Thursday, August 5, 2010

Reality Check - Why Death Certificates Tend To Have Errors


(First, the warning, this is a long post.  I do hope you will read on!)

Monday evening driving home from Man's mother's funeral, I had the first quiet moments I had had in 4 days, the drive home did have a moment of excitement, but that is another story, some other time.

As I was tooling along in rush hour traffic, tired, OK, very tired, my mind wandering around the events of the last 4 days, and all of a sudden I had one of those thoughts.  One of those "ohhhh, yeaaaa, no kidding, yepper" type of thoughts.

Lets do the back story, and I think you will figure it out before I get to the end.

Man's mother was 87, she had a number of health issues, and had had for some years. The last months, she developed some dementia, which along with the other physical ailments, added a new plateau of difficulties.  Anyone that has been through this with a loved one knows, it is difficult and stressful for the loved one, the next of kin, children, grandchildren, extended family.

Yet, when the call came early on the 30th, even though it was not unexpected, it still shocks and numbs.

Man did have a funeral package picked out, casket ditto, he had a lot of the information about her and her family on file with the funeral home.  I had checked it all carefully when Man did this planning late last summer.  So, some of the planning was in place, which did reduce the stress, some - -

Friday, while Man and Son # 1 worked from computer and in person, making the final arrangements, I was still at home, doing my thing.  I was support person, they had questions, I helped find answers; I was the document and photo collector.  I built a family tree photo collage, with Millie' parents, siblings, husband, children, grandchildren (and their spouses) and great-grandchildren.  It was my gift to Man and my children, it went to the funeral home and was displayed. 

So, Friday was a LONG day for all of us.  Grief and long hours, we were already tired out.  I did not find my bed till midnight.

Saturday, I woke after a fretful night at 7:34 A.M., looked at the sky and went, oh, oh, possible rain, get Big Butt loaded so nothing gets rained on.  I started furiously packing and did not stop for several hours.  I had to pack 3 dogs, crates, pens, and all their gear and meds.  I had to pack our clothes, Man needed his suit, and his shoes, tie, belt and more.  I had to pack the photo family tree which was displayed on a science board.  Camera, phone, iPod touch, computer, scanner, printer, air card, router and monitor.  I had a long list and a very full truck when I left here Saturday before noon.

Saturday morning Man and Son # 1 were buying flowers, and completing their own long list of necessary errands.  Son # 1 continued calling friends and family, well over half the contact numbers we had were bad, and we had to go to further methods to make contact, but we did.  (Note:  I really hope the phone companies are done adding all these new area codes, arghhhhhh!)

Saturday afternoon several hours were spent at the funeral home picking out 20 and ONLY 20 photos from the 110 or more I had collected.  The funeral home provides a "free" DVD photo slide show they put on one of their big monitors, but only 20 photos.  Staff was very nice, but, well, mmmmmm, they are a little techy-challenged.  They looked at me like I was some kind of oddity, your photos are on your computer hard drive, how do you do that, you want to give them to me on a WHAT ???  a USB flash drive, well, mmmmm, we are not sure can use that.  It would have been so much easier for you to just bring us the original photos and we would scan them for you.  Easier??  HA HA, like I know where all those photos are now, and how many of them were borrowed and are not in my possession at all??  And, how many of them reside only in digital form, never having been printed?

Later that afternoon, Man and I went to her apartment at the care facility and collected all her jewelry and framed photos and plants.  Removed back to her home.  Off to Target to print photos for additional photo display boards, we got back to the house, late, and again, exhausted.

I found my bed again around midnight.

Sunday morning, we tore the house apart looking for her Red Cross lanyard.  Man wanted a display of her Red Cross awards, the lanyard and other memorabilia, to pay honor to her 20 years of service at the Red Cross.  I built two photo memory boards with 46 photos while he went back to the care facility and returned with one beautiful lanyard.  I built a Red Cross memorial board.  He delivered the boards to the funeral home, and did some other errands. Back at the house, I was scanning more photos, and getting ready for the afternoon viewing.

Viewing for the family started at 1, open to friends at 2, ending at 7.  Another long day of stress, and now, hurting burning feet as well.  Son # 3 was overcome with grief many times.  It is very hard for parents to watch a child grieve that way.

