Funeral Director Fear and the Big Catch 22

I recently read an excellent article by Alan D. Wolfelt, PhD. Alan is a personal hero of mine, a respected author, educator, and a consultant to the funeral industry. He advocates for the value of meaningful funeral experiences in his death education workshops held across North America each year. The article (Click Here)  is excerpted from his workbook for funeral home staffs entitled “Educating the Families You Serve about the WHY of the Funeral.” The article instructs funeral directors to stop being order takers that just do what people tell them they want and instead educate their customers about the value of having meaningful funeral experiences. Sounds simple right? It’s Not!

Funeral Director at LargeAlan explains how the funeral directors true role is to educate families about all of their options so they can make informed choices. I can’t agree more with Alan, especially with today’s funeral-avoiding culture! Many funeral directors are facing off with families that have basically made up their minds and have their heels dug in regarding those savage funeral directors attempts to up-sell them! As an experienced funeral director that’s involved in my industry, I can tell you that one of the biggest fears of my colleagues is them being accused of taking advantage of people’s grief and pressuring them into unnecessary goods and services. In reality funeral directors worst sales people ever! Sure, there are a few bad apples that do just that, but far and wide most funeral directors are terrified of being categorized as one of those vultures preying on the bereaved. The media has taken the stories of the “Bad Apples” and damaged the credibility for good directors that truly care about the real value of funerals.

No Funeral Please!

Uneducated Consumer

It’s almost impossible for funeral directors to explain all of the options to these jaded consumers that have their “no one’s gonna take me to the cleaners” shields up and on HIGH ALERT! It would take an aggressive and razor sharp funeral arranger to convey the many options and the importance of a meaningful funeral ceremony without setting off alarms, flares and arming a battery of Photon Torpedoes. Considering that most funeral directors are timid cowardly types that will avoid confrontation at all costs, we now have full shields up on both sides and get forced back into the order taker role because of the stereotype!

Mr. Funeral Director "Tear Down This Wall"

Mr. Funeral Director “Tear Down This Wall”

This is the “Big Catch 22”. How can we honestly convey the importance of meaningful funeral ceremonies when the media and bad apples have spoiled the waters? No wonder funeral professionals are stressed out of their minds and typically take the low road!

I wish I had an easy remedy for this very real and very widespread catch 22 type problem, but I don’t! I have tried with little success to communicate and explain the options only to make the family even more guarded. However I know there are some exceptional smooth talking funeral professionals out there that have an arsenal of tools that help them explain the many options without inflicting full frontal confrontations!

Funeral Answers

Solutions Please

So please share some methods that are helping you lower the shields of the families you serve and I in turn will gather your tricks of the trade and turn them into an awesome solution via a part two blog post. We are all in this together so let’s help each other and Save The American Funeral! Please no sales tactics, just share the honest communication skills that have been working for you. Please remember that when we are able to successfully communicate the why’s of a funeral and fully educate the consumer…the sales will increase because of the value that will be perceived.

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Cremation And The Scattering of Ashes

Scattering ashes outdoors on a piece of land with significance to the deceased is often selected by their families.

Scattering ashes outdoors on a piece of land with significance to the deceased is often selected by their families.

Nearly half of Americans are now choosing cremation over burial at the end of their life. It’s easy to see why. Cremation offers a number of benefits over a traditional cemetery burial. However, with cremation comes the decision over what to do with the ashes that remain. Far from being a chore, this task can be an opportunity to further honor the deceased and to leave his or her earthly remains in a place and in a vessel that has meaning, both to the deceased and to the friends and family who remain.

Why cremation makes sense today

The chief reason for choosing cremation today is cost. The average cost of end-of-life arrangements with cremation is around $6,078, according to the National Funeral Directors Association. That compares to an average cost of more than $8,500 for a funeral with a cemetery burial and vault. However, that price can be even less then $1000 if you opt not to have a viewing and you choose a simple, pine casket.

With cremation, you can skip many of the costs associated with a traditional funeral, things like an expensive casket, a vault, embalming services and, of course, the cost of the cemetery plot and headstone. However, cost is just one of many good reasons to consider cremation. Among reasons for choosing cremation for yourself or your loved ones include:

  • It’s kind to the environment. When you opt for cremation, you’re not tying up a piece of land for generations to come, land that potentially can be used for housing or to grow crops. Embalming chemicals can be cancerous and harm our water supply
  • It can make it easier on the family. Cremation can also make it easier on friends and family, especially if they live far away from where the funeral will be held. With cremation, there is no reason to have the service immediately, allowing friends and family to plan around work, community and other family obligations and shop for more economic travel arrangements.
  • It’s simpler. Having to make a lot of decisions in a short period of time can be stressful, especially when family and friends are grieving. Opting for cremation give us more time to carefully consider number of choices the family has to make and many of those decisions can be postponed for a few weeks or months.
  • It’s portable. When you choose cremation, you have a myriad of options about how to scatter or display your loved one’s ashes, many more options than if you had to purchase a cemetery plot.

A little bit about how cremation works

When you opt for cremation after a person dies, their body is transferred to the funeral home or crematorium. The person’s body is placed in a lightweight coffin and sent to a cremation chamber where it is heated to temperatures of 1,500 to 2,100 degrees Fahrenheit. This vaporizes the body and reduces it to ashes and bone fragments. These ashes are then transferred to a cremation vessel and given to the family. The average remains weight between three and six pounds, depending on the size of the person. Most states require a brief waiting period (of 24 to 48 hours) before a person’s remains can be cremated.

There are a number of ways to handle the ashes. Some people out for a decorative urn to hold the ashes and display them in their home. Others opt to house the ashes in a columbarium or cemetery. Still others have a piece of jewelry made from a portion of the ashes. However, scattering ashes is the most popular disposition of cremation ashes.

Creative ways to scatter ashes

30airAshesScatteringSince scattering ashes is now the #1 disposition for cremation ashes, people are getting more and more creative with scattering locations and techniques. Using some type of scattering urns or vessel helps to make the occasion more solemn and dignified as well as making it easier to do. Below are just a few suggestions about what is available to help you be creative.

  1. Use a scattering urn. Scattering urns are vessels that make it easier to return cremated remains to nature. With a scattering urn, you don’t have to worry about an untimely gust of wind or inclement weather marring your tribute. Scattering urns are designed to gradually release the ashes into the environment. Just a few of these urns include:
  • Birdhouse scattering urn. Wooden birdhouses can also be designed to hold cremated remains until they can be scattered in a favorite spot. After the scattering is complete, the birdhouse helps provide shelter for wildlife and acts as a memorial to the person who has died.
    Birdhouse Urns

    Birdhouse Urns

    Birdhouse urns come in a variety of shapes and sizes and are usually made from fast-growing, sustainable woods.

  • Sand urn. A sand urn, as the name implies, are made of sand with a little gelatin added. They contain a biodegradeable pouch that contains the ashes and have holes drilled into the bottom of the vessel. These urns are designed to place on a favorite beach, where the rising and falling tides will quickly scatter the ashes.
  • Sand and gelatin urns. Sand and gelatin urns are not just for beaches. They come in a variety of shapes , colors and sizes. Like the birdhouse and sand urns, these vessels are designed to let the ashes disperse gradually as the urn dissolves over time. They can even be buried. In the ground, they will dissolve in about three months. In water, the process takes about three days.
  1. Use a biodegradable pouch. Using a biodegradable pouch alone is another way to aid in scattering a loved one’s ashes. This decorative pouches can be buried, released at sea or kept closer to home.
  2. Plant a tree with the ashes. Another good use of a biodegradable pouch is to combine it with a new sapling. By planting them together, the cremated remains of your loved one help to nurture the new tree for years to come. Plus, you’ll have a visual tribute to the person who died that will last for generations.
  3. Use an ash scattering cannon.
    Loved One Launcher!

