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.”
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
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.”
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
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.”
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.”
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
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.”
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
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.”
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.”
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
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.”
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.”
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.”
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
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.”
ARRANGING FOR YOURSELF
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.”
“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.”
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
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
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.”