While the first chapter in your book of life may have begun with you as a completely innocent participant in your own affairs, the final pages will likely have your fingerprints all over them. With birth comes the inevitability of death. It certainly behooves us all to recognize and respect this fact of life, along with all of the implications it has for those who will survive us. With this in mind, it is better to plot the script for the final chapter than to leave the end for someone else to write. Funeral prearrangement enables you to choose the specific terms of your funeral and burial or cremation. Because these decisions are deeply personal, only you should make them.
QUOTE: “I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength in distress, and grow brave by reflection.”
Leonardo da Vinci
The rituals and customs surrounding death, burial, or cremation demonstrate the universal urge to exert some degree of control over uncontrollable natural forces. Because it’s difficult to accept the reality of death, most of us like to believe that we can, at least, maintain some degree of control over the physical challenges that stretch between birth and death. Only through faith can we confront the ultimate mystery of existence without despair. There are many forms of faith, all of which promise some form of continued existence, from an exaggerated sense of worldly bliss to union with the Supreme Being. Within this promise is a glimpse of what we want to believe lies beyond the terrestrial realm awaiting humankind after death.
QUOTE: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
YOUNG CHILDREN’S RESPONSE TO DEATH
When attempting to gauge a very young child’s response to the death of a close family member, it is important to know that children between the ages of 3 and 5 years have little understanding of the irreversibility of death. Even when very young children are told about impending death ahead of time, they are still likely to ask when the deceased will return, weeks or months later. Once young children receive a concrete explanation of death, they are likely to display signs of grieving. Young children are also easily overwhelmed by the intense emotional reactions of those around them. With this in mind, we should remain very attentive to the emotional needs of very young children who are grieving.
QUOTE: “Mothers hold their children’s hands for a short while, but their hearts forever.”
IN THE FINAL HOURS
Those of us who choose to stay by the sides of those who are dying should be alert for signs that death is approaching. In the weeks and days leading up to death, terminally ill patients are likely to sleep more, eat less, lose strength, become less social, become more confused, experience more pain, and exhibit dropping body temperature and other changes in their vital signs. During the final hours, it will become increasingly more evident that their heart rate will decrease, as their heart and other organs begin to shut down. At this time, it is important that the dying be made to feel as comfortable as possible. Conversation should be kept up until the last possible moment.
QUOTE: “Seeing death as the end of life is like seeing the horizon as the end of the ocean.”
MAKING A FINAL SWEEP
In addition to drawing up our wills and making funeral prearrangements, Swedish artist and author Margareta Magnusson believes that we should help smooth the transition surrounding our eventual demise by taking at least one more important step. In her book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning,” Ms. Magnusson advocates that people declutter their homes and get rid of unnecessary possessions before they die so that their children will not be burdened with the task of sorting through a lifetime of things. By performing this late-in-life task, parents help their children avoid the perplexing task of trying to decide what their parents would have wanted them to save and where to store these items.
When those we have loved have passed, we create a vision of them in our imaginations. Fortified as well as comforted by these images, we remember them and imagine their delight as we look into the eyes of their grandchildren and partake of the daily joys that they once found to be so pleasurable. Every time we light a candle, cook a favorite meal, visit a treasured destination, and meet with family, we have an opportunity to conjure up the image of a loved one who has passed and think of the many ways that he or she added to our appreciation of life. The dead provide the foundation upon which we live.
QUOTE: “To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”
BODY AND SOUL
The art and science of preserving the bodies of the dead was originally practiced by the ancient Egyptians, who were the first people to believe in the immortality of the soul. They undertook the elaborate process of mummification in the belief that the soul would never foresake the body as long as the body remained intact. Embalming preserved the body so the soul could return to it after the completion of the “circle of necessity,” a 3,000-year journey that the soul was required to make before it could return to the body and live with the gods forever. Modern embalmers continue the important process of body preservation so that the bodies of deceased individuals can be displayed and accorded respect.
QUOTE: “To fear death is to misunderstand life.”
IT IS YOUR DECISION
Funeral prearrangement is a two-step process that involves making funeral arrangements as outlined in the preneed contract, followed by a discussion of the funding. During the first phase, a discussion will take place of services such as embalming and other preparations, providing funeral vehicles and transportation services, the funeral ceremony, and facilities for visitation. Decisions will also have to be made concerning the selection of a casket/urn, outer burial container, and other merchandise such as flowers, acknowledgment cards, and transfer containers. Finally, cost considerations may be finalized through life insurance, bank trust agreement, or other method. It is possible to select funeral goods and services without pre-funding the funeral, but cash-advance items and services may require reimbursement.
QUOTE: “We are not content to pass away entirely from the scenes of our delight; we would leave, if but in gratitude, a pillar and a legend.”
