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Exploring Your Release Ceremony Options

By | Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead

Losing a loved one creates a painful hole in our hearts that we often don’t know how to fill. However, through the process of grief and mourning, we can come to grips with the loss we have suffered. At a funeral service, symbolic actions give mourners the opportunity to put their grief into action. Oftentimes, we don’t know what to do with our grief, so at times like these, we turn to the comfort of tradition and ritual. In this case, the ritual of a funeral. According to Dr. Alan Wolfelt, grief counselor, author, and educator, “Funerals are made up of a number of ritualistic physical actions, all of which give mourners a way to literally move through the funeral process (and thus through this difficult time of grief).”

Symbolic actions include walking through a receiving line at the visitation, kneeling and taking communion during the service, participating as a pallbearer, soloist, or reader, or taking part in the funeral procession to the final resting place.

In addition to these time-honored symbolic actions, the release ceremony has increased in popularity. Because funeral homes today work closely with families to create personalized, healing, and meaningful funerals, it is even easier to incorporate personal touches to funerals. These personalized elements leave family and friends feeling that their loved one was truly remembered and honored.

Many types of release ceremonies are possible. Below are the most common types:

Balloon Release

As part of a meaningful celebration of life, family and friends may wish to gather for a special time of remembrance with a balloon release. Releasing balloons helps us say goodbye, allowing us to experience greater healing as we “release” our emotions. To make it more personal, write messages of hope and love on the balloons before releasing them.

“There should be no fear of death, for the death of the body is but a gentle passing to a much freer life.” – Helen Greaves

Balloons are available in a wide range of colors, from elegant white to multicolored. Balloons should be biodegradable and safe for the environment.

Dove Release

Doves have always been a symbol of peace and hope. Many families choose to release doves at the graveside service, offering family and friends an image of the loved one’s spirit ascending to heaven. White doves remind us of the purity of the departed soul and the freedom of the spirit as our loved one returns home.

Death is nothing else but going home to God, where the bond of love will be unbroken for all eternity.” – Mother Teresa

During the service, a poem or scripture is read and a number of doves, representing angels, are released. Next, a selected relative releases a single white dove, which joins the angels and is escorted to heaven.

Butterfly Release

Releasing butterflies is a beautiful expression of the transformation of the soul as we go from one life to the next. When a humble caterpillar transforms into a beautiful butterfly, other earth-bound caterpillars no longer recognize it. In the same way, though we may no longer see our loved one, their spirit lives on.

“A caterpillar dies and a butterfly is born; nevertheless, the two are one.” – Anonymous

Butterflies can be released from a single decorative box at an opportune time during an outdoor service. As an alternative, it is possible to arrange for each individual person to release a single butterfly from an origami box.

Lantern Release

A lantern release is a loving expression of release and hope. In the Eastern tradition, mourners light and release paper lanterns into the sky, believing that the lantern will guide their loved one’s spirit to final rest. Alternatively, floating lanterns can be released in remembrance of a loved one. By writing special notes on them, mourners can send messages of love with their loved one’s spirit.

The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity.” – Lucius Annaeus Seneca

Lanterns are available in a variety of colors. You could select your loved one’s favorite color. Alternatively, you can make many colors available and ask guests to select one that is significant to them. Either way, the act will be meaningful to all who participate.

If you are preplanning your own funeral or are planning a funeral for a loved one and would like to incorporate a release ceremony, speak to your funeral director about your options. Some states may not allow certain types of releases. Your funeral professional will know how to proceed so that you can honor your loved one’s life in a way that is personalized, healing, and meaningful for all.

Remembering Our Founding Fathers: Thomas Jefferson

By | Current Events, Exclude from Top Posts

Do you want to know who you are? Don’t ask. Act! Action will delineate and define you.” – Thomas Jefferson

(Photo: Statue of Jefferson at Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.)

The Fourth of July marks a great and long-remembered day in American history. It was on July 4th in 1776 that the American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain and became an independent nation. In 1870, Independence Day became a federal holiday, though it wasn’t until 1938 that it became a paid federal holiday.

Our founding fathers consist of seven influential men. They are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton. While each of these men had faults and made mistakes, together they created our nation and continue to be remembered for their patriotism and courage.

In honor of Independence Day, let’s reflect on one of our founding fathers, Thomas Jefferson: his life, his legacy, and the ways we have remembered and memorialized him.

Biography

Thomas Jefferson was born on April 13, 1743, in Virginia. He was born the third of ten siblings in a prominent family. In 1760, he attended the College of William and Mary, and eventually, he became a lawyer.

From 1767-1774, Jefferson practiced law in Virginia to great success. During this time, he also fell in love with and married Martha Wayles Skelton. They married on January 1, 1772, and eventually had six children together (though only two lived to adulthood).

Jefferson became involved in the colonial cause early in its development. In 1768, he served in the Virginia House of Burgesses, and in 1775, he attended the Second Continental Congress.

(Photo: Monticello, Jefferson’s home in Virginia)

In 1776, Jefferson was part of a five-man committee to draft a declaration of independence. He wrote the first draft in 17 days. After the Declaration was adopted on July 4, 1776, he returned to Virginia where he served in the Virginia House of Delegates and then as the second governor of Virginia.

Afterward, Jefferson retreated from public life until the untimely death of his young wife. He was then appointed the U.S. Minister to France, replacing Benjamin Franklin. After five years in France, he returned to serve as Secretary of State during Washington’s presidency.

Jefferson went on to serve as Vice President under John Adams, and in 1801, he became the third president of the United States and served two terms. Perhaps the most significant accomplishment of his presidency was the Louisiana Purchase in 1803. With this purchase from Napoleonic France, he doubled the size of the new nation.

