The Truths and Lies About Funeral Myths With Mike O'Connell & Amber Miller - Transcribed

[00:00:00] Pete Waggoner: Hello everybody. And welcome to the Good Grief podcast from the O’Connell Family Funeral homes. Check us out online at, along with Michael O’Connell and Amber Miller. We are here to talk about myths. We took a poll of some common questions or myths people have surrounding the topics that we work on here.

[00:00:24] And we’re here to share some of those responses. So I’m very intrigued to see what this one will have to offer. We have a number of myths that we’re going to go through, many of which will be dispelled as mostly false. And we’ll get to those deep reasons why on those dives as well. We’re gonna take a quick break.

[00:00:43] When we come back, we’ll check in with Mike and Amber right after this.

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[00:01:43] And we welcome you back to the Good Grief podcast from the O’Connell Funeral Homes. We’re in our studio here looking at the street. Looks gorgeous outside today. Maybe the temperature will warm up as well. And it’ll get real hot in here with the myths that we’re gonna talk about. So look out! Let’s get into ’em [00:02:00] guys.

[00:02:00] Myth number one: everyone is embalmed after they die. This is fascinating. 

[00:02:05] Mike O’Connell: Do you wanna raise that like an Alex Trebec question? Or do you wanna just, okay. No, the answer is no, you do not have to be embalmed if you do not want that type of service. People say, well, I heard state law.

[00:02:16] I heard because if you’re cremated, I heard, I heard, I heard. No, it’s not true. We will walk through this with you. And if you have a service that requires an embalming, then yes. When would that be? When we have a public visitation for public health reasons, otherwise we do not require embalming.

[00:02:33] In fact, Minnesota has a law that says if you’re not cremated or buried within 72 hours, you have to be embalmed. We don’t follow that. Even if you don’t, if you don’t want it Pete, we’re not gonna do it. So the answer is no, false. 

[00:02:48] Pete Waggoner: How about this one? Everyone has an autopsy after they die. 

[00:02:52] Amber Miller: False. I’d say in most instances, an autopsy is not performed because usually a death may occur because of something that’s [00:03:00] expected, whether that person’s on hospice or the cause of death is known, maybe they had cancer, heart disease, degenerative disease.

[00:03:06] In instances where maybe a death is unexpected, like maybe a death at home. The coroner or medical examiner will come out and they’ll determine if an autopsy is required. Sometimes they don’t. So if it’s like a witnessed cardiac arrest or maybe it’s a homicide or suicide or whatever the case may be, the medical examiner will determine if that’s the case and they’ll reach out to the doctor and look at medical records to determine that cause of death without an autopsy.

[00:03:32] In other instances, they may just take toxicology, drawing of blood and not having to do an autopsy. But if there’s any sort of foul play involved or really kind of questioning what happened, then the autopsy would happen. But that’s the medical examiner that would decide that.

[00:03:45] Mike O’Connell: It’s evidentiary.

[00:03:47] And if a family does want one, sometimes they can do it, but they have to pay for it. And they’re probably anywhere from 2,500 to 3,000 in cash. I mean, that’s what they charge. 

[00:03:57] Pete Waggoner: Do you find it has value?[00:04:00] 

[00:04:00] Mike O’Connell: We keep in mind Pete, we watch TV right? And they solve everything within 30 minutes. Just because you have an autopsy does not mean you are gonna have a smoking gun [00:04:10] that’s the cause of death. That’s a misnomer. That’s a myth. 

[00:04:13] Pete Waggoner: Okay. This one’s wild to me. Is this actually a thing where people believe funeral directors determine the cause of death. 

[00:04:22] Mike O’Connell: Absolutely not. And the other thing too is just as much as they put COVID on everything they did not, they do not. They only do it if you died from it and people say, well, they were doing it, because they got money. I can honestly tell you of all the deaths, we had maybe 20 to 25 were listed as COVID.

[00:04:39] Pete Waggoner: Not many? 

[00:04:40] Mike O’Connell: No. So again, it’s a myth. But I heard, oh boy, I heard. And then Pete, if you read it online, guess what? It’s the truth.

