Newsletter Archives

 

MATTERS OF LIFE AND DEATH

While adult children may be wary of discussing death with their elderly parents, they may be surprised at how open seniors are about discussing their futures. It is often the case that older individuals have less fear of death and approach it more openly than their younger counterparts. Seniors may have this more positive approach toward death because they’re more aware of their own mortality and they think about death more often, discuss it more openly, and accept it more peacefully than other age groups. The elderly do not consider it morbid to discuss their own passing. Instead, they talk about burial and funeral arrangements as a means of squarely facing the close of life and taking charge of events.

QUOTE: “All that live must die, passing through nature to eternity.”

William Shakespeare

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CEREMONIOUS BEGINNINGS

Like other important ceremonies that mark momentous social occasions, funerals help us focus our attention on life-changing events. Marking these events has important social as well as personal meaning. Perhaps the first record of a ceremony conducted to compassionately and tenderly put someone to rest dates back some 50,000 years, when Neanderthal cave dwellers scattered flowers over the body of a young man laid to rest in a shallow grave. While it cannot be deduced with any certainty what kind of ceremony accompanied the strewn flowers, the body of evidence indicates that this primitive society recognized the need to mark the passage from life to death. This enduring ritual helps us accept the finality of death. 

QUOTE: “Flowers are the music of the ground from earth’s lips spoken without sound.”

Edwin Curran

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THE SUPPORT OF FRIENDS

While it is not always the case that friends serve as adequate replacements for family in the lives of older people, they do provide a “convoy of social support.” This term is used to describe the network of social relationships that people rely upon as they go through life. As such, friends can be viewed as an important source of support, particularly during the later years of life. At this time, friends can step into roles once occupied by spouses and other family members who have passed. In this way, friends offer substitute networks and activities that may replace work and family and act as a buffer against an individual’s earthly concerns. 

QUOTE: “Walking with a friend in the dark is better than walking alone in the light.”

Helen Keller

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END-OF-LIFE CARE

When terminally ill patients come to accept the inevitability of death, many turn to hospice care for medical, psychological, and spiritual support. This assistance is provided by a team of health care professionals and volunteers to individuals who can expect to live six months or less. Hospice care can be provided at home, in a hospice center, in a skilled nursing facility, or in a hospital. Whenever possible, most patients seeking hospice care prefer to receive treatment in the familiar surroundings of their homes, which gives them a sense of emotional comfort. The goal of hospice is to control pain and other symptoms so that the patient may live his or her last days in dignity, comfort, and peace. 

QUOTE: “Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”

Shannon L. Alder

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RITES AND CUSTOMS

Many death rites and customs date back centuries and have evolved from a desire to appease the spirits surrounding the dead. For instance, the custom of closing the eyes of the dead comes from a desire to shut a “window” between the living world and the spirit world. Pulling a sheet over the deceased comes from a belief that the spirit of the dead escaped through the mouth. During the 19th century, in both Europe and the United States, the dead were carried from their home  feet first to prevent the deceased from looking back into the house and drawing another member of the household with him or her. These practices were thought to protect the living from death.   

QUOTE: “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”

Winston Churchill

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A POPULAR OPTION

Over the past 15 years, cremation rates in this country have nearly doubled. The U.S. cremation rate is projected to reach 50.6 percent by 2018. The increasing popularity of this method of body disposal can be partly attributed to convenience. Because the ashes of their loved ones are portable, surviving family members can enshrine them in their homes and transport them as needed. Not only does cremation spare the expense of purchasing a burial plot, but it enables people to be close to those who have passed, without ever leaving their homes. While people continue to want ritual to remember their loved ones, whether or not they are religious, cremation allows for a wider range of memorial options. 

QUOTE: “I’ve learned that when God promises beauty through the ashes, He means it.”

Taya Kyle

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A MOST PERSONAL MATTER

Grief has been described as a “dagger in the heart.” It poses the challenges of picking up the pieces and moving on without feeling as though you are betraying the memory of your beloved. The manner in which people deal with grief is influenced by culture, religion, and personality. Some people mourn publicly while others withdraw. Some search for meaning by asking what the life of the deceased meant or why death came at this particular time. Others never bother to ask these questions. Some people want to talk about how they feel, and many do not. All these approaches must be respected because, as much as grief is a universal experience, it is an individual matter.