After his presidency, Jefferson devoted much of his time to the establishment of the University of Virginia, and on July 4, 1826 – the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence – he died at his home.

Jefferson’s Legacy

(Photo: The Declaration of Independence)

As we look back at Thomas Jefferson’s life, none of us can deny that he left a legacy. He drafted the Declaration of Independence, served as both Vice President and President, and helped double the size of our nation. He was a scholar, a lawyer, a patriot, our third president, and a man whose words shaped the document that led to the creation of the United States of America.

During the last years of his life, Jefferson developed a strong friendship with his former political opponent, John Adams. In fact, they would die on the same day – July 4, 1826.

One month after their deaths, statesman Daniel Webster gave a eulogy for both men. He said:

As human beings, indeed, they are no more. To their country they yet live, and live forever. They live in all that perpetuates the remembrance of men on earth; in the recorded proofs of their own great actions, in the offspring of their intellect, in the deep engraved lines of public gratitude, and in the respect and homage of mankind. They live in their example; and they live, emphatically, and will live in the influence which their lives and efforts, their principles and opinions, now exercise, and will continue to exercise, on the affairs of men, not only in their own country but throughout the civilized world.”

Jefferson Remembered

Even now, we don’t have to look far to see the many ways that Jefferson has been remembered and memorialized. Mt. Rushmore, the Thomas Jefferson Memorial, schools, universities, streets, cities, parks, and statues have been named for him. Any time children learn about the Declaration of Independence, Thomas Jefferson will always appear.

(Photo: Mount Rushmore, Jefferson is the second from the left)

It is through permanent memorials, like schools, museums, and statues, that we ensure a lasting tribute for those who have been loved and lost. Memorials also allow us, as people, to honor those we wish to always remember. Just as we create memorials for our heroes, we also create them for our loved ones in the form of grave markers, scholarship funds, or memorial donations.

The Importance of Legacy

As we reflect on Thomas Jefferson’s life, think also of your own life. Are you leaving a legacy that you and your family can be proud of? Have you shared what’s most important with those you care about? If you look at Jefferson’s life, his legacy was peppered with both good and bad. However, it’s up to you whether you have an accidental legacy or an intentional one. Whether your legacy empowers others or brings them low.

(Photo: Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.)

With our legacies, we contribute to the future. The things we do and say affect the lives of others and have the power to create good or bad. What we do matters. What Thomas Jefferson did matters. Most of us are not prominent people. Our names are unknown to thousands, or even millions, of people. But then, fame and glory aren’t the point of a legacy. Instead, it is our responsibility as good men and women to create legacies that will take our families and the next generation to a level we can only imagine.

Let’s learn from Thomas Jefferson’s successes and mistakes and live lives that positively impact others and create legacies worth remembering.

Navigating the Emotions of Suicide or Overdose Loss

By | Grief/Loss, Loss from Suicide

It seems like it’s all over the news. The opioid crisis is ravaging communities. Another celebrity dies of an overdose. Another teenager takes his own life. Grief is always hard no matter how a loved one has died, but for those who are grieving the loss of a loved one to overdose or suicide, there is an added dimension to grief. For one, it seems like the death could have been somehow avoided. For another, the death leaves those left behind with many questions; none of them easy to answer.

As a society, we tend to avoid things that make us uncomfortable or that don’t fit into neat categories. Typically, the death of a loved one fits into a category that is easily understood: chronic illness, accident, injury, heart disease, cancer, old age, etc. But death brought on by addiction or suicide can leave us at a loss as to how to react. Because of this, those grieving the loss of a loved one to overdose or suicide have added hurdles in the grief journey. However, just because the grief looks different doesn’t mean that what you are feeling isn’t completely normal.

Let’s discuss some of the common feelings associated with losing a loved one to overdose or suicide.

The Death Feels Avoidable

In the cases of overdose and suicide, the death feels like it was preventable. You may be plagued by considering all the “what ifs” and “if onlys.” If only I had known. If only I had gone to see them that day. What if I had shown them how much I cared? What if I had done more? There is a sense that somehow, in some way, what happened is your fault. You feel that you could have done something to prevent the death of your loved one. While the death may have been preventable to a degree, it is not your fault. In most cases, it is a culmination of many things, not the actions or inactions of one person.

Guilt Sets In

For many families and friends dealing with suicide or overdose loss, guilt is an unwanted companion to grief. While the feeling is the same, the expression looks different for every person.

  • Guilt sets in because you feel that you could have done more to help.
  • You feel that it is somehow your fault that the person who has died developed an addiction or decided that suicide was the only option.
  • You feel guilty because you feel relieved. It’s hard to deal with an addiction that impacts family and friends for years on end, so when the person is gone, there is a sense of relief, which is then accompanied by a sense of guilt.

All of these are natural reactions, depending on you and your circumstances. These emotions do not mean you did not love the person who died. They are simply what you feel, and it’s okay.

Anger Shows Up

Oftentimes, when a loved one dies due to suicide or overdose, we become angry because it feels like the one who died had a choice in the matter. They didn’t have to die. You might feel angry that the person didn’t try harder. Or, you might be angry at the drug dealer who enabled the addiction or the bullies who made your loved one feel that there was no other way. You may even feel anger toward any medical staff or first responders involved because they couldn’t do more to save your loved one. If you are feeling angry, you’re not alone. For many people, anger is a normal and natural response to loss.

Shame Sneaks In

Shame sneaks into our grief and tries to make us feel like our loss is less than or not worth mentioning. This adds a new level of emotional distress. Both suicide and overdose deaths fall into a type of grief called disenfranchised grief. Losses of this kind are largely unacknowledged by society and are often mourned in secret. Ken Doka, who coined the phrase, says that disenfranchised grief is “Grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned.”

