You Can Make a Difference – Suicide Prevention

Helping HandFollowing Robin Williams’ devastating suicide, everyone is thinking, Why? Why do people choose to take their own life, rather than hold onto hope, and make changes so that things will get better? For Robin Williams, it is incredibly hard for most to imagine how he could feel completely helpless and hopeless, when he had an uncanny ability to make everyone else around him laugh – and from an outsider’s perspective, seemed to have it all. I, like everyone else, was stunned and saddened when learning of this tragedy. This is a very blatant reminder of how real and serious depression is, and how all-too-often suicide warning signs are missed, even by the closest of family and friends. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death, with nearly 40,000 Americans taking their own lives each year. Of course that doesn’t include those that have attempted unsuccessfully. The numbers are staggering.

Unfortunately, we have dealt with many families coping with suicide. Typically, there are so many emotions that accompany their grief, including anger and guilt. Anger, because suicide is considered to be selfish in many ways (people don’t often understand the severity of depression,) and guilt because they feel as though they missed warning signs and could have done something to help. Depression is very real and very debilitating for those that suffer from the disease. In some cases, if people were better educated on the warning signs, they would have a chance at preventing a loved one from taking their own life. I found a great resource for assessing someone’s grief or depression that will help to shed light on the suicide warning signs and hopefully arm loved ones with the tools to help prevent such a tragedy. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention provides a comprehensive overview of risk factors, warning signs, and actions to be taken if you suspect someone may be considering suicide. I hope that you never need to utilize such resources, but if you do, that you find it very helpful.

Facing Death – Over Cake and Coffee

There are always plenty of support groups to cope with grief, as well as groups and seminars to discuss making end-of-life decisions. However, Death Cafes, where individuals simply gather to discuss mortality, is still a relatively new concept. The Death Cafe notion was started in the United Kingdom by Jon Underwood. They are offshoots of Cafe Mortel events that emerged in France and Switzerland in the early 2000’s. At these events, people come together in a relaxed, confidential and safe setting to discuss death, drink coffee (or your favorite beverage) and eat cake or cookies. In the last couple of years, these Death Cafes have really taken off in the United States, helping to normalize a common, not morbid, topic.

The goal of these casual forums is to increase awareness of death, with a view of making the most of your life. People attend these groups to find meaning in death and mortality, ask profound questions, and reflect on what’s important. Conversations can often be philosophical in nature, they can include medical concerns, advanced directives, financial concerns, wills, suicide, funerals – you name it – anything goes.

Although the name “Death Café” may sound a little intimidating, I think that they are anything but, and are an excellent way to remove the taboo that all too often comes along with discussing death. If more people can talk about death, ask questions, share experiences, and come to accept this as part of life, I feel that they will be able to live their lives with more purpose and without a fear of dying.

The Importance of Choosing a Trusted Cremation Provider

Last week, the remains of thirteen unidentified individuals were finally laid to rest after an exhaustive nine year investigation following the scandal at Bayview Crematory in Seabrook. The unlicensed crematory was found to have unlabeled urns of ashes, forged certificates, and multiple remains being cremated together in the same oven – just to name a few of their horrific offenses. It’s an unthinkable crime against families in mourning, and the deceased who deserve a dignified final sendoff. Unfortunately, this goes to show that consumers need to protect themselves from being a victim of such a crime, by ensuring that they take the proper precautions and do their research. Here are a few things that one should consider when choosing a cremation provider:

• Look to work with a provider that owns their own crematory and ensure that their licensing is up-to-date. Many funeral providers offer cremation services, but they contract out the cremation to a third party, therefore leaving them with little-to-no control over who actually performs the cremation or what happens when the deceased leaves their care.

• Ask about their operating procedures and policies. Be sure that they have outlined strict policies to minimize the potential for human error – such as a thorough identification and documentation system – and that their crematory is operated by licensed funeral professionals who oversee the entire process. Here is what our rigorous standards entail at Cremation Society of New Hampshire:

• Do your research on the provider’s history and reputation, including checking with the Better Business Bureau.

• Don’t hesitate to ask if their crematory is available for inspection.

By asking the right questions and doing your due-diligence, you can provide yourself and your loved ones with peace-of-mind that you are working with trusted and compassionate professionals.


Funeral Selfies Not Going Away

Funeral photography is always a tricky concept. We understand that photographs are a tangible way of remembering someone, but photographs at funerals have often been a source of discomfort. Some find it shocking or disrespectful to photograph the deceased, but, as the digital generation is aging, we have seen an increase in the desire to take those photographs.

