Kraft-Sussman Funeral Services Earns Selected Independent Funeral Homes Membership

DEERFIELD, Ill., July 1, 2012 – Kraft-Sussman Funeral Services of Las Vegas, NV recently earned membership in Selected Independent Funeral Homes, an international association of premier, independently owned and operated funeral homes.

“We are pleased to welcome Kraft-Sussman Funeral Services to our association,” said Selected Independent Funeral Homes Executive Director, Robert J. Paterkiewicz. “Affiliation with Selected Independent Funeral Homes is considered an honor because of the high standards of funeral service that are required to receive an invitation to become a member.”

Founded in 1917 as National Selected Morticians, Selected Independent Funeral Homes is an international association of approximately 1,500 independent funeral service establishments, which are operated by persons with integrity, good moral character, professional ability of a high level and who are dedicated to the principle that their calling involves special responsibilities to society.

As an active and leading association, Selected Independent Funeral Homes focuses on four essential purposes:

To study, develop and establish the highest standards of service for the benefit of the public; to provide a continuing forum for the exchange, development and dissemination of knowledge and information beneficial to members and the public; to furnish information to members and the public regarding all aspects of funeral service; and to cooperate with organizations, public and private, to achieve these purposes.

Membership in Selected Independent Funeral Homes is by invitation and is extended only after a thorough review of character, service, performance and facilities. One primary condition of membership is adherence to the association’s “Code of Good Funeral Practice.” The 11 provisions of the Code clearly outline the key principles of honesty, respect and trust that are expected of members. Failure to observe the Code’s provisions could result in termination of membership.

“As independently owned and operated firms, our members are truly vested in their communities,” Paterkiewicz said. “Kraft-Sussman Funeral Services, like all our members, takes seriously their responsibility and dedication to providing the best possible funeral service to their friends and neighbors.”

Wendy Kraft and Laura Sussman opened Kraft-Sussman Funeral Services in 2009 to provide a personal, family-owned alternative to the large, corporate chains in Southern Nevada.  Because of their compassionate, high-quality and low-pressure philosophy, they have quickly become the highest rated funeral home in the Southern Nevada community. They are the only funeral home, in the entire state of Nevada, who has current membership in this prestigious organization.

The Executive Headquarters’ office of Selected Independent Funeral Homes is located in Deerfield, IL. In addition to members in the United States, elected member funeral homes are located in Canada, England, Scotland, Ireland Wales, Mexico, New Zealand, Australia, Sri Lanka, Guam and the Philippines.

The Funeral Parlor Giving Families Peace After the Las Vegas Shooting

By Amanda Fortini

October 11, 2017 

A Funeral Parlor’s Response to the Las Vegas Mass Shooting

Last Tuesday afternoon, Kraft-Sussman Funeral and Cremation Services, in Las Vegas, began getting calls from other local funeral homes and from parents whose children had been killed on Sunday night in the shooting at the Route 91 Harvest festival. Although, by all estimates, the Clark County coroner worked quickly to identify bodies—by Thursday, a list of the fifty-eight victims had already been released—the wait was agonizing for families. “That was tough,” Laura Sussman said recently. “Just getting a call every hour: Do you have them yet? Are they ready? Can we come over? ’Cause we want to give families some comfort, but we are also just one cog in the wheel.”

After a tragedy like a mass shooting, a funeral home is usually the first place that family members see their loved one. Identification at the coroner’s office is often done by photograph. “They’re not going to have seen them bathed and cleaned up and, if they had wounds, sewn up,” Sussman explained. “And when they come here, they have a chance to see them that way.” Sussman and her partner Wendy Kraft employ a licensed embalmer, who sutures up wounds and incisions made during an autopsy, and they bathe and clothe the deceased themselves, in whatever clothes the family brings for them. On Wednesday night, they drove to a hotel where the family of one of the shooting victims was staying, and picked up the clothing that they wanted their child to wear.

The women treat their work as a sacred calling; they know the relief, the sense of reality and closure, that viewing a body can provide. One family told them their daughter looked like she was sleeping. “That’s not how she would have looked at the coroner’s office, you know? Or even when they last saw her, when her boyfriend saw her get shot,” Sussman said. “So it gives them a bit of peace, knowing that she was well cared for.”

By Friday evening, when I met with them, Kraft and Sussman had already cared for four young people—two men and two women, all in their twenties and thirties—who had lost their lives in the shooting. In the eight and a half years that they’ve been in business, they’d never witnessed “so many affected at the same time,” Sussman said. “And they’re all our kids’ ages,” Kraft, who is fifty-seven and speaks with a Boston-area accent, added. She and Sussman, sixty-two, have been together since 2001, and married since 2015; they have raised three daughters together.

