Smooth vs Chunky
September 1, 2013 12:22 AM   Subscribe

Things you do not want to hear 15 minutes before your dad's memorial service: "Uh ma'am? These cremains are kind of... chunky."

TLDR: My father was cremated by a funeral home that did not do a sufficient job, and had to be put through the cemetery's industrial blender moments before his service. I need to contact the funeral home about this, but I'm not sure what to ask for at this point.

Long version: My father died in March in Toronto. His body was removed and his cremation handled by Funeral Home A. In August, my family met in Toronto at Cemetery B to hold a memorial service, followed immediately by an ash scattering service in their rose garden. Funeral Home A was well aware that these cremains would be scattered, as I had apprised them of the schedule for final disposition and needed to get paperwork from them for this. In addition, Funeral Home A manually split these ashes into two halves a week before the service; they definitely handled them. I assume they did not do this blindfolded and would have seen the state of the cremains.

Cemetery B, which is not associated with the funeral home, provided on our arrival a nice man to dispense the boxed ashes into an urn for the service and then into vessels for the scattering. Just before the service, he pulled me aside and told me that the cremains were "chunky" and not suitable for scattering due to substantial bone fragments. After a quick consultation, he offered to run the cremains through the cemetery's machine to re-process them, and that's what we did. The cemetery worker who did this said to me "This was just lazy. We all went to the same school and they know better than this." Had the cemetery not had their own crematorium on-site so they could basically put the cremains through a blender at the last minute, I don't know what we would have done.

I am... not happy. On an emotional level, this is not the conversation you want to have right before your dad's service and not an awesome memory to take from the day. On a practical level, we paid Funeral Home A just over $3,000 CAD for removal and cremation (this was not the cheapest funeral home but was the easiest to arrange the day my dad died) and I am pissed because the service we paid for was not rendered professionally.

I am planning to write to Funeral Home A but I'm not sure what to say. When writing complaint letters, I generally believe in asking explicitly for what one needs to make things right. In this case, that would be an apology and a full or partial refund, I guess, but I am unclear on what would be reasonable here, and maybe struggling a bit with analyzing the tackiness level in asking for money back on a... funeral.

Possibly relevant: this all took place in Toronto. I am back home now in Ireland, so any exchanges that take place now will all be long-distance. In a worst case scenario, there is no way I am suing these people but we do have an estate lawyer in Toronto who could write a letter if necessary.
posted by DarlingBri to Grab Bag (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
I am unclear on what would be reasonable here, and maybe struggling a bit with analyzing the tackiness level in asking for money back on a... funeral.

But that sounds like it's not what it really is about for you at all. You want them to acknowledge and be sorry for the pain and distress they caused you by their slipshod handling of the remains of your father.

To me the money is like -- if someone apologizes to me, they may or may not be really sorry, but if they have to pay money to compensate for what they did, then I know there is at least a part of them that is sorry in some way, even if it's not for the best reason.
posted by cairdeas at 12:30 AM on September 1, 2013 [9 favorites]

Also, it's not money back on a funeral, it's money to right a wrong, having caused you pain. They have no way available to them to undo any pain for you other than an extremely sincere apology, but the money is the closest thing they have.
posted by cairdeas at 12:33 AM on September 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

Sorry DarlingBri about your father.

The bizarre events surrounding my wife's father's cremation and subsequent burial have become part of his folklore. It is what it is. Just embrace it. In time it will make you smile when you tell the story. So give it a good ending.

and maybe struggling a bit with analyzing the tackiness level in asking for money back on a... funeral.

No struggle necessary. This is business. OK for you it is an emotional thing, but for them it's a business.

Just before the service, he pulled me aside and told me that the cremains were "chunky" and not suitable for scattering due to substantial bone fragments.

THAT is tacky. Demand a refund for services not rendered. You paid for a cremation, you didn't get it. Send a registered letter and then call to follow-up.
posted by three blind mice at 1:39 AM on September 1, 2013 [8 favorites]

Condolences on the loss of your father.