[00:04:51] Pete Waggoner: Well, you gotta verify it too.

[00:04:52] And then it’s really the truth, right? Cause if you see it twice, right? 

[00:04:55] Mike O’Connell: Hey, I’ll believe the good old computer versus what you tell me. 

[00:04:58] Pete Waggoner: Oh yeah, absolutely. 

[00:04:59] This is one of [00:05:00] my favorite movies was Meet the Parents. Totally horrific scene there. When the cat knocks over mom’s ashes and they go everywhere and it does lead you to believe.

[00:05:14] What if that can happen? Can it? 

[00:05:18] Amber Miller: I would say for the most part, no. You know, most crematories, ours included, to avoid this they’ll put the ashes that are returned to the family in a bag that’s secured with a thick fastener or tie. And then that bag is what’s placed into the urn the family chooses.

[00:05:34] So we have a little bit of a buffer in the event that something does happen, God forbid, where they’re at home on the mantle and the cat does decide to do that. They’re all contained. 

[00:05:44] Mike O’Connell: True. And another thing too, another myth. Cremains or people call them ashes, which we don’t, we call them cremated remains, are not soot-like material they’re more gritty like cat litter. But there is a dust to them, but everything is uh, embellished on [00:06:00] TV for the effect.

[00:06:01] Pete Waggoner: Well, that’s, that’s that one. Yeah, certainly was. I can see everybody going back now on to YouTube to pull that scene up, to take a peek at that. 

[00:06:08] Mike O’Connell: It is a classic movie. 

[00:06:09] Pete Waggoner: It is. It is classic. 

[00:06:10] Crematories cremate more than one person at a time. This is myth number five. 

[00:06:17] Mike O’Connell: Okay. When people ask me that, I can’t say I can’t say with one hundred percent certainty what other people do.

[00:06:25] I can say with certainty what O’Connell’s do. We do not cremate more than one at a time, and our machine’s not ready for that. It wouldn’t be able to even do that because of temperature. So the answer is no to that. We don’t cremate one more at a time. 

[00:06:40] Pete Waggoner: Is your guess that that’s the case pretty much? 

[00:06:42] Mike O’Connell: That would be the pretty much the case.

[00:06:44] Funeral homes have a higher degree of ethics. I’m just gonna leave it at that. 

[00:06:48] So I know what funeral homes are doing, but then again, you read on TV and that’s what causes the doubt. You see in Georgia where they’re not cremating, they’re giving sand out. I don’t care what industry you’re in.

[00:06:59] You can have bad [00:07:00] funeral directors. You’re gonna have bad doctors, bad policemen, bad anything. But they don’t rule. They’re like the .001 of all of us. 

[00:07:07] Pete Waggoner: So what we know is here, one at a time, correct? Great!

[00:07:12] Myth number six. Funeral home, profit off prosthetics, gold teeth, etcetera.

[00:07:16] Mike O’Connell: I’ll start it. And Amber can, can embellish. 

[00:07:18] Pete Waggoner: But wait, where did this start from? I mean, how was that – I wouldn’t even think about that. Where does that come from? 

[00:07:25] Mike O’Connell: It comes from people watching TV or on the internet. We had the one this week that said, I want my dad’s teeth back, because they’re gold.

[00:07:34] And so Pete, you would need a channel lock and a hammer. Okay. That’s what you would need. We’re not dentists. We’re not orthodontics. Now if you want that, you can get a dentist of your choosing to come up and do it. You won’t find one. 

[00:07:49] But the other is, you think it’s the same kind of gold that’s on your finger? It’s not, it’s an alloy. It’s not the same. You can’t do you can’t take a tooth out, make a ring out of it. [00:08:00] Ask your dentist if you don’t believe me, but that is a myth. 

[00:08:03] Pete Waggoner: Wow. And a conversation you have. 

[00:08:05] Mike O’Connell: But it makes for damn good cocktail party conversations. 

[00:08:08] Pete Waggoner: It sure does! Do you, do you want to dive in on that a little bit?