Because we may not want to publicly talk about a loved one who committed suicide or was an addict, negative emotions may take hold inside, and a sense of shame may develop. We feel that our loved one’s death is something we should not talk about – something that we should hide.

A person may feel shame because:

  • A family member suffered from an addiction or committed suicide.
  • They feel that they enabled the person who died.
  • They feel that they didn’t do enough to help.
  • Other people think that the person who has died is less worthy of mourning due to the circumstances of their death.
  • They feel judged by others because of their lost loved one’s struggles.

Blame Separates Us From Each Other

A recent survey found a greater incidence of blame between the parents of a child whose death was related to drugs or suicide. The study found that of the blame comments they researched, 64% blamed the child who died while 36% blamed a parent. And nearly 50% of parents who lost a child to overdose or suicide report that their significant other blames them for the death.

Built on similar emotions as guilt or shame, blame works to separate us from each other. When something happens that we can’t control, we automatically look for someone to blame. You may blame the person who first introduced your loved one to drugs. It may be that you blame yourself for not seeing the struggle sooner or doing more. You may even blame the person themselves for not fighting harder or for letting others bring them down.

That is a lot of hurt and blame going around. As you process through your grief, know that blaming others feels like a natural reaction, but isn’t necessarily helpful. Instead, work through your emotions, seek support from your family, and move toward reconciling yourself to the loss. Remember, it’s not about “moving on” or “getting over it.” Instead, reconciliation allows us to find a “new normal” that works for us.

Stigma Isolates

As if blame, shame, and guilt weren’t enough, there is a certain stigma that grievers often feel after losing a loved one to overdose or suicide. Because society at large often views overdose and suicide with negativity rather than compassion, those who are grieving feel the need to suffer in silence, leading to isolation.

This stigma from the outside world may lead mourners to:

  • Not talk about the loss of their loved one.
  • Be reluctant about showing their emotions about the loss.
  • Shy away from counseling or joining support groups.
  • Hesitate to ask friends or family members for support.

As a society, we are becoming more aware of our own biases, but for so many, the stigma remains. But if you are in the midst of grieving, remember that you have the right to mourn. The manner of death does not negate the value of the person who lived or the love you felt for them.

Fear or Anxiety Rises

After a traumatic loss by suicide or overdose, you may feel an increased amount of fear or anxiety. You may fear that a family member will also die in a similar way. Or, you may feel anxious about your relationships and wonder if surviving family members are keeping their internal struggle or habit a secret. This type of fear and anxiety causes some people to try to control others, as a means of protecting them. While it is good to want to protect your loved ones, be careful not to overdo it. If you find that anxiety is interfering with your work life, family life, or the health of your relationships, consider speaking with a counselor who can help you process through these complex emotions.

Depression Takes Hold

Lastly, depression can be triggered by grief, especially by a difficult loss compounded by guilt, shame, fear, anxiety, blame, and isolation. If you feel that you may be in danger of slipping into depression, seek help immediately. A good counselor or psychologist may be able to help you see the situation from a different perspective, provide helpful therapies, and work with you to maintain healthy habits and positive thought patterns.

Consider Compassion

As you work through the complicated emotions of loss due to suicide or overdose, try to replace negative emotions with empathy and compassion. Think of the person who died with compassion for the pain they were experiencing that led them to such extreme measures. Think of yourself and your family members with compassion, trusting that you did the best you could in difficult circumstances. Consider with compassion those who do not understand the pain you are going through. Allow yourself to release blame and embrace forgiveness.

You’re Not Alone

Every single one of these emotions is normal and well documented behavior for those who have lost a loved one to overdose or suicide. If you are experiencing any or all of these, you aren’t alone. Others who have lost a loved one in similar circumstances are feeling something akin to what you are feeling. They do not feel exactly what you feel – no two grief journeys are the same – but they are intimately familiar with the struggle to cope with a difficult loss. Remember – you feel this way right now, but it will not last forever.

Reach out to others who understand, talk to counselors, friends, and family members, surround yourself with people who are willing to listen. If you continue to walk through the journey through grief, sometimes fighting for every step you take, you will eventually find your way through to renewed hope and healing. And who knows? You may one day find yourself on the other side, ready to help another who is going through the pain of grief and loss.

Remembering Our Founding Fathers: John Adams

By | Current Events, Exclude from Top Posts

To be good, and to do good, is all we have to do.” – John Adams

(Photo: Portrait of John Adams)

The Fourth of July marks a great and long-remembered day in American history. It was on July 4th in 1776 that the American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain and became an independent nation. In 1870, Independence Day became a federal holiday, though it wasn’t until 1938 that it became a paid federal holiday.

Our founding fathers consist of seven influential men. They are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton. While each of these men had faults and made mistakes, together they created our nation and continue to be remembered for their patriotism and courage.

In honor of Independence Day, let’s reflect on one of our founding fathers, John Adams: his life, his legacy, and the ways we have remembered and memorialized him.

Biography

John Adams was born on October 30, 1735, in Massachusetts to John and Susanna Adams. At 16, he earned a scholarship to attend Harvard University. He graduated in 1755 and went to work for a prominent attorney. Three years later, he earned his master’s degree from Harvard and passed the bar exam. He married Abigail Smith in October 1764, and they had six children (one of whom, John Quincey Adams, would later become the sixth president).

(Photo: John Adams’s birthplace)

Soon after the Stamp Act of 1765, Adams became identified with the colonials’ cause. He wrote many essays in opposition to Great Britain’s acts. In 1770, he represented British soldiers on trial for killing five civilians at what has become known as the Boston Massacre. He believed that every person deserved a defense. In the end, six of the eight soldiers were acquitted and two convicted of manslaughter.

