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.”
DYING ON ONE’S OWN TERMS
Prior to the mid-20th century, it was quite common for people to die at home surrounded by family and friends. Not only did the custom of dying at home provide comfort to the dying, but it also provided closure to surviving family members and friends. However, these many years later, the vast majority of Americans die in hospitals and long-term-care facilities; yet, most dying individuals, when stating their preferences, would tell you that they would prefer to die in more familiar surroundings. To avoid having these individuals die without having their wishes met, it is preferable to draw up a legal document called an “advance directive,” which clearly sets forth a person’s wishes as a guide for others to follow.
QUOTE: “You may delay, but time will not.”
ASHES TO BEADS
Not every country or municipality is fortunate enough to have sufficient space to bury its dead. For instance, burial space is so limited in South Korea that it passed a law requiring that those burying their dead after 2000 must remove the grave 60 years after burial. This dictate was largely responsible for the cremation rate in a country about one-fifth the size of California to rise precipitously. Along with this increased preference for cremation, a creative way of mourning and honoring the dead has also emerged. By subjecting the ashes of the departed to ultrahigh temperatures that melt them into crystals, relatives can have gem-like “death beads” created that are suitable for display in glass or ceramic bowls.
QUOTE: “All that live must die, passing through nature to eternity.”
ARE YOU WILLING?
The unwillingness of many Americans to responsibly confront their own mortality is reflected in the fact that only 56% of parents have a will or living trust. A survey conducted by the American Funeral Directors Association reveals an even wider disconnect between what is perceived as being good and necessary and actually taking steps to do what is needed. According to the survey, two-thirds of adult respondents indicated they would choose to plan their own funerals, but only one-quarter of those surveyed said that they had done so. The survey went on to point out that funeral pre-planners are primarily motivated by the assurance that their survivors would not have to pay for their funerals or worry about doing so.
QUOTE: “Perhaps they are not the stars, but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.”
A GLIMPSE OF HEAVEN?
The closest anyone has ever come to knowing what happens after death is a “near-death experience.” As accounts have emerged from the many individuals, young and old, who have stood (actually hovered) on the precipice of death, a similar vision has emerged. Most “experiencers” report that they float up and view their disembodied selves from the vantage point of a beautiful, unworldly realm, which is often described as “more real than real life.” There is an overwhelming feeling of love that is so transcendent that nearly all are reluctant to leave and return to the world that they have known. When they do return, all are transformed by the experience, often to the point where they change their life paths.
QUOTE: “People living deeply have no fear of death.”
While no one looks forward to attending a funeral, this ceremony provides an opportunity for family members and friends to gather and express emotion over a loss that they all share. Although the service and burial may not totally erase the pain or necessarily relieve the sense of loss, emptiness, loneliness, and despair, they do provide a life-affirming framework from which all can begin to move on. Funerals pave the way for the grief-stricken to bring past relationships with the deceased to a close and begin a transition to the future. Ideally, funerals can provide comfort and strong psychological support to those left behind by sanctifying the life and relationships of the person who has passed on.
QUOTE: “The hour of departure has arrived and we go our ways; I to die, and you to live. Which is better? Only God knows.”
Many terminally ill patients have decided they want, in effect, to attend their own funerals. This desire to share their last days with friends and relatives has led many to conduct end-of-life celebrations known as “living funerals.” There are no particular rules governing these celebrations. Some are quiet and rather serious occasions that involve prayers and last rites from clergy. Others are more like parties in which the honoree wears a tuxedo or gown and presides over a celebratory meal. Regardless of the tone of the celebration, people get to share stories, memories, photos, music, videos, and the company of others in the living presence of the person who will soon pass. Living funerals provide an opportunity to show appreciation.
QUOTE: Where there is sorrow there is holy ground.”
“Dignity therapy” is a brief psychological intervention that was developed by Dr. Harvey Max Chochinov in recognition of dying individuals’ need to feel that life has meaning. Lasting no more than about an hour, the therapy session consists of the therapist asking the terminally ill person to talk about what matters most to him or her. The ensuing conversation is recorded, transcribed, edited, and returned to the individual, who may decide to share the document with family and friends. This short intervention not only helps conserve the dying person’s dignity in the face of existential stress, but it also ensures that his or her thoughts will be passed on to future generations of his or her family.
QUOTE: “My life will end someday, but it will end at my convenience.”
Michael Bassey Johnson
A SYMPATHETIC GESTURE
Even in cases where the family of the deceased selects a charity to receive contributions in the name of the departed, it is generally thought that flowers are an appropriate expression of additional support. In fact, flowers are regarded to be among the highest expressions of sympathy by those who have lost a family member or friend. Flowers inject a much-appreciated expression of hope and beauty at a time when grieving individuals may need to be reminded of both. The presence of flowers also helps to establish lasting and beautiful memories that are bound to forever remain in the hearts and minds of the deceased’s family. Flowers are also perfect reflections of the natural world’s cycle of life.
