Website Review: Mortuary.com

I haven’t really decided yet what I want them to do with my body after I’m gone. We seem to be limited to only two choices, and I’m not too fond of either one. I like some aspects of the traditional burial, particularly the part where you lie in a grassy field of flowers and trees, though I guess technically you’re under the field where the ambience might be a little less pastoral. Then there’s the cremation option, which is the socially responsible thing to do these days. But if I’m hating the heat of summer, I can’t imagine what a 1,700-degree furnace would do to this pesky rash I have on my thighs.

Other cultures have gotten a lot more creative than ours on this subject, and I sometimes wish I could take a cue from them. The Eskimos are said to put their elderly on an ice floe, so disposal of the body is effectively taken care of by polar bears. The Zoroastrians  were environmentally conscious before it was popular, with the “ritual exposure” in their “Tower of Silence,” where the corpse is left on a roof for vultures to scavenge. I even find some appeal in the practices of the citizens of Disney World, who apparently have their heads frozen while they wait for a cure to whatever killed them, assuming they didn’t die in a parachuting accident.

In any case, I’m pretty sure I don’t want my mortal remains to be serviced by an international corporation, which is the business of a company called Service International Corporation, whose website I’ll be reviewing this week.

SCI might be better known in what is called the “deathcare” industry by the more customer-friendly name of Dignity Memorial, which it adopted for its funeral home brand in 1999. The history section says it began in Houston in the early 1960s as an effort to share the related resources of accounting and embalming among a handful of mortuaries. Within three decades, the company’s global network numbered more than 4,500 locations in 20 countries. But after a “period of change” began in 2000, offshore businesses were divested, leaving behind a company with “solid financials, exclusive products and favorable demographics” (lots of old people).

A surprisingly lively-looking CEO uses typical corporate lingo in his message to readers: “We are creating a strong platform from which to drive differential growth by further leveraging our scale, tailoring our approach to customers’ needs, and pioneering innovative products and delivery of services to a growing customer base.” In other words, they look forward to a day when everybody is dead.

In addition to subsidiaries such as the National Cremation Society (a club you do not want to belong to), Advantage Funeral Services (“simple” and “basic,” also known as “cheap”) and Funeraria del Angel for Hispanic clientele, the site describes a number of related aspects to SCI’s business.

There are partnerships with other companies to provide cemetery benefits for employees of, among others, Liberty University, the Florida Hospice Association and, oddly, Federal Express (when you absolutely, positively, have to be buried). There is the Dignity Memorial Escape School, which teaches “practical abduction-prevention techniques to keep children safe.” And there’s even Dignity University, a continuous learning resource offering 1,500 courses for SCI’s employees. As hard as it is to imagine so many death-related topics, it’s even more difficult to speculate what kind of football team they have, though I understand they’re disturbingly talented at beach volleyball.

This concern for investing in their own people – doubtless their greatest resource, except perhaps for shovels – is obvious when you view the profiles of some key employees, executives and board members. A career opportunities pulldown includes open positions for embalmers, funeral details clerks, hostesses and a “Senior Peoplesoft Analyst,” whose job I guess it is to counter the hardening effects of rigor mortis. A typical manager is Elisabeth Nash, a vice president of continuous process improvement who joined SCI from a similar position at Pennzoil, where she gained considerable experience in other carbon-based products. Among the company directors is former race-car driver A.J. Foyt, whose background in IndyCar racing taught him more than a thing or two about fiery death.

Speaking of which, SCI has been careful to position itself as not just a traditional burial provider but also an innovator that realizes some people prefer to have their loved ones scorched beyond recognition. You can even plan the details of your own demise ahead of time with the online Dignity Planning tool, available on both the web and Internet-enabled phones (talk about a killer app). Cremations tend to run a little cheaper than caskets, though not as much as you’d think: the high-end “Heritage” package is about $7,500 for cremation and $9,900 for the coffin interment, which also includes use of visitation facilities, flowers and “dressing and casketing of deceased.”

Other helpful areas of the website are designed to advise and educate those who might otherwise suffer embarrassment as well as loss. There’s a downloadable PDF called “Helping a Friend … what to say when you don’t know what to say.”