Robert Louis Stevenson
In order that the dead reach the land of eternity, the ancient Greeks believed that the deceased must make a journey across the river Styx. A coin was placed in the mouth of the deceased to pay for the passage, and a honey cake was placed next to the body to appease the dog Cerberus, who guarded the entrance to Hades. As for the ancient Romans, they would wash the deceased’s body with hot water and oil daily for seven days. A group of slaves, called pollinctores, performed this function. Funeral processions were held at night to avoid defilement of the living. The procession was managed by a Designator, who functioned in much the same capacity of modern funeral directors.
QUOTE: “After your death, you will be what you were before your birth.”
A MATTER OF SAFETY
In societies less advanced than ours, it’s not uncommon to read stories in worldwide media involving individuals being buried alive after the local authorities have incorrectly deemed them to be dead. The possibility of a premature burial occurring today in this country is nearly impossible, because a medical determination of death and a death certificate are requirements for burial. However, centuries ago, when comatose and unconscious individuals were not so easily distinguishable from the dead, it was possible for U.S. citizens to be buried alive. Consequently, so-called “safety coffins” were developed, which had devices (a string attached from the hand of the buried person to an aboveground bell) that would enable prematurely buried individuals to convey their status to passersby.
QUOTE: “Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.”
THE SOCIAL SECURITY DEATH BENEFIT
Upon the death of his or her husband or wife, the surviving spouse who is living in the same household may be entitled to receive a one-time lump sum benefit of $255. If there is no spouse, a dependent child (generally age 18 or under) may then be eligible for this one-time death benefit. In order to qualify, the deceased worker must have been considered to be “currently insured,” which means he or she had at least six quarters of earnings covered by Social Security withholding during the full 13-quarter period prior to his or her death. It is recommended that a death be immediately reported to the Social Security Administration in order to get the needed paperwork.
QUOTE: “To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.”
A FINAL SENDOFF
Many people do not envision their funerals as being the somber occasions that most of us have come to expect and accept. Instead, they foresee the rites surrounding their burial or cremation to be more like celebratory events similar to weddings, graduations, or other milestones. The only difference is that the person whose life is being celebrated is present only in spirit. Against this backdrop, friends, family, coworkers, and acquaintances gather to eat, drink, dance, and sing in accordance with the deceased’s final wishes. Everyone is invited to share memories about past experiences in a way that elevates the memory of the deceased to heights that might not otherwise have been reached.
QUOTE: “Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.”
CAN WE CHOOSE A TIME TO DIE?
Many wonder whether a person could either consciously or subconsciously choose a particular time to die. According to anecdotal reports, some individuals have declared they only intended to live long enough to be alive for a certain event (such as the marriage of a child) before dying, and they did just that. One documented case in a respected medical journal told of a 40-year-old woman with chest pains, who told her nurses and clergyman that she intended to die exactly one week later, on the second anniversary of her mother’s death. She did. And one study showed that elderly Chinese-American women postpone death until after the Harvest Moon Festival. Perhaps we have more control over our deaths than we might think.
Honoring the life of your loved one means you value the relationship you shared. We look forward to helping you decide how to celebrate that bond, and honor the unique person you’ve lost. To learn more about our funeral services, please call JAMES H. DELANEY & SON FUNERAL HOME at 668-1960, or visit us at 48 Common Street. We have been serving our community with pride for over six decades.
QUOTE: “Life is a journey from cradle to coffin.”
WILL YOU HAVE THE FINAL SAY?
There is no question that a discussion will take place during which all the details of your funeral and body disposition will be considered and decided upon. The only question is: Will you be taking part in the conversation? It certainly seems fitting that you do, when you consider that no one has a better understanding of your wishes and beliefs than you do. You also have a responsibility to take such personal matters into your own hands. Otherwise, those who love you most will be forced to make the decisions for you at a time when they are likely to have their thinking clouded by high emotion. Funeral prearrangement enables you to take a clear-headed approach to funeral planning.
QUOTE: “Perhaps the secret of living well is not in having all the answers, but in pursuing unanswerable questions in good company.”
Rachel Naomi Remen
Those who receive a terminal diagnosis may want to turn their attention to hospice services, which are designed to support patients and families in the final stages of terminal illness. Eligibility for hospice coverage is available to those who have Medicare as well as the assessment of two physicians who deem it unlikely that the patient will live for more than six months. Hospice is covered by Medicare for 90 days at first; after that, it can be renewed without limits. However, only about 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries receive hospice for seven days or less, which means they are not taking full advantage of a service that enables them to spend valuable time at home with family and friends.
QUOTE: “Don’t count the days. Make the days count.”
THINKING OF OTHERS
While the deceased may be the focus of any funeral, the primary purpose of this important ceremony is to help the assembled survivors better come to grips with their bereavement. In essence, a funeral brings the living face to face with the reality of death and helps them accept its finality. At the same time, a funeral provides a climate of mourning that enables grief-stricken individuals to gather with others and express their sorrows in an accepting and supportive environment. With all this in mind, families who might not see the value of a service or who desire a private service might want to consider the needs of others to express their own grief and sense of loss.
