Tracy Lee

Recent Articles

Indifferent Survivor

When I was in college, my professor taught that the opposite of love was indifference.  Throughout my life, I have witnessed the truth of his teachings.  This past week, however, forty years later, has disproved his teachings and erased my belief that he taught me the truth. This weekend I worked for a family full of love for each other.  Many of its members had not seen the others for years as they live far distances apart.  In fact, the time of separation between family members has been so long, that some did not recognize those with whom they had grown up playing.  I watched this family closely, for they were in my building under the very tragic circumstances of murder.  I expected angry outbursts, inconsolable grief, and temper flares all week, but they never surfaced. The core group of this family is matriarchal, educated and cultured.  They arrived at the funeral home early Monday morning to arrange funeral details.  Their young decedent, who had been orphaned early in life, had been reared under the tutelage of his widowed grandmother. The tragedy and senselessness of murder bring uncontrollable raw responses to the lives of co-victims.   They will experience both physical and emotional responses.  Physically, the body will attempt to protect itself from the trauma.  This response is commonly known as the “Fight or Flight Response.”  One may experience physical shock, disorientation, hyper-alertness (brought on by adrenaline rush,) heart palpitations, nausea, vomiting, sweating, hyperventilation, difficulty breathing, tightness of chest, uncontrollable sobbing, inability to cry, a void of emotion, panic, and/or numbness.  Emotionally, co-victims may respond with anger, rage, fear, terror, confusion, guilt, self-blame, shame, sorrow, frustration, humiliation, or overwhelming grief.  Any or all of these responses, both physical and emotional, have the ability to overpower the brain.  This creates a dangerous situation for co-victims.  It thrusts them into a grave potentiality of not surviving the murder of their loved one. Murder is surrounded by public curiosity and rule of law.  Co-victims must endure news reports, police interviews, public speculation, ongoing investigations, and trials.  They may be caught in the lair of constantly reliving the trauma of their loss as justice tries to right the wrong they have been dealt.   They may begin suffering nightmares about the murder, anger toward their beloved decedent for being murdered, rage toward the murderer, rage toward law enforcement for an inability to establish justice, depression, helplessness, loneliness, isolation, or disbelief or hatred toward God.  These added emotions compound the functional inability of the brain and can create long-term impact on the co-victims character.  They interfere with grief work and create complications too great for unassisted recovery.  The impact may affect several generations. Continue Reading →

Filed under: , , , ,

Finding the Right Funeral Director

I like to think that I can get along with anyone.  I also like to think that everyone likes me.  If I am completely honest, however, and analyze my life, I find that this is probably not an accurate perception of my personality nor of my friends list.  In fact, as I think back over my life, I find that not only am I not friends with everyone I have ever met; I really don’t want to be friends with them after all.  When it comes right down to it, I’m actually a rather picky person when it comes to spending time with other people.  In all honesty, I’d rather not spend my time with people for whom I do not deeply care.  If a person is not an intimate friend of mine and I do happen to see them, I really only want  a casual exchange of pleasantries and to be quickly on my way.  I am always busy, and unless someone needs my assistance, I’d rather be off to someplace where I might be helpful, or with my children, or grandchildren.  So, that is me; that is my personality; that is how I live my life. I have been a licensed funeral director for 10 years.  It took me 10 years from the day I decided to become a funeral director to the day I was able to open my funeral home.  In all, I have been actively involved in the funeral profession for 17 years.  In all of those years, I have worked with many families.  I like to think that I have been able to get along with all of the families I have served.  I also like to think that they have all been satisfied with their services.  If I am completely honest, however, and analyze my professional record, this is not an accurate analysis of my professional career.  I have interviewed with families that in the end have decided to go elsewhere.  I have interviewed with families that in the end, I wish had gone elsewhere.  Fortunately, these families are very few in number. When I meet with a family, I try to determine their needs, their traditions, their budget, and many other details relating to funeral planning.  I try to understand the relationships and issues slinging across my conference table.  I begin to formulate methods to separate families from historical pathologies that will cause complications for their recovery, and I try to help facilitate an experience that will accommodate and move them toward a healthy grief rehabilitation.  My service and client satisfaction ratio has never fallen below 99%. What then of this other one percent?  It is easy to say, “You can’t please everyone.”  Well, why can’t you?  If you take on a client, why can’t you please them?  If you contract with them to do a job, why are you not capable of doing that job to their complete satisfaction?  In my case, I find that it is usually an issue of communication.  Perhaps the family did not clearly communicate their wishes, or perhaps I was unclear in my descriptions of what they might expect.  Sometimes neither is the case.  Quite often it is confusion within the family itself.  If two members of the family are in conflict over a particular issue and cannot come to an agreement, only one will get their way.  Very often family members will feel invalidated when this happens and feelings get hurt.   In my history as a funeral professional, I find that open and exhaustive communication, prior to contractual obligation, is the best practice for client satisfaction. If you are searching for funeral services, take your time.  Interview various funeral directors and multiple funeral homes.  Nothing says you must use the same funeral director your grandpa used.  You don’t use the same razor he used, do you?  Or only use a land line?  In today’s world, we have access to enormous amounts of information.  Utilize the internet, investigate your options, do phone interviews, ask questions, and get to know your funeral director before you even meet her or him face to face.  Once you narrow your possibilities down, make appointments and meet with them.  When you arrive at each funeral home, ask for a tour.  See if you are comfortable.  Do the funeral homes and personnel meet your needs?  Will they accommodate your family?  Do you communicate well with the funeral directors?  Are they forthcoming with the information you seek?  Are they accommodating to the things you want?  Do they go the extra mile to ensure your comfort?  Are they traditional or modern? Continue Reading →