Sunday night, really tired now, the stress continues, one more day to go.  I find my bed a bit earlier, about 11ish, but, I have a dog in a health stress issue.  Miss Tilly has a collapsed trachea, and has managed to irritate it with her stress of being left in a strange home and I know she barked a LOT.  She is having trouble breathing, she needs her meds, and her meds are the ONE thing I forgot to pack, had Mr. G's meds, but not Miss Tilly's.  I had a very hard time falling to sleep between the worry and the noise she makes breathing, like a loud doggy snore.  Man over at his mother's apartment has a restless night as well, not sleeping well, waking for several hours.

Monday, the church viewing begins at 10 AM, service scheduled for 11 AM.  Lovely service, but, the closing of the casket was extremely hard on Man and I.  Man and our 3 sons were the pallbearers, something they all wanted to do, but, so emotional.

Long ride to the cemetery, short service, getting hot, we are tired, we are grieving, we are hungry, and, NOW, the funeral director presents Man with the death certificate to verify information and sign as informant.  Man is so tired and grief stricken he hands the document off to me.  I am tired, and hot, and hungry (and in a bit of a low blood sugar status).  I did the best I could, I checked it for Man, line by line, box by box.  I think, and I hope that all the data was right, because Man signed it.

I fully realize there is NO good time to hand a survivor a document to review for accuracy.  I realize that our story is not unique, it is the story every family experiences when we lose a family member.

And that is how, on my drive home, I came to that "ohhhh, yeaaaa, no kidding, yepper" moment, the light bulb turned on, and I thought, "ohhhhh yea, reality check, this is a perfect example of why death certificates tend to have errors on them, families are grieving, hot or cold, hungry, and exhausted!"

No, this is not a new theory to me, I have taught it any number of times.  Cannot count how many times I have said to researcher/students, "certs might have bad info because the family is in shock and in stress".  But, for some reason, Monday night on my long solitary drive back to the stick, it really made sense, it took on that clarity we get from personal knowledge.

I surely will remember that the next time I look at a death certificate during research.  I hope you will too, and forgive the family for their errors, remember, they were grieving, tired and hungry and someone may have handed them the document after 4 long days.

And, to those of you who work in the industry, consider reviewing documents with the family well before the end of the funeral services, timing can be everything.

Copyright 2010, CABS for Reflections From the Fence



Dorene from Ohio said...

Very interesting post, with such a "reality check" included! I hope you get some rest and relaxation soon!

Barbara Poole said...

I'm glad you wrote this, sad as the death was, you have a wonderful way of adding a dash of humor and your personality to it. Everybody should read this, as it is reality. Again, my condolences.

TennLady said...

Our funeral director checked it with us on the actual form before the funeral. All of us went over it.

IrishEyes said...

Thank you for this wonderful post. A poignant, yet at times humorous, look at all a family has to deal with at such a time. It takes me back to all the 'stuff' we had going on when my dad died. Now I'm smiling through tears. Thanks Carol! Cheers! Jennifer

Linda McCauley said...

This is one of those things that really should be obvious but I had never thought of it in these terms. No wonder so many birth dates are wrong on death certificates. I will definitely be kinder in my thoughts about informants in the future. Thanks Carol.

Greta Koehl said...

I imagined something like this when I saw my grandfather's death certificate - my grandmother was the informant and got a lot of the information wrong. My uncle had told me how his father died; it was quite sudden. So I just said quietly, "That's all right, Grandma. You were in shock and grief. And I already have the right information." (And, knowing my Grandmother, if she heard this, she had a tart rejoinder.)

Michelle Goodrum said...

This was such a good reminder. I've been there myself but somehow you have such a good way of putting it into words so that we can all feel it. I know whenever I look at a death certificate from now on I will be reminded of this article and what whoever's family must have been going through as well. Thank you and again my condolences to you and all of your family.

Mavis said...

Slowly trying to get caught up on blog reading after about two months of life taking over. So, I'm just now hearing of your family's loss and am sorry to hear this. My thoughts are with you and your family.

Also, very good post on this. What should be obvious wasn't so until reading your post. I will definitely keep this in mind the next time I look at a death certificate.

Apple said...

I'm sorry the days were so long and hard but it sounds like you had a lovely viewing. I hope the grief eases with each passing day.

I was the one responsible for my father's funeral. I messed up both the death certificate (my grandmother's maiden name is spelled incorrectly) and the obituary on which my name was incorrect.