[00:08:11] Amber Miller: And I think kind of along the same lines as like prosthetics, a lot of people say, can I have dad’s hip back or knee back, or, you know, any sort of other metals like that, or they ask what we do with them or do we resell them and doctors put them in other people, you know, there’s lots of questions. 

[00:08:28] Pete Waggoner: Oh, there’s a lot of cynicism out there. Isn’t there? I mean that’s really what it comes down to. 

[00:08:32] Mike O’Connell: Actually you’re right, Pete. I had never thought of it that way, but that’s what it is. Society’s just ready to find the negative in anything, right? Oh, I mean, they would find Mother Teresa to be probably. But yes, I agree with you on that, cynicism. 

[00:08:44] Pete Waggoner: In your world, like with what you do, it could be tough being pinned back all the time, on the defensive, to have to deal. You know, it’s a topic that maybe you’re not really even thinking about. [00:08:55] “Oh here comes another one.” I mean, I think just basic off hearing this, [00:09:00] kudos to you as a group for staying professional and working through that. That’s that’s true. 

[00:09:05] Okay. How about this one? Myth number seven. Every veteran receives a 21 gun salute. And if they don’t, obviously these are all false. Why?

[00:09:16] Mike O’Connell: The first, and I don’t, it’s not that I correct people, but every honorable discharge that’s the key to it, is entitled to military honors. But they don’t get a 21-gun salute. 21-gun salute is only for the president of the United States.

[00:09:30] Now, you will get three volleys. This podcast doesn’t have enough time to go into that, but there’s meaning for each volleys. Heck there’s meaning for each fold of the flag. The government is very, you know, TAPS. That was a song played in, around the war. And so all these things have meaning. 

[00:09:47] But if you are honorably discharged, certainly you can get a free military honors, at a church or a cemetery, you can get a flag, and you are eligible for burial in a national or state [00:10:00] veteran cemetery. 

[00:10:01] Pete Waggoner: And those volleys are loud. 

[00:10:04] Mike O’Connell: They are. And I always tell people, so I’m gonna throw this plug in there. I always tell people, you know, when they play TAPS, take your hat off or put your hand over your heart.

[00:10:12] When they play TAPS. 

[00:10:13] Pete Waggoner: There is something about TAPS. This isn’t the topic we’re talking about, but that is so moving to me every time I hear it. It’s special. 

[00:10:20] How about number eight? Can I have a funeral if I donate my body to science? What about if I donate my organs or tissues? What happens?

[00:10:29] Amber Miller: You can most certainly have a funeral and no changes whatsoever if you decide to either donate your body to science or donate your organs and tissues. Depending on whatever program is chosen, if you decide that you do wanna donate your body to science, there’s options. So some families elect that they maybe wanna have their service before the donation takes place.

[00:10:49] Which is an option depending on whatever program you choose. So you could be in a casket involved with an open service and then donation after. Some families choose to do a private family viewing [00:11:00] ahead of time, and then go forward with the donation and have some prayers.

[00:11:03] And then others will have services while their loved one is at the donation center. Just because typically a donation program takes about 18 months to return your cremated remains back. So we would never recommend that families wait that long. Just because that’s a really long time to have to wait for services.

[00:11:22] So a lot of times families have, whether that be a picture in place of an urn, momentos, anything like that. So that’s always an option. 

[00:11:30] And then with skin donation, absolutely. You can have an open casket service if you have donated your skin or eyes or any other tissues, no problem. And it doesn’t affect the way that people are able to, to view you or any of the services that you choose. 

[00:11:48] Mike O’Connell: Pete, I choose myths for 300. On what Amber just said too, is people will come into the funeral home and they’ll say, “Well, my dad was a donor. An organ donor was on his license.” Understand the difference between [00:12:00] body donation or tissue.

[00:12:01] An organ is a live part of your body. You cannot give it when you die. Period. So when you’re an organ donor, that means if you’re in a horrific car crash or a massive stroke, and you’re on life support, then they can take your organs. So that negates 99.9% of the people. When they come here and they say, you’re an organ donor.

[00:12:21] That ship has sailed. 

