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5 Reasons Why People Don’t Plan Ahead for Funeral Wishes

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

Life is full of to-do lists, errands, activities, hobbies, and gatherings. While many of these things bring us great joy, some of them simply need doing. While we may not relish taking 10 minutes out of our day to fill up the gas tank, it must be done. For many, planning ahead for funeral wishes is one of those things we just keep putting off. Based on a recent survey by the FAMIC (Funeral and Memorial Information Council), 89% of Americans (40+ years old) feel that a discussion about their end-of-life wishes would be meaningful, but only 17% had actually made arrangements. So, what is it that keeps us from planning ahead for funeral wishes?

5 Reasons Why People Don’t Plan Ahead for Funeral Wishes

1. “I’m too young.”

While it is true that you may be in your prime and have many years left to enjoy and fill with lasting memories, this is not a good reason to put off planning. After all, none of us actually know the number of our days. Even if you don’t sit down with a funeral professional to go over all your options or set up a prepaid funeral plan, you can: 1) write down your wishes and let an emergency contact know where they are, and 2) start saving now for when the need arises. We have not yet found a way to live forever, and unless we do, one day your family will need to know your wishes.

2. “I don’t have the money.”

Did you know that it costs you nothing to preplan for funeral wishes? If you choose a funeral home partner, a knowledgeable staff member will sit down with you, free of charge, to review all of your options. As you review your options and determine what’s right for you and your family, you can get an accurate idea of what the funeral will actually cost. (However, keep in mind, costs will increase over time.) This information will help you when you determine how the funeral will one day be paid for. Even if you decide not to pre-pay for a funeral, ask a funeral professional about their offerings. You may find a better deal than you expected!

3. “I’m too busy.”

Life does have a tendency to pull us in many different directions. As with many things, we just have to make time for the things that matter. If we see the value in something, we make time for it. Take exercise or higher education or work. We see the value in them, so we make time for them. Planning ahead for funeral wishes is a valuable use of your time. It gives you a chance to figure out how you want to be remembered while also giving your loved ones a special gift of love – the knowledge that they have honored and remembered you as you desired. Knowing your wishes takes a lot of pressure off surviving family members during a time of pain and distress.

4. “I don’t want to think about my own death.”

This may be more of a subconscious reason. In our everyday lives, we don’t really want to think about death, and that is perfectly natural. However, we can’t avoid the inevitable. Someday, each of us will die. Isn’t it better to be prepared? We plan ahead for many life events – weddings, parties, vacations, family visits, and so on. Many of us even prepare for the possibility of unexpected things by purchasing auto, home, or fire insurance. Doesn’t it make sense to plan ahead for an event that you know will happen? Especially if, by recording your funeral wishes, you can give your family members peace of mind that everything is taken care of?

5. “Someone else will do it.”

This is true. Someone else could do it. You could leave everything to your surviving family members. But, ultimately, you’re the one who knows you best and can make the best decisions. Do you have a preference for burial or cremation? Will your loved ones highlight the stories that you would want highlighted? If you do prefer cremation, would you prefer urn burial or scattering or some other option? Making all of these decisions while also mourning a loss puts an emotional strain on surviving family members. On top of that, they will never know if they did the right thing. Yes, someone else could do it, but doing most of the decision-making for them is a much better option.

The Value of Planning Ahead

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, nationally-recognized grief counselor and educator, has walked alongside thousands of grieving families. Because of this experience, he knows the value of the funeral and the impact it has on those left behind to mourn. He has found that there are six needs of mourning, and the funeral is the key to beginning the grief journey on the right foot.

In his own words: “The reconciliation needs of mourning are the six needs that I believe to be the most central to healing in grief.  In other words, bereaved people who have these needs met, through their own grief work and through the love and compassion of those around them, are most often able to reconcile their grief and go on to find continued meaning in life and living.”

The reality is that by putting together a full plan – or just by putting your general wishes in writing – you increase the likelihood that your family will find peace of mind during a trying time. Not only that, but you create a personalized service that honors your life the way you want. After all, one of the key aspects of a healing and meaningful funeral is personalization. Your life is unique and worth remembering. Help your family do it well. It’s never too early to plan ahead, though it could be too late.

For more information on how to create a meaningful and healing funeral, take a few moments to read the following articles:

Why is the Funeral Ritual Important?

Why Do We Have Funerals? (video)

7 Elements of a Healing and Meaningful Funeral

Helping Your Family Personalize a Funeral

6 Ways to Personalize a Funeral

How Creativity Can Help You Deal With Loss

By | AfterCare, Grief/Loss

Your way back will happen very slowly. Almost like a whisper. You will be OK. Not the same. But OK. Not you. But still you. – Christina Rasmussen

Sometimes talking about our grief isn’t enough. Maybe our words don’t fully say what we want them to say. Or they don’t capture the depth of what we feel. This is why creative expression is such an integral part of the human experience and an excellent way to process the painful feelings we encounter, especially during times of grief. For many, participating in creative self-expression can help bring deep-rooted, complex emotions to light.

As part of your grief journey, you might consider taking up an activity that allows you to express yourself creatively. For many of us, painting comes to mind first, but you don’t have to take up painting if you don’t want to. There are many ways to express yourself creatively and tap into what is hiding below the surface. For example, you could: draw (pencil, pastels, ink), paint, sculpt, scrapbook, keep a grief journal, take photographs, garden, write poetry or prose, cook, bake, take up calligraphy, compose music, restore a car, woodwork, or create a memory quilt or box.

In the end, the final product doesn’t matter. The healing value is in the doing. You don’t have to be good at something to take it up as a vehicle for healing. In other words, you don’t have to be a writer to keep a grief journal. You don’t have to be a painter to use watercolors or oils. You don’t have to be a photographer to take beautiful pictures. All you need is the motivation and the desire to see if creative expression will help you.

Here are a few reasons why delving into your creativity may help you deal with loss.

1. It helps you express things you might not be able to put into words.

We all know how it feels to be at a loss for words. Creative expression allows us to become more aware of how we actually feel. In the creative process, we slow down a little and think about our emotions, actions, moods, and behaviors. There may be something going on inside that we don’t realize is there until we take the time to explore it.