QUOTE: “No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.”

C.S. Lewis

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CUSTOMIZED COFFINS

The small African nation of Ghana is renowned for producing handcrafted coffins that symbolize some aspect of the deceased—their occupation, their hopes, or their dreams. These “fantasy coffins” are produced from wood in the semblance of items such as luxury automobiles, fish, or the Holy Bible to encapsulate deceased individuals  who were car enthusiasts, fishermen, or clergy. These skillfully worked, colorful, and artful coffins clearly reflect the interests and passions of the people held within them for eternity. While they may break from traditional coffins  in terms of form and style, they express the old tradition of paying homage to the honor of the dead. Expertly crafted and beautifully painted, fantasy coffins bring life to death.

QUOTE: “For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity.”

William Penn

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LEAVING A LASTING IMPRESSION

How would you like to be remembered? If you’re familiar with the words inscribed on Frank Sinatra’s gravestone, you know that an epitaph leaves a lasting impression. The Chairman of the Board’s epitaph reads, “The best is yet to come,” which is the title of one of his hit songs. These brief writings or sayings inscribed on plaques and gravestones pay tribute to the deceased. When composed by those upon whose graves they will appear, they provide the chance for people to, in effect, write their own history. This is one more reason why funeral preplanning is so important. By planning every aspect of your own funeral and burial  in advance,  you have the chance to do it your way.   

QUOTE: “The only people who fear death are those with regrets.”

Anonymous

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RELIGIOUS OBSERVANCE

While some might question whether regular attendance at religious services actually exerts a positive effect on health, a recent study involving 115,000 women may help clear up the matter. The women (all nurses) were studied over a period of 16 years, which enabled researchers to rule out the possibility that the healthy among them were churchgoers. After analyzing data from questionnaires that the women completed every four years, it was determined that those  who attended religious services more than once per week  had one-third the mortality risk of women  who never attended services. Researchers also acknowledged that going to services is only one way to measure spirituality, which may also be induced through meditation and other practices.    

QUOTE: “Make your own Bible. Select and collect all the words and sentences that in all your readings have been to you like the blast of a trumpet.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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BY COMPARISON

While most consumers like to compare prices and quality of goods and services, they are often reluctant to shop for funeral services, caskets, and other related products. This reluctance becomes all the more pronounced when these decisions have to be made at the time of a family member’s death. At this point,  if the many decisions surrounding the purchase of funeral services, caskets, and burial plots is left to the deceased’s surviving relatives, they are likely to overspend  in the belief that nothing is too good for their dearly departed. With all these potential consequences of consumer inaction in mind, it is highly recommended that individuals take matters into their own hands before their ultimate day of reckoning arrives.

QUOTE: “Grief is the price we pay for love.”

Queen Elizabeth II

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HELPING CHILDREN UNDERSTAND DEATH

Many parents wait until they are confronted with death before they start thinking about how to talk to their children about it. That may not be the best time, especially if parents are also dealing with the loss. By taking a few moments to reflect on your beliefs about death and your experiences with it, there are endless occasions to talk with children about death  as a part of life. However, most parents bypass these chances, trying to protect their children from “unpleasantness.” Experts say that parents should instead  seize these opportunities. It may help them help their children understand the concept of death if they familiarize them with this reality  before they have to confront it directly.

QUOTE: “Mothers hold their children’s hands for a short while, but their hearts forever.”

Anonymous

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PROVIDING NEEDED SUPPORT

When a loved one has passed, it’s only natural to feel overwhelmed by feelings of sadness. During this time of intense sorrow, you may understandably feel emotionally drained. To complicate matters further, it can be overwhelming to learn that there is so much that must be done  in terms of planning the funeral and burial. If you were the person closest to the deceased, it may be incumbent upon you to arrange the funeral and inform the authorities; yet, all this responsibility may come at the precise moment when you feel completely exhausted by events. If you find that just coping with your grief is all you can handle, the funeral director can help you take care of the rest.

QUOTE: “That best portion of a good man’s life, his little nameless unremembered acts of kindness and of love.”

