How to offer your condolences

Flowers Sincere Condolences

Talking about death is difficult for many people. In fact, it’s so difficult that one doctor wrote in the Journal of the American Medical Association that ours is a “death-denying society.” Because we want to pretend death doesn’t exist, we don’t know how to talk about it. This can affect us in many ways: we may not know our loved ones’ funeral wishes; estates are left in disarray. But the effect I’d like to talk about today is how the fear of facing up to and talking about death makes us uncomfortable with those who have lost a loved one. This fear is so strong in some people that they won’t even attend the wake or calling hours.

Attendance at the wake is an enormous comfort to the family. When people come to the wake to pay their respects, they are showing that the family’s loved one was cared for and respected. Where some people have difficulty is when it comes time to express their condolences. If you have difficulty with death, you might become quite anxious about saying the right thing. The good news is that it doesn’t have to be difficult – nobody expects you to be eloquent; you just have to be sincere and genuine. How you say it is more important than what you say.

First, if the family doesn’t know you, introduce yourself. Explain how you were acquainted with their loved one.

Then, offer a short, but heartfelt condolence. Some examples:

  • “I’m so sorry for your loss.”
  • “I wish I had the words to comfort you.”
  • “Is there anything I/we can do for you?”
  • “He/she was a wonderful person.”
  • “His/her loss is deeply felt by all of us at (company).”

If you have a short – and appropriate – anecdote about the deceased that the family would like to hear, tell it and then move on to let them receive other guests.

Some things you should avoid saying:

  • “Time heals all wounds.”
  • “I felt the same way when my mother/aunt/dog died.”
  • “You can have more children.”

You don’t have to remain at the wake for a long time – only long enough to pay your respects and let the family know you cared enough to attend. It’s a small gesture for you, but one that will be long remembered by the deceased’s loved ones.

When Your Beloved Pet Passes


Pets are considered to be part of the family, so a pet’s death is often a very difficult time. When your pet passes away at home, you may not know what you should do next or what your options are. It is best ask yourself what you want to do with your pet’s remains while that pet is still alive and healthy, so it gives you an opportunity to evaluate all the factors that may be involved in such a decision. However, if you haven’t already given this consideration, the first thing you need to consider is your own feelings about death and remembrance. Your goal will likely be to preserve the memory of that pet, therefore your decision for their disposition should be based on how you think that memory can be best preserved.

You have many options available to you. Whether you simply wish for the body to be removed from your home, you would like to bury your pet yourself, or you would like to make arrangements for a memorial service, cremation, or to permanently memorialize your pet in some special way, the choice is yours. If your pet is under the care of a veterinarian at the time of their passing, you can call them to help guide you through your options and resources. Some people simply leave the decision of the final disposition of their pet up to the veterinarian. However by doing that, you never know how your pet was finally laid to rest, which may be troubling to you and your family.

There are currently several pet crematories throughout New Hampshire that can usually pick up your pet’s remains from a veterinarian or from your home. Some veterinarians also provide cremation services – with a few even doing so at no extra charge if they have euthanized your pet or if it dies at the vet’s office.

If you would like your pet laid to rest in a cemetery, you have options there as well. There are currently two pet cemeteries in New Hampshire that I am aware of – Proctor Animal Cemetery in Nashua (through the Humane Society of Greater Nashua), and Rolling Meadows Pet Cemetery (through the NH SPCA) in Stratham. Some human cemeteries do allow for pets to be buried alongside their human families, so it may also be worth calling your cemetery to find out.

Hiding from the Holidays?

Those that are coping with the loss of a loved one, whether recent or not, may feel more like hiding during the holidays, rather than joining in the celebrations. The holidays often emphasize pain for someone that is grieving, and sometimes leaves them feeling like they would rather deal with it alone or that they need to change up traditions. As a result, friends and family are unsure of what to say or how to act around a grieving loved one. So what IS the best way to support a grieving loved one throughout the holiday season?

First and foremost, be supportive of their wishes and the way they choose to handle the holidays. Remember, there is no right or wrong way to grieve, just like there is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holidays. Invite them to your holiday gathering, or offer to join them at their church or other gathering that means a lot to them. However, don’t push them into doing anything that they don’t want to do.

Offer your help and be there for them in every way that they will allow you to be. Whether it’s helping them with their shopping, decorating, baking, or craft projects, or to simply stop by and visit with them a couple. Remember the best thing you can do for someone that is grieving is to spend time with them and be willing to listen. Active listening from family and friends is a very important part of grief and healing. Never tell them that they need to “move on” or “get over it”. Give them hope that things will eventually get a bit easier and allow them to consider that one day they may enjoy the holidays again.