At the time, the people did not look kindly on his defense of the soldiers, but in the future, his actions would enhance his reputation as a generous and fair man. In 1774, he represented Massachusetts at the First Continental Congress, and when the Continental Army was created in 1775, he nominated George Washington as commander-in-chief.

In 1776, Adams, along with Thomas Jefferson and several others, was appointed by Congress to draft a declaration. The result was our Declaration of Independence, approved on July 4. The war continued, and in 1779, Adams was one of the American diplomats (along with Benjamin Franklin) sent to negotiate the Treaty of Paris, which would end the Revolutionary War.

Adams remained in Europe for a number of years, representing the newly formed United States of America. During Washington’s two terms as president, Adams served as vice president. Then, in 1796, he became the second president of the United States, narrowly beating out Thomas Jefferson. After his single term, he retired and lived quietly with his wife in Massachusetts. He died on July 4, 1826, the 50th anniversary of American Independence.

Adams’s Legacy

(Photo: Independence Hall, where the Declaration of Independence was signed)

As we look back at John Adams’s life, none of us can deny that he left a legacy. Though he often dealt with public opposition, due to his decision to defend the British soldiers after the Boston Massacre and his later decision not to start a naval war with France, he was a major influence in the founding of our nation. He was a loving father and husband, an articulate statesman and politician, and he was unswerving in his support of the cause for independence. He was a signer of the Declaration of Independence, our first vice president, and our second president.

Following his presidency and his retirement to Massachusetts, Adams and Thomas Jefferson, who were often opponents, began writing to each other and developed a strong friendship. They would die on the same day, one in Massachusetts, the other in Virginia.

One month after their deaths, statesman Daniel Webster gave a eulogy for both men. He said:

As human beings, indeed, they are no more. To their country they yet live, and live forever. They live in all that perpetuates the remembrance of men on earth; in the recorded proofs of their own great actions, in the offspring of their intellect, in the deep engraved lines of public gratitude, and in the respect and homage of mankind. They live in their example; and they live, emphatically, and will live in the influence which their lives and efforts, their principles and opinions, now exercise, and will continue to exercise, on the affairs of men, not only in their own country but throughout the civilized world.”

Adams Remembered

Even now, we don’t have to look far to see the many ways that Adams has been remembered and memorialized. Buildings, counties, military vessels, mountains, parks, and statues have been named for him. Any time children learn about the early days of our nation, John Adams will always appear.

(Photo: Scene from the signing of the Declaration of Independence as seen on the back of the $2 bill – Adams on far left)

It is through permanent memorials, like schools, museums, and statues, that we ensure a lasting tribute for those who have been loved and lost. Memorials also allow us, as people, to honor those we wish to always remember. Just as we create memorials for our heroes, we also create them for our loved ones in the form of grave markers, scholarship funds, or memorial donations.

The Importance of Legacy

As we reflect on John Adams’s life, think also of your own life. Are you leaving a legacy that you and your family can be proud of? Have you shared what’s most important with those you care about? If you look at Adams’s life, his legacy was peppered with both good and bad. It’s up to you whether you have an accidental legacy or an intentional one. Whether your legacy empowers others or brings them low.

(Photo: John Adams’s signature)

With our legacies, we contribute to the future. The things we do and say affect the lives of others and have the power to create good or bad. What we do matters. What John Adams did matters. Most of us are not prominent people. Our names are unknown to thousands, or even millions, of people. But then, fame and glory aren’t the point of a legacy. Instead, it is our responsibility as good men and women to create legacies that will take our families and the next generation to a level we can only imagine.

Let’s learn from John Adams’s successes and mistakes and live lives that positively impact others and create legacies worth remembering.

10 Reasons to Plan Ahead

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

A funeral is an important event for those who have lost someone loved. It’s a time to gather together, to honor the memory of the one who has died, to acknowledge the reality of death, to personally grieve, and to hopefully begin a healthy grief journey. Putting together a meaningful and healing funeral service is important to the grief process for those left behind and cannot be understated.

By planning ahead, you can ensure that your funeral is exactly what your grieving family will want and need. But perhaps you are skeptical about planning ahead. It may be something you’ve thought about doing, but you just don’t know how to get started. What does preplanning entail? Why should you do it? How does it benefit you or those you love? To learn more, let’s review ten reasons why you should consider planning ahead for your funeral wishes:

1. Planning Ahead Provides Peace of Mind to All Involved

Typically, the first few days after a loss are hazy and can feel like a dark cloud has descended. And in the midst of this emotional stress, the details of a funeral service are planned. Imagine if you could alleviate the burden that will fall on your loved ones to plan and pay for your funeral services. You can! Planning ahead is a gift of love that brings great peace of mind.

2. Planning Ahead Gives You Time to Create a Meaningful and Healing Celebration of Life

Planning ahead gives you and your family members (if you choose to invite them into the process) time to plan a meaningful funeral service. Without the time constraints associated with immediate need, you can thoughtfully plan and prepare a funeral service (burial or cremation) that will fulfill your wishes and meet the emotional needs of your family. A thoughtfully planned funeral service is a healthy first step for the bereaved on their individual grief journeys.

3. Planning Ahead Ensures That Your Wishes Are Known

If you have specific wishes for your funeral service, prearranging allows you to share those wishes with your family. And, if you elect to also pay for the funeral in advance (there are several ways), you are even more likely to ensure that your wishes are carried out. The funeral home will work with you to determine which options best fit your wishes, your budget, and your family’s needs.

