Essays/Opinion

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Death,-Frequent Visitor

Death.  It’S A Word That Many People Fear, Some Wish For, And Other Simply Accept As The Final Stage Of This Life While Opening The Mysteries Of What Comes Next.  No matter how you view death, the one thing that is certain is that it will eventually visit you. It seems as I get older I am reminded of all those “Old” people I used to hear saying things like, “Well, there are fewer of us than there used to be.”  From the late 1980’s and even through today we hear it a lot about the “Greatest Generation”.  The word is death is visiting more and more of them.  I saw it in my grandparents, and I’ve seen it in my friend’s grandparents pass from that generation, but now the time has come where I’m seeing it more from people I know outside of family.  As I said, I’m at that age where there are simply “fewer” of us than there used to be.  The other day I picked up a book that many of my friends had signed back in 1997.  As I read through the list, I realized over ninety percent of the signers were now dead.  I am certainly seeing death as a frequent visitor in my small realm of friends. I guess it’s normal even natural, for people to start thinking about death when they reach this age.  I had a harsh reminder recently when a dear friend of mine died.  This marks the first year that I have not received multiple telephone calls from him during the annual tax season.  My friend did income taxes for people and he always had computer questions, or wanted to be sure that I understood how to do taxes.  His calls might be to ensure I got “us” the latest software, or to inform me that his computer would not print.  I’d go off to his home, fix the issue and we’d spend a lot of time talking about the new tax laws.  My friend died in December.  The last time I talked with him was August.  Now as I move into the second month of the tax season, I’m finding that the lack of telephone calls from him is depressing.  It’s a reminder that he is not here anymore and that he won’t be calling.  It’s also a reminder that all our days are numbered just like those tax forms were. So as I contemplate death, I have a firm Christian foundation in where I will go and spend eternity, but that doesn’t stop me from wondering.  I find myself adding up the ages of my kids and thinking things like “Well, they will be one hundred in this year or that year”.  I realize that as they reach those later years in life it will be long after I’m gone.  As I said, I am confident where I will be in that time period, but it doesn’t stop me from wondering what will happen here. Continue Reading →

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For the Children – Is Your Glass Half-Full?

I try to be a “glass half-full” kind of person, but there are times when parts of your world can wear you down.  We all experience this to some extent, but it is how you deal with these situations that determines the outcome and impact on your own life and those around you. Far too many children in Oklahoma experience negative circumstances which can change the course of their entire lives. The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy asked Dr. Jennifer Hays-Grudo serve as the keynote speaker on Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACES) for our annual KIDS COUNT Conference.  Dr. Hays-Grudo discussed the results of studies across the United States with children 17 and under and the trauma associated with their childhood.  Not surprisingly, of the categories tested, Oklahoma ranked at the top with the highest percentage of children experiencing childhood trauma that followed them into adulthood. You can view slides from her presentation at www.oica.org/conference for more details. We face a generational cycle of trauma which simply will not be fixed overnight.  Our 2016 KIDS COUNT Data Book showed slight improvement from recently collected statistics, so we must not backtrack.  There is far more work needed to continue solutions within the Oklahoma State Capitol and the various agencies, as well as neighborhoods and communities. Continue Reading →

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The Value of a Funeral Director