    Loved One Launcher!

    This device makes it easy to launch cremated remains into the sea or the air at a site that was meaningful to the deceased, even in windy weather. The cannon creates velocity that sends the ashes more than 70 feet into the air. You can even load the cannon with biodegradable confetti and/or streamers for a more festive effect.

Where to scatter ashes

The number of places where you can scatter cremated ashes is limited largely by your imagination. While it’s important to seek permission to scatter ashes on property that you don’t own, a surprising number of public and private venues, including many national parks and sports fields, are open to the practice. CLICK HERE for Ceremonies For Scattering Ashes

  1. National parks. Most of America’s natural parks, including Grand Canyon National Park, allow cremated remains to be “scattered” on park land with written permission from the head park ranger. Most parks require that the ashes be contained, as in a sand urn or a biodegradable pouch, so that they don’t pose a threat to wildlife in the park. They also require that you stay away from roads, any archeological digs and bodies of water.
  2. Your own garden. Sometimes the best solution to where to scatter a loved one’s ashes is in your own back yard. If family members intend to stay in the house or other property that was important to the deceased, there are few better ways of honoring that person than by creating a memorable garden and scattering all or a portion of the ashes among the flowers, bushes and trees.
  3. The beach and the ocean. Like parks, public beaches require permission before cremated ashes can be scattered on their property. However, if your family is lucky enough to own your own stretch of sand, you can use this property for scattering. In the United States, you are required to travel three nautical miles from land before you can scatter cremated remains.
  4. A sports field. While most major stadiums prohibit the scattering of ashes (citing too much demand), many minor league ball parks or private sports fields are more amenable.
  5. From the air. The Federal Aviation Association (FAA) has no restrictions on scattering cremated remains from the air, although most states have minimum altitude requirements. The wind at high altitudes can make scattering ashes from the air a challenge without some kind of assistance. (Ashes can, and have, blown back into the planes.) The scattering cannon can help make this process easier and more successful.

Cremation is a cost-effective, eco-friendly end of life decision. Honor the deceased life and memory by scattering his or her ashes in a place that had meaning in life. Using one of the newer scattering vessels and products can help make that process easier and more elegant.

To Learn About Techniques To Scatter Ashes  CLICK HERE

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The Beauty of Cremation

Walking The Line

There are so many reasons that more and more people are now choosing cremation. Here are some of the main reasons that half of all deaths now elect cremation as the final disposition.

  • More Economical
  • A Greener Earth Friendly Option
  • Less Time Sensitive (Freedom of Time)
  • Easier, No Cemetery Required
  • Endless Memorialization Options
  • Don’t Want To Take Up Space (Land)
  • Like The Idea Of Scattering Ashes
  • Religious Freedom
    Cremation Growth Rate

Funeral CostCOST: When you get down to the basic cost of a funeral, cremation can be significantly cheaper. The average traditional funeral these days can cost $8,000.00 to $15,000.00 or more. And a basic cremation is $1,000.00 to $2,000.00. Why such a broad range in price? Simple, it depends on who you call! And of course the choices that you make. Over the years, I have noticed something about how the general public describes the cost of a funeral that I would like to clear up right now. I noticed that when people quote the cost of a traditional funeral they tend to group all of the related costs together! For example “Mom’s Funeral Cost $18,00.00”… but the actual funeral costs might have been $8,000.00 and included the cost of a cemetery plot, digging the grave, flying in certain relatives, putting aunt Millie up at the Hilton and a $6,000.00 reception at a catering hall. But when quoting the cost of cremation people tend to just quote the basic cost “Instead of having a funeral Dad was cremated and it only cost $995.00”. They don’t mention the $10,000.00 memorial catering cost at the country club, the band and the travel costs! So this is one reason the difference in Cremation versus a Traditional Funeral seems like a huge difference in cost. In actuality Cremation is just a disposition like burial is a disposition and all the related costs depends on the CHOICES THAT WE MAKE. “The cremation cost $995.00”. The burial including the purchase of the plot and digging the grave might only cost $2,000.00 but people never just quote this cost, they lump it all together with the choices that they make. These are the conversations that really annoy funeral directors and instantly put them on the defense of the funeral costs.

What really annoys this particular funeral director is the general consensus that cremation means there isn’t a funeral. “There’s no funeral…he’s being cremated”! The truth is just the opposite. With cremation you can have any kind of funeral you want, even a traditional funeral! The only real difference is that instead of the body going to the cemetery, it goes to the crematory. Remember that cremation like burial is just the final disposition. The word “Funeral” simply means that the body is present at the funeral service. If you have a service without the body present because it was already buried or cremated then we use the term “Memorial Service” or other phrases like a Celebration of Life or a Going Home Ceremony. But if the body is not there it’s not a funeral.

Green AshesGREEN: The general public perceives cremation as a greener alternative to burial. A traditional burial takes up land permanently. And the chemicals that are used for embalming are cancerous and could leak into the water table. Here in the US an outer concrete burial vault is used and requires the manufacture of 1.6 tons of concrete and steel, leaving a large carbon footprint through the process of manufacturing. The caskets are often made of steel and many are shipped here from China (not green). Wooden caskets that are made from unsustainable sources like mahogany destroy the rain forest. BUT cremation isn’t exactly green either! Cremation involves burning fossil fuels (not green) and can release mercury from dental fillings into the air. What’s really green is called “Green Burial” and is only permitted in a natural burial site. More and more of these types of cemeteries are becoming available. Green burial is a burial in a naturally biodegradable casket or shroud with no embalming and no burial vault in a shallow grave. Green burial is the most natural and greenest disposition of all.

TIME: Because we usually want to get people buried in the ground before they rapidly begin to decompose, a burial requires a time frame of urgency that demands some fast leg work and usually having the funeral with in a week! And if you are Jewish then you’re supposed to have the burial by sundown of the day after death! With cremation you have nothing but time. Of course if you’re going to have public visitation with the body present you are back on a time line. But once the cremation is complete the ashes have no “shelf life” and you can plan a memorial celebration of life at your convenience. (WARNING) There is still such thing as waiting too long. Sometimes to meet the schedules of so many, the services are put off for months. For example, when someone dies in the Fall and the family elects to wait until the Spring and make the services part of the family reunion at the club. TOOOO Long! Remember that funerals are to support the living in their grief and loss. A proper memorial services lays the foundation for the healing to begin, just like a wedding provides a platform of support to the joining of a couple for life. With too much time in-between, the months leading up to the service can create more unnecessary grief for the survivors due to a lack of support.

Easier: Planning a funeral with the disposition of cremation can definitely be easier. You have the freedom of time on your side and don’t have to feel rushed about getting the person in the ground! You don’t have to select a casket, a vault, a cemetery plot, and other related items. You have the time to involve family members in the planning process and hopefully can create a memorable experience that will showcase a life well lived. Hire a certified celebrant and put some thought and time into this once in a lifetime event. You have one chance to do it right, so take your time and plan a Celebration of Life that people can connect with and relate to. This is why I promote Celebrant funerals and not some old 2,000 year old ceremony that an uninformed clergy member throws together! (Insert Name Here). Use the time to write down stories to share, collect pictures for display or better yet turn the pictures into a memorial video. Play the perfect music and serve the food that the deceased would be proud of! There are so many services available through your local funeral home that can add to the memorial ceremony experience, so use the time to learn about them. And do some research via the Internet on how to create a special and memorable memorial event.