4. Planning Ahead Saves You Money

It’s not uncommon for families to overspend when a loved one dies. Often, the family wants “only the best” for their loved one or their financial decisions are clouded by grief. This is why it’s a good idea to plan ahead. You make financial decisions with a clear, rational mind rather than one affected by emotional strain. In this way, you can control the ending budget for the cost of your funeral. By doing this, you can save your family money in the long run.

5. Planning Ahead Protects Against Inflation

Many funeral homes will guarantee in writing that the funeral services and merchandise that are itemized on your contract will be covered by your plan’s benefits at the time of death. Of course, this is only possible if you decide to prepay for your funeral expenses. If your funds are placed in a prepaid funeral plan, the growth on your plan could have certain tax advantages.

6. Planning Ahead Secures and Protects Your Funeral Funds

If you decide to prefund as well as preplan your funeral arrangements, you can ensure that the funds to pay for the funeral are secure and protected. The most secure way to protect the funds is through a prepaid funeral insurance policy, but there are other ways to prefund a funeral. There will be pros and cons to each one. As you research your options, you can determine which type is best suited to your individual needs.

7. Planning Ahead May Help You Qualify for Medicaid Coverage

This is commonly called “Medicaid spend down,” and refers to the process of divesting your assets down to an amount that makes you eligible for Medicaid coverage for long-term care. If you place your burial funds (for services provided by the funeral home) and burial space items (merchandise and items associated with burial of the body) into an irrevocable contract, then whatever funds you place in the contract will be considered exempt assets for Medicaid purposes.

8. Prepaid Funeral Funds Are Available Immediately

If you decide to set up a prepaid funeral policy, the funds are immediately available when the need for them arises. The funds can be set up to transfer directly to the funeral home. By doing it this way, you avoid probate court and unexpected delays. If you decide to use a life insurance policy to pay for your funeral expenses, it may be six to eight weeks before the funds are available.

9. Consultations with a Preplanning Specialist Are Free

When you partner with a funeral home, a qualified funeral preplanning specialist will work with you to iron out all the details for your funeral wishes. They will educate you on all the options that are available to you. With their depth of knowledge and experience, they will help you make informed decisions regarding your plans. And best of all, their assistance is free!

10. Our Tomorrows Aren’t Guaranteed

We don’t know what the future holds. But we can be certain of one thing – none of us are promised tomorrow. Denying the reality of death doesn’t make it less true. In many ways, the most loving thing we can do is take care of as much as possible in advance. The future may be uncertain, but by planning ahead, you can make a difference in the lives of your loved ones.

Grief & Difficult Relationships

By | Grief/Loss, Living Well

If you’ve had to deal with a difficult relationship with a close friend or family member, you’re not alone. Many of us know the pain associated with tense relationships such as arguments, hurtful comments, and even estrangement in some cases. Did a face just pop into your mind? It could be anyone – a parent, a spouse (or former spouse), a sibling, a child, or even a friend. The person and the circumstances differ, but we can all relate to the stress associated with difficult relationships. Oftentimes, the relationships that hurt us most are the ones that are close to us (e.g. family). Those are the relationships that are supposed to support us during hard times and enrich our lives, but in many cases, they don’t.

So, what happens when that person who brought pain to your life dies? In many cases, grief can be compounded by sadness over what might have been. This article will share a few ideas for coping with grief after the loss of a difficult relationship.

So, what happens when someone who has hurt you dies?

When the relationship was strained, you may have contradictory, negative, or unexpected emotions after the death of someone close to you. In addition, you may not know how to deal with these contradictory emotions. Perhaps you feel relieved but deeply sad or disappointed at the same time. You may feel like this person let you down because they didn’t try harder to mend the relationship. Or maybe you feel guilty for avoiding the person because of a negative experience. Alternatively, you may feel so angry that you convince yourself that you are glad the person is no longer around. This may sound quite harsh, but for some, the relationship was so hurtful or abusive that the person left behind cannot access feelings of compassion or sadness at the loss.

While all grief is hard work, in many ways, dealing with the loss of a difficult relationship can be harder for the survivors to process. This happens for many reasons, but one of the most common is because of the deep pain associated with the relationship. Additionally, the survivor may have held onto hope that the relationship would change for the better, but with death, that hope is lost. Even though the relationship brought deep pain (and possibly anger), most of us still wish things could have been different, but death ends the possibility for change.

Difficult relationships bring up complicated emotions

Some of these examples may resonate with you:

  • Numbness; not knowing if what you’re feeling is actually grief
  • Feelings of relief, which may seem inappropriate and abnormal (though they aren’t)
  • An absence of sadness, though you can see that others are sad
  • Finding it difficult to accept that the person is gone and any hope for reconciliation is gone, too
  • Feelings of grief even though others may think you shouldn’t grieve the loss
  • A lack of closure even though you thought the person’s death would not affect you
  • Feeling guilty that you didn’t try harder to have a better relationship while the person was alive
  • Anger that the person took something precious from you (i.e. a happy childhood, good self-esteem, a healthy, loving relationship)
  • Feeling justified in your anger against the person who has died

This is not a complete list. You may be feeling something entirely different, but please know that whatever you’re feeling, it’s normal. People experience a wide range of emotions when someone dies, whether the relationship was difficult or not: explosive emotions, numbness, anger, shock, disappointment, relief, sadness, to name a few. No matter how you feel, the most important thing is to process through your emotions and move forward. You must work hard to prevent destructive emotions and thoughts from festering inside you, which is far more likely to occur when the person who has died represents a source of pain.

Why you should allow yourself to grieve for people who have hurt you?