Filed under: , , , ,

Consecutive Miscarriage

My daughter is seven days away from delivering my new grandchild, and due to distance, I am unable to be there.  I have lamented over this fact trying to find a solution, but alas, there is not one on the horizon.  I have worried about her health as I have watched her over her last trimester.  She has endured the fatigue and pain that accompanies the final stage of pregnancy without anyone to help her.  She lives in Hawaii, a recent transplant due to her husband’s occupation, and therefore, finds herself without friends or family to love or assist her.   Yesterday after she got home from church, she told me something that was absolutely horrifying.  While she was in her women’s class, her women’s group leader announced that she had suffered her twelfth miscarriage this past week.  Wow, how could you not feel badly for this woman’s emotional pain and suffering?  My daughter immediately asked me what she could do for this woman.  In order to help someone who has suffered a miscarriage, one must first understand the confusion and grief that accompanies such a profound loss. Eight Important things to know about Miscarriage and Grief

MISCARRIAGE IS NOT ACKNOWLEDGED AS LOSS

Miscarriage is classified as a non-loss within society.  Unfortunately, when a mother miscarries a pregnancy, many people may not have known that she was pregnant.  Sometimes the pregnancy announcement is delayed for one reason or another.  Parents who have previously suffered miscarriage are less likely to share the news of pregnancy early on due to an apprehension of potential recurrence. Human beings are experience driven.  If one does not have personal experience with a certain thing, one is generally unmoved by it.  The missed opportunity of holding, touching, kissing, or cooing a newborn baby leaves us without a tangible experience from which to draw.  The parent couple, grandparent couples, and perhaps siblings are potentially the only human beings on the face of the earth who will mourn the loss of a premature infant.  This small circle of awareness does not offer a support network of understanding or assistance for those suffering the very real experience of grief following the death of a wee loved one. MISCARRIAGE IS THE DEATH OF A CHILD

Ask anyone, “What is the worst sort of death known to mankind?”  The answer will always be, “The death of a child.”Although others may not have experienced the life of an expectant couple’s baby, the expectant couple has.  These parents have planned, prepared, sacrificed, and experienced the life of their child.  The death of their baby brings with it the death of their plans and hopes for their future.  It brings the same chaos and fears survivors experience at the death of any other loved one.  Expectant parents may experience a loss of identity, unity, and purpose.  These losses may spill over into other aspects of their lives.  Unfortunately, for parents grieving a miscarriage, there is little understanding, or patience found for them within society.  They are expected to bounce back as though nothing has happened by people who have not experienced the devastating death of a child. Continue Reading →

