Where did you last see it? Retrace your steps.

One of my employees called me today to tell me that the airline lost the body. It was shipped to a city that was an 8-hour drive from its intended destination. The funeral home in the wrong city then charged the pissed-off family to re-ship it to the correct destination.

Obviously this family will be refunded for the shipping, whether it comes from us or from the airline, but that doesn’t change the fact that their funeral was ruined. Everything had been planned and scheduled and all they needed was for the body to arrive, and there was no reason it shouldn’t have.

Airlines lose stuff all the time; I suppose they could lose human remains as well, even though that’s probably one of the largest packages that will be on the plane. The casket is loaded into a wooden shipping container, which is then covered in cardboard.

This is just one reason I can’t stand it when the family makes the funeral home their last call, as opposed to the first. When someone dies, assuming you want a traditional funeral and not the do-it-yourself kind I’m trying to sell everyone on, CALL ME. Do not call the minister, the newspaper, the florist, the musician, and everyone who will be flying in for the funeral. They can wait.

Otherwise, what happens is you schedule a service for Friday at noon and then you find out I already have a funeral at that time. Maybe I can call in another director, but what if the cemetery already has a burial at 1:00? So you find another cemetery, only to discover they do not accept the kind of marker you have already ordered. So either you change cemeteries, change burial dates, or order a new marker and not the one everyone already decided on and paid for…

Just call me first. Tell me who your minister is and what kind of flowers you want and your chosen cemetery, and I WILL GET BACK TO YOU WITH POSSIBLE DATES AND TIMES FOR YOUR SERVICE.

Shipping bodies is very unpredictable. Flights are constantly delayed or canceled; certain airport cargo areas do not serve funeral homes on weekends, and also, you don’t know exactly the condition the body will be in after the flight. Changes in pressure can cause leakage and purging; at the very least, the body will need to be re-cosmetized. A body is NEVER ready to view straight from the airline. One family actually sued a funeral home for opening the shipping crate in their presence and revealing a body that just needed a bit more work.

If you are having a body shipped, do not plan anything until the body has arrived at your chosen funeral home in the correct city.

How can you, the consumer, prevent your funeral home from losing your mother’s body?

First, at the time she is taken into their care, the removal staff should give her an ID band with her name and the funeral home name on it. The staff should be up front with you about exactly where they are taking her. ASK. If you call Smith’s Funeral Home, do not assume your mother is going to Smith’s Funeral Home. Smith’s may not have refrigeration, and may transport all bodies to a “central holding facility.” The employee should tell you if this is the case, and also give you the address of this facility, and give you the option of following him there.

If your funeral home uses outside services for refrigeration, embalming or cremation, assume your mother will spend some time there, and ask where she is. Ask for the name of the embalmer or crematory operator, if this will not be the same person as the funeral director.

Be aware the person who picks up your mother might not be a funeral director or work for the funeral home he claims to represent. Ask if he is an employee or a contract worker. If he looks uncomfortable or resentful at giving this information, call another funeral home, and if you prefer, ask that one of the directors make the removal.

Ask what the identification process is when the body reaches the funeral home or holding facility. You can’t have too many places where her name is written down.

If you are having her shipped, you have the option of flying as a passenger on the same flight, though this needs to be coordinated with the airline and not just the funeral home.

Have a viewing! You can have a viewing without embalming. Just give the staff some time to wash her and wrap her in a sheet or hospital gown, if you did not bring clothes. If they take more than an hour to get her ready, most likely she was not at the funeral home and they had to send someone to bring her over.

Funeral directors: You cannot be too careful when identifying a body. If you are at a hospital or nursing home and they tell you, “There’s only one in the morgue” then be sure you verify the identity of that one body in every way possible. If he has no ID band or anything on his person suggesting he is who the staff says he is, do not pick him up.

Crematory operators: In many states you literally cannot touch a dead body unless you are a licensed embalmer or medical professional. If you aren’t, never put a box in the crematory without calling in one of the embalmers to open the box for you and prove the person in the box is the same person the state just gave you the authority to cremate.

Embalmers: if you walk into work and see a body on your table, do not assume you have permission to embalm that body without first finding out his name and who gave permission. He might be on that table waiting to be fingerprinted, washed, or for a haircut.

Nearly every case of a funeral home cremating the wrong body or presenting the wrong body at a viewing could have been prevented if someone had just taken extra care to read an ID tag or ask “Who is this?”