William Wordsworth

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SURVIVING THE DEATH OF A SPOUSE

When death takes their husbands, many surviving widows are surprised that they can find the strength to carry on. In fact, many recently widowed women told researchers that they felt stronger and more confident after their losses. While they may have expected their lives to fall apart, they found themselves able to manage hurdles that they probably thought they could never have managed alone. Researchers found that widowed women, in general, were more likely than widowers to say that they found themselves more capable after their spouses’ deaths, and that they were stronger as a result of their experiences. These inspiring accounts show that people do find the strength to move on after the death of a spouse. 

QUOTE: “The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”

Marcus Tullius Cicero

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SYMBOLIC MEANING

Cemetery headstones have traditionally been decorated with both secular and religious emblems and symbols that imbue them with lasting meaning. One of the most popular of these is the symbol of an angel, which represents spirituality. These messengers from God are also thought to guard the tomb. Less widely observed and known is the broken column  topped with carved flowers, symbolizing a life cut short. There is also the image of the dove, which is regarded by Judeo-Christian tradition as a symbol of resurrection, innocence, and peace.  The symbol of a funeral urn, which is only slightly less popular than the cross, symbolizes immortality. Today, even portraits of the deceased can be etched or transposed onto a gravestone. 

QUOTE: “A human act once set in motion flows on forever to the great account. Our deathlessness is in what we do, not in what we are.”

George Meredith

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COPING MECHANISM 

Immediately following the death of a loved one, those in the deceased’s immediate family are likely to find themselves preoccupied with funeral and burial arrangements, financial concerns, and visits from friends and other family members. However, once this busy period subsides, grieving individuals are largely left alone with their grief  at a time when they most need support. At this point, it is very helpful for the grief-stricken to share their memories and talk about their loss. To help in this process, it may be advisable to join a grief support group or engage in grief counseling with a therapist. The grieving process is an individual path that need not be undertaken alone.  

QUOTE: “Grief, no matter where it comes from, can only be resolved by connecting to other people.”

Thomas Horn 

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PUTTING YOUR AFFAIRS IN ORDER

Even if you have preplanned your funeral and drawn up both a living will and a standard will, you still may want to create a “durable power of attorney for healthcare.” This document enables you to assign a person to make important medical decisions for you  if you are unable to do so for yourself. Also known as an “advanced healthcare directive,” this legal form necessitates that you appoint an agent  who shares your medical treatment philosophy and values. It may also be a good idea to appoint an alternate agent. Your preferences should be discussed with the person(s) whom you appoint  to ensure that he or she is comfortable making medical decisions on your behalf. 

QUOTE: “It is the secret of the world that all things subsist and do not die, but retire a little from sight and afterwards return again.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

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IN DEATH’S WAKE

In the wake, or aftermath, of death, many cultures hold a “wake,” which is a vigil for the dead. Among the Irish, the wake is an intimate expression of national character. It is a curious blend of religious devotion, social support, and cultural cohesion. At the center of its importance remains the Celtic passion for sturdy vigil, as mourners wait out the darkness on the promise of something better yet to come. The Irish wake was woven from the twin threads of compassion and companionship, which are critical elements in the natural structure of the ancient tribe. Later, Christian elements were integrated to include expression of civility and the public celebration of grief, faith, sorrow, and trust.

QUOTE: “Lord, heap miseries upon us yet entwine our arts with laughters low.”

James Joyce, Finnegans Wake

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A MATTER OF FAITH

When faced with life and death matters, a person’s religious beliefs and practices can help fight feelings of helplessness, restore meaning and order to life, and help him or her regain a sense of control. Faith in a higher power provides people with a sense of purpose, which helps them cope with life’s difficulties. For some people, spirituality can be a powerful and important source of strength. Research shows that spirituality can have a profound effect on mental well-being. They have found that the more religious patients were, the more quickly they recovered from some disorders. Another study reveals that high levels of hope and optimism are key factors in fighting off depression. It helps to have faith.

QUOTE: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”
Martin Luther King, Jr.

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CELEBRATING A LIFE

Memorial services have become increasingly popular, especially among those whose loved ones have been cremated and whose remains have already been disposed of. A memorial service is an option  when all family members and friends of the deceased are not able to make it in time to attend the burial. In such cases, it is possible to have a timely funeral,  and a memorial service may be scheduled at a later date when more people are able to attend. A memorial service may be planned  when a large gathering of people is expected that would not fit into the confines of the burial site. In that case, a memorial service can be conducted in a restaurant, hall, or other event space.