QUOTE: “The song is ended, but the memory lingers on.”
Despite the fact that nearly two-thirds (62.5 percent) of Americans acknowledge that it is important to pre-plan their own funerals, less than a quarter (21.4 percent) of them actually follow up these thoughts with action. In fact, for the fifth consecutive year, the National Funeral Directors Association’s annual Consumer Awareness and Preferences Study reveals that, although consumers know that they should make funeral arrangements prior to need, many do not. Among the reasons cited for not doing so include preplanning is not a priority; they have not thought about it; or that prepaying is too costly. It is important to address these and other concerns with family and a funeral director, who helps allay fears and outline a workable plan.
QUOTE: “Life is mostly froth and bubble, two things stand like stone, kindness in another’s trouble, courage in your own.”
Adam Lindsay Gordon
THE FIVE STAGES OF GRIEF
Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross was a Swiss-American psychiatrist whose book On Death and Dying (1969) discussed her theory of the five stages of grief. The first of these, “denial,” helps individuals survive a loss that, initially, seems overwhelming. The second necessary stage of the grieving process is “anger,” which helps us dissipate pain. Fortunately, our anger subsides as we heal. Next, grieving individuals might engage in “bargaining,” which involves asking “what if” or declaring “if only” in attempts to make a pact with God to stave off death. Then, there is “depression,” in which our grief deepens. Finally, there is “acceptance.” While each stage is a necessary part of grieving, the order in which they are reached varies with each person.
QUOTE: “It’s only when we truly know and understand that we have a limited time on earth…we will then begin to live each day to the fullest, as if it was the only one we had.”
PERSONAL SERVICE FOR A UNIQUE INDIVIDUAL
As people are increasingly seeking to bring a more personal touch to end-of-life services, they are looking for unique ways to honor and celebrate the lives of loved ones who have passed. With this in mind, they are encouraged not only to compare the costs and goods offered by our funeral home, but also to inquire about how they can best represent the deceased. According to the National Funeral Directors Association 2017 Consumer Awareness and Preferences Study, nearly half of respondents report having attended a funeral at a non-traditional location, such as an outdoor setting or place that had some meaning in the life of the deceased. Making such arrangements can contribute significantly to the remembrance of a unique life.
QUOTE: “That best portion of a good man’s life, his little nameless unremembered acts of kindness and of love.”
If an illness or injury were to render you comatose, would your family know what directions to give the attending doctors about your care? According to a recent review of 150 studies, researchers found that just one person in three had any type of “advance directive,” a legal document that allows individuals to make known their decisions about the kind of end-of-life care they wish to receive in the event that they were unable to communicate them for themselves. While the 2017 study found that people aged 65 years and older were more likely to have an advance directive than younger adults, their completion rate was still under 50 percent. Have you made your wishes known?
QUOTE: “Death is not a period that ends the great sentence of life, but a comma that punctuates it to more lofty significance.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.
While there is a long tradition of funerals being presided over by a member of the clergy, it should be noted that not all people have a religious devotion or affiliation. In fact, according to a recent Consumer Awareness and Preferences Study that was conducted by the National Funeral Directors Association, the percentage of respondents who felt that it was very important to have religion incorporated into a funeral service fell from 49.5 percent in 2012 to 39.5 percent (an all-time low) in 2017. At the same time, there is increasing interest in celebrant-led ceremonies that focus more on the wishes of the family and the deceased than following a particular religious practice.
QUOTE: “Yesterday is a memory, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift, which is why it is called the present.”
ONE FINAL KINDNESS
Jewish burial tradition calls for mourners to participate in the deceased’s burial by shoveling dirt on the casket. In doing so, the mourners are seen to be performing one final kindness for an individual who requires nothing more of them than the assurance of having his or her body honorably and properly buried. As might be expected, throwing dirt on the grave is more than a symbolic act. While it may be fraught with emotion and pain, this gesture goes a long way to bringing psychological benefit to surviving friends and family. Participating and witnessing the burial commits mourners to undergo one final loving act for their beloved departed and helps mitigate any illusion about the finality of death.
QUOTE: “The reward for attending a funeral is limitless.”
A POSITION OF HONOR
Those selected to be pallbearers at a funeral should consider it an honor to be asked to accept responsibility for carrying a loved one to his or her final resting place. Depending on the size and weight of the casket, there are typically six to eight pallbearers who have both the distinction and duty of carrying the casket. When making this important decision, some may feel that it is not proper to ask a family member to make the commitment. With this in mind, if a family member is neither physically nor emotionally able to assume the task, it may be preferable to ask a friend, business associate, or other family member to accept the honor.
QUOTE: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”