“Keep Your Coins.” A guide to using other funeral homes when you can’t use Undertaking LA.

We get a fair amount of phone calls that come from just a couple counties away, to a couple states away, to entire continents away. And, while we would love to help everyone from our cozy little LA home, the truth is that we cannot. Which means that at some point you will have to use a funeral home in your own home town. I used to tell people it wouldn’t be that hard to talk to other homes but I realized through conversations with my families that, while me it seemed easy to me, it felt impossible to them. And the truth is, it is easier for me to get what I need. This is because I know the right questions to ask, I know the verbiage, and most importantly, heaven help the soul stupid enough to get in my way when I want something that is on my list of ethical necessities. No, I won’t beat you down for a pair of shoes, but I will drag you outside by your hair if your misinformation gets between me and a dead body. You know that sounds terrible but I think you get what I am saying…

So, I created this list in an attempt to show you how we are in fact a regular old mortuary in the hopes that you will see how you can utilize that fact to your advantage, and thus be able to better communicate with those that are close to you. I’m aware that a main difference between “us” and “them” is that we are willing to say ‘yes’ when other’s are not. However, let me let you in on a little secret. A funeral home is a business. And when you say you are going to take your business elsewhere, many will start singing another tune in order to get you to stay.

I haaaaaate that I had to write that, but I need you to understand that we-you the consumer-are not at the mercy of businesses.

They are at the mercy of us.

So let your wallet do the talking. Let your legs do the walking.

So alright, enough of the pep talk, let’s get to the basics. I spend a lot of time answering, “So!! What do you do guys do?!” I know this is a question that is loaded with excitement and glee about all of the many things we do differently. But the problem is I spend a lot of time basically telling people that we are a regular old funeral home, which then seems to sort of let all the air out of the room. I don’t want to take away from how utterly cool we are but, I need you to understand that we are funeral home in the way that Picasso was an incredibly skilled classical painter. You probably only know him for his wild renditions of puzzle piece faces that somehow still achingly reflect our souls despite the cacophony of lines and colors. Like us, Picasso knew, if you wanted to break the rules to create something wonderful, you still had to know what they were first. Get where I am going with this? So, what is Undertaking LA? Well, we are a normal funeral home. What do we offer? Everything that a normal home does. We just like to color outside the lines a bit more than our colleagues.

Now let’s break it down.

What does Undertaking LA do that is the same as other homes?

  1. We all can offer Green Burials!
    • I am starting with this as it’s the number one asked question.
    • Undertaking LA does not own Joshua Tree Memorial Park. We simply coordinate with them to bring the body out on the day of the service.
    • This means that any home can facilitate a green burial for you.
    • If you are asking why I would be stupid enough to tell you this, as it means I could lose your business. Well, because the value of you truly understanding this concept is worth more to me than the revenue of a burial. And if you live in let’s say, San Diego County, and want this service, it would be borderline unethical of me to not explain that you could facilitate it from there.
    • Undertaking LA is here to “prove the model”. Of course we want to be a successful and well-run business. However, we are really here to prove to the funeral industry that there is a huge market for what we offer. So, if you are calling us from all over the country trying to figure out how to use us, it defeats the purpose. We want you to call your home and demand that they do this for you. Make them realize that there is value in providing this. Remember, they are a business. They want your business. Teach them now what it would require for them to get it in the future.
    • Remember, it is ILLEGAL to require embalming in the State of California. I reiterate this because it is important you understand that it isn’t just a thing Undertaking LA made up. This means that right now, any funeral home can give you a green burial at Joshua Tree. And, if you can’t make it to Joshua Tree, any funeral home can offer to wash and shroud you and bury you in a traditional cemetery, and at the very least, not embalm you and thus preventing the addition of toxic chemicals to our sewer system and earth.
    • Oh, and if you use another home but want to help support us, you can always buy your shroud and/or casket from us. We ship them anywhere in the United States. So see, win-win.
    • If you are asking why I didn’t mention Hillside Memorial or Woodlawn Cemetery it is because they charge absurdly high prices. We would be happy to work with them on your behalf but be prepared to pay them upwards of twenty thousand dollars.
  2. We all pick up from the place of death
    • This is a pretty standard funeral home thing.
  3. We all immediately place bodies under refrigeration
    • It’s a refrigerator, not a freezer guys. I just wanted to point that out while I had your attention.
  4. We can all offer Cremation
  5. Offer Embalming (ours only varies as our chemicals are formaldehyde free)
  6. We can all hold viewings
    • Larger homes have nicer rooms. Ours is pretty modest and humble. But we are happy to have it.
  7. We  can facilitate a Traditional Burial
    • This means, you buy a casket and send it to us.
    • We put the body in the casket.
    • We meet you at the cemetery of your choosing.
    • You hire a celebrant, pastor, what-have-you, and hold your service at the grave.
  8. We file Death Certificates (boring stuff but soooooooooooooooooo important)

What does Undertaking LA do that is different from other homes?

