Evolving Funeral Traditions

Over the years, funeral service and memorialization customs have evolved to reflect changes in cultural and religious beliefs and lifestyles, as well as popular trends in society. Funeral rituals that would at one time have been considered sacrilegious are commonplace today. You see people “checking in” to a funeral via Foursquare or other social networking sites, and even taking pictures of themselves at a funeral to share with others. It is currently popular for deceased sports fans to have sports equipment, team jerseys or other sports memorabilia buried with them.

Those that love ecology are turning to Eternal Reefs, a Georgia-based company that blends cremated remains with concrete to create spheres that are then lowered into the ocean at a designated site, which will help build up fragile reefs and provide a fish habitat. The site can be visited by families and they can be assured that these reef memorials benefit the ocean’s ecosystem while providing a long term tribute to their loved one.

Others are shedding gloomy traditions and are shifting into more of a celebration-of-life style funeral service. These optimists forego the somber black attire and opt for more colorful and cheerful clothing.  Celebrations can include singing and dancing and even some unique twists, such as shooting the cremated remains of their loved out up in the air with fireworks.

With the decline of institutional religion and changing belief systems, traditional rituals may not be preferred by everyone. However, the need to express grief and honor the deceased still remains an essential part of human nature.

Pet Obituaries

In the news this week was a very touching story of a Massachusetts State Police officer who was forced to make the difficult decision to put down his terminally-ill and suffering K-9 partner. The state trooper, along with his wife and children, had a deep connection with the dog, considering the dog to be a part of their family. On his way to the veterinarian, to put the dog to rest, the trooper wrote an obituary, which has since gone viral and is providing an outpouring of support for him and his family. You can read the obituary here: https://www.facebook.com/MassStatePolice.

This brings up a very interesting subject. This online obituary seemed to be well received. However, would they have felt the same way if they saw it published in the newspaper, next to their loved one’s (human) obituary? Some may consider it to be offensive when they see an obituary for an animal in the newspaper, alongside humans. From professional experience, I can say that I have heard some people say it is “distasteful” or “disrespectful.” But why is an online pet obituary more acceptable than when it is printed in the newspaper? Should pet obituaries be included on a funeral home website? I try to consider why a newspaper’s obituary provokes more negative emotions when other customs that honor a pets’ death do not. There are many on-line memorial pages, physical or virtual pet cemeteries and people that share their pet memorials with other pet lovers. Perhaps obituaries in newspapers are viewed differently since they are considered a highly visible matter of public record that many people automatically view each day, as opposed to seeking out news online?

Those that are in favor of allowing pet obituaries to be published alongside human obituaries argue that this assigns value to a life – to a life that was truly defined as part of a human family. They feel that all animals should be treated with care and dignity – in life and in death.

What You Should Expect From Your Funeral Home

When you choose a funeral home to work with in a time of need, you are putting your faith in them to not only take care of your loved one whom has passed, but you are also trusting them to take care of you.  Losing a loved one is traumatic time, and the grief and sadness you feel can make decision making difficult and leave you feeling pressured and impulsive.  Your funeral care provider needs to be sensitive to your grief confused state, and should never put pressure on you to make decisions or take advantage of you in any way.  If you ever feel pressure from a funeral home to buy something that you don’t need or want, or is more expensive than you need, you should simply fire them.  Seriously.  It may be difficult or awkward, but if they are making you uncomfortable and you don’t trust them, then it will probably be worth it. You are already clouded by grief and stress – the last thing that you need is someone trying to exploit you.   And always remember – pre-planning funeral arrangements can prevent loved ones from having to make these difficult decisions while in a grief stricken state of mind.

Responsibility in the Death Care Industry

All over the news this week is the story of a New Jersey daughter who discovered the wrong body in her mother’s casket, just moments before her wake began.   Her mother passed away while vacationing in the Caribbean and her body was supposed to have been transported back to New Jersey for her funeral services.  However, someone else all-together was delivered to the family, but wearing the clothes of their mother.  This tragic mistake is one that this family won’t ever forget, and instead of grieving the loss of their mother, they are hiring private investigators to track down her remains.

Unfortunately, this isn’t the first time that this has happened.  In fact, it was just in October 2013 that a similar incident occurred.  I find stories like these to be so troublesome.  Families put their faith into death care professionals to help them, and take care of them at this most vulnerable time.   All funeral homes should have strict procedures and safeguards in place to prevent these types of mistakes from occurring.  For example, our crematory and all of our staff strictly follow our ten-step “Peace-of-Mind Cremation Process,” to minimize any potential for human error.  Neither this process nor many of our other safeguards are required by law, but we feel it is our obligation to take every possible precaution to prevent traumatic mistakes from being made.  It is the responsibility of each person in the death care industry to be sure that they are highly trained and capable to help alleviate some of the stress and burden placed on families that are grieving the loss of a loved one; not to contribute to it.

At Home Funerals

Approximately 70 percent of deaths occur in a hospice care facility, hospital, nursing home or long-term care facility.  In almost every instance, what happens after a person passes is the same:  A doctor or nurse signs a death certificate and the body is taken away to the funeral home or crematorium based on their and the family’s wishes.  Typically the only time family members see the deceased is in an open-casket viewing.  However, there are a small number of people that choose to forgo the use of funeral homes, to manage the death care themselves, and hold funeral services in their own home.  It seems the reasons for choosing this option vary from economic, cultural or psychological.  Some see this as a more hands-on, no-frills experience of death.

In a society where seeing and speaking of death is often taboo, advocates for home funerals are challenging the notion that traditional funerals are anything but a natural end to life. Instead, they feel that death and mourning should be seen, smelled, touched and experienced.  It is a return to the past traditions, with idea of proper grieving leading the small movement.

Some states have attempted to ban the practice, as there are a number of logistical and legal challenges associated with the practice.  However, it is currently legal in the majority of states to care for one’s own after death, including New Hampshire.

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.