Who is Responsible to Care for Our Aging Population?

Is This a Government or Cultural Issue-

So Who’s Responsibility Is It To Care For Our Aging Population?

It’s no secret that in today’s world, the aging population is living longer than ever before. In fact, in America 79 million baby boomers make up over one fourth of the population. Pew Research published that each year, for the next 18 years, boomers will reach the age of 65. The aging population’s life expectancy has increased dramatically. Gallup Polls state the average life expectancy for women is 81 and men 76. Gallup also reports the average retirement age for full-time employment is now 67 rather than 65.

Studies Show

Looking back on history, the boomer generation has completely transformed literally everything. Previous lifestyle patterns continue to differ from teen culture, young adult hood, middle age and retirement.  Childbirth is now a family event and takes place in birthing suites. Emphasis on a natural birth with the father’s involvement as a coach has become common practice.  The educational system embraces study abroad. College degrees have become the standard, rather than a high school degree.

Court systems restructured parental custody norms. Spousal support even had a make over. Women no longer automatically receive child custody and “alimony” in a divorce.  The palimony process is now a part of the equation. This process determines which spouse’s income is considered to be “head of household” when deciding  child and/or spousal support.  The examples regarding boomer changes are ongoing. The point here circles back to the opening question, which points directly at the baby boomer generation. What will their impact be on our government programs that guarantee access for financial benefits and long term care, when they are of age.

Long Term Implications?

For years experts have predicted that our government’s social security program is in jeopardy.  The good news is more people have entered into the workforce and paid into social security than previous generations. The bad news is with people living longer, there are more people who will enroll into social security, than exit it.  On positive note, the government made an age based adjustment determining when people can begin to collect their benefits. Conversely,  it will take years before the system realizes the impact.  Social Security is just one of the programs at risk. Two other key programs that are also directly impacted are Medicare and Medicaid.

What Are The Funding Differences Between Medicare And Medicaid?

What about Medicare and Medicaid? First its important to understand the financial backing differences between the two programs. Medicare is solely a “federal” program. Medicaid is a “joint state and federal” program. This means each state operates its own Medicaid system. In order to receive grants or funding, each state’s system must conform to federal guidelines. Both programs were introduced to assist people with health insurance and long term care, for their end of life. These two programs were developed when the life expectancy was in the late 60’s early 70’s.

Medicare Confusion

Medicare has undergone several revisions. The program has become so convoluted that

Medicare Website

the average person does not fully grasp their own coverage. Many people seek out professionals to guide them through their coverage. Once people comprehend what the basic coverage provides, most purchase supplemental policies for additional protection.  What’s concerning, is that the majority of Medicare participants don’t understand how to work within the coverage rules that revolve around a hospital stay. It’s essential to know when coverage ends and when you are personally liable. It’s also imperative to recognize the risks of being released too soon.  When this happens there is an increased risk to exposure for a relapse or other related illness.


Over the years Medicaid migrated from a gap coverage program, to an entitlement

Medicaid Website

program.  Gap, meaning a temporary solution to provide medical coverage for people until they are able to get back on their feet. Over the years it somehow morphed into a an assistance program without a coverage end point. The acid test for coverage qualification is tied to financial eligibility.  Across the country there are generations of families who haven’t worked a day in their life and receive Medicaid benefits (not just medical) indefinitely.  Over many years the program took an unplanned turn and migrated from “bridging the gap”  to “providing assistance without accountability”. Translation, it became a benefit for all persons, not just those who contributed into the plan.

The Elephant In The Room.

Here is the unspoken conundrum for those approaching their end of life. The government believes people are entitled to health care.  Ironically, individuals who have contributed into the system their entire career, are literally dying penniless, in order to receive end of life care.  Why? Medicaid’s criteria for this particular type of care, requires a person to deplete their assets to $2,000. Basically, it requires them to go broke. The government continues to work with a one size fits all approach for an individual’s end of life care subsidization vs. creating a financial sliding scale for assistance. For this reason, people hire elder care attorneys to create a custom asset protection plan which enables then to qualify for assistance. They do this so they can leave some form of legacy to their family, receive assistance with end of life care and have a dignified funeral.