QUOTE: “Sympathy is two hearts tugging at one load.”
Charles Henry Parkhurst
WHOSE FUNERAL IS IT?
When considering funeral preplanning, people are likely to think solely in terms of what they themselves want. This is only natural, of course, because the deceased is the center of any funeral. However, funerals are primarily conducted for the benefit of surviving family and friends, who need to commiserate with one another and offer each other support. So while it may be perfectly valid for a person to say “I want my funeral to be conducted as inexpensively and with as little fanfare as possible,” family and friends may have other ideas. Many may want to honor the deceased far more ceremoniously than the object of their love and great respect may want. Their wishes should also be respected.
QUOTE: “Funerals seem less about comforting the souls of these dearly departed than about comforting the people they leave behind.”
EXPANDED REALM OF POSSIBILITIES
While most people imagine coffins to be wooden or metal cases that strongly resemble fine pieces of polished and upholstered furniture, the “fantasy coffins” of Ghana are more akin to amusement park rides. The people of the African nation regard the afterlife as being a place where life continues largely as it did here on earth. Guided by this firmly held religious belief, Ghanaians craft fantasy coffins that are as much artwork as they are functional pieces. Each is designed to symbolize the life of the deceased, often in a form that represents his or her profession. Each hand-painted fantasy coffin is made from local wood by specialized carpenters. Some, called “proverbial coffins,” are designed to evoke proverbs.
QUOTE: “One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.”
While “dying of a broken heart” may seem to be more of a romantic notion described by poets than an actual possibility, heart ache is a real pain that may be indicative of a life-threatening condition. Scientists describe “broken heart syndrome” (known medically as “stress-induced cardiomyopathy”) as a temporary heart condition that is caused by stressful situations, such as the death of a loved one. As a result of the disruption to the heart’s normal pumping action, those experiencing broken heart syndrome may feel chest pain and shortness of breath that mimic symptoms of a heart attack. While rarely fatal, this condition warrants immediate medical treatment, as well as longer term grief counseling.
QUOTE: “Pain makes you stronger, tears make you braver, and heartbreak makes you wiser. So thank the past for a better future.”
THE LIFTING CLOUD
We know full well that depression is a natural part of the grieving process. As our defenses break down and the reality of the loss becomes evident, an overriding sense of loss occurs. There may be feelings of acute sadness and loneliness, as if we were the only ones ever to have experienced such deep loss. There may even be the feeling that we have been abandoned by God. However, nothing is further from the truth. The feelings may go away and return, with varying degrees of intensity and for various lengths of time. Nonetheless, as we face our loss and reconcile ourselves to it, the depression lifts. As we accept the past, we can look hopefully to the future.
QUOTE: “Grief is itself a medicine.”
NOW OR LATER
While you may think that any discussion of preplanning your funeral would be a difficult dialogue to have with loved ones, imagine how your family might have that talk without you there. When death occurs, especially unexpectedly, surviving family members have a difficult enough time dealing with their emotions. Being confronted with the added reality of having to make funeral arrangements for the person who engenders these overwhelming feelings can only serve to amplify those feelings. Preplanning enables everyone involved to make clearheaded decisions with the help of the person who is most able to provide information about what is desired as well as necessary. It is better to have this discussion sooner than later.
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.”
WHAT IS A “GOOD DEATH”?
When patients, family members, and health providers were asked what mattered most in terms of dying a “good death,” all three groups considered the most important elements to be “preference for a specific dying process,” “being pain free,” and “emotional well-being.” Researchers found that dying individuals and those closest to them also placed high emphasis on a religious or spiritual element, dignity, family, quality of life, relationship with health providers, and treatment preferences. As much as many people find it difficult to talk about death, these elements could be useful in guiding meaningful conversations between the dying, their family and friends, and health-care providers. All this can be done in the service of comforting the dying and bereaved individuals.
QUOTE: “As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings happy death.”
Leonardo da Vinci
In order to ensure that their families will not be burdened with the expense of a funeral and burial, many individuals choose to purchase funeral insurance. This form of insurance policy, which is similar to life insurance, can be paid in installments that can be spread up to ten years. If a family member is named the beneficiary, the proceeds can be used to pay for final expenses, which may include nursing home costs, debts, and other expenses. If the funeral director is named beneficiary, all (or part) of the funeral expenses are paid for depending on the size of the policy. As with any type of insurance, these policies are designed to provide funds in time of need.
QUOTE: “Man dies of cold, not of darkness.”