I know it's not the money that's important here: that's just the only way to penalize a business for this kind of poor service. And it's doubtful you could get the funeral home to agree to a total refund; perhaps a partial refund and of course, a written apology. Did this delay cause extra cost at the cemetery? If yes, then perhaps that's the appropriate amount to ask for --- the extra cost incurred because of the funeral home's sloppy practices.

See if you can get an explanation in writing from the cemetery of what they had to do to make things right, as back up to your complaint: if you simply write or call the funeral home without that, they're likely to just dismiss you out of hand.

Additionally, is there a professional association that regulates funeral homes in Toronto? Consider letting them know what happened as well, as they may be able to provide discipline you can't, and ensure this doesn't happen to another family.

Oh, and perhaps a nice letter of thanks to the cemetery for their quick thinking and assistance would be welcome.
posted by easily confused at 2:59 AM on September 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

I would write a complaint and copy in any appropriate trade or regulatory organisations.
posted by BenPens at 3:00 AM on September 1, 2013 [9 favorites]


First, so sorry to hear of your father's death, take care of yourself.

You'll get a lot of different answers regarding this. My thought is that the most important thing right now is for you, and any other involved family members/friends, to find the peace you need following your father's death. So, my advice would be: 1. take a few days to grieve and get matters in order (if you haven't already done so, I couldn't determine how recent this event was). 2. Write a letter to the funeral home letting them know what happened and how it was resolved. 3. Let it go at that point and go on with your life, if they respond great, if they refund some money great, if they do nothing don't think about it.

posted by HuronBob at 3:40 AM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I've spent the last year working in the end of life field—specifically for the medical examiner department in my county. FWIW, it's actually quite normal procedure for cremains to be put through some kind of follow up process, regardless of whether they are to be prepared for scattering. It is unconscionable that the funeral home staff would not have taken care of this sooner. They are indeed not following standard procedure.
posted by toots at 5:08 AM on September 1, 2013 [4 favorites]

The funeral home directors probably have no idea this happened. I'd assume only one employee actually handled the ashes, and nobody else at the business would have any reason not to assume the job was done properly.

If I was a director of a competent funeral home I'd want to know immediately if this had happened, so that I could ensure that it never happened again. Write the letter, and ask for a (partial) refund if that will make you feel better.


On a related note when my dad died the driver drove the hearse down our steep dirt driveway (I was rather distracted at the time, and hadn't thought to warn them not to). I'd seen enough friends struggle to drive back up that after my father's body had been loaded I took the driver aside and explained that driving up required a light touch, and that if he lost traction the only option was to reverse back down and try again.

Of course with my mother and brothers watching on the driver lost traction and immediately planted his right foot, sending clouds of dust everywhere. He eventually edged back down, only to do exactly the same thing again the next time he tried.

At this point I knocked on his window, motioned for him to hop out, and then for the first and only time in my life drove a (now very dirty) hearse.
posted by puffmoike at 5:20 AM on September 1, 2013 [9 favorites]

I think, as does everyone else, that you absolutely deserve an apology and a partial refund, and that you should feel assured that there is nothing tacky about asking for the refund.

We hire funeral homes not just for a tangible item, but for being able to have a particular emotional experience at the funeral. We pay them a lot of money so they will handle certain practical and physical necessities in a way that lets us focus on our emotions and memories. That is their service. The fact that money is involved is just a given. There is nothing more tacky in asking for a refund than in engaging in a financial transaction surrounding death to begin with, and that is what we all do, because that's just how our society works. I hope you don't feel you're making it "about the money," because it's ironic -- being able not to think about money on the day of the funeral was one of the things you paid for.

As to how much to ask for: I doubt you want to do more research, but if you knew how much a cremation alone generally costs without all the other funeral home services you received, maybe you should ask for half of that amount back. If you don't know, just ask for half the total back -- because their mistake also impacted the experience in general. You'll probably not want to keep negotiating with them because you'll probably want to just be done with it, but that might be a place to start in your letter.
posted by third rail at 5:33 AM on September 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

Have you gotten an invoice for the cemetery? I assume they'll charge you for the last-minute service they performed. So ask for that much at least from the funeral home. As mentioned above the owners may not know about it and would surely want to, so do write them.
posted by headnsouth at 5:51 AM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'll just add one thought: The funeral home didn't consider it tacky to ask for payment. There is nothing tacky about asking for compensation.
posted by The Deej at 5:55 AM on September 1, 2013 [12 favorites]

Sorry for your loss.

