Death Matters……….

Want to say thank you to the Ladies at the Putney Library for including me in their Death Matters program. I was happy to answer questions and I hope I got to answer all of them. The weather stunk and we still had a sizable crowd. I was surprised to hear the amount of questions that were centered around unattended deaths at home.


Most of the conversation was about the timeline that starts after the death. If someone dies at home and is not being actively seen by a doctor, or the person is not under Hospice care, the first phone call is always to the police.  Once the police arrive, everything becomes a potential crime scene. Regardless of age, most of these deaths will have to be reviewed by a medical examiner.carry-the-body-of-amy-winehouse-outside-her-house-in-l

Some question were raised about who could move the body to and from the Medical Examiners office in Burlington. If the deceased has died at home and is going to the Medical Examiners office someone representing a funeral home is going to do the transport .  The funeral home is working for the state at that point. They are not working with or for the family. This has to do with a chain of evidence if there was foul play. Once the medical examiner has reviewed the body, a death certificate is signed and the body is released to the family. The family dose not have to use the funeral home that picked up the body originally.



As far as timing, all of this,  including autopsy, happens in about 48 hours or less.

Looking for more information? Contact me direct at 802 353-0021.




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Someone Blinked…….

It looks like someone has blinked in Chicago.Eyeball

“Funeral industry giant Service Corporation International (NYSE:SCI) has accepted Teamsters Local 727’s offer to enter federal mediation as the union attempts to reach an agreement on a new contract for Chicago-area funeral workers.” says author Maggie Jenkins from the local Teamsters in Chicago. The article here provides the details.

The strike/lockout has been going on for months.  In the beginning SCI, corporate owners of the Chicago funeral homes, said they would not negotiate with the Teamsters at all.  Evidently things have changed. Accepting an offer to mediate was not something I thought SCI would ever have thought agreeable. In the beginning, SCI was waving the corporate flag. I expect history to repeat itself; SCI will do nothing until some time passes and they are no longer in the public eye. Below is a list of what SCI is demanding from its employees.

In its most recent contract proposal, the company (SCI) is demanding to:

  • ·         Eradicate job security
  • ·         Significantly limit authority of the arbitrator in any disciplinary decision
  • ·         Dismantle seniority rights
  • ·         Eliminate guaranteed employment for full-time drivers
  • ·         Retain unilateral ability to slash health care benefits at the company’s discretion

SCI once again proves to be the corporate bully. SCI has to be realizing that the damage done may never be repaired. Customers will not be coming back.  If there is a reasonable option, families will chose another provider. The good employees will leave.  Potential new employees will not be interested. The bad employees will stay. The cost of a funeral will increase to try to make up what SCI has lost in number of calls.

Mark J. Kenney



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Someone Always Get Left Behind…….

This has always been a problem at every funeral home I have worked at.  For what ever the reason, someone always gets left behind.

The idea of unclaimed cremains is a problem for funeral homes now and will continue to be a problem in the future. As the cremation rate climbs so will funeral homes frustration that cremains are being forgotten at an alarming rate. The other problem is that funeral homes are really not sure what they should do and how they should legally handle the situation.


Legally, the cremains are the property of who ever signed the contract.  The deceased  are no longer a “person. ” Cremains have to be treated differently. As far as the government goes, the cremation is the end of the line. Final disposition is the address of the crematory. If the cremains are interred later, according to your death certificate,  your place of final disposition was 101 Crematory Lane not Happy-view Cemetery where the cremains were interred. For some people this is a problem.

I digress. As a funeral director I saw this problem at every funeral home I worked for. Here is an article which sheds some light on what funeral homes are trying to do to solve the problem. The funeral homes listed in the article provided the local paper with a list of names of unclaimed cremains with the hopes that someone will recognize a name on the list and contact the funeral home. Cardboard-box

There are a million reasons why cremains are not picked up. With the cremation rate rising this is going to continue to be a problem. Funeral homes are going to have to contact families immediately after the cremation is completed. It would be in everyone advantage if the two party’s stay actively connected until the cremains are claimed.

As always, if you have a question don’t hesitate to call (802) 353-0021 or email me directly at

Also, I will be speaking at the Putney Library on November 17, 2014 at 7 pm.  The talk is being sponsored by The Death Group of Putney.

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Things Could Get Freaky………….


In the wake of the news on Ebola and Enterovirus 68, it seems everyone is preparing for the worst. The CDC says that things could get freaky if we don’t take these viruses seriously. Being very susceptible to the virus, funeral personnel need to take special precautions.  The CDC has released some addition procedures for handling the deceased.

“These recommendations give guidance on the safe handling of human remains that may contain Ebola virus and are for use by personnel who perform postmortem care in U.S. hospitals and mortuaries. In patients who die of Ebola virus infection, virus can be detected throughout the body. Ebola virus can be transmitted in postmortem care settings by laceration and puncture with contaminated instruments used during postmortem care, through direct handling of human remains without appropriate personal protective equipment, and through splashes of blood or other body fluids (e.g. urine, saliva, feces) to unprotected mucosa (e.g., eyes, nose, or mouth) which occur during postmortem care. Only personnel trained in handling infected human remains, and wearing PPE, should touch, or move, any Ebola-infected remains. Handling of human remains should be kept to a minimum. Autopsies on patients who die of Ebola should be avoided. If an autopsy is necessary, the state health department and CDC should be consulted regarding additional precautions.”

The complete article can be seen here.


The article has lots of information that most funeral directors use and practice everyday.  As for someone dealing with a family member who has any contagious disease, this is important information.  I want to bring this up to inform families caring for their own dead about risks brought about by these and other contagious viruses. My advice is take every precaution to protect yourself.  You can never be too cautious. If you might be in this situation, please do some homework to protect yourself and your family.