Simply put, you need to work through all the feelings of grief for your own well-being. Oftentimes, those who never deal with the pain and wrongdoing done to them end up as hurting, broken, and sometimes angry, people. In some cases, they themselves become the “difficult person” in someone else’s life, and the cycle continues. Those of us who have dealt with a long-term difficult relationship need to realize that there is deep emotional baggage to unpack, which doesn’t end simply because the person who inflicted it is dead. We must still learn how to reconcile with our past and move forward toward the future in a healthy way.

A few tips on moving forward with grief

To unpack all of the conflicting emotions that you are experiencing, take some time to try to name your feelings and then begin to process through them. First of all, give yourself permission to grieve, no matter what that looks like. As you process the loss of this person, here are some thoughts on how to unpack the complex emotions you may be feeling:

1. Process what happened

“Mourners must go backward before they can go forward.” – Dr. Alan Wolfelt, grief counselor, author

It’s important to understand that trauma can come directly from negative experiences (i.e. hurtful words, actions, and abuse) and indirectly from a lack of positive experiences (i.e. affirming words, expressed love and affection, and quality time). So, for example, if most people saw that you had a good father who provided for his family, but he never hugged you or told you he loved you, then you might feel the conflict resulting from indirect trauma. Here are a few ideas to help you process what happened:

  • Acknowledge the pain that you experienced and allow yourself to validate the pain without minimizing what happened.
  • List out all the emotions that you feel, without judgment.
  • Journal about the experience you are going through. Share what you do miss about the person, what you don’t, what you wish the relationship had been like, and what it actually was like.  A journal is a safe place to externalize your emotions, which is necessary to grieve well.
  • Talk about the difficult relationship – the good, the bad, and the ugly – with a safe person such as a spouse, friend, or counselor. Use this time to process what you feel, both relating to the recent death but also relating to previous tensions or trauma. It’s the unsaid stories that can do the most damage, so even if you are angry, put it into words. Don’t hold those painful thoughts and emotions inside.

2. Mourn for what was lost

“For all sad words of tongue and pen, The saddest are these, ‘It might have been’.” -John Greenleaf Whittier, American poet

Mourning is the external expression of internal grief. Expressing grief externally through mourning helps us to move forward in our grief journey. When we lose someone with whom we had a painful, difficult relationship, the process of mourning may be a little different. Here are a few examples of what mourning a difficult relationship may involve:

  • Allow yourself to mourn for what might have been. Grieve for the child that felt lonely, hurt, and alone. Grieve for the hugs and kisses and comforting words that didn’t come. Allow yourself to cry, not necessarily for the person who hurt you, but for the pain you endured.
  • Turn anger at the other person into compassion for yourself. As a wounded person, you are likely angry at the person who hurt you. However, anger will not help you heal. Instead, turn your anger at the other person into compassion for yourself. Tell that hurting child or young person inside you what you wish you had heard from other adults in your life. For example, “You didn’t deserve to be treated that way,” or “You are worthy of love and affection.” When you treat yourself with compassion, you give yourself a gift the other person couldn’t.
  • You can also try writing a letter to the person who has died to tell them everything that was left unsaid. Just because one party is gone doesn’t mean that you can’t still reconcile yourself to the loss. Tell the person exactly how their actions made you feel to get it all out. This is about you and your life, your healing, and your future. There are no longer any feelings to hurt or consequences to fear. Say what needs to be said so you can heal.

3. Choose to forgive

“Hatred is the rabid dog that turns on its owner. Revenge is the raging fire that consumes the arsonist. Bitterness is the trap that snares the hunter.” – Max Lucado

Finally, forgive, even when it feels impossible. Think of forgiveness as something you are doing for you, not for the other person. Release yourself from having to carry the burden of anger and bitterness. Only then can you release the hold they have on your life and emotions. By forgiving, you can find the peace you’ve been searching for. Remember:

  • Forgiveness is for your own well-being
  • The process of forgiveness can take time
  • Forgiveness does not excuse the behavior of the other person
  • Forgiving someone begins as a choice, not a feeling
  • Prayer, guided meditations, or deep breathing can help you focus on releasing feelings of anger and bitterness and receiving feelings of compassion and empathy for yourself and others

Do it for you

There are no perfect relationships. In fact, at some point, even the best of relationships will experience misunderstandings, moments of pain, or a few harsh words. For some, deep down, you really did love the difficult person in your life, and you are sad for the relationship that never was. For others, years of harsh words and painful interactions have encouraged you to build a protective wall around yourself. Even now, you’re not sure how to take it down (or if you even want to). No matter where you fall, at some point, you felt love toward the difficult person in your life or desired love from them. While it is a greater challenge to forgive and grieve a person who brought you pain, once you’ve done it, you will experience a freedom you’ve not known before.

 

Remembering Our Founding Fathers: George Washington

By | Current Events, Exclude from Top Posts

I hope I shall possess firmness and virtue enough to maintain what I consider the most enviable of all titles, the character of an honest man.” – George Washington

(Photo: George Washington during the Revolutionary War)

The Fourth of July marks a great and long-remembered day in American history. It was on July 4th in 1776 that the American colonies declared their independence from Great Britain and became an independent nation. In 1870, Independence Day became a federal holiday, though it wasn’t until 1938 that it became a paid federal holiday.

Our founding fathers consist of seven influential men. They are George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, John Adams, Benjamin Franklin, James Madison, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton. While each of these men had faults and made mistakes, together they created our nation and continue to be remembered for their patriotism and courage.

In honor of Independence Day, let’s reflect on one of our founding fathers, George Washington: his life, his legacy, and the ways we have remembered and memorialized him.