You deserve a full refund on whatever portion of your payment went to the cremation - this service is their business, you payed them to provide that service, and they did not provide that service to any reasonable degree of satisfaction. All the emotions surrounding this make it hard to see it this way, but that's how it is.

If I were them, I'd give you an extensive apology and a full refund for the whole thing, just to try to head off the horrific yelp review, BBB complaint, and the inquiry from the relevant professional organization (this one maybe?) I'd expect to be coming my way.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 6:18 AM on September 1, 2013

So yes, in short, there is nothing tacky about demanding a refund.
posted by Salvor Hardin at 6:20 AM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

If it were me, I would ask for an apology and that they make a donation to the local cancer society (or whatever is an appropriate charity organization) in your father's memory. I would ask that the donation be for a specific amount (25%?) oif the original cost and that you would like a receipt showing the donation was made and was in your father's name or memory. I think that might address your concerns about asking for money back and it will address Funeral Home A's mistake.
posted by JohnnyGunn at 6:25 AM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm also quite sorry for your loss.

I am additionally curious if anyone else has encountered a similar state of loved one's remains in recent years...over a period of 4 years I have found myself charged with scattering both the ashes of my father and a friend of my husband's and in both cases (particularly the latter) the bone fragments made them extremely difficult to simply scatter and I had to more or less bury them myself at the requested sites. At the time I thought of coming here and writing an AskMe to see if anyone knew if this was a new policy by funeral homes to reduce the amount of remains being scattered about, since it is a gray area where the laws of some states are concerned.

I never asked, but remain mystified. I hope you receive some answer which gives you peace.
posted by squasha at 6:54 AM on September 1, 2013

I'm sorry for your loss;

I work at a Toronto funeral home.

While the funeral home that you made arrangements with was responsible for making sure that everything happens properly, they may not have actually seen the cremated remains. At the funeral home where I work, we will usually ask the crematorium to separate the cremated remains if the family has requested it ahead of time. This PDF is the Board of Funeral Services gives a breakdown of the different types of service providers.

Was the crematorium part of the same company as the funeral home, or an unaffiliated company?

In either case, as well as following up with the funeral home itself, you have the option of complaining directly to The Ontario Board of Funeral Services.
posted by cpdavy at 6:54 AM on September 1, 2013 [10 favorites]

I'm sorry to hear about your loss and this difficult situation. I think it might be best to leave this in the hands of the solicitor, telling him that what you would like as the outcome is at least a partial refund and a written apology. Probably for your own mental well being it would be worth the couple hundred bucks at most it should cost to have the solicitor write the letter of complaint. That way you can spend a minimum of time thinking about and dealing with this but wil get closure on it nonetheless.
posted by hazyjane at 7:52 AM on September 1, 2013 [3 favorites]

This happened when my dad died, in a very small Western town about 15 years ago. Instead of scattering him like a mist drifting over the Bitterroot Mountains, I more or less had to throw his bits of bone out of a Cessna window. We went ahead and made jokes about how tough he was, even in death. Shit happens. I would wait and mourn and then write a letter so that they'll know and not let this happen again, but not expect more than an apology in return.
posted by Ideefixe at 8:30 AM on September 1, 2013 [1 favorite]

I'm so sorry for your loss.

I've had occasion in the past couple years to see or scatter the cremains from about 7 humans and animals, from 4-5 different crematoriums. None of them were 'chunky', none required burying, and in none could I pick out bone fragments (and I was looking, 'cause this stuff fascinates me). What happened to you is absolutely NOT normal. Someone made a huge mistake, and the director of the funeral home and perhaps even the licensing agency in the area needs to know about it. If you can't face it now, ask for a letter from the funeral director who alerted you, and deal with it when you feel up to it.