2. The creative options available to you are wide and varied.

As mentioned above, you aren’t limited in what medium you choose as your creative outlet. An Australian woman did choose to paint and is now exhibiting her work, while another woman created works of art made from the clothing left behind by the son she lost. Eric Clapton, a musician who lost his young son in a freak accident, used music to help him deal with his grief. No matter what form of expression you choose, the results can contribute to the healing and reconciliation you come to regarding the death of the person you loved.

3. It’s a safe way to express your emotions.

Grief can bring out a myriad of emotions. Some of your emotions may even make you nervous or afraid. Using your creativity to deal with loss is a way to safely express yourself. No other person needs to be around when you create, unless you want them to be. It’s a time when you can choose to be alone to constructively explore what’s in your heart and mind. Your work is as private as you want it to be, and even if the emotions that reveal themselves are ugly, it’s better to get them out than to have them bottled up inside, waiting for a moment to burst.

4. It’s something you can control in a world that may seem out of control.

When we lose someone we love, our world is rocked. Things that felt safe and secure before may now feel shaky and uncertain. Depending on the depth of the loss, it may feel like everything is spiraling out of control. By taking up a creative habit, you create an opportunity where you can exert a certain level of control over at least one aspect of your life. It’s your work, and you make the rules. Throughout the process, creativity may become a reliable friend – a means of self-support during a time of confusion and pain.

5. It provides you with an opportunity to engage with others who are grieving.

Some will choose to engage in solitary creative expression. Others will take the opportunity to participate in collective creative expression. If you decide to paint, you might join a group of other painters who are going through loss. If you decide to write poetry, you could join a writing group focused on grief. You are not alone in your journey – so many others are also dealing with grief in their own way. You may find a kindred spirit in a class who will come alongside you as you grieve.

6. It is beneficial to your health.

It has been discovered that self-expression, particularly the arts, can actually help relieve feelings of stress, fear, and depression. The body calms during the activity, which, in turn, contributes to reduced blood pressure and even releases chemicals in the brain to decrease some types of depression. By allowing the emotions building up on the inside to find outward expression, you are actually allowing your body to relax, resulting in less strain and better health.

7. It helps you remember that there is still beauty in the world.

No matter which medium you choose to interact with – photography, journaling, woodworking, painting, etc. – at some point you will make a realization: there is still beauty in the world. The flowers are still delicate, the mountains are still impressive, and people are still worth knowing and loving. Even in grief, you will have good moments – days when you remember that life can be good. When those days come, don’t reject them. Embrace them. Remember that life can be good again…not the same but still good.

A brief note regarding creative expression and children in grief: Creative expression activities (most often arts & crafts) are very helpful for children experiencing grief. Children have a difficult time identifying what they are feeling, much less putting it into words. Arts & crafts allow them to communicate without words and provide an opportunity to release their emotions and express their thoughts.

If you’d like to give creative expression a try, you first need to pick an activity that appeals to you – even if you don’t think you’re good at it! Then, for three or four consecutive days, spend at least 20 minutes a day doing your chosen activity. After a few days, evaluate how you feel and if you’d like to continue. Fully embrace the activity during the trial phase and express yourself fearlessly. Your emotions are important, and they need to be expressed so that you can move forward.

Do Funerals Still Matter?

By | Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead

We have had funerals since the beginning of time. No matter which culture you research, you will find evidence of funeral rites and traditions. Though the specific customs may have changed over time, the human need to acknowledge a life and process a death still remains. This innate human need is why we still need meaningful and healing funerals today.

Why Does It Matter?

But what is a meaningful and healing funeral? What do these terms really mean, and how do you create such an experience? Why does it matter? To begin, it’s important to realize that a funeral is not about closure. It’s not about “getting over” your grief; it’s about starting to grieve. According to nationally-respected grief expert and counselor Dr. Alan Wolfelt, we don’t get over our grief, but in time, we become reconciled to it. He says, “Your feeling[s] of loss will not completely disappear, yet they will soften, and the intense pangs of grief will become less frequent.  Hope for a continued life will emerge as you are able to make commitments to the future, realizing that the person who died will never be forgotten, yet knowing that your life can and will move forward.

The end goal of a healing and meaningful funeral is to give people the opportunity to confront their emotions and begin the grief journey on the right foot. A meaningful ceremony is personalized. The ceremony itself accurately reflects the life of the one who has died and touches the hearts of those who mourn. And because the ceremony is meaningful, because it is personal, mourners experience healing. Out of the funeral, they start their own individual grief journey, which may take weeks, months, or even years, depending on the degree of loss. But it all starts with a personalized ritual – a healing and meaningful funeral or memorial service.

Creating a Meaningful and Healing Funeral

The 6 Needs of Mourning

Based on his years of experience companioning families through grief, Dr. Alan Wolfelt has determined that mourners have 6 needs that should be met through the funeral service. If a funeral is personalized and meets these 6 needs, then mourners, “through their own grief work and through the love and compassion of those around them, are most often able to reconcile their grief and go on to find continued meaning in life and living.”

1. Acknowledge the reality of the death

When we lose someone we love, our mind naturally rebels against the knowledge. But in order to heal, we must confront the truth. In some way, the funeral must acknowledge the reality of the death. This can be done in many ways. Perhaps there is a visitation with the body present or the officiants purposefully use the past tense or the urn containing the cremated body is set in a prominent place.

2. Move toward the pain of the loss

Dr. Wolfelt says, “I have learned that if we are to heal we cannot skirt the outside edges of our grief.  Instead, we must journey all through it, sometimes meandering the side roads, sometimes plowing directly into its raw center.” A funeral service is an accepted venue to tap into and release our emotions. By its nature, the funeral service affords several inescapable opportunities for mourners to move toward the pain and begin to process it.

3. Remember the person who has died

In order to heal, we must shift our relationship with the one who has died from one of physical presence to one of memory. This is why it is so important to personalize the service. Many elements of the funeral allow people to come together and remember. The visitation, the eulogy, and the gathering are all opportunities to share our memories. And, according to Dr. Wolfelt, “the more we ‘tell the story’ the more likely we are to reconcile to the grief.” Create opportunities to share and to remember.