Memorial Options: There are so many options available when you choose cremation. Like a Traditional Burial you can still have visitation with the body present for the final goodbyes and support for the family. You can also have an event in just about any public location that you desire. Consider a place that can handle the anticipated number of people who will attend. Choose a place where people are comfortable enough to join in and share a ceremony that will shine a spotlight on the life lived and the many ways that this person has affected the lives and the fabric of life. Use pictures, objects, belongings and stories to help those attending connect. The spirit of the deceased will often convey what would be appropriate for their personal celebration.

Cremation CasketThe money saved by choosing cremation can be used to purchase goods and services that will further personalize the experience of joining together to commemorate a life well lived. First, select a casket. This can be as simple as a cardboard box, a simple wooden box or an ornate cremation casket. They call these things alternative containers and by law you need one for cremation to take place.

If you are having a traditional viewing before the cremation then you should get a casket with a fabric interior that is suitable for public viewing. Most funeral homes rent caskets for this purpose and then a cardboard box is used for the actual cremation.

For the ceremony you can use things like memorial folders or prayer cards and custom programs that follow the services and can then be saved as a memory keepsake. Large photos, custom blankets and a video tribute can add to the memorial service. And a tree seedling or seeds that can be taken home and be planted in memory and will continue the circle of life.

Art Made With Ashes

Glass Art Made With Ashes

Cremation UrnIf an urn is used to hold the ashes, many put it on display at the service on a table or alter that is set with candles and flowers. When selecting an urn you should first know the final disposition of the ashes. Will they be kept at home on display, buried in the cemetery, placed in a niche, or scattered to the winds. Cremation urns are specially designed to suit all of these different destinations. Even floating biodegradable urns for scattering in lakes and oceans. One new style of urn converts into a birdhouse following the scattering of the ashes! With the new “Loved One Launcher” ashes can also be blasted 70 feet into the sky along with confetti and streamers. Talk about going out with a bang! When it comes to ashes there is no right or wrong way… just personal choices and family traditions. Often family members will use small keepsake urns to divide the ashes up between family and friends. These keepsake urns allow those who choose to scatter to retain a small amount of the ashes forever.

Ashes Jewelry

Jewelry To Hold Ashes

Cremation JeAshes inside Jewelrywelry serves a similar purpose and can be worn as a lasting tribute and close connection to the loved one. There is cremation jewelry that has an inner chamber to hold the ashes inside and also cremation jewelry that is custom made with the ashes.

Assorted Cremation Monuments

 

 

Even monuments are made that will hold the ashes inside as an alternative to burial. Some are styled like traditional monuments and many look like natural rocks and boulders that can blend right into the family garden. The advantage of cremation style monuments is that they can be moved as well as serve as a memorial focal point.

Scattering: The decision to scatter ashes is no longer unique. With more than half of all Americans and Canadians now choosing cremation.

Clem's Ash Scattering 2005.09.19 016Scattering is NOW the #1 disposition of cremated remains in the United States and Canada and continues to grow. Funeral professionals are the only ones that aren’t catching on. Most funeral professionals consider scattering a dirty and unprofitable choice of final disposition. They will help you get buried or interred. They will help you create funeral and memorial events. But when the choice is to scatter the ashes, they will help you as far as the door! Some of the more progressive funeral homes now offer special urns for families that choose to scatter the ashes, but that’s about as far as it goes.

Cremation can be an exciting and beautiful way to celebrate the deceased and bring together their friends and family for a positive and memorable experience. It provides an opportunity for the departed to bring together those that they leave behind and touched most during their life well lived. Cremation: it can be more economical; it can be greener; it allows for more time and planning; and it has infinite options only limited by the creativity of the living!

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All About Military Funeral Honors

Military Funeral MemorialServing the United States of America is among the noblest and most honorable career paths available in this country. To put one’s life on the line to defend our nation’s freedom is worthy of the highest praise, both in service and after death. On Memorial Day, we take this opportunity to celebrate these brave heroes who have fought for our freedom and for those that have lost their lives.

In honor of this selfless commitment made by our service members, a proper burial is the most fitting and respectful tribute to those that are no longer with us. Available to those who have died in the line of duty as well as to eligible veterans who passed away after completing their service, military funerals are a right that all service members receive.

Laws and Practices of Military Burials

Under United States law, all of our eligible veterans are entitled to a military service free of charge. Consisting of an honor guard of no less than two service members, this is to thank the veteran for their service while laying them to rest in the most respectful way possible.

All veterans are entitled to a military burial, which includes an honor guard who will fold and present the veteran’s family with our flag and the playing of Taps. Certain additional honors, like a color guard, a gun salute, and casket bearers may also be available, depending on the deceased’s level of service at the time of death. All arrangements must be requested through a funeral home at least 48 hours in advance to ensure that the proper arrangements are made in time for the ceremony. This ceremonial process is among the most significant aspects of a burial for our service members, and a highly desired and deserved experience for the families dealing with their recent loss.

Military Burial Eligibility

Memorial FlagMilitary burial eligibility depends on several key factors related to the service member’s participation in the armed forces. All servicemen and women who served on active duty or in the Selected Reserve are eligible to receive military burial benefits. In order to be considered an eligible veteran who served on active duty, a service member must have successfully completed a tour of duty, and departed under conditions other than dishonorable. The same is true of Selected Reserve members; those who finished their minimum required period of service and departed under conditions other than dishonorable may receive a military burial. A DD Form 214  is required to establish eligibility. If this form is not available, any other documentation representative of honorable discharge is an acceptable substitution. Click Here For DD Form 214 is available online through the National Archives. Click Here for Flag Application. Click Here For Cemetery Marker Application.

Burial Service Variations

Monument in CemeteryWhile all military service completed honorably is worthy of the highest possible praise, there are different forms of burial services depending on the duration and the type of service.

 

 

Veteran honors are available to anyone who served in the military but did not retire, which includes soldiers across the different branches, and those who were drafted to serve in past times of war. These services include the presentation of our flag by an honor guard and the playing of Taps.

Retiree honors are available for those who served for twenty years or more and retired from service, as well as those who were forced to retire due to health or disability reasons. These services are more involved than veteran honors and include a seven to ten person honor guard team including a chaplain, firing parties, pall bearers, the folding and presentation of our flag, and the playing of Taps.

Full honors are provided for those who passed away during active duty, Medal of Honor recipients, and General Officers. This is the most intricate of all burial honors, and includes a full honor guard of 21 service members, including a chaplain, firing squad, and pall bearers, as well as the folding and presentation of our flag and the playing of Taps.

While there are notable differences in each burial honor, all options are touching tributes, a final farewell for the members and former members of the armed forces as a thank you for the demands and sacrifices required of their military service.

The Military Burial Proceedings

Military burial proceedings are extremely sentimental, providing a thoughtful goodbye for all of our departed service members.

Burial proceedings take place at the cemetery, after the conclusion of a funeral mass or wake, and begin with the arrival of the casket or urn as transported by the funeral home. If a chaplain is present, he will lead the way to the proper plot, where the pall bearers will place the casket or urn on the ground appropriately.