QUOTE: “One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.”
Antonio Porchia

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FINANCING A FUNERAL

One way to pay for a funeral is to prefund it with a “payable on death” account (or “Totten trust”) at a bank or credit union. With this account, the owner names a beneficiary,  who inherits the funds of the account  when the account owner dies. These popular accounts provide a way to effectively transfer money  upon death  without undergoing probate court proceedings. There are also “pre-need” plans offered by funeral homes that can be used to lock in some or all of the cost of a funeral at current prices. In some cases, the consumer must purchase an insurance policy with the funeral home named as beneficiary or the money must be held in a state-managed trust account. 

QUOTE: “Perhaps they are not stars but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones shines down to let us know they are happy.”
Eskimo legend

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CREMAINS

As Americans continue to  choose cremation over burial, there has been an increased need for options in determining the final resting place of the “cremains.” One-third of people who receive cremains bury them, one third keep them, and the last third scatter them.  Those  who choose to keep the cremains often place them in a permanent container or cremation urn. These urns can then be placed in a columbarium niche at a cemetery or in a cremation garden,  or kept  at home. There are also keepsake urns, which are designed to hold only a portion of the cremated remains. These are useful  when more than one family member wants a portion of the deceased’s remains.

QUOTE: “The sole equality on earth is death.”

Philip James Bailey

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NAVIGATING LIFE AFTER A LOVED ONE’S DEATH

The grieving process, while different for everyone, usually lasts from six to twelve months. During that time, it is likely that those who have lost a loved one  will experience a deep sadness and feelings of regret. It is also common to vividly recall memories with the deceased, along with mental images and even the sound of a loved one’s voice. These recollections may trigger emotions such as remorse, guilt, and even anger, which can lead to fatigue and general agitation. Some people respond to loss by withdrawing and becoming irritable. As feelings tend to ebb and flow, grief-stricken individuals come to understand that dealing honestly with loss helps them to accept the reality that they face.   

QUOTE: “Death is not the opposite of life, but part of it.”

Haruki Murakami

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GARDEN CEMETERIES

Today’s cemeteries owe a great deal to the “garden cemeteries” that were planned in the outlying suburbs of London  during the mid-19th century. These eternal resting places featured walled-off fields, catacombs, chapels, and planted trees. As exclusive resting places, they not only provided areas of interment for the dead, but  they were also  places of instruction for the living. They provoked a mood of quiet contemplation and respect. Within their walls, Victorians could wander and ponder the hereafter. These fashionable cemeteries soon blossomed around every major British city and were considered one of the great successes of their age. Parliament ordered the building of seven new “great gardens of sleep,” which are now referred to as the “Magnificent Seven.”

QUOTE: “The cemetery is an open space among the ruins, covered in winter with violets and daisies. It might make one in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place.” 

Percy Bysshe Shelley

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STRUCTURED MOURNING

Judaism provides a structured period of mourning that enables mourners to gradually heal. “Sitting shiva” is the term used to describe the traditional ritual of the mourners  in the seven days  after the deceased has been buried. A “shiva call” is an important act of condolence by which callers arrive unannounced  at any time of the day to support the mourners  by offering them the opportunity to speak about the loss and by sharing memories. Shiva callers are not permitted to greet the mourner, but must  instead wait to be noticed and greeted. Conversation must be initiated by the mourner, and the caller doesn’t attempt to distract the mourner. This custom provides useful insight for visitors to any grieving household. 

QUOTE: “Grief is like the ocean; it comes in waves, ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.”

Vicki Harrison

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MAKING YOUR WISHES KNOWN

While it may be difficult for most people to anticipate the possibility that they may become so ill that they may not be able to make decisions for themselves, it is important to face the prospect. By sharing their wishes in an “advance medical directive,” it is possible for individuals to spare their families the burden of making these critical decisions on their own. This document provides information on what types of care a person would want  if he or she could not speak for him- or herself. Beyond that, a “living will” is a type of advance directive that describes what type of life-sustaining support measures would be acceptable  in the event of imminent death due to terminal illness.      

QUOTE: “You only live twice. Once when you are born and once when you look death in the face.”