Taking pictures with the deceased is a trend that is getting a lot of public attention, and not in a good way. The world of social media has dubbed these photographs ‘corpsies’ in the place of the term ‘selfies’. This new movement, as off-putting as it initially comes across, reveals how younger generations are attempting to deal with loss. Instead of inhibiting this form of remembrance, we have a few suggestions for those of you who have the desire to take such photographs.

First and most importantly, make sure that you have permission from the deceased’s loved ones. While such photos may help you deal with loss, if they shock or hurt others, they come at too high a price.

Different generations are going to have different ideas about what is appropriate behavior. Today’s younger generations may see these photos as an appropriate expression of their loss, as it is the norm for them to photograph all significant and insignificant life moments. Older generations may, however, see them as disrespectful, so please be courteous and considerate of others before snapping a photo.

Second, be aware that, while it is okay for you to take this photograph for yourself, sharing it on social media platforms forces the image on an unsuspecting audience and crosses a line. This type of photograph should not be shared publically; it should be for personal use and reflection.

Finally, if you are concerned about upsetting funeral goers, but do feel that having photographs is important to you, there is always the option of hiring a photographer. Professionals may ease the strain of navigating these new waters and are more likely to be discreet.

Putting the ‘Fun’ in Funeral?

We all know the expression ‘there’s no I in team’, but most of us haven’t heard anyone say ‘there’s no funeral without fun’. And why haven’t we heard this? Because loud, celebratory, fun-funerals are not as common in America as they are in other parts of the world. But we have been seeing a few movements and individuals who are trying to give people the chance to make that final goodbye as unique as possible, which sometimes means as fun as possible. Teddy Lee, a funeral home director and magician in the Bronx, is a great example of this fun trend because he combines his skills: he’s a mortigician. When his clients request his funeral homes’ services, they also sometimes ask that he incorporate magic into the service. He incorporates a respectful show element in the funeral that entertains and celebrates the life of the loved one who has passed. It’s through people like Teddy that we see how our culture is redesigning the classic funeral. These days, you can request almost anything – from specific music sets, performances, and themes, to dress codes or costumes for funeral attendees and/or staff. We are dealing with different generations who have different values and funeral needs, and I am excited to continue to see the growing demands placed on our industry, as well as the industry’s varied responses.

If you’re struggling with the idea of breaking the norm, but are tempted by it, you’re in good company. There are funeral workshops and cafés popping up around the country that help you figure out how to say a personal goodbye that suits you, but will also help your friends and family. While I understand that there is a fine line to walk with these ‘fun’ funerals, they can serve as one last thing for your loved ones to do for you, in a time when they might be feeling very helpless. Again, they are not for everyone, but they are a very good reason to start talking to your loved ones about your wishes and theirs. We understand that it can be a very hard conversation to have, but, because there are so many options, it’s important to find the right one for you and prepare your loved ones for your decision.

Aspiring to Work in Death Care

It seems a growing number of young people have been entering the death care industry in the last few years, and most don’t have a family background in the field. The funeral/death care industry has long been dominated by family-owned businesses, such as ours, who hand down the business from generation to generation, and very few who simply “choose” this career. But, times are changing and all too many family-owned funeral homes have had to close their doors or sell out to large corporations. Even still, I think that most find it interesting that one would choose this line of work.

After spending 25 years in the business, I can tell you that it is a calling and not simply a “job.” In fact, I wouldn’t consider it a job, nor would I call it a profession. If you are doing it right and are going to last for the long haul, it is a lifestyle. You need to have an understanding and appreciation of caregiving, and a desire to want to help people. You need to be stable, and be able to separate your personal life from what you see and do throughout your workday. You need to be able to offer a calm and caring voice, helping people have a dignified and well-run service. And, of course, you must have good business sense and keen organizational skills to be successful.

So what draws people to the death care industry? For most, I believe it is the concept of caregiving and being able to help grieving families. Whether they are looking to be a mortician preparing a body for the families viewing, or a funeral director executing a seamless service – those that truly have the calling want to help families receive closure, and to provide the deceased with a proper, dignified send-off.

DIY Caskets?

Do it yourself (DIY) projects are the classic money saving approach to life. We live in world that hosts television networks dedicated to showing you how to create your ideal living space, be it in your kitchen, bathroom or backyard, by yourself. There are also countless websites, such as Pinterest, that promote DIY designs for everything from earrings to baked goods. It seems anything can become a DIY project these days, so why not think about personalizing your own casket?