Looking Forward

The numbers reflect that over the past few years, Medicaid on average takes up to 22% of each state’s budget.  This portion is not federally subsidized. If the federal government must match each state, can you imagine the impact on the federal budget?  With a significant strain on the system now, one must wonder if funds will be available when the influx of boomers age and need assistance. Making matters worse, the New York Times reported on November 27, 2012 that, “Medicaid is the nation’s largest health program in terms of number of recipients, serving 56 million to Medicare’s 48 million – AND – According to the Congressional Budget Office, in the 2010 fiscal year, 77 percent of people enrolled in Medicaid were children and families, while 23 percent were elderly or disabled. But 64 percent of Medicaid spending was for older Americans and people with disabilities, while 36 percent went to children and families.”

Bottom line – there is an entire generation of individuals who will be approaching the age where they will need medical and financial care in their final days.

social secuirty card
Social Security’s Website

What’s The Solution?

It may not be a political or governmental one. If you look outside of the United States, one could make the argument that the solution is cultural. It’s no secret other countries have similar or worse economic issues.  One primary observation is that many other cultures place far more emphasis on providing care for the generations within the family unit. Unlike in the United States, it’s common practice to have multiple generations living together under one roof. It’s innate and simply considered a way of life. Finances or illness type aren’t even taken into the equation; it’s just the unspoken norm.

As a country, can we learn something here, what’s your thought? Please take a minute to share.


Ernie: A Funeral Home Therapy Dog’s Story of Love & Service

Dale and Jodi Clock adopted Ernie in July of 2007.  They had been looking for a second therapy dog for their funeral home, as Max, their then therapy dog, was both getting older and being requested to be present at our other locations. It was their hope that Max would have been able to act as a mentor to Ernie and assist with showing him the ropes.

Ernie’s early years

The week before Ernie was scheduled to come to his “furr-ever” home, Max died as a result to kidney failure. Ernie had big paws to fill! Not only did he fill them – he solidly blazed his own trail. There was no doubt he barked and wagged his tail to his own beat.

Ernie Clock as a puppy, poses on an employee’s Harley Davidson.

From that day Ernie became part of both the Clock’s personal family, and the Clock Funeral Home family. At the age of 12 weeks, he rarely missed a day going to work. He had several beds, toys and water bowls under employee’s desks or in their offices. His first job was to explore the facility and learn the footprint the 40,000 square foot building. Each day he would look not only to his parents (Dale & Jodi), but to the Clock employees for assistance in potty training, and finding his way back to the front office. He learned to work the system for treats!

It wasn’t long until Ernie figured out that the mailmen, UPS drivers,

Born to be wild! Four years later posing on the same Harley.

and Fed Ex team also brought tasty treats too! Regardless of what was taking place, he knew the sound of their vehicles and would race to greet them at the door. Then he’d escort them to the office and follow them to the restroom. Patiently and sometimes drooling Ernie waited at the door until they appeared again. After a pat on the head, he walked along side them to the front door. It didn’t take long for him to realize that when he did this, he received a two treats, rather than just the one when they came in. This was learning lesson number two.

Ernie was a slower at learning the certification requirements for becoming a therapy dog. In the initial phases of training, he was easily distracted. He was more interested in exploring and playing, then learning the required behaviors to receive the designation. Ernie was in training for a couple of years before he actually passed the exam.

Ernie – teaching school children the right way to pet dogs.

Prior to his certification, Ernie remained active in helping heal families within the funeral home and community. He would visit the local schools to teach them what working dogs do. One of the most powerful lessons taught, was to acclimate students how to meet and greet an unknown pet. This was critical learning for the students to avoid a biting situation.