Ian Fleming

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HELPING OTHERS HELP YOU 

The loss of a spouse can rob surviving partners of their main source of emotional support and can also significantly alter their daily routines and relationships with friends, who viewed them as one-half of a couple. It is important for those  who have lost their husbands or wives  to enlist the help of family and friends, who can assist them during this emotionally challenging time in their lives. It helps greatly, in this regard, for grieving individuals to tell the well-intentioned people around them what is needed. While some people prefer to talk about their feelings, others are more circumspect. With this in mind, friends and family of surviving spouses need to be flexible and provide emotional support as needed.    

QUOTE: “Friendship improves happiness and abates misery, by the doubling of our joy and the dividing of our grief.”

Marcus Tullius Cicero 

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IT’S YOUR FUNERAL

Traditionally, when people have uttered the phrase “it’s your funeral,” they have intended it as a warning that an irresponsible act could lead to dire consequences for the actor.  On the other hand, a funeral director can use the phrase to suggest that you might as well take full responsibility for an event at which you are going to be the center of attention. As such, your funeral should reflect your personal convictions, tastes, and budget. Funeral preplanning enables you to make important decisions involving religious affiliation and customs, as well as the use of pictures, music, and readings to celebrate your life. It will also give consideration to the needs of your surviving family members, both emotionally and financially. 

QUOTE: “Let no one weep for me, or celebrate my funeral with mourning; for I still live, as I pass to and fro through the mouths of men.”

Quintus Ennius

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ENDING ON A POSITIVE NOTE

Baby Boomers, in particular, often describe their lives as having been played out against a background of music that speaks of their time and experience. With this in mind, many are deciding to incorporate music that is important to them in their funeral plans. While funerals used to be solely associated with solemn organ music, funeral preplanners may decide that the tunes of James Taylor, Neil Young, or Joni Mitchell may be more appropriate to their experience. This is done with a complete understanding of music’s ability to affect mood and shape the way that people will remember them and their final day together. This is but one of the many ways that people can personalize their funerals.  
 
QUOTE: “Music is the universal language of mankind.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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EXPRESSIONS OF DEEP SORROW

It is vitally important that those suffering the deep sorrow that comes from the loss of a loved one be given ways to express their emotions. This universal need has given rise to mourning rituals such as funerals, visiting hours, and related customs of dress and behavior, which help the bereaved cope with their grief. These practices differ widely between countries and ethnic groups, encompassing everything from celebrations and feasts to periods of wailing. In this country, the observance of mourning customs has declined steadily over the years to the point where many bereaved individuals may feel deprived of due recognition of their grief. Proper funeral preplanning can introduce a process by which sorrow can be fully expressed. 

QUOTE: “My feet will want to walk to where you are sleeping but I shall go on living.” 
Pablo Neruda

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A NOTICEABLE SHIFT

Many Americans are far removed from the places where they grew up. In fact, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that the average American moves over eleven times in his or her lifetime. As a result, many people are a long way from their hometowns, the places where they wish their funerals to occur. To help these individuals overcome any limitations imposed by distance between their friends and family members, more people are choosing cremation. This option, which is now embraced by nearly half of all Americans, affords the convenience of immediate disposition of the body, followed by a memorial service at a time when all can attend. A funeral should go according to plan—your plan.  

QUOTE: “The song is ended, but the melody lingers on.”
Irving Berlin

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PLACING DEATH IN CONTEXT

Funerals are for the living in that they provide family members and friends of the deceased with an avenue of expression and a coping mechanism for their grief and bereavement. The ceremonial ritual may not relieve the pain of grief nor the feelings of loss, emptiness, loneliness, and despair, but it does provide a framework of social support that is life-affirming. Funerals create a structure that shows the bereaved a way of bringing the past relationship with the deceased to a close and beginning a transition to the future. Ideally, it is hoped that funerals provide comfort and strong psychological support to those left behind by sanctifying the life and relationships of the person who has passed on. 
Much comfort can be experienced during an appropriately planned funeral service.

QUOTE: “The grave itself is but a covered bridge, leading from light to light, through a brief darkness!” 

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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THE FINAL WORD

The words inscribed upon headstones and grave markers do more than identify and provide information about the person buried below. An epitaph can also relay a message to the living that will live on in perpetuity. These words carry power, not only because they are literally carved in stone, but because they reflect the deceased’s essence and everlasting intentions. It would, therefore, be worthwhile to take the time to reflect on how you would like to be remembered. Whether the words are in verse or in prose, borrowed or original, they will serve to define your life and being to all who stop to pay their respects. An epitaph starts the conversation that the living have with the dead.    