Biography

George Washington was born on February 22, 1732, in Westmoreland, Virginia. He was the eldest child of Augustine and Mary Ball Washington, though he was the fourth child overall (his mother being Augustine’s second wife). Not much is known about his childhood, except that he was mostly educated at home and helped his father on the tobacco farm.

When he was 11, his father died, and he became the ward of his half-brother, Lawrence. Sadly, in 1752, Lawrence died of tuberculosis when Washington was only 20 years old, leaving him as the heir of Mount Vernon and the family lands.

(Photo: George Washington’s family home of Mt. Vernon) 

Shortly after Lawrence’s death, Washington’s military career began. During the French and Indian War, he was appointed a major in the Virginia militia. Though he fought bravely, bureaucracy mired his experience with the militia, and in 1758, he resigned and returned to Mount Vernon.

At this time, he married Martha Custis, a widow, and loved her two children as his own. From 1758 until the Revolutionary War began, he focused on his home and lands. As tensions with Great Britain continued to rise, he became involved in politics, and in 1775, he was appointed Major General and Commander-in-Chief of the colonial forces by the Second Continental Congress.

Through many dark days and bloody battles, Washington commanded the colonial forces until November 1783 when the war was over. He resigned from his position on December 23, 1783, and returned home to Mount Vernon to rebuild his lands.

Then, in 1789, he became the first president of the United States. In this role, he set the precedent for all the presidents that would follow. He served two terms, and in 1797, he turned the presidency over to John Adams and retired to Virginia. Two years later, in December 1799, he became sick and died. The entire country mourned at his passing.

Washington’s Legacy

(Photo: Statue of George Washington in New York City)

As we look back at George Washington’s life, none of us can deny that he left a legacy. Often called the “Father of His Country,” Washington lived with integrity and character. He cared deeply for the men under his command, he loved his wife and adopted children loyally, and he is known as a man of personal integrity, focused on duty, honor, and patriotism.

He was a loving husband and father, a military hero, and our first president. To this day, we remember him with respect and awe for who he was and what he accomplished.

At his funeral, Congressman Henry Lee eulogized Washington with these words, which would impress Washington’s memory on the American people:

“First in war, first in peace, and first in the hearts of his countrymen, he was second to none in humble and enduring scenes of private life. Pious, just, humane, temperate, and sincere; uniform, dignified, and commanding; his example was as edifying to all around him as were the effects of that example lasting. … Correct throughout, vice shuddered in his presence and virtue always felt his fostering hand. The purity of his private character gave effulgence to his public virtues. … Such was the man for whom our nation mourns.

Washington Remembered

Even now, we don’t have to look far to see the many ways that Washington has been remembered and memorialized. The Washington Monument, George Washington University, the state of Washington, Mt. Rushmore, the $1 bill, plus numerous institutions, towns, counties, parks, and statues are all named to honor his memory.

(Photo: Mount Rushmore, Washington depicted on far left) 

It is through these permanent memorials that we ensure a lasting tribute for those who have been loved and lost. Memorials also allow us, as people, to honor those we wish to always remember. Just as we create memorials for our heroes, we also create them for our loved ones in the form of grave markers, scholarship funds, or memorial donations.

The Importance of Legacy

As we reflect on George Washington’s life, think also of your own life. Are you leaving a legacy that you and your family can be proud of? Have you shared what’s most important with those you care about? It’s up to you whether you have an accidental legacy or an intentional one. Whether your legacy empowers others or brings them low.

(Photo: Washington Monument, built to commemorate his life and legacy)

With our legacies, we contribute to the future. The things we do and say affect the lives of others and have the power to create good or bad. What we do matters. What George Washington did matters. Most of us are not prominent people. Our names are unknown to thousands, or even millions, of people. But then, fame and glory aren’t the point of a legacy. Instead, it is our responsibility as good men and women to create legacies that will take our families and the next generation to a level we can only imagine.

Let’s learn from George Washington and live lives that positively impact others and create legacies worth remembering.

Life Lessons Children Can Learn at Funerals

By | Living Well, Meaningful Funerals

Death and funerals are an inescapable part of life. It’s hard to know what to do when our children encounter death for the first time. As much as we would like to protect them from pain and distress, we can’t. But we can teach them how to process death and cope with grief in healthy ways.

Understanding the Purpose of a Funeral

First, it’s always good to start with why we have funerals in the first place. According to respected grief counselor, author, and educator Dr. Alan Wolfelt, the funeral ritual “helps us acknowledge the reality of the death, gives testimony to the life of the deceased, encourages the expression of grief in a way consistent with the culture’s values, provides support to mourners, allows for the embracing of faith and beliefs about life and death, and offers continuity and hope for the living.”

The six needs Dr. Wolfelt outlines above – the 6 needs of mourning – are met through a healing and meaningful funeral ceremony. And similar to adults, children have the same need, right, and privilege to participate in a funeral. In some ways, the structure of the funeral ceremony may be even more important for children because they have not yet learned how to process the deep and sometimes conflicting emotions they may feel.

Life Lessons Children Can Learn at Funerals

Children learn how to participate in funerals.

None of us innately knows what to expect or how to behave at funerals. Instead, we learn by seeing, hearing, and asking questions. Many of us came to understand the dos and don’ts of funerals by attending them and by asking a knowledgeable adult our questions. In order for a child to understand what is appropriate and respectful, to know how to behave in the future, they must learn about funerals and be allowed to see the ceremony in action.

Children learn that death is a natural part of life.

Death is a part of life. Just as a child needs to learn how to deal with disappointment, process explosive emotions, or adapt to social situations, they must also learn how to process death and dying. Children are exposed to death early on. They see dead leaves, bugs, or dead animals. Our children know more about death than we might expect. Giving them an opportunity to learn and understand death in a controlled setting is valuable.