4. Develop a new self-identity

To some degree, our relationships give us an identity. Father, mother, sister, brother, friend, grandchild. You may have heard someone say, “I feel like a part of me died along with him.” This is because we gain some sense of identity from those around us. The funeral marks the beginning of a new identity. Perhaps we move from a wife to a widow or from a grandchild with living grandparents to a grandchild without living grandparents. No matter the change, the funeral marks a mental shift in identity.

5. Search for meaning

As part of the grief process, we naturally question the meaning of life and death. Why did this happen? Why now? What happens after death? It is these “why” questions that decide why we should go on living and contribute to our search for meaning. While the funeral itself does not facilitate this search, it does force us to confront a very real fact: we will die. And because one day we, too, will face death, it is appropriate to seek out the answers to these questions and find meaning.

6. Receive ongoing support from others

Lastly, the funeral provides a public place where others can offer their support to the grieving and the grieving can accept support. This is perhaps the most important aspect of a meaningful and healing funeral. We are not meant to walk through the trials of life alone. If we don’t have a service of some kind, we are communicating to others that we don’t need their support, and then, we’re on our own. Invite others in and find a group to support you throughout your grief journey.

How to Personalize a Funeral

The second part of a healing and meaningful funeral is personalization. A funeral should incorporate seven elements: music, readings, visitation/reception, eulogy, symbols, a gathering, and actions. Together, these seven elements create a meaningful service.

Each of these elements can be specifically personalized. The music reflects the tastes of the one who has died. The readings come from their most treasured quotes, songs, or books. The visitation may include a collage of photos or a memorial tribute video. The eulogy tells the tale of their life. The gathering allows friends and family to come together to share memories, to talk about how the one who has died impacted them, and to support each other. And actions invite mourners to put their grief into motion.

Each of these elements is important and can be arranged however you wish. The most important thing is to honor and remember the life lived in what seems the best way.

For more information on ways to personalize a funeral or memorial service and to see how others have personalized funerals, click on the links below:

6 Ways to Personalize a Funeral

How to Make a Funeral More Personal

5 Unique Venues for a Celebration of Life Service

Remembering Grandmother with Handmade Quilts

Honoring a Teacher’s Last Request

Harry Potter-themed Funeral for Cancer Victim

The Importance of a Memorial Tribute Video

By | Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

The death of someone loved changes our lives forever. And the movement from the ‘before’ to the ‘after’ is almost always a long, painful journey. From my own experiences with loss as well as those of the thousands of grieving people I have worked with over the years, I have learned that if we are to heal we cannot skirt the outside edges of our grief. Instead, we must journey all through it, sometimes meandering the side roads, sometimes plowing directly into its raw center.”  – Dr. Alan Wolfelt

At the beginning of every healthy grief journey is a healing, meaningful, and personalized funeral service. As you plan a funeral, consider how you can make the experience one that meets the emotional needs of family and friends left to mourn. The more personal a funeral service is, the more meaningful it will be, and one of the most important ways you can personalize a funeral is through a tribute or memorial video.

How Tribute Videos Can Bring Comfort and Healing

Captures the uniqueness of a lost loved one

First and foremost, a tribute video is an excellent way to capture the uniqueness of the one you love. You have the opportunity to share their life story – the daily moments, the milestones, and the people who made it all worthwhile. You can use photographs, video clips, audio recordings, favorite quotes, and more to make the video a fitting tribute to your loved one. By doing this, you draw others into your loved one’s life story and stimulate their own memories.

Adds a meaningful element to the service

Dr. Wolfelt tells us that “funerals are most meaningful when they are personalized tributes to the unique life and relationships of the person who died.” A video tribute allows you to personalize the funeral service. You can use favorite songs to accompany the photos, video clips, and other features you choose to utilize. This is an opportunity to invite mourners to engage with their emotions, remember your loved one, and acknowledge the pain of loss.

Allows everyone time to reflect on their memories

Not only does a tribute video showcase the uniqueness of your loved one and provide a meaningful element to the funeral service, it also allows mourners to reflect on their own memories. This is an important aspect of making a funeral a healing experience. As Dr. Wolfelt stated, “we cannot skirt the outside edges of our grief…we must journey all through it.” A tribute video opens the door for others to reflect on and engage with their own memories.

Comforts surviving family members and friends

A tribute video can offer comfort in much the same way that a treasured possession, an article of clothing, or a photograph would. Just as we may have a go-to book or movie when we want to be comforted or feel close to someone or something, a video can serve a similar purpose. In those moments when you need to feel close to your loved one, to see their face, to remember their life, you can watch the video as you grieve their absence.

Doubles as a keepsake for family and friends

Practically speaking, a tribute video makes a simple but meaningful keepsake for family and friends. At some services, the attendees are invited to take a token in remembrance of the one who has died. This action allows each mourner to feel strongly associated with the one they have lost. By giving a tribute video as a token, you provide an opportunity for them to continue to explore their feelings of loss and relive their cherished memories even after the funeral.

Offers a way to share your loved one’s life with future generations

Lastly, a tribute video provides a way to share your loved one’s life with future generations. You will likely have children and grandchildren who will want to know about your life and the people you loved who have already gone. When the questions arise, a tribute video can supplement the tales that you tell and give them a picture in their minds of the life your loved one lived. This may be an especially important exercise for children who’ve lost a parent.

Whether you decide to utilize a tribute video or not, you can plan a meaningful and healing funeral. The tribute video is just one way that you can personalize a funeral. For more ideas on how to personalize a funeral, take a moment to read 6 Ways to Personalize a Funeral. This article will give you some ideas, but only you know the best way to create something truly beautiful that reflects your loved one’s life, values, relationships, and ideals.

10 Ways to Reinvent Valentine’s Day

By | Grief/Loss, Seasonal

The only cure for grief is action.” – George Henry Lewes

Grief is hard every day, but it is especially hard on those days throughout the year that we think of as “special.” Valentine’s Day is one of them. The stores are stocked with chocolate and Hallmark cards, and everywhere you look, people are discussing their plans for the day. But for you, Valentine’s Day is a source of pain and tears.