Community Service Activities

Not only was Ernie a familiar face in the community, he was a familiar face with local hospices. He had a few fans that requested him on a regular basis for a visit during their final days. Outside of making visits to the hospice house, he was also on call for in-home patient visits. It wasn’t out of the ordinary for Ernie to provide tail wags and kisses for the patient, and their family members in the comfort of their own home. Sometimes Ernie and the family would simply play. This enabled the family to laugh and smile during a tumultuous time.

Ernie and Jodi leading the walk on the “ruff ruff” route.

He also become the face for Clock Timeless Pet’s partnership with The Scholnik Healing Center’s annual community fundraiser called “People, Pooches & Picnics.” This event raised money for hospice via an organized community walk for people and their leashed pets. The walk always ended with a picnic at the Scholnik Healing Center. The annual walk had become so successful, that a by-product was a new program called the “Furr-Ever” re-homing.  The premise of this was to raise money for animals who parent is in hospice and need to be re-homed, rather than go to a kill shelter.

Ernie was most attached to his dad Dale. It wasn’t uncommon for Ernie to be at Dale’s side during a family’s arrangement conference. He would also present at the visitation and attend the funeral. In fact, there were times that Ernie would join Dale walking up the aisle to dismiss families when a funeral had ended. It was the rarest occasion when Ernie wasn’t present at an arrangement conference or a visitation.

Ernie did however have one big fear – loud noises or gunshots. This fear was not a result of thunderstorms, he connected it with our Veteran clients who received military rights at the end of the funeral service. Somehow, Ernie knew that when people came into the facility dressed in a military uniform, the gunshots would follow. The minute he saw any military volunteers enter the building, he high tailed it to the farthest end of the building and hid. He would only come back to the front after the twenty one gun salute was over and “Taps” was played. This was quite disappointing to the military volunteers as they loved Ernie. They would always bring treats or a toy for him to let him know that they were good guys who were just honoring a fallen comrade.

Ernie loved making doggie snow angels!

Not just a working dog

When Ernie wasn’t working, he was home. There he was just one of the herd. He knew the difference between being at home and working. At home, his favorite pastimes included long walks, terrorizing the cats, doing doggy snow angels and barking at the sliding glass door. He also loved to go for car rides, especially to the family cottage. He had the ride timed out and knew exactly when the car was transitioning from the highway to the entrance ramp. When this occurred he would always jump up, insist that the window go down and he took in the smells of Lake Michigan. He knew that when he was at the cottage, the walks were longer and more frequent. (Not to mention he knew selecting a treat from the local pet bakery downtown.)

In the prime of his life, he was stricken with lymphoma. The timeline from discovering the onset of an illness, receiving a diagnosis, and his death was less than ten days. During that time Ernie only acted ill one day. That was the day he died. Ernie, to his core was a true therapy and comfort dog. In his final few moments while taking his last few breaths, he was licking his mom’s tears away as if to say, “It’s okay – I’ll be waiting for you and dad to join me at the Rainbow Bridge.”

A memorial service was held to honor “Ernie Clock,” Clock Funeral Home’s Therapy Dog, on Thursday, February 12, 2015 at 6:30 p.m.at Clock Funeral Home’s Muskegon Chapel on Peck Street in Muskegon. This service was open to the community. Almost a hundred people and their leashed pets came to honor Ernie’s life.  In retrospect, Ernie’s life brought comfort, tail wags and doggie kisses to over 2,200 families who Clock’s had the honor of serving. His legacy will live on, through the stories that will be told by those he helped make a bad day, just a litter better.

Ernie left behind his parents Dale and Jodi, his sisters Kellie, brother Brett and his wife Kelly, Nephew Gavin  and four legged siblings Lucy (a neurotic Pomeranian), Dutchess (a blind deaf sheltie), Tinkie, Yama and Stevie (all Siamese) cats.

Ernie Clock’s Community Memorial Service





When A Pet Dies At Home, Here’s 8 Things You’ll Need To Do!

