Carrying out at market comparison study of funeral homes is limited in its breadth in a town like Hamden, CT. There were only two: Sisk and Beecher & Bennet. The parish priest recommended the former, and we automatically assumed it meant he was taking a cut for sending any corpses their way, so we wisely decided to check both before settling on one.
The easiest way to start our research was by swooping upon the websites to see which each had to offer. Poking around new pages can be an enlightening and even enjoyable pastime, even with the dullest of subjects. A person can discover a lot about human nature.
Funeral home websites are an especially rich source of entertainment for the curious. Curious, in part, because I had never had a need to consult their services. Curious because the person of concern was still lying in a hospital bed, life sustained by the cold metal machine and even colder machinery. They feature many of the sections you’d find in most service-oriented businesses, like a home page, about us, and contact us info. Then there were a couple of eyecatchers such as “What we do” on the Sisk site. I like to think that I’ve had enough life training in my background to pretty much have a overall idea of the nature of the funeral home profession, but the mere fact that they felt we needed to be enlightened in this department made me jump at the chance and click on the words. Beecher and Bennet (going forward “B&B”) discussed at length the advantages of depositing your deceased loved-one on their premises, with one persuasive reason being “conveniently located”.
Like just about anything in America, these funeral homes like to be careful about how they word things. Everything regarding death and dying either appears to be an almost pleasurable experience or doesn’t appear at all. In Sisk, for example, the word death crops up only four times, from what I can tell. They otherwise skirt the use of the word at all cost. I could find just one mention of it in Beecher and Bennet’s site. Their circumspective language can reach such great heights of ambiguity that it’s not always easy to know what they are talking about.
The section called “merchandise”, doesn’t sell coffee mugs, daily planners, T-shirts and mouse mats with the assertion “I buried my aunt at Sisk Brothers” or “Embalming is Better at Beechers” stamped on it, or several dozen kilos of cocaine. The term is actually a cover-up for what is really on offer: caskets. Beecher refers to them as something even vaguer, “commemoration”. It actually took me four visits to the menu to finally realize that that was what I was looking for. Casket selection is more varied than one might originally imagine because, as some of you may know but I surely didn’t before I poked around those pages. But all caskets certainly looked plush and heavy on comfort, ideal for eternal sleep.
I also learned that death protocol depends greatly on just when and where the act occurred. And who was there too. If the person was alone, then you have to call the police. But from what I could tell, not necessarily so if they were accompanied at home or in the workplace. That didn’t seem to fit my idea of what happens in all those episodes of the Forensic Files. A lot of times, the deceased are well accompanied – by the person who put them in that state. Then they feign they are panicking and call the police. Of course, if they’ve just beaten them over the head with a stoker, then it might be difficult to say it was natural causes, but there are those who try to pull off the “accident” angle. Those are the ones who don’t lock their car doors, but on occasion commit homicide. More often than not, it’s the fact that they try to play it cool and act naturally which makes them seem more unnatural than ever. And they talk…oh they talk more than they should. The Spanish they use a Latin phrase “Excusatio non petita, accusatio manifesta”, in other words, “If you excuse yourself, you accuse yourself.” In one case, a husband killed his wife and dragged her down into the basement to make it look like she had tripped on her way down as a result of wearing some highly inappropriate high heels for the task. The man kept complaining about the shoes over and over until the police noticed that the shoes were on the steps in a way they normally would be if someone had actually fallen over. That led them to discovering the truth.
Neither of the funeral home websites discussed how to handle deaths as a result of murder or manslaughter. We ourselves were just trying handle the big day ahead of us; as I said, “Mom, come take a look at these urns and tell me what you think.”
I can assure you it was the first time I had ever uttered that.