QUOTE: “The best is yet to come.”

Frank Sinatra

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A SENSE OF PLACE

Among the many factors that funeral preplanning addresses is the issue of where the deceased’s remains will be buried, entombed, or scattered. In the short interval between the death and burial of a loved one, many family members find themselves rushing to purchase a cemetery plot or grave, often without careful thought or a visit to the site. For this reason alone, it is in the family’s best interest to purchase cemetery plots before they are needed. When doing so, consider the location of the cemetery and what type of monuments or memorials are allowed. Remember that all veterans are entitled to free burial in a national cemetery and a grave marker, as are their spouses and dependent children.

QUOTE: “When a life has been lived completely honestly, completely successfully, or just completely, the correct response to death’s perfect punctuation mark is a smile.”

Julie Burchill

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THE LONELINESS THAT FOLLOWS A LOSS

While grief may be a universal response to the loss of a loved one, women may feel more lonely than men following the loss of a partner. This is one conclusion that researchers reached after they surveyed individuals over the age of 65 who had suffered the loss of a spouse. About 30% of the survey’s female respondents revealed that loneliness was the most difficult thing they faced after losing a partner, compared to 17% of men. Grieving women also found that talking to friends was more helpful than men found it to be, with 53% saying it helped them deal with grief compared to 35% of men. These insights might help women better understand the depth of their grief. 

QUOTE: “To weep is to make less the depth of grief.”

William Shakespeare

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TIME TO DELIVER

Delivering a eulogy at a funeral enables family members to share personal memories of the deceased with the assembled mourners. Taking full advantage of this opportunity gives the grief stricken a chance to inject a degree of unmatched intimacy and authenticity into the proceedings. Eulogizers should try to recollect moments and incidents that amplify the personality of the deceased. No moment is too small. In fact, it is sometimes the seemingly inconsequential moments in life that are best remembered and/or leave the biggest impressions. As with most writing assignments, it is important for eulogizers to distill their thoughts, practice their delivery, and speak from the heart. Their words are sure to be closely followed.  

QUOTE: “Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”

Shannon L. Alder

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BELIEF IN THE SOUL

In ancient times, it was generally believed that the body and soul were inseparable. However, archeologists have uncovered the first written evidence that the people in the region now known as Turkey held to the religious concept of the soul apart from the body. It was in an Iron Age city called Sam’al that archeologists found a three-foot-tall, eight-hundred-pound slab of stone, dating back to about the eighth century B.C.,  on which was inscribed an image of a deceased man. Although he was probably cremated, the words inscribed on the stone explained how the man’s soul was thought to live on in the slab. This belief in an eternal soul persists to this day.

QUOTE: “Thinking: the talking of the soul with itself.”

Plato

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ARRANGING FOR YOURSELF

Funeral pre-arrangement enables consumers to decide what type of funeral service, casket, and burial vault they want. In addition, anyone anticipating future needs  can choose aspects of a funeral such as clergy, place of burial or other method of disposition, flowers, information for an obituary notice, and other details they may wish to include. Funeral pre-arrangement allows individuals to exert control over the last important event of their life. More importantly, from an emotional standpoint, it eases the burden for those who would otherwise have to make the tough decisions about a loved one’s funeral under very trying circumstances. It is far better to plan your own funeral and not shift the responsibility to those you love most.
 
QUOTE: “Yesterday is a memory, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift, which is why it is called the present.”
Anonymous
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JAPANESE FESTIVAL OF THE DEAD

 

As long as our departed parents and grandparents continue to influence our lives, they will live on in our hearts. Many cultures encourage the continued remembrance of deceased ancestors among their surviving relatives through formal visitations. Just as Americans regularly visit graves on holidays, birthdays, and days of final departure, the Japanese take time off each August to pay homage to their dearly departed. During that time, people flock to the cemeteries to visit ancestral graves, to pray, and to ask for their ancestors’ intercession in hopes that it will make a difference in their lives. The Festival of the Dead, “o-Bon,” provides a way to bridge the gap between past and present and the living and the dead.

