The Benefits of Planning Your Final Arrangements

Pre-planning your own end-of-life arrangements has long been a subject that people try to avoid, as the topic has been considered too morbid or uncomfortable to speak of.  However, as people become increasingly educated about their choices, the perception of pre-planning is shifting away from apprehension and over to comfort and understanding.  Pre-planning provides you with a great deal of comfort knowing that when your time comes, your family will be spared the emotional and financial burden of having to make decisions and pay for the expenses during a time of crisis. It also allows you to make specific and personal selections that are a reflection of your life. If you are thinking about pre-planning, here are some things to keep in mind:

  • By taking the time to research funeral homes and/or crematoriums, you can collect the necessary information regarding options and what costs can be expected to carry out your final wishes. This allows you to begin setting aside funds or to prepay your final expenses. Some firms (like ours), allow you to setup payment plans that fit your budget. Prepaying also locks in today’s costs, providing comfort that the unstable economy won’t later bring any surprising expenses.
  • Ask yourself, “What type of funeral do I want?” It is also important to keep in mind what your loved ones will need to provide them closure and to deal with their grief.  Plan WITH your family members, so they can provide you support, and so they know what to expect.
  • Make sure that you get everything in writing and keep a copy of your plans somewhere safe. Be sure to let your family members know where these important documents are kept.

Making the decision to pre-plan may very well be one of the most important decisions that you make in your life, and those you leave behind will certainly appreciate your consideration and effort in doing so.

Coping With Grief During the Holidays

The holidays are supposed to be a joyful time, celebrating with family and friends.  It is a time of reflection and fond memories. But when you are grieving the death of a loved one, the holidays can seem daunting, stressful and lonely. You may feel conflicting emotions surrounding how to celebrate without that special person. While it may not be easy, there are things that can be done to lessen the grief and make coping a bit more manageable.

The most important thing you must do is take care of yourself, both physically and mentally. The holiday season is extremely busy and tiresome for anyone. But when you are grieving, it is even more overwhelming. Don’t be afraid to set limits for yourself. Be sure to get enough sleep, eat well, and take time out for yourself. Think about what is important for you to be a part of, and what perhaps will be too much on you. Don’t be afraid to say no to activities that may overwhelm you.

It helps to talk about the loved ones that are no longer with you, and to reminisce about the wonderful memories that you made with them. Try to surround yourself with others who understand what you are going through and that can share stories as well. You will find this brings you great comfort.

Those that love and care about you will offer their suggestions as to what they think are best to help you cope and manage grief. However, only you know what helps you best and what makes you comfortable (or uncomfortable). If you need to retreat a bit from family activities, let them know. It is natural to need time and space to honor your feelings, and the memory of your loved one. But don’t forget to seek out your family and friends for support. You are not alone.

Bodiless Funerals

The face of funerals is constantly evolving. I have often talked about the non-traditional/creative ideas that some people incorporate into funeral services to memorialize their loved ones. For some people, funerals have turned more into a celebration of life and have strayed away from “traditional” funeral rituals. However, is it a celebration of life when the deceased isn’t present at a funeral or celebration? You may be surprised to learn that some funerals have become bodiless events, where neither the deceased’s body, nor their cremated remains are present. It seems the reasoning is that some find the presence of the deceased to be morbid, making it a challenging atmosphere for a “celebration.”

Some say that this choice doesn’t provide proper closure for family and friends – that a funeral is supposed to help everyone truly cope and accept the fact of death. Do you feel that the experience of a funeral or memorial service, in the presence of the deceased, is a critical step in the grieving process?

Grieving During the Thanksgiving Holiday

When you have lost someone you love and are grieving, holidays – including Thanksgiving – can be extremely difficult. For someone that is grieving, they may want to just skip the holidays all together. Although it may not be easy to do, the holidays are a great opportunity to remember to give “thanks” for what you had and what you still have. This includes memories, love and feelings in our hearts that can never be taken from us unless we let them. If you are grieving during this Thanksgiving holiday, give thanks that the grief you feel is based on the everlasting love you’ve shared!

Have You Had the “Talk of a Lifetime”?

How well do you know your parents, grandparents or your spouse? I am sure you would say that you know them very well, and that you talk about just about “everything.” However, do you know how this person wants to be remembered when they inevitably reach the end of their life journey?  Do you know if they would like to be buried or cremated?  Do they want a simple or elaborate memorial service?  Most people have not had those conversations.

It’s not easy to talk about death, but it really is an important conversation to have.  I often talk about the importance of pre-planning your services, as it alleviates the burden placed on family members when that time comes.  But, just as significant is talking to your loved ones about what matters most to them.  A person’s memorial service is an opportunity to reflect on their life, morals, experiences and interests.

The Funeral & Memorial Information Council has created a great campaign focused on educating people about the importance of having this discussion.  I encourage you to visit their website http://www.talkofalifetime.org/, where you can download a brochure for more information that includes tools to help you broach the subject and the right questions you should be asking.

Honoring America’s Veterans –Through to Their Last Day

This week, in addition to celebrating Veteran’s Day, we also held a seminar to help end-of-life care providers and health and human service professionals, by enhancing their sensitivities and understanding of veterans, and to provide them with new tools to better serve dying veterans and their families.  The seminar was very successful and each person walked away with invaluable knowledge that they will surely use going forward, as they interact with veterans and their families.

According to the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, 25 percent of all deaths in the U.S. are veterans.  That’s 1,800 people a day; more than 680,000 veteran deaths every year.  It’s wonderful that we honor veterans each year on Veteran’s Day, but what is even more important, is that they deserve to be served with dignity and compassionate care, every day – straight through to the end of their life’s journey.  For veterans who were in combat or were witness to other traumatic events, this sensitivity is even more important, as they have very unique needs and require a unique approach to care.