Filed under: , , , , , ,

Rich Blessings

I am often asked about funding unfunded funerals.  I am sure it is because I am in the funeral business that I see death as a common occurrence; however, it is interesting to me that there are those who do not understand that one day we shall all die.  I guess some people feel as though they shall live forever.  Inevitably, the truth of the matter is, that should you fail to prepare for your death, not only will grief slap someone you love square in the face, so too will a hefty financial burden. This morning I experienced this very scenario.  I was called by the hospice center to attend a family that had lost a loved one who had failed to prepare for his death financially.  This burden now falls upon those who mourn his loss.  His young adult daughter may need to delay her dreams of college to procure the necessary funds to pay for his burial.  His mother may need to economize her retirement to assist her granddaughter with the expenses.  There may also be others within the family, who might be able to help obtain the necessary funding to cover these costs, but times are tough, and this family is not wealthy. There are several ways to fundraise for funeral expenses.  The primary obstacle is time.  The funeral home must be paid in advance of services being rendered, and a dead human body does not wait indefinitely for burial.  Additionally, each day above ground adds to the expense of interment.  With these issues pressing upon the family, fundraising becomes increasingly stressful. In past articles, I have reported on successful fundraising techniques that several of my client families have utilized. (Funding an Unfunded Funeral, Mourning Coffee for the Mourning Soul, II, Tracy Renee Lee) Today, however, I am broaching a new method of payment.  This type of payment is not often available in the funeral profession; however, the family I am serving today has an extended family member who has a unique skill.  This particular skill happens to be one that I stand in need of at this moment in time; it happens to be of great value to me.  This family is in the unique position of being able to offer a skill rather than funds for payment of their funeral services.  Their extended family member and his crew of workers must, however, agree to accommodate their need. Continue Reading →

Filed under: , , , , ,

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 →

Filed under: , , , , ,

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 →

Filed under: , , ,

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 →

Filed under: , ,

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 →

Filed under: , , ,

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 →

Filed under: , ,

Funeral Honoraria and Acknowledgements

An honorarium is a monetary expression of appreciation given for a service provided for free.  Most clergy will not accept a gift for their services at a funeral service; however, it is proper etiquette to offer one.  When considering the appropriate amount to offer, one should consider several aspects.  Did the clergy meet with the family before or after the services?  Did he or she travel a substantial distance?  If so, travel time and expense, as well as, the length of service, should be considered in the amount offered.  Was the clergy present at multiple ceremonies?  Is the clergy the family’s usual pastor?  In other words, does the family already contribute to the welfare of the clergy?  Does he or she pastor at a church or does he/she rely on funerals and weddings as his or her source of income? Others participating in any of the ceremonies surrounding death should also be considered when giving honoraria.  It is appropriate to provide honoraria to musicians and service related personnel.  Parking attendants and servers often rely on tips to supplement their low wages.  As a funeral director, I have often been offered honoraria.  Although it is not my practice to accept honoraria, there have been clever families who have found unique ways to express their appreciation.  I have received award winning pies, salsas, homemade jams and jellies, my favorite fruit, homemade bath soaps, my favorite perfume, boxed chocolates, lovely jewelry, gift cards to favorite restaurants, movie passes, and many other thoughtful gifts.  I have received anonymous thank you cards with cash tucked in them ranging from a couple of hundred dollars to multiple thousands (now that is an honorarium of great appreciation).  Nevertheless, I as do most clergy, feel that my salary covers my services. An acknowledgment is a written expression of appreciation.  Although a regular thank you card will suffice, they seem ordinary.  The services rendered at the death of a loved one are generally performed out of great love and respect; quite often deep sorrow plays a vital role as well.  This type of service is not ordinary and should not be treated as such.  The services rendered by pallbearers, ushers, etc. and the flowers sent by family and friends represent their love for the decedent, their love and support for the survivors, and their expressions of sorrow.  In the case of such thoughtful acts of love and respect, thoughtful expressions of appreciation are more appropriate than ordinary thank you notes.  Beautifully embossed acknowledgment cards printed on archival papers with special inks and foils are available from your funeral home and express the extra appreciation you have in your heart for the kindnesses afforded you during your time of need. Continue Reading →

Filed under: , ,