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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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ENDURING THOUGHTS

Funerals are ceremonies that have the singular ability to help us come to terms with the death of loved ones. The ceremony confirms the reality of death and helps us express our feelings of loss. It gives the living the opportunity to remember the person who died and to say good-bye. With all these important expectations in mind, a funeral should be as unique as the life it remembers. It is the funeral director’s job to do everything possible to incorporate any ideas into the service and burial that will most fully evoke the spirit of the departed. This includes the use of video and audio presentations or any element that serves to personalize the funeral or memorial service.
QUOTE: “I have seen death too often to believe in death. It is not an ending, but a withdrawal.” 
Unknown
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GLOWING EMBERS

Cremation is a means of body disposal that can be traced to the Hindu funeral “pyre.” This ancient custom dictates that the eldest son of the deceased light a ritual fire upon which the body of the deceased would be cremated. Now, as then, cremation is viewed as the most expeditious means of disposing of the body, necessitating neither land for burial nor labor-intensive plot preparation. Cremation also affords greater flexibility when making funeral arrangements. For instance, it may be decided to have a funeral service before the cremation, a memorial service at the time of cremation or after the cremation with the urn present, or a committal service at the final disposition of cremated remains.

QUOTE: “To us, the ashes of our ancestors are sacred and their resting place is hallowed ground.”

Chief Seattle

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LIFE CELEBRATIONS

The Baby Boom generation is known for challenging conventional wisdom, including that surrounding death and funeral traditions. At the same time, recent waves of immigrants have also made people feel more comfortable with diverse funeral customs. As a result, the funeral industry, which has long been regarded as quite staid, is undergoing a transformation. As people increasingly leave behind the traditional ceremonies of their parents and grandparents, they are coming to view funerals more as a means of celebrating a life than mourning a death. In response, funeral directors are taking on more of the responsibilities of event planners, whose role it is to conduct a joyful observance of a life well lived.

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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REFLECTING VALUES

Among Jews, it is traditional to cover up all the mirrors in a house of mourning. This conspicuous custom, which dates back to the Middle Ages, is steeped in spiritual values. To begin with, the use of a mirror is shunned during mourning because it is used for personal grooming and cosmetic purposes, which should have lost their importance to the mourner. Those who are stricken with grief do not want the comfort that the use of a mirror can bring. In addition, during “shiva” (the mourning period), it is customary to hold daily services in the house of the mourner, who is prohibited from praying in front of a physical image, even one’s own face reflected in a mirror.

QUOTE: “Say not in grief  ‘he is no more’ but live in thankfulness that he was.”
Hebrew proverb

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A FINAL SUMMATION

A eulogy is among the most significant of personal statements in that it gives summation to a life by making mention of loving relationships and accomplishments. In an effort to imbue the eulogy with the most meaning possible, family members may wish to write eulogies as their contributions to the memorial service. As difficult as this challenge may be, writing a eulogy is also very rewarding. It provides a means of proclaiming love and sharing in the laughter, joys, tears, and sorrows that marked a life that has passed. By committing these remembrances to paper and uttering them before assembled mourners, survivors give a gift both to others and themselves that they can cherish in their time of grief. 
 
QUOTE: “His life was gentle; and the elements so mixed in him, that Nature might stand up and say to all the world THIS WAS A MAN!”
William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar
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BURIAL GROUND

Choice of your final resting place is a deeply personal matter that may well go beyond a traditional cemetery featuring upright gravestones arranged in rows. Originally situated near churches and other places of worship, traditional cemeteries are likely to be rich in monuments, wrought-iron gates and fences, and other architectural features. There may also be mausoleums for above-ground burial. More recently, memorial parks began to make their appearance about 75 years ago. This type of cemetery is known for its vast expanses of lawn, flowering beds, and trees. Burial places are marked by bronze memorials that lie flush with the ground. The resultant effect is that of a green park that invites quiet contemplation of nature and life.

QUOTE: “To fear death is to misunderstand life.”

Anonymous

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FACTS OF LIFE

While most funeral homes and newspapers will write an obituary, some family members take it upon themselves to write the death notice, including a personalized account of a loved one’s life. If so, mention should be made of the deceased’s full name (and nickname), dates and locations of birth/marriage/death, the names of pre-deceased and surviving loved ones, schools attended, military service, places of employment and positions held, and memberships in organizations. Mention should also be made of the time and location of a funeral, visitation, and burial, as well as preferred charities for donations. Further detailing of the deceased’s hobbies, favorite passions, most oft-heard quotes, and preferred pursuits help make an obituary more meaningful and memorable.