In movies and books, funeral directors are quite often characterized as emotionlessly cold characters who work with the dead.  In my experience, this is a gross mischaracterization.  If indeed, this was the only virtue of a funeral director, his or her value would remain indisputable; however, the actual value of a funeral director runs ever so much deeper. While it is true that funeral directors work odd hours and often for days on end without rest, this too is not their value.  They stand or sleep, whichever is necessary for their client, at the ready, springing into service at the ring of their cell phones.   They instantly answer the call to homes, hospitals, resident facilities, and any other location where there is a family who has just received the worst news of their lives.  Upon the death of a loved one, a family cannot wait until tomorrow, or until a more convenient hour for assistance. The funeral director offers dignity, guidance, and comfort upon arrival at the death scene.  Families who have experienced the death of a loved one before may be familiar with the schedule of events; however, they are most likely unable to provide and complete the comforting and legal assistance necessary to inter dead human remains.  Although in some states funeralizing your deceased loved one may flirt legality, funeral laws and state regulated health codes regarding the handling of dead human remains are protectively restrictive.  An endeavor of such magnitude would not only be inadvisable; it would be injudicious.  Burying one’s own may have been necessary back in the days of one’s ancestors, however, with the enlightenment of modern science, as with the plague, we now understand the dangers that accompany the handling of bodies that carry poorly understood, misdiagnosed, or undetected transferable disease.  The commencement of decomposition is immediate; and in a state of grief, family members are ill prepared emotionally, psychologically, physically, and legally for such an awkward, uncomfortable, and confusingly regulated task.  Additionally, at potentially every turn, emotionally charged family members might battle for control.  Quite suddenly, hazardous or psychologically damaging occurrences may call for immediate mediation, protective intervention, or cautious cleanup maneuvers of unsafe exposure to issues concerning the decedent’s body.  Transferable diseases, continued leakage of body fluids, purging, or dislodging skin are just a few of the potentially disastrous physical issues families may find too great to bear during their time of need. Details surrounding the care and maintenance of dead human bodies are not often discussed, as they seem undignified and disturbing.  No one wants to hear about the ick that happens to them once they cease to breathe.  This is precisely why the role and value of the funeral director are underrated.  If one were to discuss the true duties of a funeral director openly, families would more keenly understand their value.  Certain aspects of the undertaker’s services are unseen and hidden from those who are reaping the benefits and paying the bills.  This is as it should be as these aspects would be disturbing and add to the distress under which the family of the deceased is functioning.  Unfortunately, the observance of this propriety weakens the recognition and overall value of the funeral director’s services. The modern undertaker tends to prefer the title of funeral director and wears many hats.  He/she is required to obtain a degree in funeral arts and sciences from an accredited university or college.  They comfort survivors and protect them legally and psychologically.  They assist in planning, implementing, and coordinating the survivor’s wishes for interment.  They accept the custodial responsibility of the decedent, as well as, preparation and maintenance of the body.  These specific responsibilities make it safe for loved ones to have their final moments with their decedent without concern of harmful or infectious diseases.  They provide an acceptable memory picture of the decedent for ongoing grief assistance toward recovery.  They protect the dignity of the decedent and propriety of the services.  Additionally, in certain circumstances, they act as ambassadors as they prepare international transportation of decedents. Continue Reading →

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I SAW A MIRACLE

Last week, I served a family that was particularly injured by the actions of the decedent during her lifetime. She was an older woman, and during her youth and young adult life, she had departed from the traditions of her family. This abandonment caused strife and other difficulties for her siblings and children. As funeral day approached, I became familiar with the lingering pain anchored within the broken hearts of this family. For some, anger was their fiercest emotion, yet others writhed in pain and insecurity. Continue Reading →

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The End of High School Reunions