Eight Things You'll Need To Know

If  your family’s beloved pet dies suddenly at home, would you know what to do? If not, you’re not alone. People ask “what to do” on a regular basis. Here you will learn 8 things you’ll need to do, in order to properly handle the situation.

When we make the decision to bring a pet into our home, the majorityimages (2) of us do our homework. Topics of conversation and planning revolve around house breaking, cage training, socialization and overall behavior.  Unless you adopt a senior dog or one with a disability, rarely does the topic of pet death ever come up. For the next few minutes we’ll review the necessary actions that every pet parent or owner should know when their pet dies at home unexpectedly.

  1. First and foremost, as strange as it sounds, make sure the pet is deceased! All too often, people think their pet died, only to discover that they are still alive. This is because they are breathing very shallow and lying still. Most likely they are transitioning and death is near. Don’t be afraid, this is normal.  (Note: If your feel the pet is in distress, you may want to think about euthanizing. Please call your vet clinic, they can answer your questions.  If you were planning to let them die naturally, keep the area calm and quiet).

  2. After a pet dies, typically their bowls will release. This may not happen

    A peaceful euthanasia

    immediately.  (If your pet is dehydrated or hasn’t eaten, this may not occur.) Don’t be alarmed, just be prepared as nature is simply taking its course.  If your pet is lying on the floor or a piece of furniture, you’ll want to place some a towel or even plastic under their hind end immediately.

  3. If there are other pets at home, let them smell their friend. By allowing this to happen they will understand what happened to their buddy.  Otherwise, they will wonder where they went. Your pet will know naturally what to do.  Should they act aloof, its alright. The scent of the deceased pet is what the living pets need. This can be accomplished by being in the same room.

  4. A decision will need to be made to either bury or cremate.

  5. Some people want to keep their pet at home for a day, until they decide what to do. If you want to do this, place your pet’s remains in a container. Why? Without being placed in cold storage, the pet’s body will begin to decompose (this presents a health risk!). One stage of this process is known as rigor mortise. This is when the energy supply to the pet’s muscles deplete. When this occurs, everything becomes stiff. The average time for “rigor” to set in is 3-4 hours and its typically complete within 12 hours post death.

  6. Depending on the position your pet was in when it died, you’ll want to tuck their front and back legs tight into their body (known as positioning), rather than leaving the pet outstretched. Why? Primarily for transportation and burial reasons. If you want to transport you pet, place them in a container or even wrap them up in a blanket. When their limbs are not properly positioned they are awkward and difficult to transport or place in a burial container.

  7. If you bury, you’ll want to follow the city or township’s ordinances. Should you choose to cremate, you’ll need to make arrangements for your pet’s transportation to the cremation provider.

  8. If you come home and your pet died while you were away, you’ll need to attempt to figure out how long the pet has been deceased. If rigor mortise has set in, you’ll know it was at least 3 hours. Depending on the time of year, if its warm outside, you may have an odor that could be difficult getting out of your carpet or even floor.  Don’t try to remove this smell out of your carpet/floor yourself, consult a professional. In the long run, it will be worth it.

This is me, holding  Ernie’s paw after he died. A very personal photo.

In closing, the loss of a pet is never easy. It’s especially hard to remain calm and think through what to do if it’s a sudden onset illness or accident. Finally, keep in mind it’s okay to not know what to do. For most of us, we’ve never walked this journey before.

Fireworks and Dogs Don’t Mix: What to do if Your Dog Becomes Lost.

1ASPCA Fireworks and Lost Dogs Fireworks and dogs are a recipe for a lost or runaway animals. Watching fireworks may be a fun family activity, but don’t expect your pet to enjoy the fun. This post will help you create a plan if your dog  becomes lost. You are invited to also download the  free ASPCA’s recommended plan for lost pets called: Fireworks & Reuniting Lost Dogs with Their Families. ASPCA Fireworks and Lost Dogs.

