The Grave Woman: Some States Don’t Require Refrigeration of the Deceased + More Shocking Facts About Funeral Services

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by Joe’l Simone Anthony, also known as ‘The Grave Woman’

Disclaimer: This particular story caught my attention for several reasons. I struggled when making the decision to write about it because my goal is to represent the best of funeral service. However, if I am to truly stimulate an open honest discussion about death and dying I must address the topic from all vantage points. I remain completely objective and strive to neither support nor discredit the family and/or funeral home involved.

Over the past few weeks there have been several news headlines which have depicted the funeral service industry and its providers in a negative light.  One headline in particular is that of Mark Smith versus McDowell Funeral Home in Reed City, Michigan. According to Mr. Smith, he found his mother’s dead body in a garage on the property of the McDowell Funeral Home. Understandably upset, Mr. Smith recorded his finding with the use of his smartphone and released the video onto social media, creating an outrage directed towards the McDowell funeral home.(Click here to see the video) In the video Mr. Smith can be heard swearing and threatening to take legal action against McDowell Funeral Home for improperly storing the remains of his mother.

Funeral home owner John McDowell, who is seen in the video avoiding Mr. Smith’s camera, responded via a telephone interview with FOX 17 (click here to hear his response). He argues that this whole situation is the result of circumstance combined with bad timing and irony. Mr. McDowell claims that the deceased was being kept in the garage in efforts to keep her cool because the facility did not have a way to refrigerate her remains. He also explained that the funeral home was not contacted by the Smith family for three days after the cadaver arrived.  He added that his family has been serving the community for over 100 years and has an upstanding reputation; and Mr. Smith’s accusations are ruining his reputation.

Upon reviewing the available details of this story, I have made several observations which I hope can be used as a platform to stimulate a conversation about this case — educating both funeral service providers and patrons alike.

Let’s start with the facts:

 

  • Mr. Smith’s mother passed away.
  • Upon investigation for suspicious activity and foul play, her body was removed from the place of death and taken to the McDowell Funeral Home.
  • According to the funeral home and EMT personnel, the family did not make contact or claim the body for three days.
  • Embalming is considered mutilation and requires written consent from the next of kin. Being that the family had not given authorization for embalming, it did not take place.
  • Refrigeration of the deceased is not legally required in the state of Michigan and was not available at the McDowell Funeral Home.  
  • Mr. Smith at some point visited the funeral home and found his way to the garage where he located the remains of his deceased mother.
  • The deceased body was held unembalmed at the McDowell Funeral Home for at least 3 days.
  • Mr. Smith videotaped his findings in the garage and other areas of the funeral home — in which he had no permission to enter or film — and released the footage on social media.

Here are my questions and comments:

  • My heart and sincere condolences go out to Mr. Smith and his family regarding the loss of his mother.
  • What was the reason for the family not claiming the remains or contacting the funeral home sooner? Were they aware that she was dead? Was the deceased traveling and expected to be away? Did the funeral home or EMT personnel try and contact the family?
  • Why is refrigeration of the deceased not legally required in Michigan? What is the length of time that human remains can be kept unrefrigerated before they must be properly disposed of?
  • How did Mr. Smith gain access to the garage if human remains were being stored there? It is my understanding that in order to protect the privacy/ modesty of the deceased, remains are to be kept in a “safe place” or an area where they will be undisturbed by the public and general business traffic.
  • If the remains were being kept in a “safe place” then what motivated Mr. Smith to trespass in this area?
  • Why did Mr. Smith release the video on social media instead of taking it to law enforcement if he felt as if a crime had been committed?
  • Is the funeral home ethically responsible for storing human remains in better conditions? Is Mr. Smith validated in feeling as if his mother’s remains were violated? If so what is the solution?

 

It is my hope that this article will stimulate a dialect about this story educating both funeral service providers and patrons alike. I believe that it is time for consumers to take responsibility and educate themselves with laws, rules, and regulations pertaining to funeral service; and it is also past time for funeral service providers to rethink the level of service that we give our families. I truly believe by doing this, we can shift our perspective of the death experience.  As always I am eager to hear from you.  What are your questions? What do you need to know? How can we get this conversation started in our community?

Joe’l Simone Anthony, also known as ‘The Grave Woman,’ is a graduate of the Gupton Jones College of Funeral Service in Atlanta, Georgia.  She is dedicated to eliminating misconceptions about post-life preparation while stimulating an open, honest and straight forward discussion about death. You can submit your comments, questions and requests to her at thegravewoman@gmail.com or via her website www.thegravewoman.com.

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