The most important thing you can do for someone who is grieving is to let them know you care and that they are not alone – that they are remembered, and so is the loved one that they have lost.

Red candles in a row glowing


With technology and digital media transforming the world, there are now an increasing number of ways to honor someone’s life, therefore changing the face of death care. To be successful today, funeral directors should be digitally savvy. Online guest books and obituaries are now the norm. Video and photo slideshows are replacing photos placed around the casket or urn at the funeral, music playlists are often replacing live pianists or organists, some families want the services to be videotaped or even streamed online, and of course social media sites serve as a place for family and friends to come together and grieve and memorialize the deceased, for the days, weeks and years after their passing.

Even the planning of funeral services has changed, as family members can now more simply collaborate and share information via secure funeral websites, blogs, Facebook, Skype and FaceTime. They can easily share their pictures and videos via social media pages, cell phones and tributes websites.

There are many upsides to digital media when it comes to mourning the loss of someone, but just like with anything, there are also some downsides. Online guest books need to be monitored for unpleasant or derogatory posts, which often your funeral home will do for you, as our firms do.

I expect to see a great deal more evolution in the industry during my lifetime. Although, despite digital media changing much of the way we say our final farewells and grieve, I don’t see these progressions ever taking the place of a funeral. Ultimately, there is no substitute for a funeral service, where one can find closure by properly saying goodbye to a loved one. The emotional experience of a service – whether paying your respects to the deceased in their urn or casket is irreplaceable and a necessity for close friends and family to truly come to terms with someone’s death.

Return to Simplicity–Green Movement on the Rise

During our living years, there are many ways we can contribute to the green movement and give back to the earth that we are constantly taking from. We can recycle, compost, and grow our own vegetables. We can drive fuel-efficient cars, make our homes more energy efficient, and purchase eco-friendly products. However even in death we can still be environmentally responsible. Although cremation has become the most popular choice, as opposed to traditional burial, green burials or green funerals continue to rise in popularity throughout the world as well.

So what is the most environmentally friendly way to dispose of our bodies you ask? Well, it all depends on your preferences. For those that prefer to be buried, they can opt for essential oils to be used instead of standard embalming fluids, made of a combination of formaldehyde and rubbing alcohol. In addition, a biodegradable cedar, cardboard or bamboo casket can be used in the place of a heavy wood and metal casket. Some may choose to forgo the casket completely and opt for a natural burial, involving only a burlap sack and a burial plot in the woods if you have permission to do so. For those that like this option but may not have access to land to bury in, some cities may soon be partaking in the Urban Death Project, (which I have discussed before) where remains are used as compost, and turned over to create fertile soil.

If these options above aren’t necessarily for you, but you are still looking for ways to be mindful of the environment in your or your loved one’s departure from this world, here are some other green ideas:

• Place a candle or framed picture on the casket instead of the traditional floral arrangement. Or perhaps use cut flowers from your garden.
• Use a silk or cotton shroud or clothing to dress your loved one in.
• Print the song sheet and tribute cards on recycled paper.
• Avoid clothing which has non-biodegradable buttons and zips etc.
• Make sure any keepsakes placed in the casket are biodegradable.
• Catered food may be comprised of unprocessed food like fruit platters and vegetable dips.

These are just a few ideas. The list goes on, limited only by your imagination.
If you have questions, you can always ask your local funeral director about what sustainable options are available, or seek a funeral home that offers green practices. Currently, Phaneuf Funeral Homes is currently the only funeral home in NH approved by the Green Burial Council to offer a green burial package. However, most funeral directors are familiar with the green movement and can offer eco-friendly options.

In the end, it is about what you are most comfortable with. Do keep in mind however, that even the most energy-intensive acts of burial don’t compare to the carbon footprint each of us is leaving right now.JWH_4104

Laugh Until You Cry – Inspiring Obituaries


WritingObituaries are quite possibly one of the most unique forms of writing. In a an area that usually brings on tears, there are sometimes a few that dare to break the mold and would rather inspire us and make us laugh. Throughout the years, we have seen some wonderfully non-traditional obits that have been eloquently written – painting a picture, and truly capturing someone’s life and personality. When you see one of these rare pieces of writing, they can certainly leave an impression on you, just as this obituary recently did for me:

Charles “Charlie” Clark Wheeler, 60, of Weare kicked the bucket, bought the farm and ate his last pretzel on Nov. 16, 2014. He was married for 32 years to Annie Pleatsikas and is also survived by what he always deemed his two finest accomplishments, his daughter, Meredith, 22, of Weare, and his son, Evan, 26, of Fairfax, Va.; by his brother, Jon, of Milford; and nephew Jonathan Wheeler and his wife, Amber, of Manchester. Born in Manchester, he was the son of the late Charles R. and Barbara (Clark) Wheeler. Raised and educated in Manchester, he was a graduate of Memorial High School, Class of 1972, and a graduate of Manchester Community College, HVAC, and was second in his class (he always reminded anyone of that).Charlie lived life in his own way. He held sweet memories of the times he spent at “Camp Weownit,” which he owned with his brother. He was notorious for his numerous sound effects, sense of humor and easy smile. He was a brilliant mechanically gifted man, inventor of tools and pre-eminent house fixer-upper, and was always puttering around. Charlie’s many talents included repairing cars and motorcycles, riding his Harley, barbecuing and hanging around the fire pit. Best known for his fashion sense, Charlie consistently wore white tube socks, tank tops, shorts, flannel shirts, fleece vests, a sweaty baseball cap and raggedy, barely wearable sneakers. He was a rabid fan of the Red Sox and Patriots, long before it was fashionable. Charlie loved to snowmobile on his Arctic Cat, but hated snow blowing and took such joy in dumping snow on his kids. His favorite holiday was Christmas, and he enjoyed putting up the lights around the house and watching Christmas movies. In the summertime, Charlie could be found in the garden tweaking the tomato stakes, feeding the birds and squirrels. He was fiercely independent, hated haircuts and dressing up for an occasion. He frequently referenced the “Three Stooges” – “I’ll find that shutoff yet” and “I’ve got static in the left eye.Charlie adored his German shepherds, Zeffer and Teva, and his cat, Minkie. He was a hard-working man, loyal, silly, kind, gentle, respectful and incredibly generous. May you rest peacefully, honey.

Here are a few others that have caught my attention and have left their mark.

I encourage everyone to personalize their own or their loved one’s obituary, if you feel comfortable doing so. You may find it to be very therapeutic.

Children’s Grief Awareness

Today, November 20th is National Children’s Grief Awareness Day, and is observed every year on the third Thursday in November. This time of year is an especially appropriate time to support children who are grieving, because the holiday season is an especially difficult time after a death.

Most children are aware of death, even if they don’t understand it. It is a common theme in television, cartoons and video games, and some of your child’s friends may have already lost a loved one. However, a child experiencing grief firsthand is a different and often confusing process. It can leave them feeling alone and misunderstood. And just like every child is unique – so is the way that they grieve. A child may go from crying one minute to playing the next. Their ever-changing moods do not mean that they aren’t sad or that they have finished grieving. It’s just that children cope differently than adults, and playing can be a defense mechanism, helping them from becoming too overwhelmed. Some children may begin acting out, or young children may regress and start wetting the bed or sucking their thumb again. These are all normal reactions to grief for children.

How an adult address the child’s grief as well as their own grief, can have a big impact on how the child copes and grows from the experience. Children need to know the truth, so it is important to be honest about death and to not avoid the reality of the situation. This will build trust with the child and help them to truly accept and understand this reality, and will help them feel comfortable in approaching adults with any questions they may have. They need to feel loved and comforted by the adults in their lives. It is also often helpful for a child to be around other children who have experienced a similar loss. Being able to discuss and related to another child helps them feel less alone.

There are a lot of resources available to help a child work through their grief, which I highly recommend taking advantage of, as they can be incredibly supportive for both child and the entire family. Visit for a list of these invaluable programs in New Hampshire.

A Debt That Can Never Be Repaid

On this Veterans Day, I would like to invite everyone to join me in thanking all the veterans that have so bravely put their lives on the line in defense of our country. Please put aside time to stop whatever you’re doing to honor the heroes that have made the ultimate sacrifice for our country.

Life is very busy for all of us, and it’s easy to get caught up in the many responsibilities that require our attention and forget what is happening in the world around us. That’s why it’s very important to take some time to reflect on the sacrifices made to protect our freedom and serve our country. And today is of course not only about those who lost their lives battle, but those who returned home and have had to struggle to return to life with the rest of us after everything that they have been through.