  1. Fair and honest pricing plans that are purposefully simple to ensure the least overwhelming funeral planning.
    • I feel like this deserves some extra explanation because every funeral home says that they do this. However, have you ever read a funeral home’s General Price List? Well I have. A ton of them, and they are terrible. One of our competitors price list is twenty-eight pages! They have this nice little grid that lays out what level of service you would like. It’s sort of like a: bronze, silver, gold, platinum type thing. When you break down some of the little prices, like Washing and Dressing, they are on par with our pricing and are incredibly fair. However when the package adds up all of a sudden you are spending $13,000. It’s almost impossible to spend more than $3,000 with us. But in fairness, the home I am referencing probably has some gnarly overheard so I do understand why they charge more.
    • Our price list-if you’re curious-is about four pages now and it’s only because I had to make it longer to give a more in-depth explanation of what the pricing plans included.
    • Our price lists are regulated by the Federal Trade Commission, and it is meant to protect the consumer. The issue is it makes the language dry, wordy, and needlessly complicated. Our price list follows these rules, but I do my best to simplify and explain, where I find other homes do not.
    • We do not offer a plethora of options because we don’t feel you need them. There are other homes that offer a myriad of packages and if that is what a family wants, it is overwhelmingly ok to choose them. Undertaking LA is not here to convince you what you want is wrong, we are simply here to let you know what your options are.
  • Washing and dressing of the body.
    • Ok so technically any home can offer this if they want. The problem really hinges on what kind of set-up they have. Many of your local funeral homes are actually owned by SCI (Service Corporation International). This means that while at one point they had an embalming room with running water and tables and everything else you would need to wash and dress the body, they no longer have that portion of the home up and running. This is because they merged the homes they bought, and now take all the bodies to one centralized location to do all the prep work there. Then they send the bodies back out to the home the family is arranging with at the time of the service. You may not like the sound of this, but it is incredibly common and it has been happening for years. And yes it is legal.
    • We have what I would call a fairly modest room to wash a body in. It is used for embalming and in a perfect world I would like something larger and nicer, but we are a baby business, and kinda like the California Cowgirls of the funeral world, so we work with what we have for now until the day comes that we can have something truly beautiful.
    • If washing the body is not something you want, we also offer the ability to dress the body in our viewing room. Again, any funeral home should be able to at least do this for you, as it only requires a table for the body and a viewing room. I usually stay and help the family, and the process usually takes about an hour the way that I conduct it.
  • The final and probably really the biggest difference is that we offer consultation and encouragement to keep the body at home.
    • This is the big glaring difference between us and other funeral homes. And to be honest, to me, it is the only difference between us and other homes.
    • And I have one really simple solution to how you get other homes to “let” you do this.
      • Sorry sorry. I didn’t mean to shout. I’m not shouting I swear!!
      • In order for this to work you have to understand the law. Remember what I said earlier? In order to break the rules you have to know them first.
      • You are under no obligation to use a funeral home, but trust me we make life a whole lot easier so I don’t super suggest not using us unless you really know the in’s and out’s of the industry.
      • If your family member dies at home and is on hospice. Ask your hospice nurse to pronounce the death. Ask for the signing doctor information, the phone number, and his fax number, and then tell her she can go. She will fight you on this. She will tell you that she cannot until you call a home. She is wrong. And if she still gives you trouble, call Undertaking LA. I will talk to her. And if you want to throw us a donation for being here and offering that as a free service, we won’t say no.
    • When we say that we encourage you to leave the body at home, let me be really clear about what we are suggesting.
      • Leave the body at home for as long as you feel comfortable.
      • If you want to know the average time, it’s about four hours.
        • Four hours. That’s not really that much. On average it takes our families about four hours to let out the breath they have been holding onto for the last months or years as they watched their family member or friend die.
      • Can you leave a body at home for a week? Sure but you need to be really prepared. You need to have ice packs and you need a few you can rotate out.
      • You will also need to be prepared for purge.
        • What is purge? It’s anything that could come out of the mouth. Could be clear liquid, could be thin copper iron colored, could be coffee ground liquid. Could be nothing. But if you leave the body at home for a few hours I would be shocked if that ever happened.
      • Why do I stress this? Because we as humans are not good at seeing the middle. We can only see extremes. We can envision the body being rushed out. We can envision the body being at home for days on end.
        • I encourage you to break the Binary Opposition of systematic thinking that our world has taught you to use to process information and decisions making.

So there it is guys. Feel free to message us about clarification. I may not respond right away but I promise I read and mull over everything you send.

And again, Undertaking LA is here because we want other homes to see that you want these options. We need you to help teach them. Sure, we would love to have all the business in the world, but that is just not possible. Which means that I have to draw back the curtain and share with you the knowledge that has taken me years to accrue in the hopes that educating you will eventually make the funeral industry better able to serve you. Because ultimately my-Amber-motivating philosophy is pretty simple. You can “keep your coins. I want change.”


I'm a licensed funeral director living in Los Angeles. This is a place to put my thoughts so I'm not always blowing up my friends' Facebook feed or Twitter with my asinine musings on life and death, and that cliché idea of, everything in between.