 

QUOTE: “Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides.”
Lao Tzu

 

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HELPING CHILDREN UNDERSTAND DEATH

When a loved one passes, parents are often faced with the decision of whether their children should attend the funeral or memorial service. Other than the child’s age, important factors to consider include the circumstances surrounding the death, the child’s temperament, the family’s attitude, and the wishes of the child. Generally speaking, funerals provide children with the same opportunity that they allow grownups—the ability to say goodbye to the deceased. Children also benefit from knowing that their daily routines will not be disrupted, that they can openly discuss their feelings, and that they can cry or feel sad. Including children in the grieving process provides them with the opportunity to become familiar with something that may otherwise be incomprehensible. 
 
QUOTE: “A person has learned much who has learned how to die.”
 
German saying

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SURVIVAL TACTICS

“Grief work” refers to the process that a mourner undergoes before he or she can come to grips with the death of a loved one. It includes separating from the person who died, readjusting to the world without that person, and forming new relationships. To separate from the person who died, a mourner must find another way to redirect the emotional energy previously given to the loved one. This does not mean the person was not loved or should be forgotten, but that the mourner needs to turn to others for emotional satisfaction. The mourner’s roles, identity, and skills may require adjustment to living in a world without an essential relationship and reinvesting emotional energy once reserved for the deceased.
 
QUOTE: “Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.”
 
Anne Roiphe

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TAKING RESPONSIBILITY

The motivation to preplan a funeral often comes out of consideration and love for the immediate family members who will survive you. Funeral preplanning spares your survivors the stress of making difficult decisions under pressure while enabling you to choose the specific services you want. When preplanning, put your preferences in writing and give copies to family members and your attorney. Also be sure to keep a copy in a readily accessible place. Avoid putting the only copy of your preferences in a safety deposit box, which precludes making arrangements on a weekend or holiday. Do not designate your preferences in your will, which is often not found or read until after the funeral.

QUOTE: “Our fear of death is like our fear that summer will be short, but when we have had our swing of pleasure, our fill of fruit, and our swelter of heat, we say we have had our day.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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BODIES OF KNOWLEDGE

Some people make provisions to donate their bodies to medical schools after death as a means of training tomorrow’s physicians. Once the institution accepts the donation, it will provide cremation at no cost. The cremated remains are then returned to the family after the research is completed, which can take up to two years. Those wishing to make whole-body donations should check with medical schools in their area to see whether they accept the gifts. In some cases, medical facilities will pick up the body if death occurs in a specific geographic area. If not, the funeral home can make arrangements. The funeral home can also help with an alternative plan if the donation is rejected.

QUOTE: “The grave itself is but a covered bridge, leading from light to light, through a brief darkness!”
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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YOUR FINAL RESTING PLACE

When choosing a cemetery, bear in mind that it will not only be your final resting place, but it will also be the locale where family and friends come to visit and remember. With this in mind, it is important to decide whether the place you choose will be close to your home and family or in a place that has sentimental meaning for you. Deciding on the type of burial you want can help narrow down the choices. While many cemeteries offer both traditional and “green,” eco-friendly burials, some may only offer one or the other. If cremation is preferred, it may be best to consider a small mausoleum that can serve future generations as well. 

QUOTE: “The cemetery is my sense of comfort, my sanctuary in a world of darkness, the one piece of light that I have in my life.”
Jessica Sorensen

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A FINAL ARRANGEMENTS DOCUMENT
 
A will isn’t a good place to express your death and funeral preferences because it is not likely to be read until several weeks after you die, when important decisions have already been made. Without a document that outlines your final decisions, your surviving relatives will be left on their own to make the difficult decisions surrounding your funeral and burial. In that case, grief-stricken family members may well choose the most expensive goods and services out of feelings of obligation. By making your own final arrangements in advance, you can relieve your family of this unnecessary stress and direct them to follow your wishes. A final arrangements document sets forth the necessary details in an accessible and appropriate manner. 
 
QUOTE: “It is the secret of the world that all things subsist and do not die, but retire a little from sight and afterwards return again.”
Ralph Waldo Emerson

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MAKING THE ULTIMATE CONNECTION
 
Although spirituality may contain some elements of religion, it is generally a broader concept. Religion may set forth a set of standards and beliefs accompanied by religious practices, while spirituality seeks to answer questions about our existence and our relationship to living things. Spirituality is often a primary component of religion, but it can also exist in the absence of religious beliefs. If so, it may be music, art, reading, praying, meditating, or some other impulse that helps the dying get in touch with their spiritual sides. With this in mind, family and friends should talk to the dying about how they can help address their spiritual concerns and ease them through the transition to death.
 