QUOTE: “To himself everyone is immortal; he may know that he is going to die, but he can never know that he is dead.”

Samuel Butler

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CONSIDERING OPTIONS

Amid changing expectations, it is more desirable than ever for families to have frank discussions about body disposition and funerals. As more Americans (50.2%) have, for the first time, chosen cremation over burial, those making choices for themselves must inform other family members of their wishes. With so many options available (such as body donation and “green burial”), there is no longer a single script to follow when it comes to deciding how the body will be disposed of and how the deceased will be remembered and celebrated. As funeral norms change, there is more room for creativity. In the end, it’s important to impress upon family members what the people planning their own funerals want and the reasons behind these wishes.
QUOTE: “It is possible to provide security against other ills, but as far as death is concerned, we men live in a city without walls.”

Epicurus

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ASSISTING WITH DEATH

Just as a “birth doula” provides physical and emotional assistance during pregnancy and childbirth, a “death doula” provides support to the dying and their families during all the stages of death. A doula, which is the Greek word for “woman who serves,” may discuss a dying person’s wishes and concerns, organize vigils, coach relatives on the signs of dying, organize paperwork, run errands, create memory books, and even help plan funerals. Doulas are fast gaining popularity as efforts grow to improve end-of-life experiences for terminal patients and their families. Doulas provide a way to bridge the gap in time and resources that busy hospices cannot always provide, particularly when death is not sufficiently close to qualify for hospice care. 
 
QUOTE: “Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides.”
 
Lao Tzu

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LIFE AFTER DEATH
 
It is interesting to note that, although young adults’ affiliation with religious institutions may seem to be on the decline, the vast majority of younger adults believe in an afterlife. A survey involving 58,000 individuals showed that four out of five younger adults between ages 18 and 29 believe in some sort of afterlife. Over the past fifteen years, the percentage of those in this age group who identified themselves as religious fell from 49 percent to 38 percent. Over a longer 40-year period, the percentage of those believing in an afterlife increased from 73 percent to 80 percent. In fact, those in younger generations were more likely to believe there is life after death than older ones.
 
QUOTE: “All goes onward and outward…nothing collapses, And to die is different from what any one supposed, and luckier.”


Walt Whitman

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LIVING RELATIONSHIPS

It is important to remember that death ends a life, not a relationship. With this in mind, the goal should never be to “move on” or “get over” the death of a loved one. If the deceased mattered to you in life, he or she will continue to matter to you after death. Not only does the grieving process build to a stage of acceptance, but it also invites the living to amplify their relationships with the dead. Our feelings toward the dead should not fade, but they should expand as we grow emotionally. At this point, we can use our memories to propel us ahead in life, always mindful of the encouragement, love, and support that we received.  
 
QUOTE: “What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”
 
Helen Keller
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ACKNOWLEDGING YOUR FEELINGS

There is no doubt that the death of a loved one will prompt those left behind to experience a variety of feelings  ranging from disbelief to yearning and resentment. These emotions are a natural response to loss, which helps us cope and make sense of death. At the same time, we may feel so threatened and vulnerable that we try to bottle up our feelings in an effort to go forward. As we experience this conflict between deep sorrow and self-preservation, it is important that our emotions be given full expression. Crying is not only an appropriate expression of grief, but it is soothing and necessary for relieving stress. Allowing oneself to feel vulnerable is an act of strength.

QUOTE: “We need never be ashamed of our tears.”
Charles Dickens

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ADVANCE DIRECTIVES
 
Many older adults do not have a legal document known as an “advance directive,” which tells healthcare providers what their preferences would be if they became incapacitated and needed end-of-life care. According to a review of studies involving nearly 800,000 participants, fewer than half of those age 65 and older had completed a living will, health care power of attorney, or both;  slightly more than a third of adults of any age had completed one. If you are among those who have neglected to draw up an advance directive, bear in mind that it is critical for preventing treatments and/or life-saving measures that you don’t want. Having an advance directive can spare your relatives from making difficult medical decisions. 
 
QUOTE: “By acknowledging my impermanence, I can consider if there is anything I can do now to help my loved ones who will be left behind to cope with losing me and to facilitate healing.”                     
Lisa J. Shultz

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OPEN TO DISCUSSION

As old taboos fall away and people become more accustomed to talking about issues that previous generations might have avoided, increasing numbers of individuals are feeling more comfortable about discussing death and funerals. By preplanning their own funerals, thoughtful individuals assure themselves of the peace of mind that comes with knowing their wishes have been made known and that the details will be taken care of. Those who make advance plans can draw great comfort from the fact that their loved ones will not have to make important decisions during the emotional turmoil that often accompanies initial grief. From a practical standpoint, funeral preplanning also controls the cost of the funeral and protects insurance payouts to beneficiaries.    
 