As the identities of those who died were published, one was struck by the fact that they came from all over the country: from Alaska, Tennessee, California, New Mexico; from fourteen states and Canada. Only seven victims were Nevada residents. In Las Vegas, tourists massively outnumber Clark County’s two million permanent residents: 42.9 million people visited in 2016 alone. (The transient nature of the city’s population is one reason why Nevada has the highest cremation rate in the country—around eighty per cent.) Usually, the women noted, when someone visiting from out of town passes away, it’s not customary for the whole family to fly in; in the case of the four families, they all did. Extended family, friends who were at the concert: all crowded into one of Kraft-Sussman’s two small chapels.

Being far away from home only increases the disorientation that comes with grief and shock, and yet in these moments, families must also make difficult and irrevocable decisions in an instant. “When I was with one of the families, they all looked at each other and said, ‘What would she have wanted?’ And everybody had a little different opinion, you know, because they’d never talked about it,” Sussman said. “Who would ever think of planning in advance for their twenty- or thirty-year-old kid? That’s just, like, unheard of.” Of the four families who lost their children in the shooting, and who came from all over the country —“the East Coast, Canada, California,” Sussman said, protective of their identities—two chose cremation, one chose to have the child’s body shipped home, and one was in the process of doing the latter but had been delayed by “some red-tape stuff,” Sussman said.

Kraft-Sussman’s front room, where the couple takes families to discuss arrangements, is small, with a round mahogany table, sombre maroon chairs, a Keurig coffee machine, and baskets full of tea bags, cocoa packets, and sleeves of plastic-wrapped cookies and peanut-butter crackers. Both women were dressed formally, in suits; they attend a service almost every day. Kraft has been “fascinated with death and dying” since she was a young girl, she told me. She remembers watching a funeral procession pass and wondering “who this person was” and how all the participants in the procession felt. But it wasn’t until 1992, after she delivered a full-term baby who died after the umbilical cord wrapped around his neck and arm, and she subsequently began to talk to support groups for women who had lost babies, that she knew she had to “sit on the other side of the table and help people.” She was employed for a short time at one of the corporate-owned funeral homes in Las Vegas, but she didn’t like working on commission, nor how tightly they booked clients, giving her only a small amount of time with the families.

Meanwhile, in 2000, Kraft met Sussman through the Jewish Community Center of Southern Nevada, where Sussman was the executive director. Both women were volunteers in the Jewish Burial Society, or Chevra Kadisha, for which they’d go to funeral homes and help prepare Jewish women for burial: bathing them, shrouding them, praying. Sussman enjoyed the spirituality of the ritual—the sense “that you’ve done something for someone who can’t repay you”—but she’d also look around at the funeral homes they visited and think that she could do it differently. In the past twenty years or so, the death-care industry has become big business: corporations have increasingly bought out family-owned funeral homes, and employees work on commission, charging people for time spent viewing their loved ones or pushing them to buy fancy caskets, urns, or services they don’t necessarily need. “How many times do people call here and say, ‘I want to send my wife to California, I know crossing state lines you have to be embalmed,’ ” Kraft said. “ ‘No, you don’t have to be embalmed.’ ‘Well, I heard that.’ ‘You heard that because it beefs up the bottom line, but if you’re not having a full visitation and open casket, why would you have to embalm someone?’ 

Kraft-Sussman is one of the few remaining independently-owned funeral homes in the Las Vegas area, and is also one of the only such businesses in the country that is owned by women. Kraft and Sussman take their founding ethos—to provide compassionate, personal care— seriously. They drive families to and from the airport, sit with them at their homes or hotels, allow them to participate in the bathing and dressing process, and follow up by phone.

In the days since the incident, they have kept their embalmer on standby and remained opened after hours, so the families could see their loved ones right away. They have dropped off the cremated remains of a victim to parents at a hotel and personally taken a body to the airport. They worked with an embassy to waive the death-certificate requirement so one set of parents could fly home as soon as possible. “They didn’t expect to have to come to Las Vegas, their kids were here going to a concert,” Sussman said. The parents told her that “this was the most traumatic trip we ever could have taken, and we have to get home to our family and our friends and our support system,” she added. “So that was my goal, to let them come in and spend some time with their loved one, and then get them home as soon as possible.” Most importantly, they don’t rush anyone. “You know, when someone is saying goodbye to someone, they’ll say to you, ‘Well, how long do I have?’ ” Kraft said. “And I always want to say, ‘Well, what would be enough when you know you can never see someone again?’ ”