Pembroke family fighting back against obituary piracy
Pres and Amy Lavier hold a picture of their beloved four-year-old son, Cameron, whom they lost to cancer on Nov. 4, 2016. The family was very upset when Cam's obituary turned up recently, without the familiy's knowledge or consent, on a website called Afterlife.co, a site that aggregates obituaries from across the country and posts them along with offers to purchase gifts.
Pembroke’s Lavier family is among hundreds of grieving families across North America who have become victims of what is called obituary piracy.
The Lavier family was upset and confused when the obituary of their loved one ended up on a website called Afterlife.co without the family’s knowledge or consent.
Afterlife.co has been taking obituaries from other sources across the web (like funeral homes and newspapers) and then offering an option to purchase digital gifts like digital candles or real-life flowers for those mourning a loss.
Recent controversy about the website erupted in Alberta, after CBC News told the story of Naomi Kimoto's family discovering her obituary on Afterlife. They contacted the company and asked for the obituary to be removed, which it eventually was.
Just this week, the controversy has made its way to Pembroke as local resident Amy Lavier heard discussions about the controversial website which prompted her to see if her son’s obituary was being used by the website.
It was on Nov. 4, 2016, that childhood cancer took the life of her four-year-old son Cameron Lavier.
Following her son’s passing, Lavier had given permission to Murphy’s Funeral Home and the Pembroke Daily Observer to post her son’s obituary online, but she hadn’t given her approval to any other websites – such as Afterlife.
On Jan. 10, after a quick search, Lavier experienced the same agony that was experienced by Naomi Kimoto’s family as she found her son’s photo and his obituary staring back at her from the Afterlife website.
Lavier felt overwhelmed and disgusted that her family’s privacy and the memory of her son had been violated by this website.
“I just clicked the link and I put in my son's name to see if he was on it and all of a sudden his gorgeous face showed up on this computer screen and I just about threw up. I was just absolutely gutted that somebody would do that to my child,” said Lavier. “Finding his obituary stolen and put on somebody else's website that is not affiliated with the funeral home is absolutely heartbreaking and it really makes me feel like I’ve failed him again. It's mind boggling that somebody would be that heartless, to create something like this and think it's actually helping people – it doesn't make sense to me.”
Furthermore, upon reading the obituary, Lavier found multiple inaccuracies regarding the date and location of her son’s death.
“Dates were wrong, locations were wrong and words were changed or omitted,” said Lavier. “So the fact that they’re taking these obituaries and then changing them – that doesn’t sound like somebody who is trying to help.”
Scrolling to the bottom of the page, Lavier found that the website was asking people to “purchase flowers or digital candles” and Lavier felt sickened by the idea that the website was trying to reap funds from her family’s grief and loss. Afterlife's obituary page for Cameron had presented options to leave condolences, send gifts or flowers to the family for a service fee of $23.97, or light a digital, animated candle at a cost of $4.99 to $29.99 plus GST.
“We didn’t ask for flowers or candles, we asked for donations to the Roger Neilson House where Cameron passed away. The fact is that this website is asking people to purchase things and who knows if any of it is actually going to the family – that doesn’t sound right,” said Lavier.
Immediately after combing the website, and discovering that the obituary of her husband’s grandfather was also posted, Lavier took action to have the obituaries removed and to let others know about obituary piracy.
“I didn't even know this was a thing for people to steal obituaries and post them online like this – it even has a name,” said Lavier. “But as soon as I saw Cam's face, I went into crazy mama-bear mode and I was thinking ‘I am shutting this down and I’m going to make sure that this is taken off’. As they don’t even have a phone number or email listed, I contacted them through their online form and they didn’t respond to me but they removed Cameron’s obituary soon afterwards.”
Upon hearing that the Lavier family – among hundreds of other grieving families across North America – have been affected by the controversial website, Murphy’s Funeral Home owner and director John Hoff got in touch with Afterlife and told them that he’d be taking legal action if they didn’t remove all of his funeral home’s obituaries from their website immediately.
“I have sent an email to Afterlife with the threat of legal action if they don’t take all of ours off that website. I got an email back from them that said their programmers are working on it right away,” said Hoff. “Websites are good and postings are good, but when you don’t ask permission and when you're using it for financial for commercial gain – without permission of anybody – it's just wrong. They’re making a profit out of peoples’ grief.”
According to Lavier, she’s aware of more than 100 families across North America who have been affected by the website and they’re hoping that by raising awareness about the website’s questionable activity, that they’ll be able to have the website shut down for good.
“My family is in a Bereaved Parents of Childhood Cancer Facebook support group and I’ve already learned that there are at least 50 or 60 members of the group who’ve also been victims of this website. These people have been finding their kids, parents, grandparents and friends on this site with some having only lost their loved one a few days ago,” said Lavier. “Too many other people are getting hurt by this website and it just brings back all of the grief and pain that we went through. We lost Cameron 13 months ago, but other people have lost their kids in the last few months or days. I’m hopefully that with all of the people affected by this and talking about this, that eventually this person will realize that what they’re doing isn’t right and will shut down the website themselves.”