Did you know at July 5th is one of the busiest days for animal shelters and governmental animal control facilities?  Not only does intake and occupancy increase, sadly so do the amount of pets who die unnecessarily from a preventable accident. Below is a true story of a dog names Sophie. Her pet parents wanted others to learn from their experience.

Like all golden retrievers, Sophie loved playing in the water. She had been at the beach all day with the kids, she was exhausted. So tired that neither her food or a leftover burger was of interest to her.  She was down for the count and laying on the bed in the camper. That was 8:00 p.m.  on July 3rd, 2015.  Shortly before the fireworks started, Mrs. Johnson went to the camper to grab a sweatshirt. Sophie had started to rally and wanted to go outside and go potty. As she opened the camper door, the teenagers in the tent at the campsite next to them shot off bottle rockets and caps. The noise was so loud that sounded like gunshots. This startled Sophie and she bolted. It was that fine line between dusk and daylight and it was hard to see exactly which direction she ran.

Mrs. Johnson texted the family immediately to join her in the search for Sophie, as they were making s’mores around the campfire waiting for the annual fireworks show over Lake Michigan. The family split up and began the search. The went up and down the campsite, across the road to the beach and literally canvassed the area until midnight before they called it a night. Everyone at the campground knew Sophie was missing and that she belonged to the Johnson’s.  What made the search even more difficult is that the town where the campsite resides literally triples in population for the “Light Up the Lake” show.  People come from miles around and begin lining up chairs on the bluff, towels on the beach around 8 a.m. to claim their spot so they can watch the 10:00 pm show. The town’s population triples and traffic is always insane and chaotic at best.

Mr. Johnson couldn’t sleep, his fear was that the children would wake up only to find her by the side of the road, so he walked up and down the road until dawn calling out Sophie’s name and looking for her. He was hoping that someone would have realized she was lost and took her in for the night and then find her contact information on her collar. No such luck.  In the morning the rest of the family resumed the search.  Mrs. Johnson called the police and went to the local animal shelter.  What she learned was that many other families had a similar story.  The shelter director told her that the day after the 4th of July is always the busiest day for them and frankly all animal control or rescue organizations.  She went on to education and remind everyone in line that animals are innately afraid of loud noises such as thunder and especially firecrackers. Their instinct is to run and hide. The director further went on record to saying that the majority of the pets who are brought to the shelter do not have proper tags, identification or even micro-chipping. Therefore, after 3 days the dogs are placed up for adoption. Fortunately, this shelter was a no-kill shelter. Mrs. Johnson left a photo of Sophie, along with her contact information. If Sophie somehow made it to the Shelter, she knew they would be reunited as her collar, tags and micro-chip were all current.  As she left the shelter, she felt hopeful.

The 4th was on a Friday, so the family made a decision to stay over one more night. They thought that just maybe since the campground and traffic settled down that Sophie might just find her way back to their camper. After all, stranger things have happened.  The next morning, they were awakened by the sound of Mr. Johnson’s cell phone ringing.  It was the local marina that was about 5 miles south of the campsite.  They were calling to see if they had lost a dog. Mr. Johnson’s stomach began to have butterfly’s as looked at the anticipation on his family’s faces only to feel like he was punched in the gut.  The marina owner said that they did not have Sophie, however they did have her collar. It had washed up ashore.  It was then, Mr. Johnson had to come to the realization that Sophie somehow slipped her collar. Did she drown? Did someone take her, remove her collar to claim she was a stray and give her a home? The scenarios were countless. Regardless, it was gut wrenching.  The Johnson’s packed up and headed for home.  On the way home, they stopped at the marina to get Sophie’s collar as they were planning to head home and make a shadow box with pictures of her and place her collar in it.  They believed she was dead. Three days later, the marina owner saw a stray golden hanging by the dumpster looking for scraps. The dog was clearly scared, hungry and lost. The owner remembered finding the collar and assumed that this was the dog it belonged too.  He called down to one of the mechanics in the garage and asked if he could help catch the stray.  They made a trail of food using dog treats and lunch meat which lead her to the back of the garage, there they placed a bowl of water.  While the dog was drinking they quickly closed the garage door.  As the men approached the golden, they noticed it was a female and that her fur was matted, covered with burrs, small twigs, and mud.  She looked like she had come out from the woods across the street and made her way to the beach searching for water and food.