The funeral industry has dealt with similar situations before: AIDS, HIV, Hepatitis, Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease, and most recently MRSA. All of the directors I know are aware of the risks, have the right equipment and the knowledge to handle anything. Someone who is not in the business, and might not have the knowledge,  may want to get professional to help.

When choosing help in a situation like this, start with your LOCAL funeral home. Not sure if your funeral home is local?  Ask.  As always you can call me at (802)353-0021.


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Filed under At home Services, ebola, Funeral Adviser, Funeral Consultant, Funeral Expert, low cost cremations, Personal Protective Equipment, Personalized service, Pre Arrangements, Veterans

Upcoming Events

Just want to take a minute to thank everyone who has let me help them with end of life options. In the last 5 months we have talked to 100’s of people in the Southern Vermont and New Hampshire. It has also been nice to know that people as far away as California asked for our help.

This is also a good time to let the local area know that I am speaking at a death workshop at Emmanuel Retreat Center, Church St.  Bellows Falls, VT.  The program is a all day event. Lunch will be served. The program starts at 10am on November 22, 2014. Preparing for the Inevitable will be a informational look at end of life. The minister from the church and myself will look at a number of issues. More on that in the up coming months.

Thank you again for letting me help your family with the information you need, when you need it most. As always, 802 353-0021 if you need my help.



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Irish Sporting Page……….

I have been following the obituary page a little here and there as of late.  As a funeral director I use to look daily. I would look  to see if someone we knew had died and gone to another funeral home. Funeral homes live and die by the “Irish sporting page.”  The funeral home would count the obits and keep track of where all of the calls went. This is by no means an accurate way to track a local market.  As a funeral consultant I noticed a few trends that I want to comment on.


1. Obits written by a family, without mention of a funeral home, seem to far out way the traditional obit with a funeral home tag at the bottom. A lack of tagging by a funeral homes means a funeral home probably had nothing to do with the services.   It is evident that more families are making their own arrangements without a funeral homes involvement.

2. The tags from funeral homes are getting bigger and more elaborate. Corporate funeral homes always have the biggest. It bothers me that family owned businesses try to emulate the corporate funeral homes as far as logos go. I find them tacky and an expense the family does not need.  Oh by the way, YOU are paying for the logo to be displayed at the bottom of your loved ones obit.

3. Obits written by funeral homes are the most boring, stale, insipid, uninspiring bits of opus I have ever seen.  I to am guilty of penning my fair share of space filler on the obit page. Trust me, I wasnt trained that way, it just kinda happens after doing the same thing over and over again. I always enjoyed a family that came to the arrangements with a rough draft or better yet, an obit written by the decided.  The obits that are written by the family have character.  They tell the story.

obituary newspaper section illustration design

Over all it is nice to see that families are taking back end of life services.  Families that I have talked to are finding it very healing to be active in the process.




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The Uncomfortably Slow Death of SCI in Vermont……

Another ad on the front page, another pathetic attempt to save a dying corporate funeral business. The Brattleboro Reformer has another sticker add-on the front page of their paper advertising  a “complete traditional funeral” for $4,695*.  For someone who knows very little about funeral service, this looks like a great “deal”. I can tell you from experience this is not the deal you are looking for.IMG_2932

Working as a advocate  for the funeral consumer, I have spent a lot of time collecting general price lists from all of my local funeral homes. Some are a page long, others are 15 pages. All 5 of the 15 pagers come from the same corporate funeral homes. All 5 of them are very similar in verbiage and price. The difference between those 5 and the rest of the states funeral homes is defiantly price.

The sticker on the Reformer has a list on the back gives a list of what you are getting for $4,695.  As someone who has planned thousands of funerals, I can vouch that the list is complete. Cash advances are never included and are always added to the final total. When market share or averages were dropping, price slashing was the first step. When I worked for the corporations they would never include a casket or a liner in a sale, unless things were desperate. Now mind you the casket included is cardboard cloth-covered.  Not for everyone, but meets the requirement. The liner is a requirement of the cemetery and the cost is minimal to the funeral home. The reasoning behind offering the least attractive casket or liner  is to entice the family to op out of the packaged merchandise for a more expensive models.

The corporate funeral homes will charge a family 5-6 times the price they paid for that casket and liner.  When you take a look at the price list for the corporate funeral businesses and total same services at full prices, you come up with a $9000 +/-  funeral.  Thats a 45% savings. That is roughly a 5 thousand dollar difference.  I don’t know any local businesses who could offer that percentage of saving and stay afloat for very long.  Not any local family businesses could offer that much of a discount and still break even.liner

As a corporate funeral home they have the ability to lower prices when they want with little affect to the corporation as a whole. As the corporate funeral homes continue to struggle in Vermont they will continue to do what ever they can to survive. The word from the funeral industry and a handfull of directors from Vermont is they would do anything to unload all of there Vermont holdings. This might be a good reason why they are having informational seminars and lunches at the local American Legion or Holiday Inn. Sticker ads on the front of papers reaks of desperation.sleezy

After I saw the first sticker add, I kept my eye open for more.  Ker Westerlund has been publishing these a couple of times a week for the last few weeks. I also noticed that the days when Ker Westerlund was not advertising there were advertisements by a number of  local businesses. There was the ad by the car dealership advertising lowest prices of the season. The ad says “no body can beat our deals.” They listed at least 10 cars on the back of the sticker at crazy low prices. I saw a sticker add for a woman’s clothes store who was going out of business and everything had to go. 

I would like to say that one of these ads is not like the other.  But it is so not true.


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