Pathways Issue 12

Grief and Professional Help: When to Consider Therapy

Grief is normal. It hurts to lose someone dear to you, and it makes sense to acknowledge this pain. Everybody must go through a grieving process when losing a loved…

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KEEP YOUR FORK By Dr. Roger William Thomas

The sound of Martha’s voice on the other end of the telephone always brought a smile to Brother Jim’s face. She was not only one of the oldest members of…

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The Truth About Life Insurance and Funeral Expenses

It’s not uncommon for families to expect to pay for a funeral with life insurance benefits. Sounds like a simple plan, doesn’t it? The truth is, there can be many…

Read More

Grief and Professional Help: When to Consider Therapy

Grief is normal. It hurts to lose someone dear to you, and it makes sense to acknowledge this pain. Everybody must go through a grieving process when losing a loved one. The grief journey is an indicator that the person who passed on was dearly loved. But what happens when the intensity of grief will not subside? What if you find yourself unable to cope, even though many months or years have passed since your loss?

Complicated Grief

If you find yourself unable to function in daily life long after the loss of your loved one, you may want to consider the possibility that you are experiencing complicated grief. While grief is a perfectly normal, healthy response to the event of loss, complicated grief is a psychological problem that, if left untreated, can severely impact your quality of life.

Receiving Help

If you think you may be struggling with complicated grief, treatment is available. Grief counseling can be a useful resource for dealing with complicated grief. A trained counselor can give you the tools that you need to start enjoying your life again. It is important to realize that counseling is not an attempt to make you forget about the life of your loved one or diminish their legacy. Rather, it is a way to help you accept the reality of their death and make tangible steps to get to a point where you can find joy in life.

Rational Thinking

Counseling can be especially beneficial if you find yourself suffering from extreme guilt, anxiety, or fear. Getting an outside perspective could help you to see when your thoughts become irrational. For instance, if you are someone who blames yourself for the death of a loved one, hearing a fresh perspective might allow you to see things differently. A liberating insight from a therapist could provide just the boost that you need to get back to finding joy and meaning in your life.

Accepting the Reality of Loss

Of course, it is unhelpful and unrealistic to believe that we will ever fully “move on” or “recover” from a loss. Even if this state of mind could be achieved, it wouldn’t be desirable. You will always remember the person that you loved, and the knowledge of their loss will always be painful. This knowledge falls under the category of grief that is considered normal. The pain of loss is part of what it means to love.  But if your thoughts of your loved one border on obsession, and if long after your loved one has passed, you find yourself ignoring everything except for these thoughts, then you may be struggling to accept the reality of the loss. Grief therapy can help you get to acceptance, and can provide you with advice on how to carry this experience with you as you continue to navigate your life journey.

How Do I Know if Counseling is Right for Me?

Studies suggest that people who are struggling with complicated grief respond better to therapy than those who struggle with normal grief. For those who are still on their grief journey, time is the most important factor in the healing process.  So how can you be sure that therapy will be useful for you? Since there is no set time frame for working through the grieving process, at what point can you reasonably estimate that your grief has become complicated? There’s no definitive answer to these questions. You have no way of knowing with absolute certainty if counseling or the mere passage of time will be the best approach for your mental health. But if you feel that a significant amount of time has passed and that you are still unable to cope with daily life, it couldn’t hurt to give counseling a try. At the very least, you’ll have a trained professional to talk to, an experienced person who will listen as you get some things off your chest. This simple step could end up making a great difference.
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KEEP YOUR FORK By Dr. Roger William Thomas

The sound of Martha’s voice on the other end of the telephone always brought a smile to Brother Jim’s face. She was not only one of the oldest members of the congregation, but one of the most faithful. Aunt Martie, as all the children called her, just seemed to ooze faith, hope and love wherever she went.

This time, however, there seemed to be an unusual tone to her words.

“Preacher, could you stop by this afternoon? I need to talk with you.”

“Of course. I’ll be there around three. Is that okay?”

As they sat facing each other in the quiet of her small living room, Jim learned the reason for what he sensed in her voice. Martha told him that her doctor had just discovered a previously undetected tumor.

“He says I probably have six months to live.” Martha’s words were certainly serious, yet there was a definite calm about her.

“I’m so sorry to…” but before Jim could finish, Martha interrupted.

“Don’t be. The Lord has been good. I have lived a long life. I’m ready to go. You know that.”

“I know,” Jim whispered with a reassuring nod.

“But I do want to talk with you about my funeral. I have been thinking about it, and there are things that I want.”

The two talked quietly for a long time. They talked about Martha’s favorite hymns, the passages of Scripture that had meant so much to her through the years, and the many memories they shared from the five years Jim had been with Central Church.

When it seemed that they had covered just about everything, Aunt Martie paused, looked up at Jim with a twinkle in her eye, and then added, “One more thing, Preacher. When they bury me, I want my old Bible in one hand and a fork in the other.”

“A fork?” Jim was sure he had heard everything, but this caught him by surprise.

“Why do you want to be buried with a fork?”

“I have been thinking about all of the church dinners and banquets that I attended through the years,” she explained. “I couldn’t begin to count them all. But one thing sticks in my mind.

“At those really nice get-togethers, when the meal was almost finished, a server or maybe the hostess would come by to collect the dirty dishes. I can hear the words now. Sometimes, at the best ones, somebody would lean over my shoulder and whisper, ‘You can keep your fork.’

“And do you know what that meant? Dessert was coming!