The marina owner remembered finding the collar with the name Sophie on it and assumed that this was her.  When he called her by name, she came running to him with her tail wagging.  Sophie’s owners phone number was still in his cell phone. He took a picture of Sophie and texted it.  Within minutes his phone rang and it was Mr. Johnson. He couldn’t believe that Sophie was alive and unharmed. They family was still grieving her loss and feeling guilty for not having her leased at the campsite. Mr. Johnson could not wait to bring Sophie home and re-unite her with the family.

Sophie’s story had a happy ending, this is not the norm.  Fireworks are beautiful, but the stress and anxiety it causes dogs, cats, horses and other animals is real.  Animals need to contained or restrained on a lease.  Animals should not be left outside in their yard, fenced in or not – as they have been known to dig out, jump over or worse yet harm themselves or bite someone out of fear. This also brings to light the importance of having your pets micro-chipped above and beyond providing a custom collar with their identification tags.  When traveling with your animals, don’t assume they will stay close to your side, leash them. Keep photos of your pet on your phone.

If your pet does become lost:

  • Canvas the area
  • Contact the police, area animal shelters, vet clinics
  • Get the message out on Facebook. Most communities have a local “informed” page where this can be posted. The power of social media is enormous – get the work out immediately!
  • Contact the local radio stations and even local television
  • If your animal is micro-chipped – contact the company and alert them
  • Go to the area shelters daily
  • Place a “Pet Amber Alert”
  • Most of all….do not give up!
  • Download the ASPCA Fireworks and Lost Dogs

How to Care for Your Pet After You Die

Jodi Clock with Dutchess
Jodi Clock snuggles with her rescue dog Dutchess who is a blind deaf Sheltie

Ever wonder what happens to a pet after their owner dies? Learn how to create a pet trust or care plan through mypetwill.com, it could save your pet’s life!

There’s a widespread problem escalating across the country. It’s a heartbreaking and unintentional scenario that is occurring daily in every state, city, even in rural area. This widespread situation, often turns into a silent killer.

Once loved pets are now homeless with no plan for re-homing!.It was reported approximately 2,626,418 people die annually. An estimated 1.7 million people enter nursing home care annually. Gallup Polls Research has reported that that 73% of the population has a pet. That’s potentially 3,158,285 pets, whose pet parents have either died or entered a nursing home facility and have perchance become homeless.

At our family funeral or cremation memorial center and pet loss facility (Clock Family Services), re-homing pets have become an increasing topic of conversation among adult children whose parents have recently died. It’s a common occurrence for a family member to call or stop in asking for solution to re-home their parent’s dog, cat, or bird (often there are multiple pets in the home).

If we don’t provide a recommendation the feedback we hear ranges from: having them euthanized, taking them to a shelter (many are kill-shelters), or even worse, leave them behind in the empty home for someone else to hopefully find and deal with or simply open the door and release them out in the open.

Why? There are numerous reasons, but at the end of the day it doesn’t resolve the issue. What will begin to solve this serious matter is to become pro-active as a family and have a conversation. This topic should become a part of one’s normal estate planning.

As a pet parent, it’s our responsibility to ensure that when our life ends that there is a plan in place to care for the loyal companions who gave us unconditional love, not to mention company. One can’t assume that our children, relatives, friends, or neighbors will care for our pets.

golden-retriever-662817_960_720If we are fortunate enough to know that someone will care for our pets, we should recognize the fact that our pet will have a loving home, but that comes with an expense. There are annual vet clinic wellness check-ups, vaccinations, pet sitters, grooming, food and even their end of life expenses. As pets age their health may become compromised and could require special diets or medications. When their quality of life ends and they die either naturally or from a kind euthanasia, there will be a cost for pet cremation or burial.