But know that you have every right to complain and expect some kind of apology.
posted by MeiraV at 8:54 AM on September 1, 2013

What a rotten experience. I'm so sorry for your loss, and that this made it harder. I was the one who put my Mom's ashes in the pot she chose - my sister had made it years before and Mom really liked it. The ashes were very fine, and there were probably 6 - 8 cups. The pot held 4 - 5 cups, so I gave some ashes to my brother to take to the lake where we sailed, which she loved, and I took some to her favorite spot on the ocean. In contrast, my friend's ashes had quite a few bone chunks, as well as metal pieces from a dental bridge, and some identifiable tooth fragments. It was quite disconcerting for his family, and I think their crematorium did a poor job.

When you complain about customer service, it helps to have a goal for the resolution. If you want the funeral home to be disciplined, it's likely that there's a government regulatory agency you could contact.
posted by theora55 at 8:58 AM on September 1, 2013

Maybe you can think if it such that the funeral home is a business, and the best way to make sure that this NEVER HAPPENS again to anyone else is to ask for a refund. They won't mess around after that, hopefully.

Also, I'd ask the director who reprocessed them to never again use the word "chunky." How horrible.
posted by stoneandstar at 10:42 AM on September 1, 2013 [2 favorites]

I am so sorry this happened.

Despite the high temperatures that the crematorium uses, large bone fragments are often left behind. Mostly from the leg bones and the hips. The common practice is to place the remaining fragments into a grinder. The final consistency should be mostly ash with remaining particles the size and texture of kitty-litter (sorry, but that's it). In America, the standard is that no pieces should remain that are recognizable as bone matter (again, apologies that I do not have the precise wording at hand). With a keen eye, you can pick out small bits of bone in any cremains, but you should NEVER be able to see full bone fragments. Pea-sized particles are pushing the limits of acceptability. Coin-sized is beyond acceptable.

Cemetery B should be commending for handling the situation as well as they were able. ("Chunky" is not the best term, but I'd be pressed to come up with one better).

You ABSOLUTELY should write a letter of complaint--if for no other reason, so that this doesn't happen to another family. As for a refund, that's a bit stickier. There is nothing tacky about asking for a refund, but I'm not sure how you'd validate your claim. Read your cremation contract to see if at any point they refer to the final condition of the cremains. Again, I don't know what the standards are in Canada, but this wouldn't be acceptable in America. I'm sure it's too late to photograph the offending pieces, but that might have helped a refund. As others have said, this is likely the fault of the crematory operator and not the funeral directors/owners.

My only other advice (and I say this with love for you) is to find a way to come to peace with this. An apology and refund will not take away the way you feel about this. I'm not saying that it's not something worth being upset over--it is. But as others have said above, peace comes with being able to put this behind you. Feel free to email me with any further questions.
posted by ColdChef at 3:42 PM on September 1, 2013 [11 favorites]

Thanks, guys, for confirming that this isn't a silly thing to be unhappy about and for all of the information about cremains and your experiences with them. I'm going to email Funeral Home A today and see what they say. I'm pretty sure that just writing the complaint will lay this to rest and that "Well, do you have a sieve?" will at some point become part of the folklore of my dad's saga, as suggested.

Loss (and funerals) are weird: you don't always know what you're feeling, and are aware on some level that what you are feeling may not be rational, or that you may be hyper-focused on the utterly mundane. I'm grateful for the backup; thanks to all of you.
posted by DarlingBri at 4:42 AM on September 2, 2013 [5 favorites]

Update: cpdavy called it; the actual cremation was done not by Funeral Home A but sub-contracted out to Crematorium C. The funeral director at Funeral Home A and I have corresponded (the email I sent him was basically my original post.) He in turn has been in touch with Crematorium C, and Crematorium C has apologised and offered to refund me the full cost of the cremation.

I have no idea what portion of the $3,400 we paid this will represent but it matters not at all; I'm satisfied by the refund of whatever portion of the bill that represents and feel vindicated. I'm really grateful for the affirmation and support; thanks so much, again.
posted by DarlingBri at 11:54 AM on September 12, 2013 [3 favorites]

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