“Be a grown up and simply say what is in your heart,” it advises, as long as that’s not something like “you’ll have other children” or “he’s in a better place” or “what was Lee doing in that part of town at 2 a.m.?” Be ready to sit and listen, try a light squeeze on the shoulder, or offer a tissue. After the service, “be creative with ways to stay in touch,” with a basket of strawberries, a recipe or a crossword puzzle.

For help with that puzzle, there’s also a glossary of terms, included as part of the company’s annual report: a “lawn crypt” is an underground outer burial receptacle; “atneed” is funeral arrangements initiated after a death has occurred; and “general agency revenue” is commissions received from third-party life insurance companies.

Finally, I’ll mention the FAQ part of the site, which attempts to answer some of the most frequently asked questions that morticians encounter.

“Can a funeral be personalized? Yes. It can incorporate music, passions or hobbies” of the deceased, as long as they’re not too adult.

“Is embalming always required?  No, though your funeral home may require it if you select certain arrangements, such as a viewing.” Any time you’re going to be in smelling range of a cadaver, you want to trust the professionals on the subject of freshness.

“Should there be an open casket? If the person suffered before death, it is advisable to view the body.” That seems counterintuitive and more than a little insensitive.

“When the casket is open, how should the deceased be presented? Appearance should be as natural as possible. Leave their glasses on.” Also toupees, false teeth and clothes, I presume.

With all I’ve learned from this site, maybe I’ll consider something based on another culture after all. Maybe the Zoroasters have the right idea for modern times, with their green approach and cool name. My mid-sized South Carolina town doesn’t have a “Tower of Silence” or very many vultures, so perhaps some customization would be in order. Our tallest structure is the water tower and our nastiest creatures are drunk teenagers, so I’m hereby requesting that someone lay me out on top of the tower and let local kids entomb me in spray-painted graffiti.

Hindu cremation (not exactly SCI's style)

Hindu cremation (not exactly SCI's style)

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7 Responses to “Website Review: Mortuary.com”

  1. Anonymously Secret Says:

    Some Hindus put the cremated ashes into a jar and throw them into the sea. Signifies freedom or something — or getting eaten by fishes. One of the popular beaches around my state is a popular site for ash jar ‘dumping’. But of course in the end, these jars are washed up on shore by tide and innocent kids will play with sand among the mass of broken jars and human ashes.

  2. tom1950 Says:

    I think I’d prefer being mummified. That way, I could go around walking with a stiff-legged gait, dripping pieces of gauze, and scare the hell out of my relatives.

    My second choice would be tossed into a volcano as a sacrifice. Maybe some good would come of it – except to me, of course.

    T.O.M.

  3. delicate flower Says:

    Couple of thoughts- not connected in any logical fashion.
    I plan for a cremation but should that not happen I am officially requesting a boob enhancement as part of the ‘cosmetic’ process w/ some very expensive sexy lingerie , peeping out.. and of course an open casket. And, no my kids won’t do that for me.

    My son, who is 6’4″ tall wants to be buried in my backyard, vertically, with a tree planted on top of him.. that’s half way to China I think.

    And, lastly… How about being buried in your favorite ‘jacked up’ car? Get it all decorated, gangsta style and have a processional down the main street in the car, then partially bury the whole thing. If you’ve already chosen your pall bearers they can ride in little mini-cars along side…. For inspiration or ideas on care embellishments, watch the TV show, Pimp My Ride.!

  4. Jincey08 Says:

    Here’s another option! This link will take you to a web page about green burial: http://www.miltonfieldsgeorgia.com/.

  5. wrjones Says:

    Based on the number of drugs I’ve been ingesting lately I think I will leave my body for use in training those airport drug sniffing mutts. Maybe they can bronze my balls and use them for a front door knocker. That seems pretty green to me. Saves electricity of a door bell.

  6. Ina Says:

    I want to become fuel. I think you can run a car for about two hours on the energy of one human body?

  7. The Business of Death « Fakename2’s Weblog Says:

    […] One of the things he routinely does, besides fake news reports, is website reviews.  The most recent of which is http://www.mortuary.com.  I was in stitches.  Seriously, you will have to read for yourself, because I can’t do him justice, but just one quote:  Speaking of one CEO’s message regarding a “growing customer base”, Davis says, In other words, they look forward to a day when everybody is dead.  See it here:  Davis W. […]

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