Praying for people to die
Small funeral home operator says he has bills to pay, but large operators frown on admission, lament high murder tollSunday, January 16, 2022
BY ROMARDO LYONS
THE operator of a small funeral home has admitted that he often prays for people to die, so as to allow his business to remain alive.
Leo Samuels made the remark against the background of what he called the inequity in the distribution of bodies, which favours larger funeral homes, compounded by the growth in new players in the industry, some of them unregistered.
Samuels said that because the larger companies get most of the work he has to be praying that dead bodies show up at his door.
“If me deh here and nuh have nuh work, den mi affi pray fi somebody come in. Mi just seh, 'Lord send some dead come gi wi' or mi just pray and seh 'Lord, send some job.' So, it come like yuh ah pray fi somebody dead fi dem call yuh. A dat we live offa,” Samuels, supervisor at Samuels Funeral Service, told the Jamaica Observer in an interview.
“Mi glad fi [the] dead, enuh because a it mi live offa. It is not no joking thing. When a man dead next door, mi glad mi can get di work. Mi nah gwaan like mi nuh want it or gwaan like mi 'fraid,” Samuels continued.
House of Tranquility Funeral Home in Kingston is the government-contracted funeral home for three parishes — Kingston, St Andrew and St Thomas. Samuels said his funeral home, which is also in Kingston, struggles to compete with Tranquility.
“A the Government responsible fi murder case and once a body goes to Tranquility, most families nuh bother move it,” Samuels continued. “If six murders happen in one area, sometimes Tranquility get back five. The family just make the body stay weh it deh already and they do everything there. I pick up at least six bodies a week, sometimes less; and every turn yuh turn, yuh see a new funeral home. Every week yuh look pon the TV, yuh see a new name. So, if we say $100 and dem a seh $80, we lose the work. And we have light, rent, bills and workers fi pay,” Samuels told the Sunday Observer.
Rayon Moore, managing director of Caring Palms Funeral Service in Kingston, also a relatively small home, was outraged by Samuels' remarks.
“Him take it really far now. You will mash up the system that way. People will say, 'A dead dem want people fi dead fi we get work.' In reality, if you don't dead, we don't have no business. The man who builds the casket say if people don't die, him don't build casket. It is a rough saying, but it is not a good thing to come out in the media and say, because people will look at you and it will bring down your own reputation that way,” he argued.
“I will get all two bodies per week and I do my funerals same way. I don't pray for those things. You just have to know people in this business and just push out your line of work different. You look at the pricing and quality work that you push out to compete with the bigger homes,” Moore said.
Two directors at government-contracted funeral homes have expressed concern about the soaring crime numbers as Jamaica Constabulary Force (JCF) data show that more than 50 murders were recorded in the first 13 days of this year.
Last year, 1,469 murders were committed in Jamaica, according to JCF statistics.
Joseph Cornwall, managing director of House of Tranquility, told the Sunday Observer there is hardly a slow season at Tranquility.
“We don't have to hope for persons to die because we know that people will die. People have altercations and the gun is the choice weapon, and they have easy accessibility to guns. That [praying for death] could be the case of a funeral home that is not handling a lot of cases; they probably have to be waiting on someone to come in to them to give them business. But in our situation, we are already established and we have a government contract, and we cover three parishes,” he said.
“Once the police have an interest, then an autopsy has to be done in order to get the order for burial. So, on any given day, we would move bodies. I don't think any day passes that we don't move a body. If a death occurs on the spot and not in a medical institution, then we would be engaged by the JCF.”
Cornwall said the crime situation has been bizarre as of late, and that has changed funeral directors' collective perception of Jamaica.
“It has an impact on us because what it is saying is that we are no longer a gentle or peaceful society, and we cannot settle our disputes amicably; we resort to violent means; and guns seem to be the choice weapon, followed by the knife and the machete — that is, outside of the motor vehicle accident and sudden deaths at home,” he related.
Cornwall said he discovered that most of the deceased had suffered from wounds to the upper body, an indication that criminals are shooting to kill.
“They are not shooting to maim or lame anybody. They are shooting to kill. So, most of the gunshot victims receive the bullet to the upper body — the torso, the head, chest and so forth. Receiving a gunshot to those areas could cause death instantaneously. You have the heart, the lungs, the kidneys, the liver, the spleen… when damaged or if the damage is substantial, it could cause death on the spot,” he said.
Calvin Lyn, director of Lyn's Funeral Home, the approved funeral home for Manchester, urged Douglas to stop praying for dead bodies.
“Anyone who is inclined to support crime, and moreso murder, I would really ask them not to dream of it because money is not all, and I hope that it is not so. You have more people losing their lives viciously by murderous acts. We don't smile about it. We see it as unfortunate because this country can be better. We are overwhelmed, even with the increase in COVID deaths too,” Lyn told the Sunday Observer.
“Some might be happy, but nuh me. I am a different, Christian-minded person. First of all, as a citizen of this country for 83 years I can say that now I am seeing the crime at its highest. And the breakdown, in my opinion, started many, many years ago because of the failure of the powers that be to recognise the ills and address it.”
Lyn, who is also president of the Jamaica Association of Certified Embalmers and Funeral Directors, added: “When I see the bodies I say 'Why?' The gunshot victims, the stabbing victims and motor vehicle accident victims that could be avoided. I ask what has caused us to be killing off one another like that. We hear about scamming money; we hear about gangs and so [as possible reasons for the killings]. It is really bad when we see the number of people being killed.”
Lyn lamented that he could never be happy that business is booming now because, before the increase in homicides, the company was doing good.
“I wish it wasn't under those circumstances — neither murder nor COVID. Before COVID, we were surviving. And even before the rampant ways of murders in this island we were surviving. So, the extra amount… I am touched as a parent and a responsible Jamaican. Mi shake mi head nuff times. I am not the one who is going to gloat over that. March coming will be 48 years since I have been in this business.
“I know why I ventured into it — to provide quality service to the bereaved relatives. So many of them come and cannot afford packages. They have to go to the MP and other authorities to seek help. We are not praying for anyone to die — whether naturally through sickness or tragically. No. We just know people are going to die and the service must be provided,” Lyn added.