I knew exactly how I wanted to start this particular post. So I googled the word “pirates”. The first thing I got was all kinds of information on the Pittsburgh Pirates . . . but I didn’t want baseball pirates, so I scrolled on down the page.
Next up was the IMBd page for the 1986 comedy The Pirates directed by Roman Polanski and starring Walter Matthau. There were a bunch of other people involved, none of whom I recognized (but then I don’t get out much) and I have no idea about the plot. Except that pirates are obviously involved. Again, not what I wanted.
After more Pirates baseball stuff I was offered various images of Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean. I enjoyed the first movie; the sequels, not so much. It got to be a little redundant after about the third one. And again, not what I was looking for.
As a matter of fact, no matter how long I scrolled or how many pages I scanned, I never came across a single mention of the subject matter at hand . . . obituary pirates.
Yep. Believe it or not, those are actually a thing, mostly in the form of businesses operating on-line for the sole purpose of pirating obituaries from legitimate funeral home and news media sites and then marketing them as their own. Normally they aren’t reprinted word for word since that’s deemed to be a violation of copyright laws—a practice that did get Afterlife in a world of hurt when Newfoundland attorney Erin Best got hold of them. When the dust settled, Afterlife was ordered to pay $20 million in a class action lawsuit for republishing obituaries in their entirety.
One of Afterlife’s “silent partners”, Pascal “Paco” Leclerc, started another company (which he named Everhere then later, Echovita) for the purpose of salvaging his reputation . . . and the income stream to which he had grown accustomed . . . and, in his own words, to inform the public of recent deaths. A public service thing, so to speak. Unfortunately, in order to avoid the copyright issues, Echovita only publishes summaries of the obituaries it borrows from other sources—and those summaries are rarely ever accurate. Take, for example, the obituary of Jane Thompson, which had been lovingly crafted by her family. Tugs and Cash, her two dogs, turned into her close friends. Her granddaughter was listed as a grandson and the children were nowhere to be found. According to Joel Thompson, Jane’s husband, “It looks like a fourth grader did it.” The family was understandable angry because their loved one’s personal information was being used without their permission, was inaccurately conveyed in the process, and was an embarrassment in its presentation.
To test this complaint, I went to Echovita’s website and typed in a random name from a family we served several years ago. Sure ‘nuff, up popped a poor excuse for a summary of the full obituary that’s published on our website. It was fairly accurate . . . except for naming his deceased first wife as surviving and completely omitting the woman to whom he was married at the time of his death. Both of which were correctly listed in the funeral home version. Then I went to another website—one that has contacted us in the past about “collaborating”, i.e., we send them all of our obituaries and they publish them on their website. I typed in my father’s name and, lo and behold, there was his obituary, word for word as I had written it, taken from the Commercial Appeal where it had appeared. I also checked for my mother’s; it was there as well . . . with a beautiful comment by a childhood friend of mine. A comment made within a few weeks of my mother’s death. A comment I had not seen until today . . . 13 years later . . . and which I would never have seen if not for this post.
And therein lies the problem with a great many of these sites. Friends and extended family may leave heart-felt words of sympathy which they believe the family will see—and which will remain buried in the depths of the Internet until the second coming. And the greater the number of these sites, the less likely family members are to see condolences left on them since they’ll basically be scattered across the world wide web.
So the moral to the story? When you get ready to read someone’s obituary and to leave messages of support and comfort, be certain you’re on the servicing funeral home’s website. That’s the only way you can guarantee the accuracy of what you’re reading . . . and the only way you can be assured the family will see your expressions of sympathy and recollections of the past in a timely manner.
About the author: Lisa Shackelford Thomas is a fourth generation member of a family that’s been in funeral service since 1926. She has been employed at Shackelford Funeral Directors in Savannah, Tennessee for over 40 years and currently serves as the manager there. Any opinions expressed here are hers and hers alone, and may or may not reflect the opinions of other Shackelford family members or staff.