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Alberta family says obituary posted to website Afterlife without their permission

WATCH: It was a startling discovery for a southern Alberta family, after they found an obituary for a loved one posted online. The problem? It was written and produced by complete strangers. As Sarah Offin reports, it's becoming more common in this digital age.

A southern Alberta family is raising concerns after a loved one’s obituary was posted on an obituary website without their permission.

“She passed away at 7 a.m. on Dec. 18 and by 5 p.m. on Dec. 18, there was an obituary posted,” Shilo Zeller said.

Zeller said her family did not write the obituary and it was full of errors. The photo posted with the obituary appeared to have been taken from their family member’s Facebook page, she said.

“I don’t even know if all of my extended had known that she had passed when we first saw this one.”

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It’s called Afterlife and with a simple search of the website’s database, there’s a good chance you’ll find your deceased loved one’s name and photo there too.

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On its website, Afterlife claims to be Canada’s largest network of deceased people. Users can send condolences, light digital candles and send flowers for a cost.

The Zellers asked repeatedly for their family member’s obituary to be removed but were initially told that couldn’t be done because someone had bought sympathies for their loved one.

The Zeller family’s Facebook correspondence with Afterlife.
The Zeller family’s Facebook correspondence with Afterlife. Shilo Zeller

“The thing that really irked us was the fact that they said that a funeral service would be announced at a later date and that flowers could be sent. And my aunty didn’t want flowers and she definitely didn’t want a funeral service,” Zeller said.

The issue is also concerning funeral homes who work directly with family members to make sure those kinds of wishes are communicated.

“Ultimately, we want the family to have the healing experience that they need through the process and little details like this… can be very devastating to have things wrong or somewhere where they didn’t think it should be. So that’s my main concern with the whole process,” said David Root, General Manager of Pierson’s Funeral Service.

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The Zeller obituary has since been removed, but the family said the ordeal has not only interrupted their grieving process but is also causing them internal conflict.

“We want to grant her her wishes of remaining private but at the same time it just doesn’t seem right that this is happening to people everywhere,” Zeller said.

Afterlife released the following statement:

“All of the obituaries are already on the internet. Our company places all of the obituaries in one place and re-groups them by city to inform the public. Posting obituaries on our website is free, family and friends of the deceased can also write their condolences on the obituary page in the “words of sympathy” section and upload photos if they wish, which are also free services.

“We are offering sympathy gifts for families if friends or family of the deceased wish to purchase them. No one is obligated to buy them.

“In the case at hand, concerning Shilo Zeller, a family member of the deceased, the request to remove the obituary was done through Facebook and answered by a former employee who is no longer with us. This was a unique case and the first time Afterlife had been contacted by Facebook. That employee had offered to remove the photo and information, but keep the obituary page with a name due to the fact sympathy gifts had been purchased. The sympathy gifts purchased in this case were animated digital candles, which are lit on the obituary page. This explains why the family of the deceased nor the funeral home had received any sort of sympathy gifts. What should have taken place was for the obituary to be deleted and the candles purchased to be refunded to the buyers, as we have done in the past upon request. Our apologies to the family.

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“Our customer service is done by phone and e-mail. The moment a family member or POA requests for an obituary to be removed or modified, it is done immediately. If at any time flowers purchased are not delivered, a reimbursement is issued. Approximately 1,000 flower arrangements are purchased per month, and on average five of those purchases result in a refund being issued. Our flower arrangement orders are received, processed, and fulfilled by local florists.”

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