Veteran’s Day is an opportunity to count our blessings, and give thanks to all the brave men and women who have earned our undying gratitude, for our debt to them can never be repaid. However, one day really just isn’t enough to truly give these heroes the thanks and recognition that they deserve. The best thing that you can do to honor veterans is to “go beyond the holiday.” This recent CNN article provides ideas for ways to honor veterans throughout the year, not just on this one day of the year.


Ever Wonder What It’s Like to Die?

Last week, I talked about the various morbid museums that one could find when travelling across the United States. If you somehow didn’t find that creepy enough, than perhaps this new attraction in China would be fascinating to you. In September, Samadhi – 4D Experience of Death opened in China, and promises to provide thrill seekers (or simply curious folks) with a simulation of what it would be like to be cremated. It’s an amusement park game nicknamed “The Cremation Ride”, and in the game you try to stay alive throughout the course, and if you lose you lay in a coffin which then gets pushed into an “incinerator” that heats up to a sweltering 104 degrees using hot air and light projectors to create the experience of burning. However, even if you are the winner of the game, you still get the death experience – so, just like in reality, death is inevitable. After the faux cremation, you are sent into another simulator where you are reborn and wrapped in a soft cozy womb-like capsule, which is supposed to represent the afterlife.

It seems that the Chinese are quite curious about death as the ride has been well attended thus far. For many, the attraction is a means to help them re-prioritize their life, by getting a renewed appreciation for the life they currently have.

Death Museums – Planning a Morbid Cross-Country Road Trip?

For those that have a fascination with death and all things related, perhaps a cross-country road trip to visit death museums might be their idea of fun? They certainly are interesting, to say the least, with attractions such as a bullet-proof Range Rover hearse, a wide variety of skeletons, antique medical tools that will leave you scratching your head and perhaps shivering from head to toe, and so much more. Here is a list of the six death museums that I am aware of, and an overview of what a thrill seeker? could expect to see at these morbid museums.

Morbid Anatomy Library and Museum; Brooklyn, New York – In a hidden alley and industrial canal in Brooklyn, you’ll find this library and museum that showcases jars of formaldehyde, human skeletons, antiquated medical tools and dead animals dressed in cute little outfits. The museum also includes a library that has thousands of books, photographs, artworks and artifacts relating to medical museums, anatomical art, collecting, the history of medicine, death and society, natural history, etc.

Mutter Museum; Philadelphia, Pennsylvania – This world-famous medical history museum recently celebrated its 150th anniversary. The goal of the museum is to help the public understand the mysteries and beauty of the human body while appreciating the history of diagnosis and treatment of disease. In addition to the skeletons and medical devices is an impressive wax model collection featuring a woman with a horn growing out of her forehead and a woman known as the “Soap Lady,” whose corpse famously turned to a soapy substance called adipocere. There’s also a malignant tumor removed from President Grover Cleveland’s hard palate, a piece of tissue removed from the thorax of Abraham Lincoln’s assassin, John Wilkes Booth and the conjoined liver from the famous Siamese twins, Chang and Eng.

Indiana Medical History Museum; Indianapolis, Indiana – The museum is situated on the site of a century-old insane asylum. In the ‘Old Pathology Building’, opened in 1897, physicians studied the brains of deceased patients, many of whom were actually suffering from advanced stages of syphilis. Today, the museum features gruesome medical and autopsy equipment and a collection of human brains, with details on the various neurological injuries associated with them.

Museum of Osteology; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma – Featuring skeletons of humans, animals, birds and reptiles, special sections on forensic pathology and the skeletons of Oklahoma wildlife, the museum is operated by Skulls Unlimited International, a company that cleans animal and human skulls and skeletons and ships them to collectors and museums around the world.

National Museum of Funeral History; Houston, Texas – This museum showcases hearses from the ‘20s and ‘30s, including a bullet proof Range Rover hearse for the Pope that dates back to the 1980s, as well as a very ornate Japanese hearse. A coffin exhibit highlights coffins made from glass and ice, a replica of Abraham Lincoln’s casket, and many other interesting coffins from cultures across the world.

Museum of Death; Hollywood, California – This museum features Suicide Hall, the California Death Room and an exhibit devoted to execution equipment. The California Death Room focuses on deaths that happened in California, like the Manson murder and the Black Dahlia murder. Suicide Hall is everything from Heaven’s Gate to individual suicides like Kurt Cobain. The museum has had exhibits about exotic weapons, how to build a guillotine and how to build the little machine Dr. Kevorkian invented to kill people with.