Pete Waggoner: So when it’s done, it’s done. 

Mike O’Connell: But you can be a tissue donor then. 

[00:12:26] Pete Waggoner: So what type of percentages do you deal with? And this sounds like it makes things a little bit trickier. If you’re family putting things together and then now you’re kind of, you know, maneuvering through when, how, and what with timing and things.

[00:12:42] Does this happen often? 

[00:12:45] Amber Miller: I would say if, you know, if you’re thinking about donating your body to science, it’s important to kind of pre-think about that. So really thinking about prearranging, not only, so your family knows, but you can get pre-registered in a program. Oftentimes, some programs will inhibit the [00:13:00] people who come in that aren’t registered. Or say, for example, you choose that you want to donate your brain to Alzheimer’s research or something like that. Programs will want to get you pre-registered for that. So knowing ahead of time what your intentions are and what your wishes are, is important. So that when it does happen, the timing with the family and all of that, it can be smooth around afterwards.

[00:13:21] Pete Waggoner: So when you donate organs or tissues to LifeSource or the Lion’s Eye Bank, things like that, you can still, as you kind of alluded to or mentioned earlier, you can still have an open casket and that’s all definitely in the cards and on the playing field, right? 

[00:13:39] Amber Miller: Absolutely. Yep. And, and those organizations will, you know, typically reach out to the family and discuss those, but absolutely. Giving of eyes or corneas or skin or any other tissue donation does not inhibit any sort of options with regards to funeral services.

[00:13:55] Pete Waggoner: How about choosing to donate your body, your brain to science at the time of [00:14:00] death? 

[00:14:01] Mike O’Connel: Well when you do that, you have to be pre-registered. That’s one of the nuances. You can’t just say, “You know, I was thinking of doing this” because there’s steps. Anybody that’s either taking anatomically or tissue.

[00:14:15] It’s not that they always need it, so they don’t always take it. I mean, that’s the other myth is that you’re guaranteed a hundred percent. You’re not. If you’ve got anything communicable or your size or anything like that, they’ll say no. But like your brain, if people say, “well, you know, my dad had dementia, I’d like to donate his brain.”

[00:14:33] That’s gotta be set in advance. Because you need a pathologist to take the brain out and they’re not just sitting around. And companies just don’t say, “well, yeah, we just, yeah, we were looking for one.” No, they’ve already got people in their studies, so they rarely take somebody out of the blue.

[00:14:48] Pete Waggoner: Got it. Okay. How about piercings? What do you do? Do you remove those in embalming or how does that work? 

[00:14:53] Mike O’Connell: I gotta ask, is this a personal question?

Pete Waggoner: No we’re good

Mike O’Connell: I’m gonna let Amber take this one, I think.

[00:14:56] Amber Miller: So I would say it depends. Usually if we are going forward with [00:15:00] the embalming process, we would take jewelry out just to clean it up and return that back to the family if they want.

[00:15:06] Or if the family expresses, you know, what mom or dad really wants to keep that jewelry on, even through burial, then we’ll do whatever the family wishes. Oftentimes if someone’s choosing cremation, maybe they want the jewelry back. So we’re pretty adamant about either taking that off or putting it in with the urn versus cremating. Just in the event that someone down the road you know, great granddaughter or something wants grandma’s wedding ring or something like that. 

[00:15:28] Mike O’Connell: Yeah. And usually when you say piercings, that’s usually younger people. And to be honest with you, Pete, we have to really walk that quietly or not quietly, I shouldn’t say, but diligently because some of that is really personal. And you just don’t go Hey, by the way.

[00:15:44] No, because they did it quietly and it’s rather personal. So we walk that tightrope very safely. 

[00:15:51] Pete Waggoner: How about contact lenses? What do you do with those?

[00:15:54] Mike O’Connell: Well contact lenses? They usually dry. So they’re [00:16:00] typically, I’ve never taken one off. I’ve never taken one off because they’re usually for that person.

[00:16:06] And when somebody dies, there’s already changes that occur, actually sometimes changes occur before they die. But there’s changes that occur that make those, you know, not worth anything for that person.