Once at the gravesite, the officer in charge ensures that the flag is level over the casket or urn, and the family takes their seats, or may stand in a semi-circle. When the flag is positioned properly, the chaplain or other officiant will begin the ceremony.

When the service is complete, family members will rise if not already standing, and the officer in charge will give the command to initiate the rifle volley. Taps will play, and the rifle volley will follow. Then the folding of our flag will begin. Once the flag folding is complete, the flag will be passed to the officer in charge, who will present it to the next of kin, generally a spouse, parent, or child. The chaplain will remain to offer his condolences, and the ceremony will conclude.

The Folding of our Flag


The folding of our flag is among the most important parts of a military burial honor. As defenders of this country, the flag of the United States of America holds great symbolism for our armed forces members and their families, so the proper treatment is paramount. The flag should not touch the ground or be otherwise treated with disrespect under any circumstances, by both military members and civilians.

The folding process begins with four service members holding our flag horizontally and level at waist height, and two members holding the top and bottom edges. First, the bottom edge of the stripe section is folded lengthwise over the field of stars, corner to corner, with all borders and corners matching up neatly. This action is repeated again, creating a narrow rectangular shape with the field of stars visible at the top. Throughout this process, the flag should remain parallel to the ground.

While the other members hold the flag taut, the member at the foot of the flag will begin to make triangular folds, starting at the left corner. The newly created corner is then folded in a triangular shape to the right, and then to the left once more, and so on, until nearly the entire flag is folded. Folds should be made slowly and deliberately, to ensure clean lines and neat edges, and edges and corners should be pinched throughout the folding process to create the tightest possible fold.

When the end of the flag is reached, the member holding the top corner of the field of stars should create a small 45 degree fold, and tuck the remaining fabric into the pocket created by the triangular folds. Only the blue field and white stars should be visible; all of the red stripes should be hidden within the folds. Once the flag is neatly prepared, it will be presented to the next of kin.

When the funeral service is complete, the family may do with the flag as they wish, including flying it, or preserving it in a memorial case. Memorial cases can be made at home, or purchased through a specialty vendor. There is nothing wrong with using and flying the military funeral flag, provided the family is comfortable with doing so, and it does not have to remain folded after the completion of the ceremony.

Whether you plan to celebrate Memorial Day with your loved ones or will be participating in a special tribute to those that you have lost, take a moment to truly reflect on what this day means in the hearts of all Americans. Honoring death is never easy, but for those who served, your respect and devotion to them on this special day is greatly appreciated. The heroes of our armed forces are why we have our freedom, so raise a glass, and be sure to say thank you to the men and women in your life who have made the ultimate commitment and sacrificed their life for our great country.

THANK YOU...

THANK YOU…

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A Message From Mom In Heaven

My dearest child,

Mother in HeavenAs Mother’s Day approaches, I find myself missing you more than ever. It’s been a long time since I last heard the pitter patter of little feet running down the hallway to wake me up with breakfast in bed, felt your sticky kisses on my cheeks, and the enjoyed Mother’s Day brunches with the whole family. I wish I could still hold your homemade cards, read your Kindergarten print words, and spend the day with you wrapped up in my arms. Mother’s Day will always be special, but it means the most when it can be spent with the ones you love. As your mother, I would give anything to spend one more Mother’s Day on earth, by your side.

I Miss You Too Mommy

I Miss You Too Mommy

Heaven may be full of indescribable wonders, but it’s missing the most important thing in life: my beautiful child. I spent the best years of my life raising you, watching you enter the world, guiding you through movement and speech, and saying a heartbreaking goodbye on your first day of school. I watched with tears in my eyes as the bus left every morning, and felt my heart leap into my throat when you came bursting through the door each afternoon. I spent long days in the kitchen baking treats and preparing your favorite meals, and long nights reading stories, fetching glasses of water, and nursing bruises and boo boos. And I didn’t do these things because I had to; I did them because I wanted to, because I wanted to give you every advantage in the world.

After a while, you got older. You stopped wanting snuggles in the morning and cuddles at bedtime. You made friends, developed hobbies, and learned independence. I missed the time we spent together, but I was so proud of the person you were becoming. Your high school graduation, your college degree, you first real job, and your wedding; all of these days were among the happiest of my life.

It was so hard to say goodbye, and I regret every day that I had to leave you. I know that being an adult doesn’t mean being able to live without a parent; it means having to live without one, whether you want to or not. Even when you were old enough to move out, get married, and settle down, there was nothing I wouldn’t have done to make the burdens of adulthood easier for you. I hope I was able to teach you everything you need to thrive in the world rather than to simply survive. I hope I was able to show you how much power love carries with it, and how joyous making sacrifices can be when they are for the sake of someone you love.

If I could have a Mother’s Day wish, it would be to spend one more day with you. I would plan something special for us to celebrate your own parenthood and the amazing person you have become. I would listen to the details of your life, both big and small, sharing in your triumphs and comforting you in your failed attempts. For just one more minute with you, I would do anything.

Mother MonumentPlease know that even though I am gone from the world, I am still with you. I am always watching, celebrating silently when the good things come to pass and rooting for you through the challenges. I am watching my beautiful grandchildren grow and develop, watching your love for your spouse deepen, and hoping with all of my heart that I could experience your life right by your side. I am so proud of everything you have done so far, and every major milestone yet to come.

On this Mother’s Day, I will miss you so much. And when you miss me, remember that I am forever a jewel in your heart. My love, strength, and support will aways be there when you need it most.

Love from heaven,

Your mother

Cremation Jewelry To Hold Ashes

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When Dogs Grieve We Cry

Dog GriefLosing a dog is always difficult for the owner, but it can be equally hard on the household’s canine companions. According to Dr. Sophia Yin, a San Francisco-based veterinarian and applied animal behaviorist, grief is one of the basic emotions dogs experience, just like people. And just like people, dogs will react differently to the loss of their loved ones. In some cases, dogs recover quickly and do not grieve at all. It all depends on the animal’s individuality. The loss of another dog means the loss of a constant companion of whom the dog was accustomed to daily. As a result, there is a drastic change in the dog’s routine causing him/her to feel disoriented and distressed.

Losing a Dog Friend
Indie and Katie were quite an unusual couple, but they were as close as ever. They spent each day together and were fond of each other. On many occasions, Katie would sleep on Indy’s back at night, her four-pound body rising and falling with his snores. Unfortunately, at age 14, Indy’s health deteriorated and had to be put to sleep (euthanasia). The usually sweet Katie was devastated opting to isolate, refusing to eat, acting nasty and urinating all over the house. It was all too clear that this attention-seeking behavior was a way to express her grief.


Another heartbreaking story is told of Bella the Dog, who refused to leave the side of his companion Beavis the Beaver even after her furry friend had passed away. He lay there sad and confused hoping his friend would wake up.

Signs of Grief

Miss You...

Miss You…

A study from the ASPCA found that two-thirds of dogs show recognizable signs of grieving, such as a decrease in appetite, less barking, clinginess, and lethargy. Others will sleep longer than usual or show a lack of interest in taking walks, playing or participating in their favorite activities. Apart from the decrease in social interaction, some dogs may pace around tirelessly looking for their loved ones.

For those with a couple of the furry friends in their households, it is common to see some pecking order established among them signifying the structure of the park hierarchy. When one of the dogs dies, let’s say the dominant one, the remaining pets role is ill-defined and may act confused for a while before adjusting to the change.