Building your own (or your loved one’s) casket from scratch can save money and help to reduce the overuse of natural resources. Many credible casket designs can be found for free on the internet, and most give you the option of building a Green burial casket that does not use any metal. The actual building of your own casket or one for a loved one can also be a therapeutic experience. You have the freedom to infuse the casket with the personality of yourself or your loved one through different stains, stenciling, burning or carving techniques and the use of photographs and bumper stickers – just about anything you can think of.

If you feel you don’t have the time or skill to build your own casket properly, there are businesses that build them for you and let you customize them. Colourful Coffins, a UK based DIY coffin/casket retailer, explains that ‘you were unique in life, why not be unique in death? While Colourful Coffins is an ocean away from New Hampshire, they set a good business model.  Every aspect of the casket will be environmentally friendly, from their inks to their 100% recycled cardboard casket. You can upload images or your own drawings and designs to decorate all sides of the casket.

DIY caskets, whether you build it entirely yourself or find a company to help you, enable you to have a creative outlet in a difficult time. If the casket creation is for a loved one, it gives you a chance to build something you can all be proud of. If it is for you, you have a rare opportunity to leave your mark and go down in style.

Empty Vases: Instead of Sending Flowers – Spread Goodwill

We are now about halfway through the year, and I have been reflecting on 2013 and some of the memorable trends I saw emerge in our industry. Many of us have, either directly experienced, or witnessed a friend or family member experience, the numerous floral bouquets that arrive when a loved one passes away, and we know how overwhelming these kind gestures can be for some.  Flower arrangements make a beautiful gift and do fill a home with color and life, but they tend to also be expensive, take up a lot of space, and require upkeep. Their beauty and vitality, which may offer comfort initially, does eventually fade, leaving the grieving family with the task of cleaning and disposing of them, and trying to figure out what to do with the many empty vases.

I am not looking to discourage flowers, but I wanted to share an alternative idea that I found to be a creative and thoughtful substitute for this traditional gift. If the loved one who has passed away has a charity or a cause that was near and dear to their heart, consider setting up a simple donation service in their honor online, and request that gifts be directed there. When an obituary is created for someone via Tributes, there are hundreds of preloaded national and local charities which allow the user to have a direct link to the donation page. Or there is a company which will provide a link on the funeral home’s obituary page, to take you directly to the donation portal. They even allow you to sign an online guest book to leave a favorite memory or message of support.

I hope that this idea will help to provide comfort to the families and friends of those who have been laid to rest because they will know that generous support has been given to a good cause in celebration of their loved one’s life.

Keep Your Loved One With You Each Day

Buying a piece of jewelry is a common way to commemorate an event or an occasion, and the death of a loved one does not need to be an exception to this tradition. While jewelry is often purchased in a celebratory manner and may not seem the appropriate response to death, many find that keepsake jewelry is a meaningful way to celebrate the life of the one you have lost.

There are a lot of different customizable options out there, including companies that will produce diamonds from your loved one’s ashes or locks of hair. Since diamonds are known to last forever, this can be a fitting tribute to the person whose memory you would like to live on forever. The diamonds can be set in virtually any type of jewelry that you prefer, and can come in various colors, shapes and styles.

Using the fingerprints of loved ones is also a popular option, and at our firms, we fingerprint everyone that passes away. You have the option of using these fingerprints to create pendants and rings with the fingerprint etched into them. We also have lockets that can carry cremated remains and can work with a company that incorporates ashes into beautiful glass objects.

If you are unable to return to visit the gravesite or the place where your loved one’s ashes were laid to rest, having something that you can wear or keep with you each day, can be a great comfort.

NH is Aging – and It’s a Problem

According to two U.S. Census Bureau reports released in May, 20% of the United States’ entire population will be age 65 or older by 2030. Currently, here in New Hampshire, we are ranked the fourth “oldest” state in the country, with approximately 200,000 Granite State residents (15% of our total population) age 65 or older. This percentage is expected to continue to increase as there are not enough young people choosing to stay in or move to NH, to buy homes and raise their families. By 2030, New Hampshire is expected to have an estimated 437,194 senior citizen residents.

While this aging population signifies a great victory of medical, social, and economic advances over disease – which we should celebrate – it also presents incredible challenges. Population aging strains insurance and pension systems and challenges the current models of social support. This will have a major impact on our economy and the social landscape of the state as we will see a shift in the demand for services and Medicaid spending, as well as fewer people in the workforce.

So, as you would guess, Eldercare is projected to be the fastest-growing employment sector within the health care industry. Therefore, strengthening caregiving occupations is vital to our social infrastructure and improving the quality of care, as well as to potentially helping to drive long-term economic growth. I hope that policymakers are working diligently to address the issues of recruitment, increased compensation, retention and training for caregivers, as the growth of this profession is going to be critical in coming years.