If that’s the case, consider finding a way to reinvent Valentine’s Day. While the day specifically celebrates love, it isn’t relegated to only romantic love. The things and people we love go beyond just romantic relationships. This year, by focusing on bringing joy to others, you will make Valentine’s Day easier on yourself. Who knows, your actions may even help you process your grief. After all, as nationally-respected grief educator Dr. Alan Wolfelt says, “Grief is what you think and feel on the inside after someone you love dies. Mourning is the outward expression of those thoughts and feelings. To mourn is to be an active participant in our grief journeys.”

10 Ways to Reinvent Valentine’s Day

1. Invite friends over for dinner

Celebrate the love of good friends. We all have friends who stick with us through thick and thin, especially during times of grief. So, plan a meal or go out for dinner with some of your closest people, and celebrate what you’ve meant to each other. You could even bring Valentine’s Day into the mix by giving each other sweet treats.

2. Plan a night out with others who have experienced a similar loss

When we experience a loss, finding a support group is incredibly important. One way to seek support is through getting to know others who have experienced a similar type of loss. Instead of staying at home alone, go out with others who are struggling, and together, focus on what’s good in life. An attitude of gratitude is valuable to everyone both mentally and emotionally, so look for the good!

3. Allow your children to pick an activity

If both you and your children are grieving this Valentine’s Day, ask them what they’d like to do for the day. It’s important to give children opportunities for healthy fun even in the midst of sorrow. They may want to go to dinner, the zoo, or a movie. Make sure to manage their expectations by letting them know what kind of budget you have. For example, we can go play putt-putt or eat dinner out, but not both.

4. Attend a group activity

Another opportunity to fill the evening is to attend a group activity – either with friends or with the intention of meeting new people. You could attend a club of some kind (book club, writing club, chess club, etc.), take part in a support group or a prayer group, go to or host a painting party, or see what’s going on in your local community.

5. Participate in random acts of kindness

Perhaps it would do your heart good to focus on others for the day. Random acts of kindness benefit you just as much as the other person. Some ideas to start you off: go ahead and give to the street performer or the homeless person; donate gently used items; leave a larger tip for the barista or server; bring in breakfast for your co-workers; give someone a compliment; or just smile at people. A simple smile brings a large measure of joy.

6. Volunteer

For some people, taking part in an activity is the most helpful course of action. If that’s the case for you, consider volunteering your time on Valentine’s Day. By focusing on others, you take the spotlight off your feelings of grief. Is there a local organization that you regularly volunteer with or one that you’ve been curious about? This is a great time to give it a try.

7. Send a card or flowers to someone

Even if you are grieving, you can offer a kind gesture to others. Rather than looking to receive a card and/or flowers and chocolate this year, choose someone to give to instead. Perhaps an elderly person living alone or in a care facility, a friend or loved one spending the holiday in the hospital, or someone who is also grieving the loss of a loved one.

8. Treat yourself

Grief is hard work. That’s why Valentine’s Day might be a good day to treat yourself to a little pampering. Go to a spa. Get a manicure or pedicure. Schedule time with a massage therapist. Or if these options just aren’t you, treat yourself to a favorite dessert or a hot beverage you rarely consume, get a new haircut, or buy a new pair of shoes. There are so many ways to care for your own needs.

9. Enjoy some animal therapy

If you love our four-legged friends, spend time receiving love and affection from them on Valentine’s Day. Check out what’s available in your area. For some, an equine therapy program is appealing. For others, a program that allows you to take dogs for walks, pet and play with cats, or just help out around the shelter is best. And, if you’re able, you could adopt a furry friend and give it a forever home.

10. Travel somewhere

A final way to reinvent the holiday is to inject a bit of excitement into it. Rather than sitting at home, plan a trip for yourself to a new place. Invite friends or go on your own. A change of scenery will be a nice change of pace and give you some relief from the difficult work of grief.

This Valentine’s Day, find a new way to view the day. Give to others. Pamper yourself. Spend time with friends and family or with animals. Or go on an adventure! No matter what you choose, the day doesn’t have to be gloomy and sad. Even if the loss of your loved one is still close to the surface, it’s okay to find little ways to experience joy in life. While your life will never be the same, it can be beautiful.

Should a Funeral Be Efficient or Effective?

By | Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead

At some point in life, we’ve all attended a funeral or memorial service that seems to leave us feeling empty or numb. Why? Usually, it has to do with whether the funeral was truly personalized to reflect the life of the person who died. The less personal a funeral is, the less meaningful it usually is for mourners. Often, people skip personalization details in the interest of efficiency. They choose options that are quick and expedient, but not very effective. As a result, some families are missing out on this experience because they are mistaking efficiency with effectiveness.

What is the Purpose of a Funeral?

In today’s world, we don’t really understand the purpose of the funeral. In many ways, we are losing the importance and healing significance of ritual. Part of the reason for this trend is because we no longer understand the purpose of a funeral. So, let’s briefly talk about what a healing and meaningful funeral achieves:

  1. Sets the stage for a healthy grief journey.
  2. Acknowledges the reality of the death.
  3. Helps us move toward our pain so we can begin to process it.
  4. Remembers and honors a life lived.
  5. Helps us develop our new identity after a loss.
  6. Allows us to reflect on the meaning of life and death.
  7. Activates a community of support for mourners.

To learn more about this important topic, read Dr. Alan Wolfelt’s article Why Is the Funeral Ritual Important? A respected grief counselor, educator, and author, Dr. Wolfelt believes in the healing power and impact that a meaningful funeral service has on the grief journey. In Dr. Wolfelt’s view, a funeral includes a visitation/viewing (if possible), a funeral or memorial service, and a gathering/reception with personalized elements included at all three.

Influences that Affect Our Understanding of Funerals

In addition to not understanding the purpose of the funeral, other factors have influenced our wants and needs over time. Dr. Wolfelt has done extensive research into the purpose of the funeral, and he has identified a number of influences that affect our collective mindset concerning funerals.

