#RIP

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. http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/unionleader/obituary/CharlesWheeler

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

http://www.adweek.com/adfreak/adman-writes-his-own-hilarious-obituary-and-it-goes-viral-159194

http://www.legacy.com/obituaries/postgazette/obituary.aspx?n=raymond-alan-brownley-big-al&pid=172561140&fhid=9852

http://usmclife.com/2014/03/marine-gets-last-laugh-creating-obituary/

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 http://www.childrengrieve.org/programs-new-hampshire 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.

Veteran’s Funeral Honors at Risk with Army Budget Cuts

iStock_000007655720Small

It is understood that the Department of Defense needs to prioritize their budget, but the idea that this could come at the expense of proper military funeral honors is disheartening and simply unacceptable. However, this is going to the case if the full budget for the military honors program isn’t reinstated. The “immediate impact of this budget cut is that over 6,900 funeral honor missions will be unfulfilled”, as U.S. Senator Kelly Ayotte stated in a recent article on this topic.

It would be tragic to have those that have dedicated much of their life to defending our country not receive the proper military funeral that they have earned. The army is currently looking for ways to address the budget shortfall for the Military Funeral Honors program, and I certainly hope that they find a solution. If not, it would be extraordinary if New Hampshire residents could band together to try to make up this deficit, to ensure that no veteran is laid to rest without the proper military send-off that they are entitled to. Would you donate to such a cause if a fundraising effort was initiated? I know, on a personal level, I certainly would.

Read the full article on this subject that was published earlier this month.

A Death Revolution?

Recently, I read a story about 30-year old Los Angeles undertaker, Caitlin Doughty, who sheds light on the fact that death is a subject that Americans choose to avoid. Instead, she feels it needs to be brought to light to create “death positivity” (as she calls it). I certainly agree that Americans find the subject of mortality to be taboo. They don’t want to think about death or truly accept the reality that everyone eventually departs from this world and that they should seriously consider what they want to happen to their body when that time comes. I relate to her concept, and feel that our culture surrounding death needs a facelift – one that would hopefully, eventually, shift people’s attitudes away from denial and into acceptance and deeper consideration of the subject and their options. Funerals have become more personalized in many ways, with so many ways to customize someone’s departure – however, the fact still remains that in most cases, there isn’t a great deal of family involvement, understanding of options, or acceptance of death in its truest sense.

Doughty interviewed with CBS News and discussed her thoughts on how to make facing death and processing grief a more “life affirming experience.” She shares some interesting opinions on the current state of the death care industry and people’s perceptions. I encourage you to take the time to read her interview: http://www.cbsnews.com/news/mortician-wants-to-start-death-revolution/

Returning your Body to the Earth – The Ultimate Gift upon your Departure?

Death may be natural, but modern burial actually is not: The steel and millions of acres of trees used for caskets and vaults, along with formaldehyde used in embalming, are part of the growing carbon footprint that is being left behind after death. And, although better for the earth in many ways, cremation requires fossil fuels, therefore still not completely eco-friendly. In today’s society, where we know that our lifestyles have a major impact on our environment, sustainable burial options are becoming more viable and appealing. But will the rituals around death be redesigned and accepted to become more sustainable overall?

For some earth-lovers, they can think of no better gift back to this earth than to turn their body into soil-building material for nearby farms and community gardens, so they literally become part of the city or town they lived in. For the past three years, Urban Death Project designer Katrina Spade has been working on a green alternative to allow for just that – a compost-based renewal system. Along with the environmental issues, the design also addresses the problem of space – since cemeteries in the U.S. take up about a million acres of land, and as populations grow, even more space is needed. The benefits are numerous, and the idea that we can be productive and help solve our environmental crisis – even after we die – is a concept that we hope catches on.

urban-death-project-compost