According to The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, 36 percent of dogs ate less than usual after the death of another canine companion. About 11 percent stopped eating altogether. About 63 percent of the grieving dogs vocalized more than normal or became quieter. Study respondents indicated that surviving dogs changed the quantity and location of sleep, with most preferring to sleep at their lost companion’s spots. More than half the surviving pets became more affectionate and clingy with their caregivers as a way of demanding attention. Overall, the study revealed that 66 percent of dogs exhibited four or more behavioral changes after losing a pet companion.


Loss of a Human Companion
Dogs grieve over their fallen masters as well, and their plenty of stories to support this view. Pictures of dogs grieving their human companions have gone viral on several occasions with some sitting on their master’s graveside, perhaps waiting for his return. A photograph of a brown Labrador retriever named Hawkeye lying beside the American flag-draped casket of his human companion, Navy SEAL Jon Tumilson, went viral on the internet. Tumilson was one of the American soldiers killed by a rocket-propelled grenade on August 6th, 2011. When one of Tumilson’s friend went ahead to address the mourners, Hawkeye followed him and lay down in front of the casket for the rest of the service. The moving picture showed that the heartbroken dog represented a possibility that there’s more to our pets’ psychology than has ever been recognized.

A similar story is told of a dog named Hachikō, remembered for his remarkable loyalty to his owner which continued for many years after his owner’s death. Hachikō’s master, Professor Ueno suffered a brain hemorrhage and died on his way home. However, Hachikō waited for his owner, each day at the usual time at Shibuya Station in Tokyo, Japan seemingly awaiting his return for almost ten years. It was evident that the dog was finding it difficult to cope with the absence of his master. The Japanese people recognized the dog’s remarkable act of loyalty and he became a national sensation. Though some may argue that Hachikō’s behavior was a mere ritual, others might recognize it as grief. Many of us have witnessed animals’ grief when they lose their loved ones, and their behavior speaks louder on their untold suffering and loneliness.

imgres-2What goes on in a dog’s head when a loved one dies can be compared to what happens in the mind of a very young child of between two to five years. Children do not comprehend that the life functions of their loved ones have hit an inevitable end, and this is reflected in the questions they ask as they try to understand the situation. Children will ask questions like, ‘ Will daddy come for my birthday?’, ‘Should we put grandma’s favorite cookie in the coffin in case she is hungry?’ Just like children do not have the concept of the permanence of death, dogs also stay hopeful that their loved ones will return as evidenced by Hachikō.

When one dog in a multi-dog household is gravely ill, it may help for the healthier dogs to be present during euthanasia, or at least for the animal to see the deceased dog’s body, says Dr. Pachel. This way, the dog can have closure rather than being left searching for its companion long after it’s gone. Like in Hawkeye’s case, having an opportunity to lie near the casket of his deceased owner, if it’s a possible scenario, may help the dog to understand the process better.

How to Deal with the Loss
Sorrow and grief are natural responses to death and owners should not feel like they need to shield themselves or their children from the sadness of losing a pet by either not talking about the pet’s death, or by not being honest about what happened. The stress of losing a beloved pet can be emotionally draining thus the need to look after your emotional and physical needs. Talk about it whenever you can and give yourself time to grieve in your own way. Other ways to help you cope with the loss of a pet in a healthy way include;

Reaching out to others who have lost pets
Find someone who lost a beloved pet as they are in a position of relating and understanding what you are going through. It can be done by checking out online message boards, pet loss hotlines, and pet loss support groups. Such forums can give you helpful advice that will facilitate your healing process.

Seeking professional help when necessary
The American Psychological Association assures us of human resilience, recommending the help of mental health professionals if needed, to help deal with grief. If your grief becomes constant and gets in the way of normal functioning, you might consider getting the help of a professional.

Maintaining the routine for the remaining pets
Stick to your pet’s usual routine by keeping regular meal schedules, walk times, play times etc. Don’t rush into adopting another animal for your surviving animal companions’ sake. They need time to grieve, too, and introducing a new family member too soon may cause more stress. If you eventually choose to get another pet, try to pick one that will fit in with your remaining pet, when the time is right. If you feel your dog needs other canine companions, but aren’t ready for another pet yet, try the dog park, a doggy play date with a friend that has dogs or book a training class for your pet.

Time heals
Just like with human grief, it all gets better with time. Each animal mourns for a different period, and so do humans. Some get over it sooner while others take a while to bounce back. Be patient with your dog as most dogs will come out of their grieving process and form new attachments within a few weeks or months. It’s important to monitor your pet closely paying attention to other forms of illnesses that may not be necessarily grief.

Caring for your pet and helping him through his grief is a rewarding experience that can also assist you and other family members with the healing process. Engage your pets in activities like a walk in the park, a ride in the car, a soothing brush or a game of fetch. This will help strengthen the bond and allow for an easier transition process.

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What Funeral Directors Should Worry About Part II

Funeral Director Last month, I asked thousands of Funeral Professionals what they worried about the most. I received a very low response rate, which is typical for funeral professionals as they usually don’t participate in the destiny of their own industry. I did get a general idea of what they worry about. They seem to worry about the day to day challenges of planning a funeral and disposition. To can see their responses (Click Here).  What did surprise me is that no one worries about the actual funeral ceremony itself. They worried about the scheduling and logistics, such as the officiant and the organist showing up. As far as the funeral being a personable and healing experience to those attending…no one seems to worry about this at all! It seems strange to me that people called funeral directors rarely get involved in the funeral ceremony itself. Long ago funeral directors gave that responsibility to the clergy. The general public, driven by an aging boomer generation, no longer see the value of the traditional clergy <insert name here>, and their two thousand year old funeral rituals. Go figure?

No Value FuneralsThe devaluation of the funeral experience is what funeral professionals should be worried about the most. As a funeral director, our greatest contribution should be creating a healing environment where people can come together for a memorable experience. The experience should promote those in attendance to support one another in their grief. The life of the deceased is the star and the overall theme is how that person’s life affected their world and the world of others. Since we have dropped the ball on this aspect of funerals, we have created a snowball effect of new things to worry about such as: Cremation Societies popping up in each and every town; Funeral and event planners working directly with hotels and catering halls because they can do it better themselves; and the price shoppers oh my!

 

 "The New Enemy"


“The New Enemy”

Funeral Directors have created a new enemy by not paying attention to the needs of the families they serve, and their desire to have a positive funeral experience. The new enemy of the funeral is the word “JUST”! As in just cremate me and scatter my ashes in the garden. Just bury me in a plain pine box and have a party in my memory down at the club house. Hospice did such a great job and we already said our goodbyes so we won’t need a funeral service. We joined a cremation society so no funeral home is going to get my money! Does this sound familiar? The good news is that the general public is more spiritual then ever and really do want to have a memorable event. They just don’t want a funeral like the last three that they attended. So I’m not sitting here flapping my lips about the self inflicted gloom and doom of the funeral industry. Instead I will provide a solution. The solution is to take the control of the funeral away from the Clergy! Don’t worry about offending the clergy since they aren’t helping your business. You can still use clergy as required, but we need to take control of the funeral ceremony and become funeral planners instead of merely being the director of logistics. How funerals are experienced and how they make people feel is everything. Your future depends on it so become a part of it! For me the number one solution to the public’s disenchantment of funerals is the use of Certified Funeral Celebrants. They are trained in creating meaningful and personal celebrations of life that will leave those in attendance (your future clients) saying WOW! That’s the kind of funeral I want! There is no better form of advertising than doing “Good Funerals”.