“It didn’t mean a cup of Jell-O or pudding or even a dish of ice cream. You don’t need a fork for that. It meant the good stuff, like chocolate cake or cherry pie! When they told me I could keep my fork, I knew the best was yet to come!

“That’s exactly what I want people to talk about at my funeral. Oh, they can talk about all the good times we had together. That would be nice.

“But when they walk by my casket and look at my pretty blue dress, I want them to turn to one another and say, ‘Why the fork?’

“That’s what I want to say. I want you to tell them that I kept my fork because the best is yet to come.”

From A 3rd Serving of Chicken Soup for the Soul

Reprinted by permission of Health Communications, Inc. Copyright © 1996 Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen.

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The Truth About Life Insurance and Funeral Expenses

It’s not uncommon for families to expect to pay for a funeral with life insurance benefits. Sounds like a simple plan, doesn’t it? The truth is, there can be many unexpected complications with life insurance policies. Some are no longer valid because no one has paid on them in years, and they have now lapsed. Some have beneficiaries named who are no longer living, which means delays and complications with getting your claim paid. The policy may have a lien on it. Or, the date of death or cause of death could limit the death benefit. Listing an ex-spouse or a minor as beneficiary is also a very common issue. In some states, an ex-spouse listed as a beneficiary will receive nothing unless the divorce decree specifically states that they should. More delays and complications. Any of these "red flags" could prevent you from using your policy for funeral expenses. Even if your policy is problem free, it may take 6 to 8 weeks to receive payment. Additionally, have you carefully considered the amount of your life insurance policy? Aside from funeral expenses, what else do you want your loved ones to be able to pay for? Is your life insurance beneficiary a co-signer on your credit card bills, and therefore, liable to pay them? Would you want to pay off the mortgage on your home so your surviving spouse can stay there? Or, pay off vehicles or other large items? If your family members rely on your income, will they have enough to cover basic expenses until your income can be replaced? If you incur high medical bills before you pass away, they will be paid for by your estate (assets). Is your insurance policy amount enough to fill the potential loss in your estate's worth? If you have not considered these secondary expenses, your family may have a hard time covering all the potential costs. So, a simple plan isn’t so simple anymore. Here are a few solutions that may help avoid complications with life insurance at the time of death:

Review Your Policies.

If you plan to use life insurance benefits to cover your funeral, check the policy and make sure it is still valid. If you have any questions, contact an elder law attorney. They will help identify any "red flags" in your policies and assist you in correcting them. Or, if you are in the midst of planning a funeral for a lost loved one, you can direct your questions to the funeral home. Please contact your life insurance company for specific questions about your policy.

Make Sure the Policy is Assignable.

When you review your policy, make sure it is "assignable." You must be able to assign the benefits to go to a third party who will file the claim for you (the funeral home, or an assignment company). The type of policy you signed up for and the life insurance company determine whether a policy is assignable. Funeral homes generally accept a life insurance policy in lieu of payment for a funeral, though it's best not to assume that they will. Remember, if they do accept a policy as payment, it must be assignable. Retirement benefits and 401(k) benefits are not assignable. If the policy is not assignable, families will be unable to use life insurance to cover funeral costs. This is in large part because insurance companies can take at least 6 to 8 weeks to process a claim. Typically, this is long after the funeral has taken place.

Use an Advance Funding Company.

Some funeral homes partner with advance funding companies (also called an assignment company). Similar to a tax return advance you might get from your tax preparer, advance funding is an advance on your life insurance policy benefits. In short, an assignment company contacts the insurance company and verifies that the policy has not lapsed and has no other issues. Funds are advanced within 24-48 hours once the verification process is complete. The best part is, your claim is filed for you, and any funds in excess of funeral expenses can be advanced right to you. The assignment company will deduct a small fee to cover administrative costs. If you are interested in finding out more about assignment companies, one reputable assignment service company is CLAIMCHECK. Take a few moments to look at the website. Think about whether an assignment company is an option you'd like to pursue. If it is, contact the funeral homes in your area to find out if they partner with an assignment company. Please note, you must go through the funeral home in order to use an assignment company. This option may not be available in your area, so ask the funeral home for their best solutions. They are knowledgeable and will have helpful suggestions for you.

Take Care of Any Issues Before Death Occurs.

It's hard to deal with the financial assets of a lost loved one. If there is no clear heir, the courts will likely probate the estate. When an estate is probated, it means that the court system must approve the validity of a last will and testament and confirm the appointment of the executor. This process can sometimes be lengthy and incur additional costs. You will make it much easier for your heirs to inherit your assets according to your wishes if you create a will and update the beneficiary information on your policies regularly.

Preplan Your Funeral.

Another way you can help your loved ones is by planning the details of your funeral in advance. This actually helps your family save money because they know your wishes. When family members are grieving, it can be hard for them to make decisions. Sometimes there is a tendency to overspend because people want “only the best” for Mom or Dad. But buying with this mentality leaves less money in the proverbial pot. Will there be enough for living expenses, debt repayment, and maybe even college for the kids? A prepaid funeral plan offers several surprising benefits above and beyond what a simple life insurance policy can do. See the chart below for a few of the benefits of a prepaid funeral plan. Though it is sometimes a challenge, the funeral home will work with families to discover solutions for funeral payment. Sometimes a death comes quickly and unexpectedly, and people are not always prepared for such a great expense. Determine your plan before tragedy strikes. By doing so, you can relieve your loved ones of money worries on one of the worst days of their lives.
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