The program we hosted was created by the Hospice Foundation of America and geared towards hospice and health and human service professionals.  However, I feel that everyone that interacts with a veteran – in any capacity – could benefit from improving their understanding of what veterans have been through, and perhaps how that has affected them.  I urge anyone who is interested to stay in contact with their local VA Medical Center, as they are a great resource for support and educational opportunities. And if your questions are regarding the death of veteran, our staff is able answer questions regarding recognition and the benefits that are owed to veterans at the time of death.

Deceased Facebook Users Predicted to Outnumber Living Users – Eventually

I read a very interesting blog the other day that discussed a morbidly fascinating prediction that at some point, the number of dead people on Facebook will outnumber those that are alive.  The rationale may make sense – if Facebook stays around. According to this person’s calculations, there are about 10 to 20 million Facebook users that have died since they originally created a profile.  Although the median age of users still skews to the young side, all of those original Facebook adopters are aging – and it seems that the parents of that generation have also signed on to the social media site.

So unless Facebook can continue to add new, younger users, at a steady rate to outrun the death rate of current users, they are predicting that this crossover could occur as early as the 2060’s, or as late as the 2130’s.   Of course, this could be a moot point if the social network debunks. However, it certainly is an interesting thought process.

Read the blog:  http://what-if.xkcd.com

The Importance of Checks and Balances in the Cremation Process

You may have heard in the news this week that a mix-up by both a Massachusetts state medical examiner’s office and a Boston area discount funeral home, resulted in the wrong body being cremated.  It was a series of mistakes that began when the state medical examiner’s office mixed up two bodies, both with the same last name.  One was to be buried and the other was to be cremated.  When a representative from the funeral home came to pick up the body, they only looked at the last name, and didn’t check to make sure that the identification matched up – nor did they check the first name.

It is a terribly sad mistake that should never have occurred.  This should serve as a reminder to all in the death-care industry as to why it’s so important to have a strict process in place to guarantee the integrity of the cremation process from start to finish, with several redundant checks and balances.  Providing families with the peace-of-mind they are entitled to is paramount. We have established the most rigorous set of operating policies and procedures in order to maximize our level of service and minimize the potential for human error.  Long ago, we implemented a Ten Step Peace-of-Mind Cremation process, which includes many safeguards that aren’t even required by law.  For example, not only do we double and triple check names and identification numbers, we monitor and record all activities in our crematory 24-hours per day using a closed-circuit DVR system.  With the responsibility that is entrusted in your cremation provider, why should you expect anything less?   I strongly urge anyone that is planning to cremate a loved one, to first ask the provider what safeguards they have in place to prevent human error.

Read the entire article here:

http://www.wcvb.com/news/investigative/mixup-at-medical-examiners-office-leaves-wrong-body-cremated/-/12520878/22628368/-/u1fx4h/-/index.html

What Makes a “Good Funeral”?

I recently read a very interesting story on BostonGlobe.com that is an undertaker’s impression of the current day memorial service in America.  Thomas Lynch, who also is a poet, along with theologist Thomas G. Long, have published a book entitled “The Good Funeral.”  The book sheds light on  memorial services, which stray away from more traditional, somber religious rituals in many cases, and have become celebrations of life.  In Lynch’s opinion, this shift is due to American’s lack of desire to confront loss.  And with cremation becoming the more popular choice for more than half of American deaths, he feels that the lack of a body at memorial services doesn’t properly give loved ones closure.

Over the years, I certainly have seen this shift in the types of services, and cremation is continually on the rise.  I can’t say I completely agree with their viewpoints, as these celebrations are what work for many people.  Not everyone can afford a full traditional funeral, nor is that what everyone wants; therefore it is important that there are choices available.  I did however find his perspective to be very fascinating and there to be some validity to it.

Read the entire article here:  http://www.bostonglobe.com/ideas/2013/10/20/why-funerals-demand-body/nepmNQdKobLgIbdnu1aTDP/story.html?s_campaign=8315

What a Funeral Company Can Learn from Zappos

A few weeks ago, while at a conference with other funeral directors, we did a case study of Zappos.  The popular online shoe and apparel merchant has grown to be the biggest online shoe retailer since its inception in 1999, thanks to its excellent customer service and commendable marketing strategies.  I found it extremely interesting to study their business model and walked away with many lessons that I can and will apply to my business practices.  Here are just a few of the key lessons that I learned:

  1. Make sure to align business decisions with core values.  This is important in ensuring that implementation is feasible and to have buy-in from employees.
  2. Company culture is critical.  If the company culture is correct, than everything else will fall into place.  It’s much easier to change process, procedures and business practices than it is to change company culture.  So it’s best to get a good handle on that right from the start.
  3. Staff should be a technical fit, as well as a cultural fit.  Hire for attitude, train for skill.
  4. There is always room for improvement to customer service. Staff should be empowered to make decisions, to increase customer service levels.  Organizations should assess all their options to maximize the level of customer service that they can provide.

Since this exercise, we have enhanced our on-line customer service by adding a chat feature to the Cremation Society of New Hampshire website. This feature allows our visitors to get immediate answers or assistance in navigating the site at any hour of the day, without the need to email or make a phone call and thus increasing their on-line experience and level of satisfaction.

One may assume that it would be unlikely that funeral directors could relate their business practices to an online shoe retailer, but it seems that their formula could apply to just about any industry.