We live in the world’s first death-free generation.

In large part due to medical advances, we now live in a world where people can reach their third or fourth decade before experiencing a close personal loss, which is vastly different than previous generations. According to Dr. Wolfelt, “In the early 1900s…most children had been to many funerals by the age of ten. Aging, illness, and death were an everyday part of family life.” While medical advances are incredible, they also distance us from aging, illness, death, and grief. This cultural shift has led to a break in our understanding of the importance of funerals.

We live in a mobile, fast-paced culture and are disconnected from each other.

Because it is now much more common to live greater distances away from family and friends, sometimes we don’t make the extra effort to return home for funerals. And even in the areas where we live, we don’t connect. A recent study found that only 19% of the Americans polled knew the names of all of their neighbors. The mindset of our culture has shifted so that the focus is on efficiency and instant gratification. Sadly, with this mindset, the funeral becomes about simply getting things done (efficiency) rather than meeting the emotional needs of friends and family (effectiveness).

We value self-reliance.

The nature of the funeral involves relying on others and allowing them to see the pain we suffer. Vulnerability with others, admitting that we may need help, is difficult for us because we are taught to be self-reliant from a young age. But in times of grief and loss, we shouldn’t be on our own all the time – we need a community to surround us with love and support. One of the main purposes of a funeral is to activate a community of support around us, and with an efficient funeral, we often miss this critical part of the funeral ritual.

We avoid spirituality and don’t understand the role of pain and suffering.

In many ways, we are moving away from a spiritual view of life and death toward a more secular view, which can have a negative effect. When we remove the spiritual aspect, we often remove the hope that comes from seeing our loved ones as spiritual beings who continue to live on and watch over us. In addition, we tend to avoid facing our own pain and the pain and distress of others. In many ways, we misunderstand the role of pain and suffering and try to hide our feelings. But grief, mourning, and pain are a natural part of life. A meaningful funeral helps us begin to process what we feel and sets the healing process in motion.

We deny our own mortality.

With the lengthening of lifespans, we don’t attend as many funerals as we might have 100 years ago. With that change comes a misconception: that we are invulnerable. The more we avoid death and pain, the more likely we are to forget that we are mortal. One reason we avoid the funeral is because it reminds us that we are mortal, and one day, our life will end. But, in actuality, we need this reminder, so we strive to live well.

We devalue life.

One side effect of efficient funerals is that we end up devaluing the life that was lived. As a culture, we have grown desensitized to death by national media, and we also lead busy lives–so much so, that we think we don’t have time to slow down to emotionally process a personal loss. But life is sacred and worth remembering. From the beginning of time, the funeral has functioned as a time that helps us to slow us down so we have a chance to honor, remember, and celebrate the lives around us.

Meaningful and Effective Funerals Versus Efficient Funerals

Dr. Wolfelt puts it this way, “Focus on what is really important—what is essential—about the funeral…. What is essential is the life that was lived and the impact that life had on family and friends. To honor that unique life, the funeral must also be unique. Over and over families tell me that the best funerals are those that are personalized.

An efficient funeral gets things done but doesn’t beautifully and lovingly honor life. Efficient funerals leave us feeling numb and unchanged, but meaningful and effective funerals do the opposite. They help us acknowledge the reality of the loss and move toward the pain we feel so that we can process it. They help us remember and honor the life and memory of our loved one through personalization. It is personalization that really makes the difference in whether a funeral is simply efficient or meaningful and effective. To learn more about how to create a meaningful service, please read the 7 Elements of a Healing and Meaningful Funeral.

A meaningful and effective funeral doesn’t have to cost an arm and a leg. And believe it or not, you have many options to choose from. Cremation or burial. Memorial service or funeral service with body present. Scattering or cremation jewelry. Casket or urn. Ultimately, the final result is up to you, but take the time to be intentional and create a funeral experience that will honor your loved one and meet the emotional needs of surviving family and friends.

Effective is better than efficient in every way.

A Year in Review: The Top 5 Books on Grief & Loss from 2018

By | Current Events, Grief/Loss

We mourn because we love. That’s true of us all. Grief is a universal emotion, and because it is, we can find hope and encouragement in the stories of others. Dr. Wolfelt, nationally recognized grief expert, tells us about the importance of mourning well. He says, “Making the choice not just to grieve, but to authentically mourn, provides us the courage to live through the pain of loss and be transformed by it. How ironic that to ultimately go on to live well and love well we must allow ourselves to mourn well.” Below is a list of the top 5 books published in 2018 (chosen based on Amazon reader reviews) about grief, loss, and the journey toward healing. Perhaps the words and experiences of others will help you as you navigate your own grief journey this year.

Book #1: The Widower’s Notebook, a Memoir

Author: Jonathan Santlofer

Synopsis: On a normal day in New York, Jonathan finds his wife, Joy, fighting for breath in their living room. After calling the paramedics and spending many tense hours at the hospital, he learns that she has died. Not sure how to deal with the depth of emotion welling within him, he turns to writing and art to help him maneuver through the complexities of losing the wife he loved.

Review: “Widower is stunning, harrowing, un-put-down-able…Jonathan Santlofer finds language that is immediate and intimate for the irreconcilable trauma of loss. Without pause he captures the shattered time that is grief—this book is fearless, brave for its humanity, honesty, love. Santlofer brings the reader into his heart, sharing all the things that one feels but dares not say aloud, all that one wants to know but can’t ask of themselves, of those around them, of their lost loved one.” —A.M. Homes, author of May We Be Forgiven

Book #2: Grief Day by Day

Author: Jan Warner

Synopsis: Grief Day by Day offers 365 reflections, weekly themes, and healing exercises for dealing with the complexities of grief. Jan Warner draws on her own experience with loss to offer hope and useful guidance to others who are struggling. With the book’s set-up, the reader can use it in the way that best suits them and their specific needs.