When there are no friends or relatives who are willing to provide a loving home for your pet, in order to ensure your pet does not go to a kill shelter and is re-homed properly, this comes with a cost. Regardless if your pet is taken to a breed specific rescue, foster home, or shelter there are costs associated with their interim care. One of those costs are advertising and interviewing potential pet families to see if their home is a good fit, not to mention the same maintenance costs that were mentioned above.

The more financial resources you can allocate for your pet’s needs, the better chance of guaranteeing their lifestyle remains minimally disrupted until they are re-homed. By doing this simple act of incorporating a pet plan in to your personal planning, you will have gained the peace of mind in knowing your pet will receive compassionate care and your family will benefit from not having the guilt, stress, or anxiety a that comes with finding a humane solution.

For all the reasons above, Clock Timeless Pets is proud to announce our affiliation and endorsement of PetWill. With PetWill, pet parents can:

• Safeguard pets from being abandoned, sold, or put down.

• Place (and update) your pet’s care instructions for each pet in their “Online Profile.”

• Ensure your pet’s safety as a beloved family member with a lifetime of care.

The PetWill Pet Trust document is an inexpensive stand-alone trust designed to be valid in all 50 states. When you have a PetWill, your pets may be protected as soon as possible via the agreed upon guardians. You may list up to three guardians for each of your pets in your PetWill.

If you are not ready to start a pet care plan financially, please consider starting a non-funded pet plan. At minimum, by doing this, it’s considered an informal plan and lets your loved one’s know your intentions for your pets after your death. To start this, please download our free “Pet Parents Guide to Planning Ahead”. When this is completed, please place it with your important documents or consider making copies and give them to your family or even your vet clinic.

What to Expect When an Autopsy is Required

INGMRF-00092853-001Recently a young mother of five became a widow. Her husband and the father of her children was coming home at dusk on a Friday evening.

They lived in the country and their home is nestled in-between dirt roads. He’s usually home by 6:45 p.m. and the ritual of their Friday night pizza was already in the works. There was nothing unusual about this day except for the fact that he was late.

His wife didn’t become too concerned until she looked at the clock and realized almost two hours had gone by and he hadn’t called or texted. As she began to reach into her purse for her cell phone the doorbell rang. Her 13-year-old son answered the door as she was rounding the corner only to see two state policemen standing there. Before they could say anything, she instinctively knew that her husband wasn’t ever coming home. She was right. He had died just three miles away from their home in a car accident.

What was odd, is that there were no other vehicles or individuals involved and the car had appeared to roll over numerous times requiring the”Jaws of Life” to extract him from the car. What was even more disturbing to her was that he had driven this road hundreds if not thousands of times and knew every inch of it like the back of his hand.

The police had shared that they ran his license plate and it matched his driver’s license, which of course led them to what they assumed to be both his home and family. During this very painful and unexpected conversation, the police attempted to explain what their standards and protocols were, which also included decisions regarding a funeral home to contact.woman-1006102_1920

She tried to comprehend what the police were saying as her world came crashing down around her and all she could think or say was take me to him I want to see him.”I need to see him,” she screamed.

The police very factually explained that she would be unable to see him as he had been taken from the accident scene and had been transported at the request of the medical examiner to the hospital for an autopsy to be performed. She didn’t understand – autopsy, why? There were so many questions she needed answered and decisions to make, all of which she was unprepared for. The police handed her a card that had the Medical Examiner’s contact information on it along with a number assigned to her husband’s case. From this point on, any questions she had regarding her husband’s death, were to be addressed by the medical examiner.

Before the police left she gave them the name of the funeral home she would like for him to be taken to.

The above story is true, right down to the Friday night pizza ritual. The balance of this content is to share with you both what to expect when someone you love dies and the medical examiner requires an autopsy.