Jeff Staab

Funeral Director/Author Jeff Staab

 As a funeral director with over twenty years of experience, I can tell you that we already have enough to worry about. As I mentioned in the proceeding blog post (What Funeral Directors Worry About), we tend burn out pretty fast as far as professions go. One solution is for funeral home operators to hire high quality non-licensed personnel to manage the everyday details that the Funeral Directors are typically tasked with. That way the Funeral Directors can focus on the big picture of running the funerals and growing the overall reputation of the funeral home, by turning out high quality funerals that people will remember. Unlike Clergy, Funeral Celebrants are trained to work with funeral homes and support the funeral homes that they work with. Funeral homes that are already regularly using and advertising the use of Celebrants have seen their rate of pre-arranged funerals increase by as much as 20%. This is an unexpected bonus and a healthy direction, instead of seeing the shrinking business that so many funeral homes are now experiencing.

 

Creative Funerals

So what I am saying is hire forward thinking-creative minded Funeral Directors that focus on the funeral experience for the client and their family and friends. Disenchanted, unmotivated, and lazy order taking funeral directors with no creativity Need Not Apply! Having strong communication skills and being “A Good Listener” will help to establish a more sharing and involved consumer that will really get the creative juices flowing.

Getting Creative!

Getting Creative!

The funeral home that partners with Celebrants will be growing their brand and will be positively shared by the word of mouth within the community. By the way, word of mouth is now social media and if you aren’t online being involved in the online conversations, then attending all of those Chamber & Rotary meetings is a complete waste of your time and money. If you don’t have the time or the staff at your funeral home to maintain an online social media presence, then you can hire professionals to maintain and grow your funeral homes social network. I would recommend entrusting the team over at Disrupt Media to manage your funeral homes online social reputation and presence.

So how can we do better funerals? That is what Funeral Directors should be worried about! With that in mind, I would love to hear more ideas on how can we create a more memorable and personable funeral experience. Open the flood gates that are holding back your ideas and share!

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What Funeral Directors Worry About

In the funeral business, everything is in the details. Unlike a wedding which people often plan for months and sometimes for years, a funeral arrives suddenly and will require some hurried and frantic planning and scheduling. Pre-planning funerals helps but since we can’t always predict or schedule death, many of the details for a funeral or memorial service are quickly arranged by the surviving family members under the guidance of a funeral director. Getting all of the details right rest on the shoulders, mind, experience, and reputation of the funeral director. This is why funeral directors WORRY A LOT!

Funeral Guy

I Hope My Dick Doesn’t Fall Off

For many funeral directors the worry becomes far too much for them to handle. Many funeral directors won’t last more than five years before burning out and seek another profession. It’s not only the worry but also the personal dedication and commitment to a business that is 24 -7-365. It is disruptive to your family and social life. Funeral directors have to arrange and schedule everything in a matter of hours for a major life event! For me personally the 20 years was a bit too long. By then I was drinking like a fish. The chest pains stopped the day after I quit!

I recently asked a group of funeral directors what they worry about the most and here are their responses:

-“Flowers, grave digger, vault company, printers, obituaries, cosmetics, weather, music, ministers, permits, paperwork, families, friends, and just about everything.”

 

-“I would definitely think one of the biggest things we worry about is getting everything perfect and every little detail. Also making sure that the family’s last image of their loved one is one that won’t haunt them.”

 

-“I always worry about what I can do the nights that I’m on call. It seems that we limited ourselves sometimes socially. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve had to miss holidays and parties and nights where my friends go out because I’m on call. Granted, that is a selfish thing to worry about. But I don’t think the general public knows about that side of being a funeral director.”

 

-“I worry about my kids dying. I worry about me dying. I worry about when my kids die and the funeral home doesn’t take care of them with dignity. I guess that’s not really relevant for your public info, just sharing.”

-“Will I find a job after my apprenticeship?”

-“What’s to be left in a casket?”

-Aspirator line rupture!

-“Getting paid, scheduling overlap! Will the officiant show up, disease, purge, leakage, restorative art, family feuds, musicians, newspaper deadlines for obits, paperwork delays, permits, pall bearers, and paying my bills.”

-“Cancer causing embalming fumes, needle pricks, tissue gas, and my bad back!”

-“I mostly worry about the family and their complete satisfaction of my service. The reputation of our funeral home and how my life depends on it. Shrinking profits due to the growing trend of direct cremation.”

Cremation is the Solution

Some Worry of a Zombie Apocalypse

-“Picking up the wrong body, cremating the wrong body, making a wrong turn leading a funeral procession, catching a disease, the strength of the bottom of these new cheap Chinese caskets as we carry the 300lb dude up the church steps. Hope the handles don’t tear off.”

-“I worry about the fat guy in the bathtub on the second floor and the narrow staircase. The neighbors noticed the mail was building up and then they noticed an unusual smell!”

I hope that when the general public reads this that they will appreciate the dedication and respect that funeral directors across the world provide to the deceased and their family members. It’s not an easy life and demands a personal commitment that many professionals could not begin to comprehend. They help people through one of life’s biggest challenges. Their customers are distraught and demanding. Even people that are normally relaxed and easy going can become sensitized as they grieve. In a business where everything is in the details, absolute perfection can be an extreme challenge. Thank God the funeral directors are experts in getting all of the details just right!

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Mass Grief… When The World is at a Loss

“Welcome to the Hotel California
Such a lovely place (Such a lovely place)
Such a lovely face
Plenty of room at the Hotel California
Any time of year (Any time of year)
You can find it here.” — “Hotel California” by Glenn Frey, Don Felder and Don Henley, 1976 (“Record of the Year”)

Rock Stars DeadDavid Bowie! Scott Weiland! Glenn Frey! Lemmy Kilmister! Paul Kantner! Dale Griffin (from Mott the Hoople)! What a couple of weeks this has been! It seems as if all of the Rock stars of our youth are dying all of a sudden. I did not know a single one of them, but it’s been a tough time for me nonetheless! I’m living proof of what is commonly called mass grief. Music is such a big part of my life and when someone like David Bowie dies, a man whose art has influenced or been the anthem to so many parts of my life, I truly feel the pain of loss. It’s a deeply personal feeling, even though I never met the man. I know that I’m not alone, that I share my pain with millions of other fans.

What is mass grief?

Death in Our Eyes

When We All Stare Death in The Eye

Mass grief is not a new phenomenon. Which of us raised in the 1960s cannot tell you exactly where we were and what we were doing when President Kennedy was shot, or more recently, when Princess Diana was killed? Though we’d never met these people, they still had a big impact on our lives and how we viewed the world. While more than 2,000 Americans die on an average day, it is these larger-than-life musicians, actors, politicians and celebrities that tug at our hearts.

So intense was the grief following Princess Diana’s death that the phenomenon of mass grief has taken the moniker, the “Diana Syndrome.” These feelings of grief, sometimes also called “mourning sickness,” are very real and very common. In our 24/7 mass media news society, it’s easy to feel like we know celebrities personally since we see and read about their daily activities. Sometimes, we know more about these celebrities than we do members of our own extended family. It is no wonder that we mourn their passing?