Review: “This is quite literally a shattering book: it takes in both hands and smashes one of the most pernicious of our modern myths – that grief is an aberrant state, properly and speedily to be put away. It instead explores the idea of grief as a part of life. Thus repositioned, grief can be acknowledged as one (but only one) enduring element of the mourner’s identity.” ―Sarah Gristwood, best-selling author, historian, and commentator on the British royal family

Book #3: Wonder Widows

Authors: Trish Comer, Peggy Langenwalter, and Jennifer Cox Horak

Synopsis: Written by three widows, this book is an invitation to join Trish, Peggy, and Jennifer on their journey. They kindly and lovingly share about their challenges and triumphs while navigating widowhood. This book focuses on empowering widows. Not only do the authors share their personal stories, but they explores how to shape a new identity, how to handle holidays and anniversaries, and so much more!

Review: While Wonder Widows is a compassionate window into a sensitive and painful passage, it’s also hopeful as it explores the possibility of lives rebuilt. I think this is an important book for everyone to read because sooner or later we’ll all experience loss, whether our own or that of a friend. Reading Wonder Widows gave me insight into what might be going on behind the public face a grieving person presents to the world and how we might all be more aware and compassionate.” —Amazon Reviewer Danelle

Book #4: Grief as a Second Language: A Guidebook for Living with the Loss of a Loved One

Author: Stacy Parker

Synopsis: Written by a bereaved parent, this book helps people understand and become comfortable with the language of grief. As it moves the reader toward a greater understanding of the complexities of grief, it explores important topics like how to release self-blame, how to cope with the physical absence of your loved one, and which reactions are perfectly normal (all of them!).

Review: “This book is written by the best kind of grief expert, someone who has taken the journey out of the darkness and back into the light. Stacy shares with her readers practical tips and tools for taking care of your physical and emotional health after loss and for finding purpose and meaning again. Thank you, Stacy, for being honest about your own grief journey and helping us to navigate ours. I wish I had this book after my brother died; it would have been a lifeline at a time where I felt very alone and had no idea how to navigate the second language of grief.” —Dr. Heidi Horsley, Executive Director of Open to Hope Foundation

Book #5: Suffering: Gospel Hope When Life Doesn’t Make Sense

Author: Dr. Paul David Tripp

Synopsis: No matter what the catalyst may be, we have all had our lives changed in an instant. Whether it be death, illness, loss of employment, loss of relationship, or something else, we aren’t sure how to deal with what has happened. In this book, Dr. Tripp shares his own journey and what it means to trust God even in the midst of suffering.

Review: “We don’t have to go looking for it. It will come and find us. Sooner or later, suffering at a catastrophic level will wreck our lives. Paul Tripp understands that personally. He also understands the gospel personally. His new book does not trivialize our sufferings with glib formulas. This wise book leads us deeper into the gospel of the cross and closer to the Man of Sorrows himself.” ―Ray Ortlund, Lead Pastor, Immanuel Church, Nashville, Tennessee

Another book worth taking a look at is by noted author, educator, and grief counselor, Dr. Alan Wolfelt. Grief Day by Day: Simple, Everyday Practices to Help Yourself Survive…and Thrive was published in late 2018 and offers answers to the questions that plague the hearts of those who are grieving. How am I supposed to cope? What should I do with these thoughts and feelings? How can I both grieve and still live with hope and meaning?

Hopefully, one or more of these books will speak to your heart and give you comfort and peace on your journey through grief in 2019.

7 Reasons to Help Parents Preplan for Funeral Wishes

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

Life is busy, and many things demand your attention. In the midst of everything – daily chores, kids, work, friends, extracurricular activities – caring for an aging parent takes a special kind of grace. And when the need for long-term assistance becomes clear, things get even more complicated.

So, what if you could get one important task taken care of and off your plate? You can help your parents partner with a funeral professional to plan ahead for funeral, memorial, or cremation services in advance. By talking with your parents now, you can ensure that any decisions you make together are not clouded by grief and stress but are decided upon with a clear mind. While talking with your parents about their funeral wishes may not be something you’ve considered doing, there are several benefits to taking this important step.

How Planning Ahead Can Help Your Family Both Now and in the Future

1. Ensures that you know and can fulfill their wishes

More than anything, talking with your parents about preplanning will give you information you likely didn’t have before. For families who never discussed funeral wishes, uncertainty may linger. Did Mom want to be cremated? Would Dad have preferred this song over that song? Would they want an upright or flat headstone? So many questions come up during the funeral planning process, and if you already know your parent’s wishes, you can answer with confidence and ease.

2. Saves money and prevents a future financial burden

Most of the time, when people need to plan a funeral, it’s a first-time experience for them. Because of this, they don’t know the best ways to keep costs from ballooning. Sometimes, they end up with a pretty pricey funeral, which they pay for with a credit card or by dipping into savings. However, if you sit down with your parents and discuss exactly what their wishes are, your entire family could save a considerable amount of money by avoiding unnecessary spending.

Also, if your parents need to qualify for Medicaid coverage for long-term care, you may be trying to think of smart ways to help them spend down their assets. Burial plans can be set up as exempt assets so that they are not counted when applying for Medicaid coverage. This way, you are able to preserve some assets that your family will need one day. Click here for more information.

3. Provides peace of mind, knowing everything will be taken care of

Have you ever completed a big project and just felt a weight lift off your shoulders? That’s what it feels like when you finally take that step and plan ahead for funeral wishes. Not only does it bring you and your parents peace of mind, it can also bring comfort. You can rest easy, knowing that when the awful day comes that you lose one of your parents, the difficult decisions are already made. Instead of hammering out the details of a funeral, you can focus on being with your family.

4. Prevents possible family disagreements (due to differing opinions)

The loss of a loved one is a very emotional time, and if a family is torn about which options to choose, emotions can run high. Even when a general consensus is reached, family members can sometimes continue to feel anxiety, doubt, and regret about the decisions that were made and how they were made. However, if you sit down with your parents now to determine exactly what they want, everyone will experience greater peace in the future, knowing that their final wishes are honored.

5. Gives you time to create a meaningful and healing tribute, with both your own and your parents’ input

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief educator, says that the best funerals help us “remember and reconnect with what is most meaningful…strengthen bonds with family members and friends. [We] emerge changed, more authentic and purposeful. The best funerals remind us how we should live.” Taking the time to lovingly personalize a celebration of life will allow you and your parents to create something truly beautiful that reflects their lives, values, relationships, and ideals.