Miguel de Unamuno
THE LAST IN A LINE OF LIFE EVENTS
There are many milestones that we approach in life with a great deal of anticipation and preparation. There are weddings, births, graduations, anniversaries, holiday gatherings, and other sorts of occasions that get our undivided attention. For example, many couples take an average of a year to plan and save for their wedding celebrations. During this time, every detail from dresses to food to flowers to invitations is discussed and finalized. Except in the possible case of an elopement, no one would consider planning a wedding in two days. Yet, as much as death, funerals, and burial mark the final milestone of life, most people wait until the very end to plan their funerals. This important day should not be overlooked.
QUOTE: “Love and death are the two great hinges on which all human sympathies turn.”
B. R. Hayden
Following a death, it is important to identify the person who will be the primary decision-maker with regard to the final disposition. This responsibility will fall upon the person named the agent of the Power of Attorney for Health Care. In the event that there is no document indicating an agent of Power of Attorney for Health Care, either the surviving spouse or the legal next of kin will be charged with making decisions. Generally speaking, the order of precedence starts with the spouse and then proceeds along to the eldest child of legal age, parents, siblings, and grandparents. Needless to say, the more information that the person in charge has in hand, the smoother the final disposition will proceed.
QUOTE: “Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night!”
Funeral preplanning helps remove emotion as a complicating factor when comparing funeral prices and services. Contrasted to the urgency and heightened feelings surrounding funeral arrangements that are made at the time of need, preplanning offers a more clearheaded approach that ensures that budgets will be met and wishes will be fulfilled. While keeping costs in line is important, funeral decisions should not be based on cost alone. Trustworthiness, sensitivity, support, experience, and quality all count for much as well. With this in mind, it is best to visit with the funeral director with whom you and your family will be working, so that you can gauge the human connection that will best serve you and your loved ones.
QUOTE: “Death is not extinguishing the light; it is putting out the lamp because dawn has come.”
RESPECT FOR THE DEAD
Throughout human history, it has been customary to respect and care for the dead. The first evidence of deliberate burial was found in the European caves of the Paleolithic period. Archeologists have discovered prehistoric sites that included both individual and communal burial areas. The shared burial sites gave evidence of ossuaries (burial chests) that were unsealed for future use by family members, who would later die and accompany the dead. Both practices have been followed by various peoples into modern times. It was the ancient Egyptians who developed the coffin to keep bodies from touching the earth. This burial practice was continued by the Greeks and Romans and remains part of the burial form of disposition today.
QUOTE: “In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”
Life is in the details, and so it is with death. When it comes to your funeral service and burial (or cremation), the funeral director assumes responsibility for seeing to it that all the details are handled precisely in accordance with your wishes, with the utmost sensitivity and professionalism. With this in mind, you may want to ask about a satisfaction guarantee. A funeral home with an established reputation possesses the experience necessary to attend to all your needs. Ask about personalizing your service with memory tables, tribute videos, symbols that honor military service, and other ways that contribute to lasting memory. Since a funeral is one of life’s major events, it should be handled by people whom you can trust.
QUOTE: “For every end no matter how tragic, there will be a new beginning.”
A WIDER RANGE OF OPTIONS
While death may be inevitable, people’s attitudes about the end of life are ever- changing. The National Funeral Directors Association estimates that, for the first time, the number of cremations performed in this country has exceeded the number of burials. It is interesting to note that, in the 1960s, fewer than five percent of deaths resulted in cremations. However, once the Catholic Church lifted its ban on cremations in 1963 and began to allow cremated remains at funeral masses in 1997, there was a noticeable shift in preference. Today, whether people desire cremation, a traditional earth burial, a “green burial,” or some other form of body disposition, funeral directors must be accommodating and experienced enough to satisfy their wishes.
QUOTE: “Western funerals: black hearses, and black horses, and fast-fading flowers. Why should black be the colour of death? Why not the colours of a sunset?”
Grief is a normal and natural process by which we deal with the loss of those who were a vital part of our lives. In the face of an uncertain future, grieving individuals struggle to redefine their lives and themselves. While there are five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), they may not follow a specific order; nor does the grieving process take any particular amount of time. However, it’s important to point out that struggling in the acute stages of grief for six months to a year is a sign of “complicated grief.” With early intervention, individuals suffering from complicated grief (an estimated 7%-10% of grievers) can be guided back on the healthy grieving track.
QUOTE: “Can I see another’s woe, and not be in sorrow too? Can I see another’s grief, and not seek for kind relief?”
PREPARING IN ADVANCE
“Advance directives” are documents that anticipate future incapacity by allowing people to make their wishes known in the event that they are no longer able to express themselves. One document, known as a “living will” or “health care directive,” sets forth a person’s desires with respect to future medical care. There is also the “health care proxy” (or “durable power of attorney for health care”), which allows a person to designate an agent who will make future decisions on behalf of the person who may later become incapacitated. Finally, the “power of attorney” is an advance directive for use in financial planning. Individuals are encouraged to discuss all end-of-life issues with loved ones before the need to face them arises.