Rock FuneralsAnother aspect of mass grief is that it brings to mind our own mortality. If a larger-than-life person like David Bowie or Princess Diana can die, we realize it could happen to us, too. While we all understand that death is inevitable, most people prefer to push that fact well away from their daily thoughts. A celebrity death takes that basic part of life out of the closet and forces us to examine it a little too closely. In addition, while those closest to the celebrity can witness that person’s decline and start preparing for their death, fans are often caught unaware. The celebrity’s death is often the first indication that fans have that the person was even ill. That was the case with all of the deaths these past few weeks.

Funeral FlowersMass grief manifests itself in a number of ways. Make-shift memorials pop up outside the celebrity’s home or near other locations that were important to that person. People leave flowers, candles, personal notes and other mementoes, the same type of items they would send to a funeral of a friend or family member. The memorial for Princess Diana outside of her home, Kensington Palace, extended for several city blocks and grew taller than a man. Those in London at the time reported that the entire city smelled like a florist shop.

Mass grief also leads people to post memorials on social media sites like Facebook and Twitter. Millions of posts about David Bowie’s passing and his life started appearing within minutes of the news of his death.

There’s nothing to be ashamed of if you’re feeling grief over the passing of someone you’ve never met, such as a musician or movie star. Everyone experiences grief in a unique way. According to David Kaplan, chief professional officer of the American Counseling Association, “there’s no one ‘right’ way to grieve.” Just because you’re mourning a person whom you’ve never met doesn’t make those feelings any less valid. Kaplan goes on to explain that people “have a tendency to compartmentalize grief and say that we should grieve a certain way depending on the person. But grief is grief and people act in very individual ways.” In many ways, the term “mass grief” is a misnomer. This type of grief can be as poignant, as personal, as individual and as deeply-seeded as any other type of grief.

As for the naysayers, grief experts, including Kaplan, advise ignoring them. For some reason, people who would never think of going to a funeral and belittling the people attending the ceremony for their expressions of grief think nothing of leaving disparaging comments on grieving social media posts about the death of a public figure.

Mass grief also often contains a feeling of loss of control. After all, if David Bowie or Princess Diana or John Lennon was susceptible to cancer, to an auto accident, to random violence…the logic goes, so are we. Not a comfortable thought for most of us.

Why are the deaths of musicians so poignant?

"Music is in Our Souls"

“Music is in Our Souls”

Music provides the backdrop for our lives. Hear a certain song and you’re instantly taken back to the time when you first heard it. Hear the song that was playing when you first met your spouse or attended your first prom or sang your first lullaby to your child and you relive the emotions of that earlier, special time. Popular music has a way of finding its way into our souls. Consider the soundtracks to popular movies and the emotions they evoke. Music changes the way we feel about ourselves, the way we view our relationships with others and even our opinions. The lyrics of talented songwriters, such as Frey and Bowie, help to articulate our feelings when we, less talented mortals, are unable to. How many times have you felt that a song was written with your specific life situation in mind? Such experiences create a deep personal bond with the songwriter and musician. Is it any wonder that we mourn?

When a musician dies, we not only lose the person, but we feel the loss of songs that will never be written, albums that will never be released and concerts that we’ll never be able to attend. That body of work we previously saw extending for years and years in the future is suddenly finite. To realize that we’ve already heard all of the songs that a favorite artist will produce is reason alone to grieve.

Saying goodbye to fans

dead-fair-thee-wellSome artists recognize the impact their music has had on fans and, when they know they are dying, plan for that final farewell. David Bowie knew his time was limited. He also understood how our society diminishes the dying. Instead of succumbing to that standard, he kept his illness private and worked on leaving a final, parting set of tracks as a goodbye to his fans and, perhaps, to help further the discussion about end-of-life choices. That he, at such a deeply personal time, would be thinking of his fans shows that, at least for Bowie, that the relationship between artist and listener is not just a one-way street.

Sometimes public figures are buried with a massive funeral and burial rite. Look at Princess Diana’s service at Westminster Abbey that was attended by hundreds inside the church and thousands just outside. More often, there is no official final rite or that service is (understandably) limited to just family and very close friends. Because of that void, often other performers jump in to put on memorial concerts or other events to help fans work through their grief. For instance, although there is no public funeral for David Bowie, his fellow musicians are hosting a memorial concert at Carnegie Hall on March 31 and April 1. Among the performers slated to appear are Cyndi Lauper, Ann Wilson (of Heart) and Jakob Dylan. Carnegie Hall is a fitting venue for the Bowie tribute as it was one of the stops on Bowie’s first U.S. tour in 1972.

When a Concert is a Funeral For a Band!

When a Concert is a Funeral For a Band!

In other cases, artists release a final album as their own tribute or gift to their fans. This is what Mr Bowie did releasing the album, “Blackstar” just three days before his passing. Another good example is Warren Zevon’s final album, “My Ride is Here.” Like funerals, these final works of art are a final gift to survivors, a way to help fans process their grief.

You can even say that when a band breaks up, the emotions felt are similar to a death. How many people are still grieving the breakup of the Beatles or the Grateful Dead? Aware of this, many artists plan a final tour or last big concert to punctuate the end of their era as a band and help fans get over the void left by the members going their separate ways. A good example is when “The Band” played their final “Last Waltz” concerts or the Grateful Dead, always more of a performance band than a studio band, spent their last summer together touring the United States.

Tips for dealing with mass grief

In many ways, dealing with mass grief is no different from dealing with the grief of losing someone who was a close friend or family member.

1. Don’t discount your feelings. As we mentioned above, don’t dismiss your feelings of sadness and grief simply because you never met the person who died. Experts recommend examining the emotions that the death of a celebrity evoke in you.

2. Seek professional help if needed. Grief is a natural process. However, when sadness gets in the way of your day-to-day responsibilities and enjoyment of life, it’s time to seek help…even for mass grief. This is especially true in cases where the celebrity took his or her own life. Studies have shown that a celebrity suicide increases the risk of self-harm in others.

3. Find an outlet for your feelings. Keeping your feelings of grief over a celebrity’s passing to yourself only succeeds in prolonging the intensity of that grief. Better to share your feelings with others, in person, via social media or by calling a grief hotline in your area. Witness the thousands of people who shared their favorite Bowie song via Facebook in the days following his passing. You might even want to organize your own mini-memorial with friends, such as a watch party of a dead actor’s top films or a listening party of your favorite albums from a dead musician.

4. Look for tangible reminders of the celebrity. Another way to process the grief over the death of a celebrity is to seek some tangible reminders of that person’s work. That’s one of the reasons that music, books and memorabilia of a recently-dead celebrity often experience a huge surge in sales. Listening to or reading about the life of the deceased can help you to clarify your feelings about their death.

The bottom line

Black StarUltimately, grief at a celebrity’s passing is natural, especially the death of someone who has been covered extensively in the news and social media. Although we’ve never met him or her, we understandably feel a kinship towards at least their public personna. Such grief requires processing. Kudos to artists like Bowie who make that process a little easier by leaving a “final act” like “Blackstar.”

Bowie once said, “I think aging (sic) is an extraordinary process whereby you become the person that you always should have been.” …to which we respond, “YES!”

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Living Funerals…The Party of a Lifetime

You'll Never Know

You’ll Never Know What They Said About You

When most people think of funerals, they think of family and friends standing around a casket, dressed in black, with tissues in their hands, feeling bad about what they might have said or failed to say to the person who died while he or she was living. Certainly, the majority of end-of-life events include some sort of memorial service. However, there is a growing trend towards celebrating a person’s life with a living funeral.