6. Allows you to consider all the options and make knowledgeable decisions

Funeral planning involves a lot of options, and without time constraints, you and your parents can make the most educated decisions for your personal needs. Burial or cremation? Funeral service with body present or memorial service? If cremated, should the cremated body be buried, scattered, or kept at home for a time? Will there be a permanent memorial? At present, you and your parents may not know the answers to these questions. Together, visit a reputable funeral home and get some answers.

7. Gives you more time together later

When we lose someone we love, the last thing we want to do is spend several hours at a funeral home making arrangements. But if there is a plan already in place that outlines your parent’s wishes for a final tribute, your family is able to spend more time together, offering comfort, support, and love to one another at a time when they need it most. You won’t need to make ALL the decisions when you just want to grieve. Instead, it can be as simple as selecting the day you want services to occur.

Next Steps

For an overview of how to get started, take a few moments to read How to Get Started with Funeral Planning. After that, it’s time to chat with your parents. The most important thing to remember is to keep the discussion open, to explain the benefits of planning ahead, and to pay attention to their feelings. If they seem stressed or anxious, let them have time to think about the idea, and bring it up again later. There’s no big rush if you begin the conversation while everyone is still healthy.

A Few Questions to Consider

When you get to the point where you are ready to plan, here are some questions to ask your parents. Finding a reputable and knowledgeable funeral home partner is the first step. Once you’ve found someone you trust, there will be questions to answer at a prearrangement conference (a meeting with a funeral service professional to discuss your wishes). The more answers you have prior to the meeting, the smoother and more quickly everything will go. Here are a few things to consider before speaking to a funeral professional:

  • How would you like people to be notified of your passing? Newspaper obituaries? If so, which newspapers? Online obituary? Phone call?
  • Do you prefer burial or cremation?
  • Is there a certain place you’d like a funeral or memorial service to be held?
  • If you prefer burial, where would you like to be buried?
  • If you prefer cremation, how would you like your ashes to be honored?
  • What meaningful elements should be included in the funeral or memorial service? Readings? Special music? Eulogy?
  • Who should participate in the service? Pallbearers? Readers? Officiant?
  • If buried, is there a particular set of clothing you’d like to be buried in?
  • Do you want to include a gathering after the service for family and friends?
  • If people want to give money in your memory, what charity/organization do you want to support?
  • How do you plan to cover the cost of your funeral expenses?

Click here to download a Funeral Planning Checklist to help you as you plan with your parents. And don’t forget – the funeral professionals at your chosen funeral home are your best advocates and educators. They will discuss all the options available to you and help you make decisions that best meet your needs.

The 5 Most Important Estate Planning Documents

By | 1-19 Precare, Estate Planning, Plan Ahead

There’s no getting around the fact that estate planning is a necessary part of life, even though we may not feel ready to face it. It is especially important that older Americans begin this important part of planning. Five documents typically make up the estate planning lineup: Financial Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney, Living Will, Will, and Living Trust.

According to a recent study, fewer than 42% of American adults have a will. In fact, we’ve seen a number of high profile people die without a will in place. Both Prince and Aretha Franklin fall into this category. Because they each died without a will, their families could be embroiled in court for years when a simple document might have prevented any confusion.

But you can get started now. It’s not too late, and it’s never too early. Let’s take a moment to review the 5 important estate planning documents, what they are, and why they are important.

Financial Power of Attorney

Definition

With a financial power of attorney, you grant an agent – often a spouse, adult child, or trusted friend – the ability to conduct financial transactions on your behalf. This means that the agent can access bank accounts, pay bills, obtain loans, and perform other financial acts on your behalf.

Main Benefit

It is beneficial to have another person who can help you with financial needs, especially for the elderly and those who are suffering from memory loss. On the other hand, even if you are young, a power of attorney can be helpful if you are juggling a large amount of financial transactions.

Cost of Inaction

If you become incapacitated, it may be difficult for your loved ones to take care of your financial affairs. They will likely have to petition the courts for permission to conduct your affairs. This means time and money lost.

Medical Power of Attorney

Definition

Similar to a financial power of attorney, the medical power of attorney grants your appointed agent the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf. Your agent’s powers will work in tandem with your living will (discussed below), if you have one. Also, make sure to sign a HIPAA release form. This document allows your appointed agent access to health, care, and treatment information.

Main Benefit

If you become incapacitated, a trusted individual can make decisions regarding your medical needs, and if you take time to share your medical or end-of-life care wishes, that person can ensure that your desires are followed.

Cost of Inaction

If you do become incapacitated, your family will be left with the burden of decision making, not knowing whether their choices align with your wishes or not. This lack of clarity can cause disagreements and strain among family members.

Before we move on…

Two final notes regarding powers of attorney

You can set up either document to be general or limited. With a general power of attorney, your appointed agent has full access. They can operate as if they are you. With a limited power of attorney, you restrict their access to certain functions.

Also, you can designate whether a power of attorney is durable. This means that it remains in effect even if you become incapacitated. In some states, “springing” is an option. This means that you can specify when the powers of attorney are in effect. Perhaps, they come into effect on a certain date or if you become incapacitated.

Living Will

Definition

Whether you set up a medical power of attorney or not, it’s good practice to complete a living will. Despite what its name may imply, a living will pertains to your medical care. The document clearly outlines which medical treatments you would and would not like to be used to keep you alive. The list is extensive and addresses topics like resuscitation, dialysis, palliative care, and organ donation. As you make decisions regarding your future medical care, discuss your wishes with your doctor and family members.

You can change your medical directives at any time, but make sure that you dispose of all copies of the old directives.

Main Benefit

Peace of mind for you and your family. If your desires are written down, you know that your wishes are known, and your family can be confident in any choices they (or your medical power of attorney agent) need to make regarding your care.

Cost of Inaction

Without a living will, your care preferences may not be known, especially in the event that you are unable to speak for yourself.