[00:16:16] Pete Waggoner: Got it. Okay, back into the myth, we got a couple more here. Myth number 11, funeral directors remove everyone’s organs during the embalming process.

[00:16:24] Now I’ve never heard this one, so I don’t know where that would come from, but I guess it’s out there. 

[00:16:30] Mike O’Connell: Well, now that they’ve changed the laws we quit doing it Pete. Well again, you can take any of these and you think of the black market. And right now, the national funeral, any association with funeral directors are fighting that people that do take organs and tissues are closely monitored.

[00:16:51] So you can’t just say, I need a new kidney or I need a new, and then you pay cash for it. There’s your black market. So it’s really a [00:17:00] delicate topic that is really getting a lot of attention right now at the state and federal level about how they can be processed. You can’t sell organs, but you sell the services.

[00:17:11] There was a thing on 60 minutes, like five years ago that was really fascinating and talked about that they can’t sell an organ, but they can sell the process how they do it. And it’s all about money, Pete, it’s all about money. And what you don’t want is that the rich only can get these because people that don’t have the resources should have the same ability to get a new lung, kidney, whatever it may be, not just the ones that have the means to do it.

[00:17:37] Pete Waggoner: Interesting. How about myth number 12? We’ve kind of talked about this. I have donor on my license. That means I will be 100% be a donor, but that comes back to you saying there comes a time, right? It’s a moot point. And so 99.9% it’s not an option. 

[00:17:53] Mike O’Connell: Yeah. A donor is for the living. So that part you’re right. Is a moot point. 

[00:17:57] Pete Waggoner: What was great is that came up in conversation and [00:18:00] we brought up myth 12 and Mike’s like up there it is, so that’s great. But that’s a true thing. 

[00:18:05] Wrapping up the myths discussion for the two of you, obviously there are many more that are out there that we didn’t touch on.

[00:18:14] How much time do you spend, do you think, dispelling those myths? 

[00:18:19] Mike O’Connell: Hmm, that’s a great question. I would say, every arrangement we do, there’s certain part of educating and dispelling, I don’t know, myth says is the right word, but there’s gotta be probably 15% if I didn’t throw a number out, maybe Amber you’d correct me.

[00:18:36] 15% of educating or dispelling wrong information. Misperceptions. 

[00:18:41] Amber Miller: I would agree. Maybe about half of the time that I’m meeting with the family, something comes up of, oh, I heard this, or my friend did this or this is what my friend experienced and things that maybe aren’t applicable here or not valid or true. So they come up more often than people envision. 

[00:18:57] Pete Waggoner: Is there a common theme [00:19:00] to what those are, or is it pretty much all over the map? 

[00:19:03] Mike O’Connell: I’ll say a common theme that Amber just said, and she’s absolutely right. When I tell you a story, Pete, what happens? It changes a little bit.

[00:19:10] And when you tell somebody it changes a little bit. So by the time it’s the fifth person you say, well, my neighbor, when her dad died, Good night, it’s off the table. So that’s when we have to come in and do some damage control. Well, I heard, you know, they cremated her mom didn’t even take the jewelry or they cremated, you know, with a dog or, oh my Lord.

[00:19:30] So then we have to go into damage control and say what we do and how this works and how the industry works. 

[00:19:34] Pete Waggoner: Gone is the telephone game we used to play in grade school to prove the point. Amazing how that works. Isn’t it? 

[00:19:41] Mike O’Connel: That was the best game ever.

[00:19:43] So I would like to take for the daily double possibly myth number 14 – do bodies sit up or move on you? The answer in short is hell no, because Pete, I would run you over to get out of there if a body sat up on [00:20:00] me. It does not happen. I get that question. That’s the most, that’s the question I get the most, probably 30 times a year.

[00:20:08] People say, well, I’ve heard. Do they sit up? Do they make sounds? No. Okay. Somebody sitting up is impossible when they’re dead. Period. Amen. Now can their arm fall down? Is it gravity? Yes. Have I been struck in the hinder once?