What is a living funeral?

A living funeral, also called a life celebration, is a chance to rejoice in a person’s life while they are still around to share your stories and enjoy the gathering of friends and family. Such an event can be as simple as an afternoon tea for those closest to you or as elaborate as a big, society wedding reception. Unlike traditional funerals time will be on your side and you will be able to take the time to carefully plan an appropriate final act. Living funerals also allow the guest of honor to be involved in the planning as well as experience the love and support of those their lives.

One of the most poignant and talked about holiday commercials this season comes from Germany and shows an aging grandfather putting out the word of his own (premature) demise after being told by various family members that they don’t have time to travel to see him for a holiday dinner. When the family DOES gather for his supposed funeral, he surprises them by being alive and hosting that dinner they were all too busy to attend. When asked why he pulled such a stunt, he replied that it was the only way for him to get everyone together. The last frame shows them all eating and enjoying one another’s company. Such is the logic of a living funeral.

Watch the commercial here.

Others will remember the book “Tuesdays with Morrie” by Mitch Albom (and the Oprah Winfrey-produced movie by the same name.) In this real-life story, Morrie Schwartz, who was in his 80s and dying from Lou Gehrig’s disease, attends a friend’s funeral and is saddened to realize that his friend will never get to hear all of the nice thing people are saying about him or hear their stories. When Morrie returns home, he starts planning his own living funeral, complete with a gospel choir.

My friend Ray

My first experience with a living funeral was in June 2012 when my good friend Ray invited me to his “Birthday Party.” Ray was battling cancer, and I’m pretty sure he knew it was going to be his last birthday party. Ray had never heard of a living funeral. However, he knew that he wanted to have a party with all his friends and this was his way of doing it. He rented a pavilion in our hometown park in Oyster Bay, New York. He hired a great band band. (Ray loved live music). He called the caterers and he had the grills going with some of his favorite foods. It was great, far better then any funeral could have been! Yet, in a very real way, it WAS Ray’s funeral, his goodbye present to us.

There was no formal ceremony at Ray’s “birthday party” except for a couple announcements and, of course, the happy birthday song that made it hard for me to hold back my tears. (I wasn’t alone.) Ray brought out years of scrap books and shared some stories with us.

Ray in His Element

Ray in His Element

I had to laugh when I noticed Ray surrounded by girl friends including his wife Deb all huddled together, looking at pictures. Ray looked up at me and gave me that “yep I’m the man look.” (Ray was a stud). Shortly after the party health permitting Ray took some trips and experienced as much life and friendships as he could. I gave him a good book on funeral planning that day and offered my experience. Looking back, I think he already had made his funeral plans and he never mentioned the book. His wife didn’t even know about it. Funeral planning may be my profession, but Ray was way ahead of me.

Planning your living funeral

There are many different ways you can host a living funeral. In fact, there’s really NO wrong way to do it. You can sneak it in, disguised as another type of event like Ray did, or you can call it exactly what it is–a chance to say goodbye and celebrate a life well lived.

A living funeral doesn’t have to replace a traditional funeral and it probably shouldn’t. They both serve separate purposes. Even after a great living funeral, there is still a need for ceremony, ritual, closure and to say one last goodbye. Ray died later that same year we had gathered for the birthday party, and he had a pretty good traditional funeral as well, although it was a lot sadder than the birthday party. After the funeral, we all went to the restaurant Ray had picked and he threw us one last party on him.

Timing is Everything

Timing is Everything

1. Choosing the right time. Choosing the right time to have a living funeral can be a little tricky. Ideally, you want the guest of honor to be healthy enough physically and mentally to understand and enjoy the event. However, you don’t want it to be like celebrity autobiographies, where you have a new one every five or ten years. If a person is old enough or infirm enough that his or her life expectancy is uncertain, celebrating now is a good idea.

2. Finding a good location. Like a wedding or a graduation party, you want to find a place that is meaningful to the guest of honor, can accommodate the number of people you expect to attend and be appropriate for the weather. Unlike traditional funerals, there are no taboos to living funeral locales. Beaches, amusement parks, theaters, ball parks, party centers, parks, even bars are all acceptable venues.

3. Who should officiate? If you are going to have a ceremony, where friends and family share their favorite stories about the guest of honor, you may want to have someone officiate to keep the pace going smoothly and to add some structure. Since a living funeral isn’t a church rite, you don’t have to have a priest, minister or rabbi (although you could.) One popular trend in living funerals is to hire a celebrant to officiate. In the popular vernacular, a celebrant is someone who following an interview process, writes and officiates at a non-religious funeral or memorial ceremonies. In most funerals that use a celebrant (instead of a member of the clergy), the emphasis of the ceremony is on the person, his or her life and his or her achievements without the scriptures, homilies and communion associated with a religious ceremony. Such a format is naturally well-suited for a living funeral.

4. Should you have a ceremony? The choice to have a formal ceremony at the living funeral is a personal one. The event can be a glorified party, as was Ray’s birthday bash, or be a more solemn affair, as you might have for an octogenarian like Morrie Schwartz, with friends and family members sharing their favorite memories and anecdotes. It’s unlikely that any two living funerals will ever be alike.

Funeral Food5. What about food? Food is optional at a living funeral, but sharing even desserts or a light meal can help to put people at ease. If you don’t want the expense of a caterer, it’s appropriate to ask those attending to bring a dish they’ve made for the guest of honor or to simply bake (or buy) a plate of cookies. Obviously, the time of year and the venue will also influence your decisions about food. “Breaking bread” is a time-honored way for friends and family to stay close.

6. Picking appropriate music. Music, too, is optional, but can I highly recommend it to help set the tone and mood of the event. Choosing the guest of honor’s favorite band or genre of music is never wrong. You can also bring in local musicians, such as a bluegrass trio or classical quartet. If you are having a formal ceremony, a soloist can be used to break up the speakers.

Some Ideas For Sharing Your Life

  • Things to put on display like: Photos or a memorial video with highlights of life, Family tree graphic, Diplomas, Awards or trophies, uniforms resumes and titles held.
  • Hobbies stuff, Sport memorabilia, Projects and creations like art.
  • Invitations, Who will officiate, Speakers, organizers, ushers, program handouts, musicians or DJ.
  • Decor, seating, tables, restrooms, parking, handicap access and assistance, the influence of weather on your selected location.

 

Getting started with your living funeral

Living FuneralYou don’t have to be a skilled party planner to organize an enjoyable and memorable living funeral. Increasingly, traditional funeral directors are offering these types of events as well as their traditional funeral services. Hospice facilities are also embracing the concept of living funerals as part of their breath of services that aid in the transition between life and death. Hospice workers know that terminal illnesses often isolate people from their usual social contacts and routines. A good ritual, especially one centered around that person like a living funeral, can help to shatter that isolated feeling. Far from being depressing, a living funeral can actually help a sick person feel more connected to his or her friends. Like any funeral or memorial, a living funeral is truly an unselfish gift that is very important to the one’s we love. This is also an opportunity to showcase your loves, frame your life and cement your legacy!

My friend Ray was the most generous and thoughtful person I have ever met. I am virtually certain that he had never heard the term “living funeral” when he planned his birthday party. However, he didn’t need to know about “living funerals” to know that he (and his friends) needed one. He just did what he always did and thought about the needs of the people closest to him. That was Ray, he had good instincts. I dedicate this article to my good friend Ray Sullivan… Miss You Buddy.

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