High School Reunion.  The words evoke images of old yearbooks, high school jackets, pictures of bad hair, and visions of “When we were young”.  For most, high school reunions are planned 10, 15, 20 or more years after graduation.  It seems like the biggest reunions are the 10 year and the 20 year.  After those dates, life, death, and other factor such as distance and time seem to dwindle down the number of people interested in attending.  For me my 20th reunion was certainly the biggest.  Classmates from all around the country traveled to be there, take part in the games, picnics, and pictures.  One guy had managed to find an unsigned yearbook in a retail shop, so he had it there being signed by everyone.   There was laughter, slideshows which produced more laughter, spirit ribbons, and pictures – lots of pictures.  The 25th reunion though saw only a handful of people in attendance.  That reunion featured a tour of the high school the day after an evening meal and visitation session.  By the time the next reunion rolled around there was some talk, but ultimately no reunion.  I wondered why, but then realized the end of class reunions had finally come. I firmly blame social media for the end of the class reunion.  Our class has a class page where everyone, even people not on your friend list, can post memories, pictures, updates and other information.  In social media settings like Facebook, most people have their friends tagged, they follow the post and updates daily.  In many cases, at least for me, I have found I now know more about my former classmates than I did when we were in high school!  I know what their kids are doing, I know what they are doing, I know what teams they cheer for, I know who they like and who they don’t (fortunately I’m liked for the most part) and often I even know what they had for dinner last night.  I know when they are sad, happy, and even when they experience loss and grief.  Those same friends are exposed to my jokes, post about my kids, and sometimes, though rarely, a picture of what I had for dinner too!  The bottom line is we are all connected. Since reunions are about re-connecting it is problematic that we continue to be connected.  You are supposed to reconnect with your old friends and find out what they have been up to since you last saw them at each reunion.  Reunions are where you have traditionally learned of deaths, marriages, births, and all the many changes that life brings to each one of us daily.  But now, with social media, and especially sites like Facebook, we rarely have a need to “reconnect” because simply put, we are never disconnected.  For some of us, seeing those familiar faces makes us thrilled almost as much as a reunion could.  I still see friends, even sometimes on other friend’s timelines, from high school and the memories come flooding back.  Ironically, many of the connections I have today were only acquaintances in high school.  We would pass in the hall, share a class together, and maybe see each other in the lunch room or at a dance or game.  Most of the time we simply ran with different groups of friends.  Now some of those same people who were acquaintances in high school, have become some of the people I talk to the most on Facebook.  It’s like a great big reunion where we all realize how dumb we were as kinds or how silly some fight was back then.  We’ve grown up.  We’ve grown mature.  With that growing up and growing mature our likes and dislikes have changed.  Some of the people I talked to the most in high school, I never talk too much now.  Some of the people I rarely talked with in high school, now occupy my mind when I scan the Facebook post to see if they have said anything today.  I joke with them, I laugh with them, and we talk a lot about “back then”. Usually we end up talking about things going on these days.  I’m thankful for my friends during high school and those after high school.  Facebook has allowed me to be blessed with some wonderful midnight conversations and some wonderful Saturday afternoon chats.  In the big picture, I don’t need reunions anymore.  My friends have never left thanks to social media.  Whether we are a few hours apart, or around the world from each other, we can have a reunion all the time with social media, and I would not trade those reunions for any planned formal reunion in the world.   Continue Reading →

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Effective Grief Management Skills

After funeral week has passed, survivors need to effectively manage and recover from the stress brought on by grief.  Survivors may find it helpful to explore and incorporate stress management activities.  Our goal is to manage and change our bodily reactions and stress responses to our grief.  Historically, the following management activities have been helpful to my clients. Acceptance

One of the most effective and instant game changers for my clients has been acceptance.  Only upon acceptance of the death can one begin to restructure one’s future.  One must realize that life has changed, accept that it will never be the same, and begin to reorganize their existence without the companionship of their decedent by their side. Acceptance is the process of letting go of things we cannot change.  If we resist this acceptance, we are unable to move forward, and we are in constant turmoil with our environment and ourselves.  Turmoil is rat poison to peace.  Acceptance allows us to rid our souls of chaos and begin reconstructing our inner peace. Relaxation

Learning to relax mentally and physically can bring about a miracle in healing.  Progressive muscle relaxation and meditation techniques have been able to calm the troubled minds and tense bodies of those suffering ill effects of debilitating stress.  Once the body and mind are clearing themselves of toxins and irrational thoughts, rational energy and thoughts will begin to resurface. Rational or Positive Thinking and Believing

Once the turmoil and hysteria of stress begin flowing out of our bodies and minds, we are better able to manage our thoughts and determine our course of recovery.  Thinking is our inward communication with ourselves.  It is where we determine our feelings, develop our strategies, and chart our courses for success or failure.  With the exception of the mentally challenged, our thinking is the one thing in life over which we have complete control.  When concepts are presented to our sub-conscious, our conscious interpretation allows us to accept them willingly as good, worthwhile, and truthful, or to deny them as evil, unacceptable, and false.  Our thought process (our manner of interpretation and thinking) makes these determinations.  Herein lays our responsibility and ownership of ourselves. Continue Reading →