QUOTE: “A goal without a plan is just a wish.”
Antoine de Saint-Exupéry

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HONORING VETERANS

To honor the memory of their service to their country, the casket of deceased veterans is draped with a U.S. burial casket flag. This custom, which began during the Napoleonic Wars, was accorded to the dead, who were carried from the battlefield on a caisson. When the U.S. flag covers a casket, it is placed so that the union blue field is at the head and over the left shoulder. It is not placed in the grave, nor is it ever allowed to touch the ground. The flag is presented to the next of kin at the end of the funeral, usually by the military chaplain. The flag may be presented to the veteran’s close friend or associate if requested.
 
QUOTE: “Better than honor and glory, and History’s iron pen, was the thought of duty done and the love of his fellow-men.”
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COFFINS AND CASKETS

While the terms “caskets” and “coffins” are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. The term “coffin,” derived from the Old French word “coffin,” describes a narrow, hexagonal (six-sided) container that largely conforms to the shape of the body. With their narrow headspace, wide shoulder design, and tapering shape down to the feet, coffins are less popular in North America than in the rest of the world. The word “casket” was adopted in the late 19th century by the North American funeral industry as a synonym for the word coffin. It has four sides, a rectangular shape, and a split lid. Both caskets and coffins can be customized in a variety of ways.

QUOTE: “Whoever is not in his coffin and the dark grave, let him know he has enough.”
Walt Whitman
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A MATTER OF PRESERVATION
 
The practice of embalming became widespread in this country during the Civil War for the purpose of transporting the dead long distances to their homes for burial. Elsewhere, motives for preserving human corpses vary according to time and place. In ancient Egypt, citizens were mummified with the goal of gaining eternal life. In the Andes, the bodies of Incan emperors were preserved so they could continue to play key roles in society. In Japan and Tibet, holy men were mummified and revered ancestors were preserved for eternity so they could be consulted on important community matters. Mummies of prehistoric Britain were mummified out of respect for their protective powers and ability to intervene with the gods. 
 
QUOTE: “To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”
J.K. Rowling
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HOW DO YOU WANT TO BE REMEMBERED?

When it comes to her wedding, a bride chooses the dress she wants to wear to an occasion that won’t be forgotten by any who attend. Marrying couples also want to have their say when it comes to choosing the venue, flowers, food, and type of ceremony. These are personal details that cannot be left to others to decide for them. The same may be said of a funeral, a ceremony of equal importance; however, many people are reluctant to take control of their funerals in the same way that they plan weddings, birthdays, anniversaries, vacations, graduations, family reunions, and other momentous occasions. Preplanning your funeral enables everyone to make sure that you will be remembered exactly as you wish.   

QUOTE: “Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”

Dr. Seuss

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BURNT OFFERINGS

A Chinese funeral rite that dates back hundreds of years calls for the family of the deceased to burn joss paper (also known as “ghost” or “spirit” money), which takes the form of paper replicas of items that the deceased will need  in the afterlife. These paper offerings may include money and facsimiles of such things as cars. This notion of preparing the dead with material possessions they will need in the afterlife is nothing new, as ancient Egyptian custom attests. If nothing else, providing the dearly departed with significant gifts and offerings provides survivors with a measure of comfort that they are able, at least symbolically, to demonstrate their care and love for the deceased. 

QUOTE: “Each time we embrace a memory, we meet again with those we love...”

Flavia

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MOVING THROUGH GRIEF

The grief process is likely to begin with shock and move through various phases toward the final stage of acceptance. People know when they reach this final stage, when they are able to recall memories of their deceased loved ones fondly and pleasantly instead of painfully. Once acceptance has been reached, planning for the future becomes more realistic, and a new and wiser individual will have emerged. The rate of acceptance often depends on the grief-stricken person’s ability to feel and express his or her grief openly. Doing so requires making oneself vulnerable and surrounding oneself with people with whom one feels comfortable. It is important for grieving individuals to reveal how they feel and what they need from others.  
 
QUOTE: “The darker the night, the brighter the stars, the deeper the grief, the closer is God!”
 
Fyodor Dostoyevsky
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BEGINNING AND ENDING WITH YOU

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

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KEEPING FAITH

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.

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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.”

Author unknown

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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.”
David Searls

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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. 
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LOVING REMEMBRANCE
 
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.”
Thomas Campbell
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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.”

unknown
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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
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SOLEMN UNDERTAKING
 
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.”
 
Arthur Schopenhauer
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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.”
Mahatma Gandhi
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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.”
Voltaire