QUOTE: “All things are ready, if our mind be so.”
William Shakespeare, Henry V
ASHES TO DIAMONDS
Carbon, one of the most plentiful elements on earth, is one of the primary molecules found in all life on earth. In addition, in its most concentrated form, pure carbon takes the form of diamond. With all this in mind, it is possible to remove the carbon from ashes of cremated loved ones and convert it to diamond, which can be worn as memorial jewelry. This two-step process begins with extracting the carbon from the ashes of the departed and heating them until they are converted into graphite. The graphite is then subjected to sufficient heat and intense pressure to make it into a memorial diamond. This transformational process gives new meaning to the word “forever.”
QUOTE: “Forever and ever, brother, hail and farewell.”
PUBLIC DISPLAYS OF GRIEF
While it was once customary to wear mourning clothing, mourners are now more likely to limit themselves to black armbands and ribbons as public displays of grief. These funeral customs are intended to provide comfort to the living and respect for the dead. Modern mourning clothing has evolved from the custom of wearing special clothing as a disguise to hide identity from returning spirits. Ancient civilizations once believed that returning spirits would fail to recognize them in the new attire and would be confused and overlook them. Today, as then, wearing mourning attire and other symbols of grief are reminders to ourselves and others that the dead are not forgotten even as we continue to live our lives.
QUOTE: “For life and death are one, even as the sea and the river are one.”
HEAVEN CAN’T WAIT
If we know anything about death, it is that it can come swiftly and without notice. This sobering fact of life may be difficult to deal with, so the best we can do is prepare ourselves and those around us for this final eventuality in our lives. Funeral preplanning enables us to take a clear-eyed approach to this event without the grief and emotion that can complicate the decision-making process in the immediate aftermath of death. When we have taken steps to ensure that the ends of our lives will be celebrated in the manner we feel to be most appropriate, much of the discomfort and confusion surrounding death is removed. Our family is then freed to celebrate our memory.
QUOTE: “Closed eyes, heart not beating, but a living love.”
THE PASSAGE OF TIME
Despite the fact that family and friends may become deeply distressed over the death of a loved one, they will be able to recollect the event in a more positive light with the passage of time. In fact, research shows that healthy individuals tend to recollect life-altering events with more positive emotions later. When the people studied were asked to think about past events that helped to define their lives, they tended to discount fear, anger, and other negative emotions in favor of more positive feelings. This showed that, as much as people are prone to experience strong emotional reactions in extreme situations, they eventually come to terms with these events and tend to view them more positively in retrospect.
QUOTE: “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.”
There are many ways to remember those who have passed and celebrate their lives with those whom they touched. A remembrance event can be as unique as the person being remembered. In lieu of a funeral service conducted in a chapel followed by a burial or scattering of ashes, it may be decided to combine the two elements in a graveside service at the burial site. Otherwise, it may best serve the interests of everyone involved to wait to conduct a memorial service at a time and place that is convenient to all. This option provides the time needed to plan a lengthy gathering or retreat that brings family and friends together for a full appreciation of the deceased.
QUOTE: “Pay me no tears; or for my passing grieve; I linger on the lips of men⎯and live.”
BREAD AND ROSES
It is for good reason that food is as much a part of funeral traditions as flowers. In accordance with this custom, some Spaniards bake a special bread for the wake, while, in this country, the Amish bake “funeral pies” made with raisins. Among Jewish families, the first meal after a funeral is called “the meal of condolence,” in which hard-boiled eggs and other round foods are served in recognition of life’s continuity. Thus, it is that the universality of the death experience evokes an equally universal response. A communal meal after a funeral is symbolic of the need to replenish ourselves and carry on with the business of living. In the process, we gain a degree of comfort.
QUOTE: “Life is not measured by the number of breaths we take, but by the moments that take our breath away.”
A Vietnamese saying
If the concept of a “green,” eco-friendly burial seems to be a new or unfamiliar one, it should be pointed out that modern funeral and burial practices are a relatively recent tradition. Prior to the Civil War, green burials were practiced throughout most of our nation’s history. In Europe, where space for cemeteries is far more limited than in this country, greener funeral practices have been performed out of necessity. Environmentally friendly cemeteries not only help protect and sustain land, they also are less densely settled and easier to maintain. Without traditional headstones, concrete vaults, and formal landscaping, green cemeteries utilize native species and encourage restoration of the natural ecosystem in their given locations.
QUOTE: “What the caterpillar calls the end of the world, the master calls a butterfly.”
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.”
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.”
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
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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.”
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
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
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.”
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.”
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
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.”
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.”
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
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
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.
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.”
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.”
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