Recent Articles

How to Talk to your Parents about Pre-Planning, A Funeral Director’s Dilemma

As odd as it may seem, I cannot get my father to talk to me about his preferences for funeral arrangements.  I am a licensed funeral director/embalmer in two states, I own a funeral home, I am a licensed Grief Counselor, and I am his oldest daughter (the one responsible for that sort of thing).  One would think I could coax, at minimum, a comment from him about his preferences.  At the very least, whether he prefers burial or cremation would be a nice place to start; but no, to this day, my father remains silent on this subject. My dad is in his late seventies.  I hope, like most children, that my dad lives forever.  Realistically, as a prudent adult, I know this will not be the case.  As a funeral director, I know statistically, that my years with him are somewhat limited. As his daughter, knowing our family history and his health issues, I estimate that my siblings and I need to begin a savings plan on his behalf for his funeral arrangements. I have already begun preparations on my mother’s behalf.  Although she has not prearranged her funeral, she has expressed certain wishes to me, and I have taken the appropriate steps to ensure that these wishes are met.  I have purchased her burial plot, her headstone and its setting, her burial clothes, her casket, and her vault.  These are the major expenses associated with burial, and so my siblings and I will need to come together when her time arrives and simply arrange the timing of her services.  This will save us from having to come up with tons of money, and most importantly, trying to decipher her wishes and choices after she is gone. As a funeral director, I meet with families daily who have not had these sorts of discussions.  I witness the turmoil, and disputes siblings enter into, at this desperate time, over the slightest little things.  Vicious arguments that see the most horrendous words fly across my arrangement table over tiny details, cut siblings and family members to the core.  I see loved ones rush out of the room as the ferocity becomes too much to bear.  Were the damages of such criticisms measured against physical wounds, I would see carnage and death laying across my table rather than tears, absence, and anguish.  My desire to know my father’s wishes is to avoid such an awful scene with my brother and sisters. Continue Reading →

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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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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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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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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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