First and foremost, if you aren’t clear on the definition of autopsy, it’s a term used to determine the “how” death occurred, after death or commonly referred to as postmortem. The law requires that if a person dies and they are not under are not under the care of hospice, admitted and under doctor’s care in a hospital, or diagnosed as being terminally ill, a medical examiner must be contacted.

This is required even if individual dies in an emergency room or the elderly simply die in their sleep. The purpose is to ensure there is no foul play and or determine the exact cause of death.

Science and experience has taught us that things aren’t always as they appear. In this case, the police had ruled out alcohol but needed the blood work to back it up. Distracted driving via the telephone and texting was also ruled out. Due to the numerous roll overs, the assumption was he was driving at a high speed and hit a bump in the road and lost control. This is what the physical evidence points too.

What can’t be ruled out is a heart attack, stroke or other physical aliment. The only thing that can rule this out is a complete examination of the internal organs.

32060530823_8bde2382acWhen an autopsy is preformed, the body is off limits to anyone except the care team conducting the autopsy. Depending on when death occurred and the county death happened in, this process can take anywhere from 24 hours once the medical examiner receives the body upwards to a week before the body is transported to the family’s funeral home. Once the body is released into the funeral home’s care then and only then can the next of kin view the body.

It’s important for the next of kin to understand this timeline. It’s also critical to understand that when the body is returned to the funeral home, it’s not view-able, at least right away. This does not mean that the person has been dismembered as seen on television or the movies. What it does mean is that the body and any bruises, distinguishing marks or tattoos were documented.

Typically, a “Y” incision is made in the chest and abdomen to gain access to the internalbody chart organs. An incision is made beginning from each shoulder down to the center of the chest and then a single incision down to the pubic bone. The medical examiner then removes the internal organs one by one and takes samples, examines and weighs each one. Some of the samples are sent to the lab for further testing. A second incision is sometimes made on the back of the head from behind the ear all the way around to behind the other ear. A portion of the skull is then cut out and the brain is removed for examination. When the medical examiner is satisfied with everything the organs are returned to the abdominal and cranial cavity in a plastic bag and the incisions are loosely sewn back together.

It’s now up to the science and the medical community to confirm the actual time and cause of death. This portion of the process can take anywhere from six hours to six months. If the cause of death can not be determined right after the autopsy then the medical examiner provides the funeral home with a death certificate that states the cause of death is “pending.”

Once the above process is complete, the deceased is released to the care of the family’s designated funeral home. If the family (and most of them do) want to say a final farewell and physically view their loved one, several things must take place.

The funeral director will need at least one day to make the body presentable for their next of kin to see. It’s important to understand the steps involved so you can appreciate the necessary delay from the time of the body was received by the funeral home, till the time the next of kin can view, touch and hold their loved one’s hand.

First the body must be bathed and the hair washed. From there, the director must set the person’s features. This means closing their eyes and mouth. If the body is to be embalmed this takes place, if not the organs are place inside the body and incisions are tightly sewn closed. Finally, the deceased is dressed and the hair is styled. What’s described above is a text book situation. Depending on “how” death happened (gunshot, accident, etc..) there are modifications that will be made.

In this story, death was unexpected and tragic. It was a young man with a family. The funeral home receive word from the medical examiner that the deceased would be coming into our care. Death happened on a Friday night. The widow (in shock and denial, rightfully so) called numerous times demanding to see her husband before the autopsy. When the police shared that there was going to be an autopsy, they didn’t explain the timeline. The timeline began with everything starting during normal working hours, which began on Monday. (If they did, she didn’t comprehend this.)

The point of the story is that people don’t know what they don’t know, especially around issues that revolve around death. The internet is a powerful tool, but the key is to know the difference between facts and well intended miss-information.

Autopsies are just one component of death and dying. A good funeral home and director can and will explain the process. They won’t go into this much detail, however in the name of being transparent – the process is what it is. Unless you’ve directly experienced it, there are many self-proclaimed experts.

For more information download my free e-book here What Expect when an Autopsy is required eBook