PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — A website that posts obituaries from across the country and around the world is not sitting well with some families whose loved ones have appeared on the site without permission.
The website is called “Afterlife.”
It charges fees for various ways to express sympathy online, but there are questions about just who benefits.
There are millions of obituaries on the website from the U.S., Canada and several other countries.
Hundreds of them are people from southwestern Pennsylvania, including Donna Ford of Economy.
She passed away last September at age 60, following a sudden illness.
Her family was stunned.
How could the strong, vibrant woman they knew be gone?
“My mom was a wonderful loving individual. She loved being a grandmother. My brother has three children and they live far away right now, but she constantly loved to Skype with them and had pictures of the kids all over the place,” says Ford’s son Hank Ford.
Nearly six months later, the Ford family is still shaken and, admittedly, a little lost.
Raylene Manning-Puddister’s son, Tyler, died five years ago.
But, for her, it still feels like it was yesterday.
“As soon as I open my eyes right away my first thought is, OK another day I have to get through,” says Manning-Puddister.
Ford and Manning-Puddister don’t know each other.
They’ve never met.
But they share something in common.
They were both shocked to find their loved one’s obituary posted on a website called Afterlife.
“I went into the site and up popped my beautiful son at the age of 22, and it flattened me,” says Manning-Puddister.
“I was surprised first off to see her photo on there. It’s one thing to see some information that’s fact and an obituary that I authored with the help of my father and brother,” Ford says. “But yeah, I was surprised to see what was on there.”
And they’re not alone.
Several people have complained about the website.
They say they’re most disturbed by features on the website that allow people to send flowers or light virtual candles for grieving families.
“I don’t know where that’s going. Who’s seeing that?” Ford says. “I haven’t gotten a flower or seen a candle or anything like that to help me in my grieving process.”
Manning-Puddister says she, too, has received nothing from “Afterlife.”
The website offers four options for lighting a virtual candle for a week, a month, a year or eternity.
Those options range in price from $4.99 to $29.99.
The website claims the candle will be of “great comfort and healing for you and those who view the obituary.”
But Ford and Manning-Puddister don’t find comfort, only questions.
“I’d like to find out truly how they think this is benefitting the family and friends of Donna Ford and those whose obituaries are on there,” Ford says.
“I’ve got to go on that site to watch a candle burn for an hour that’s costing someone $5. Where does that $5 go?” says Manning-Puddister.
Last month, a spokesperson for “Afterlife” told the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation that they simply group obituaries into one database which allows people to send condolences and flowers easily.
The website issued a statement saying, “There is nothing underhanded about our company. Any information that is openly shared online is public information.”
Ford says his family gave permission only to Syka Funeral Home and The Beaver County Times.
“Facts are facts. If it’s out there, that part’s not bugging me,” he says. “But what is (bugging me) is how it’s being used. It’s not being used for educational purposes, not being used for anything like that. It’s pretty clearly being used to make some profit off of it.”
Manning-Puddister says she feels “Afterlife” is using people’s grief to make money, which she calls disturbing and disgusting.
“Maybe this is how things get started, with awareness and people knowing about it. So that’s kind of my angle right now. I want people to know about this,” says Ford.
While “Afterlife” is just starting to make headlines here in the U.S., the outrage has been mounting in Canada.
In fact, a Canadian lawyer recently filed a class-action lawsuit against the website for copyright infringement.
KDKA-TV reached out to “Afterlife” asking for our own interview or a comment, and CEO Pascal Leclerc emailed back saying he wasn’t available to communicate with us right now.