QUOTE: “Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.”  

Denis Waitley

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A FRIENDLY WORD

Anyone facing the loss of a loved one is urged to seek emotional support from friends and family. While this recommendation will always be appropriate, it seems that one means of support may be preferable to another, at least according to recent research conducted on the matter. Researchers report that people who confided in their friends after the death of a spouse were less likely to become ill and depressed than those who turned to family members. The analysis went on to point out that those choosing to grieve with friends emerged from the experience just as emotionally and physically healthy as they were when their spouses were alive. Perhaps the words and emotions flow more freely among friends.

QUOTE: “One of the most beautiful qualities of true friendship is to understand and to be understood.”

Lucius Annaeus Seneca

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SYMPATHY FLOWERS
 
When words fail, flowers can speak volumes about the way we feel and where our sympathies lie. Flowers, which are traditionally displayed during the viewing and the service, are symbolic of the beauty and continuity of life. Friends and family of the bereaved can expand upon these themes  by sending flowers to the homes of mourners  in a display of care and support. Although the initial outpouring of sympathy is a great comfort to a family who has lost a loved one, many people experiencing such a loss appreciate being thought of  in the weeks and months after the funeral. With this in mind, consider sending flowers or a plant with a personal note to the home of the bereaved. 
 
QUOTE: “Flowers grow out of dark moments.”
 
Corita Kent

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DIGNIFIED PRESENTATION
 
Not all cultures subscribe to embalming, nor is it necessarily prescribed by law. However, it may be a requirement if a body must travel across state lines or certain distances. Aside from postponing the inevitable decomposition of the body, embalming also restores the body to a more pleasing appearance. This is a distinct advantage for those families who wish to view the body prior to burial. Embalming dates back to at least ancient Egypt, where the body-preservation technique was undertaken to help the dead enter the afterlife. In 1867, the modern age of embalming began when it became necessary to preserve the bodies of Civil War casualties for delivery back to their homes and families. 
 
QUOTE: “All men think that all men are mortal but themselves.”
 
Edward Young

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THAT WHICH REMAINS 
 
Those deciding to be cremated may embrace a romantic notion of having their remains scattered across a favorite location. If so, they may want to give some consideration to their surviving family members, who may prefer to retain some tangible remembrance of those who have passed. For instance, having a container of remains in a place in the home or columbarium enables friends and family to come to a physical place to visit and remember. With this in mind, it is advisable to discuss your plans with your family. A discussion of this type should be honest enough that family members feel comfortable to explore and share their feelings. They may even have suggestions or wishes that you may have not anticipated.  
 
QUOTE: “After your death you will be what you were before your birth.”
 
Arthur Schopenhauer

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DOWN TO THE LAST DETAIL

When it comes to planning a funeral, one might think the whole matter can be distilled down to a few decisions that can be left to surviving family members. In actuality, however, there is more to planning a funeral than deciding between cremation and burial and selecting the type of service. For instance, if cremation is preferred, should the cremains be scattered, buried, stored in an urn, or distributed among loved ones? If burial is the choice, which casket and cemetery are preferred? Other details include plot selection, choosing an officiant for the ceremony, selecting invited guests and pallbearers, and many other important decisions. Funeral pre-planning places these matters in the hands of the person most capable of making them.  

QUOTE: “While we’re mourning the loss of our friend, others are rejoicing to meet him behind the veil.”


John Taylor

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A GLORIOUS SEND-OFF
 
A formal “visitation” provides friends and family of the deceased with the opportunity to pay their last respects and help them come to grips with their loss. This custom has roots in the Irish “wake,” which is the well-known tradition of giving the deceased a glorious send-off. While viewings once took place at the home of the deceased, today  the funeral home is the preferred location, one or two days before the funeral. This viewing can be less formal than the funeral and provides family and friends with an opportunity to reminisce about the deceased loved one. To personalize the viewing, we encourage playing music and displaying photographs that were meaningful to the deceased.
 
QUOTE: “As a well spent day brings happy sleep, so life well used brings happy death.”
 
Leonardo DaVinci