anywhere with her! So, Jim, Andrew and I decide to walk as the others ride to meet us over there. Of course, it begins to rain on us a bit. I'm losing it, crying that all I want to do is bury my daughter!
We're met out by my dad's grave with the two suits, the awful lady, and the groundskeeper. On the other side of the sidewalk, far away from the tree and my dad, there are three available plots. Exhausted, we say yes and stand around for a minute. Jim calls me over to show me a plot (in the same area!!) of a mother and her baby in the same plot (oh yes, they double dipped!). As were talking, I turned around to see people marking off all three plots. "Excuse me" I said, with all our family members turning their attentions in our direction,"what are you doing?" "Oh," says the stupid lady, "we're marking off these three plots." "WHY?" "Well, for you, your husband and your daughter." What?? And that is when I lost it. I proceeded to scream--"What part of this do you NOT understand??? I need ONE plot for my daughter who DIED last night!! Get me a plot for my daughter!!" (Think Shirly MacClaine "Terms of Endearment" moment).
Just then, Jim calls me over to another location. Remember in the very beginning how there were two plots "in the corner and up against the wall?" Well, Jim found the plots referred to. They were neither up against the wall or in the corner. They were just fine and less than four plots from my dad. They just didn't want us to get that because there weren't three available for me and Andrew to purchase for ourselves as well.
So, seven hours and six plots later, we select a location for our beautiful daughter's burial.
How's that for the utmost compassion?
Not to mention that during the entire funeral service Andrew and Jim watched the casket like hawks as they worried that any minute it would tip over from the wobbly stand she was placed on.
How's that for excellence?