Legal Will

Definition

A will is a legal document that provides instruction for the distribution of your assets. After death, a will is considered public record once it has been registered with the probate court. In general, a will is a simple document that identifies beneficiaries, names guardians for minor children, appoints an executor to the will and/or a property manager, and leaves instructions on how to pay for debts and taxes. A will can be revised at any time.

Main Benefit

You ensure that your family knows your wishes regarding the distribution of your estate.

Cost of Inaction

Without a will, your assets may not be distributed as you would desire. Also, in many cases, family members must go to court to determine the fate of your estate.

Revocable Living Trust

Definition

Though most people need a will, not everyone needs a living trust. Living trusts are a bit more complicated than wills in that you transfer your property into the trust. Once the property is transferred, you become the trustee (naming a successor trustee to take over upon your death). The successor trustee then distributes your assets according to your wishes. A living trust is most beneficial to those who own a large amount of property and assets. A living trust can also be revised at any time.

Main Benefit

Most people choose a living trust because it avoids the possible complications of probate court. Additionally, a living trust is more difficult to attack in a court battle and is kept private (no public record).

Cost of Inaction

If you have a large estate, the lack of a living trust may make the distribution process lengthier and more complicated.  Again, not everyone will need a living trust. Speak to an estate planning attorney to determine if this route is best for you.

One more note: a living trust does not take the place of a will. There are a number of things you cannot do in a living trust, namely appointing guardians for minor children, designating an executor, and assigning a property manager (if property must be maintained until a minor child comes of age).

Now you know which documents are important to the estate planning process. As you work toward getting your affairs in order, you might also consider a few other areas of advance planning: funeral planning, getting all your important documents together, designating emergency contacts, and taking care of your digital estate. It’s never too early to start!

DISCLAIMER: Individual circumstances and state laws vary, so any estate planning should only be undertaken with the help and assistance of an attorney licensed in your state. 

5 Meaningful Actions to Personalize a Funeral

By | Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

Throughout history, many things have changed, but one thing that has endured is the funeral ceremony. At some level deep down, we all know that a funeral is important. It’s a time to say goodbye to someone we love and to start down the path toward reconciling ourselves to the loss we’ve suffered. The elements of a funeral have perhaps changed over time, from one culture and civilization to the next. However, according to grief expert and counselor Dr. Alan Wolfelt, personalization remains an important key to healing and meaningful funerals.

Dr. Wolfelt tells us that there are 7 elements to consider as we endeavor to create a meaningful funeral experience. With these 7 elements, it’s possible to personalize a funeral so that it perfectly fits the person who has died and honors the life they lived. The 7 elements are: music, readings, visitation, eulogy, symbols, gathering, and actions.

Today, let’s focus on 5 actions you can incorporate into a funeral that will invite mourners to put their grief into motion. Grief is an internal emotion – the way we feel about a loss – but mourning is getting our grief outside ourselves by participating in activities that allow us to outwardly express what we feel. In order to heal, we need to act. If we never do something about our grief, it remains inside, and over time, begins to fester and cause us great distress. However, by inviting others to join in a specific, perhaps symbolic, action at the very beginning of the grief journey, you allow them the opportunity to say goodbye properly and begin their grief journey on the right foot.

1. Participate in a Release Ceremony

You may want to include a special time of remembrance with a release ceremony. A few popular release options are doves, butterflies, paper lanterns, or balloons (make sure they are biodegradable and without ribbon). The act of release helps us say goodbye in a unique way. It allows us to experience greater closure and healing as we “release” a loved one’s spirit as well as our emotions and grief. If you select balloons or paper lanterns, you can take it one step further by writing messages of hope and love on the balloons or lanterns before releasing.

Of course, you should always make sure that taking part in a release is allowed by your city. For instance, if you live in a particularly dry area that’s susceptible to fire, you won’t want to choose a lantern release. The funeral director can help you determine which type of release ceremony is most appropriate for your wishes while still meeting legal requirements.

2. Incorporate Keepsake Items

As human beings, we often place value on material objects. The object doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, the things we value the most are often not monetarily valuable – they are sentimental. Two ways you can invite mourners to take action involve these types of keepsake items. First, if your loved one owned a large number of something – let’s say your grandmother loved knitting scarves – you can bring them to the funeral ceremony and invite guests to take a scarf in remembrance of her. This can be done with any number of items. However, in order to be meaningful, the items must be special and specific.

Another option is to invite the guests to bring a keepsake item from home that reminds them of the person whose life is being remembered. And if you plan the ceremony accordingly, you can allow guests the opportunity to briefly share about the object they brought with them, how it relates to the one who has died, and why the keepsake means so much. These types of actions engage our minds and our emotions, encouraging us to tap into what we feel and provides an opportunity to express it.

3. Set a Theme

Did your loved one have a favorite color? Or perhaps a favorite book or movie? You can set a theme and invite mourners to take part in remembrance through participation. By selecting specific items of clothing related to the theme, everyone is invited to recall their own specific memories of the one who has died and think about how they can individually honor the life lived. And then, as many arrive dressed according to the theme, there is a sense of communal mourning and sharing. Everyone is there for the same reason – to honor and remember the one who has died.

4. Write a Message/Letter

The written word is powerful, and as a tool for expression, it’s effective. Consider inviting everyone, prior to the funeral, to write a letter addressed to the one who has died. Then, at the service, place these special messages inside the casket to be buried or cremated with the body. Some families provide cards, a large banner, or a canvas for mourners to write on. In some cases, the family may choose to keep the messages, banner, or canvas, and later on, these items become keepsakes that bring comfort to the family.

5. Prepare a Meaningful Meal

Nationally respected author and grief expert, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, says, “Food is symbolic of love when words are inadequate.” It’s a common practice to organize a gathering after the funeral, and even though the official ceremony is over, the meaningful and healing elements don’t have to cease.

By setting up a meal after the funeral where guests (especially family members) can gather, you invite further personalization. Did your loved one deeply appreciate a good crawfish boil? Did they delight in ice cream and an excellent spread of sundae toppings? Or did they love a particular restaurant? In a meaningful setting, guests have a chance to talk with each other, to remember and share memories about the one who has died, and to discuss the impact of a life lived.