[00:20:23] Yes. And I jumped about five feet and when I came back and I looked okay, gravity pulled the hand down and it slapped me for real. And after I cleaned myself up, yes, because that startled me. We’re human. Just like the rest of us. Okay. 

[00:20:36] Did they speak back? No. Can they make sounds if there’s air in their lungs? Sure. When you move ’em that air is expelled. Okay. So they don’t talk. They don’t say “Hey psst.” No, because if they did that, I’m gone, period. Do I watch scary movies either? Nope. I don’t need to because you live it, but now you read about that, there’s a bad accident. Somebody wakes up in a [00:21:00] morgue.

[00:21:00] That happens. Because somebody didn’t do a good enough due diligence to see if they were dead. So a person, they thought they triaged them as being they’re gone. Cuz they were in a bad they’re bad. Let’s go over here. Body bagged that one. They don’t check ’em you got some inexperienced people.

[00:21:15] They bag ’em. They bring ’em to the hospital. And next thing you know, “Hey John, let me outta here.” Let me outta here. 

[00:21:21] Pete Waggoner: Different scenario, different space, different situation. Not to be confused with what you’re doing.

[00:21:29] Mike O’Connel: Now one more thing we talked about veterans. People say, well, my dad was a veteran.

[00:21:33] We’d like a military funeral and they take care of paying for that don’t they? The answer is no, there is no free veteran funeral. Now, as any honorable discharge can get a free flag, honors, and eligibility into a national cemetery or state cemetery that’s a vet. Now, some people are disabled because of their service that they do, and they have a claim number and they’re [00:22:00] getting benefits before they die.

[00:22:01] If they’re doing that, there’s a good chance they’ll get some of the expenses covered. That’s our job to help with the local VA to figure that out, but unless you’re killed in actual action, you’re in the war, you get killed by a shot or your vehicle gets hit on a mine or something.

[00:22:19] The government’s gonna pay for that. 

[00:22:22] Pete Waggoner: So if it’s in a line of duty situation, correct? 

[00:22:24] Mike O’Connel: Sure. But when you step out of that, then, the benefits start falling off. 

[00:22:29] Pete Waggoner: Got it. Anything from you, Amber? 

[00:22:32] Amber Miller: Nope. I think there’s lots of benefits for veterans, but yeah. In terms of the funeral expenses I get a lot of times the VA will purchase an urn for me and they’ll purchase the casket and all of those things. And again, those are myths. 

[00:22:46] Pete Waggoner: We’ve dispelled a lot of myths here today. 

[00:22:49] Mike O’Connell: One, one more myth too, that we’ve talked about. Number 15, number 15, Pete. Funeral directors are stiffy. They’re goulish. They’re scary people. Well, Amber, yeah, she [00:23:00] doesn’t have a sense of humor and she’s kind of stiff. But you know, we dress the same as you. We like the same things. I like the Wild. I like the Packers. I like to have craft beer. I go to church. I chew my nails. I mean, we’re just like everybody else, Pete, but we just have a craft. You have a craft. 

[00:23:17] Pete Waggoner: The best part about this whole process is I think we’ve done a really nice job.

[00:23:22] Those in the community know who you are and, and they understand that, but those from the extended areas, I think we’ve done a really good job in really illustrating that very point. And I think that’s really important for people to know, because it makes the whole process so much better. 

[00:23:38] Mike O’Connell: I mean, we could have another hour or two on myths, and I think I’d like to do another one on more topics that get into the body and different things.

[00:23:45] And so that’s a little teaser. We’ll have another MythBusters, you know, there show that MythBusters. Yeah, we can do that. 

[00:23:51] Pete Waggoner: Let’s do it. Yeah. Let’s do it. And then the other one that I want to add to is Facebook posts. Ooh. That’s another show. I think that’s a show within its own right myself. Yeah.[00:24:00] 

[00:24:00] Awesome. That’s gonna do it for us dispelling myths here today with a good grief podcast. Another great topic. We’ll have another one coming up next month for you. Again, Amber, Michael, thank you each for joining us here today on Good Grief. And don’t forget to check everything out at the

[00:24:18] I’m Pete Waggoner. So long everybody.