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Who was George Washington? (1732 – 1799)

George Washington was born in Virginia on February 22, 1732.  He was appointed County Surveyor at the age of 17 and joined the British Army at 21.  Washington was a Virginia Delegate to the First Continental Congress, Commander-in-Chief of the Continental Army, President of the Constitutional Convention and unanimously elected first President of the United States.   Washington died at his Mt. Vernon home at the age of 67 on December 14, 1799.  Washington’s Birthday was set aside as a Federal holiday in 1885 in honor of America’s First President. Here is Thomas Jefferson’s description of Washington: “He was incapable of fear, meeting personal dangers with the calmest unconcern. Perhaps the strongest feature in his character was prudence, never acting until every circumstance, every consideration was maturely weighed; refraining if he saw a doubt, but, when once decided, going through with his purpose whatever obstacles opposed. His integrity was most pure, his justice the most inflexible I have ever known, no motives of interest or consanguinity, of friendship or hatred, being able to bias his decision. Continue Reading →

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The Most Important Task of Funeral Week

As a funeral director, I am often asked, “What is the most important task of funeral week?”  The answer may surprise you.  Many think the most important task is to bury or cremate their deceased loved one.  Indeed, this is a critical task:  it is not, however, number one.  The number one task for the survivor during funeral week is survival. Recently, we have seen the ill effects of losing one’s loved one in the case of mother and daughter, Debbie Reynolds and Carrie Fisher.  The loss of one’s significant loved one is by far, life’s most stressful event.  Everyone knows that stress over time can cause one’s health to falter.  If regular stress is left untreated, disease and eventually death will result. The stress that accompanies the death of a loved one, however,  is so powerful that it does not require time to do its dirty work.  Its ravages can cause immediate death within the circles of love and kinship surrounding the decedent.  When experiencing loss, normal and high-level stress pale in comparison.  Unlike the passing of a loved one, stress at work or home are potentially resolvable through changes in behaviors, situations, or attitudes.  The death of a loved one, no matter what you change, remains the same; he or she is gone, and will not miraculously return. Continue Reading →

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The Women’s March From Oklahoma

On Saturday, January 21, more than five million women gathered in various locations around the world at over 670 planned marches.  The intent was to show the new leaders elected in our government that women of all ages are a strong force, and issues of importance – equality, health care, race, issues with disabilities, and sexual assault – are topics that need more positive attention through policy. The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy also works in partnership to address these challenges for our youngest residents. The rally which I attended in Oklahoma City was a gathering of men and women from different parts of the state.  Those assembled were very happy with the turnout, estimated by the Oklahoma Highway Patrol at between 12,000 to 14,000 participants. There are different types of events meant to inspire change, ranging from marches, to protests, to riots.  Marches are intended to be peaceful demonstrations to promote a cause.  Protests are gatherings to encourage action, but usually with an anger associated with that effort.  Riots are full-scale outbreaks of criminal activity which lead to arrests and upheaval.  A good contrast to Oklahoma City’s peaceful, constructive rally would be the riots that occurred in Washington, D.C. surrounding President Donald Trump’s inauguration.  Those riots led to more than 230 arrests, property damage and persons injured.  The very next day, thankfully, more than 500,000 people marched in the same city with not a single arrest. The riots were counterproductive and destructive; the peaceful rallies and protests are continuing to spark a productive dialogue. Continue Reading →

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Selph and Friday, CPA – 31 Years of Friendly, Helpful, and Honest Service

After years of doing my own tax returns and feeling confident that I understand the tax system – as much as any average American can – it finally happened.  That’s right, the day arrived when I ran into tax issues beyond my understanding.  I decided it was time to get professional help.  I am not talking about getting help from one of these quick services you find at a store during tax season.  I also was not willing to go to one of these places that sets up in an office that is vacant most of the year. Continue Reading →

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