Children learn how to say goodbye.

Two of the important things that happen at funerals are that 1) mourners have the chance to say goodbye and 2) there is a public acknowledgment that the relationship has changed (from one of presence to one of memory). Both are necessary for adults and children. Children need an opportunity to say goodbye, especially with close relationships (as is the case with a parent, sibling, grandparent, best friend, teacher, etc.). As part of saying goodbye, you might consider allowing an age-appropriate, willing child to participate in the ceremony by lighting a candle, reading a short passage, or singing a song.

Children witness the complexity of emotions.

Human beings are complex and messy. We experience many different emotions, and sometimes, we don’t even know why we feel a certain way. Children need to understand early that everyone experiences emotion, and everyone deals with their emotion differently. And ultimately, each child must learn how to process and deal with their own emotions. The funeral gives parents an opportunity to help children process their emotions by answering questions or talking about what happened after the ceremony. Children who were close to the person who died may need to process feelings of anger, abandonment, and fear. Observing others process their emotions through the funeral will give children examples of how to cope with grief in a healthy way.

Children see the value of supporting each other.

The funeral activates a system of support for those who are mourning. Friends and neighbors bring food, offer to watch the kids, or help in whatever ways they can. Condolences and heartfelt thoughts are offered to the bereaved. Children need to see the value of community support and learn how to offer such support in the future. For example, young children may ask why adults around them are crying, and they may practice offering to comfort others and showing support by giving a hug or patting a family member on the back. In some ways, children offer a kind of support without even trying: hope for the future.

Children learn how to honor and respect the lives of others.

If you remember Dr. Wolfelt’s quote, one of the purposes of a funeral is to “give testimony to the life of the deceased.” In other words, to recall our memories and share them with others. By doing this, we honor and respect the life that was lived and begin our grief journey on the right foot. Through the eulogy, the personalization of the ceremony or gathering, and other elements of a meaningful funeral, children learn that we must honor and respect the lives of others.

Children learn to treasure life.

If a funeral is done well, it touches the hearts of those in attendance. In fact, it should teach all of us just how precious life is and remind us how we want to live. Dr. Wolfelt puts it this way, “People who take the time and make the effort to create meaningful funeral arrangements…remember and reconnect with what is most meaningful to them in life. They strengthen bonds with family members and friends. They emerge changed, more authentic and purposeful. The best funerals remind us how we should live.” What an important lesson to learn early in life – to value the life you have and make the most of it.

What if my child isn’t ready?

Whether or not your child attends a funeral is entirely up to you. You know your child best – what they can handle and what they can’t. For infants and toddlers (ages 4 and under), attendance will not necessarily have any great meaning or significance, but for those who are preschool aged or older, it’s best to thoughtfully consider how to proceed. While we don’t want to force children to do something, we also need to teach them how to cope with and handle the difficulties life will throw at them. It’s up to you to decide if they are ready.

If you decide not to take your child to the funeral ceremony, here are some other options:

  1. Check to see if the funeral home has childcare available (this service is sometimes offered).
  2. Hire a babysitter. If you know a number of other parents who plan to attend the funeral, you may be able to hire one or two babysitters to watch a larger number of children.

What if my child is too young to understand what is happening at the funeral?

No matter what his or her age, if your child has lost a close family member, help them find a way to process their emotions as they grow up by giving them what a funeral ceremony provides for an adult. Find ways to acknowledge the death, remember the life, offer comfort and support, help them express their feelings about the loss, and help them create meaning and identity as they develop a relationship with their deceased loved one based on the memories shared by adults in their lives. You might take them to visit the cemetery or tell stories every year on their loved one’s birthday. Throughout the year, incorporate traditions, rituals, crafts, and keepsakes as part of your child’s grieving process.

The important thing to remember is that your child will need to come to terms with a significant loss at every stage of development until adulthood. So, keep bringing back the lessons learned from the funeral year after year. Your consistency over the years will help your child grow up feeling like they know who the person was and who they are as a result, which is the biggest life lesson of all.

Honoring Our Fallen Soldiers: Korean War Veterans Memorial

By | Veterans

In steel and granite, water and earth, the creators of this memorial have brought to life the courage and sacrifice of those who served in all branches of the Armed Forces from every racial and ethnic group and background in America. They represent, once more, the enduring American truth: From many we are one.” – President Bill Clinton at the Korean War Veterans Memorial Dedication Ceremony on July 27, 1995

Memorial Day is a day set aside every year to honor and remember the many men and women who have died while serving the United States of America and its people. As we seek to honor them, let us remember them and the great sacrifices they made to preserve life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Korean War Veterans Memorial

The Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. was dedicated on July 27, 1995, and was constructed to honor and memorialize the 5.8 million Americans who served in the Armed Forces during the Korean War (1950-1953). During its three short years, the Korean War claimed the lives of 36,574 Americans. Additionally, 103,284 Americans received wounds during the conflict.

The memorial also recognizes 22 members of the United Nations that contributed both troops and medical support throughout the war.

How It Came to Be

Congress received a petition for a Korean War memorial, and on April 20, 1986, they signed it into law. Under the guidance of the Korean War Veterans Memorial Advisory Board, Cooper-Lecky Architects designed the memorial. They, in turn, employed several designers to complete plans for the memorial.

President George H. W. Bush conducted the groundbreaking ceremony on June 14, 1993. Just two years later, on July 27, 1995, President Bill Clinton and Kim Young Sam, President of the Republic of Korea, officially dedicated the memorial. The dedication day was significant because it marked the 42nd anniversary of the armistice that ended the war.

Significant Features of the Memorial

Located in West Potomac Park, just southeast of the Lincoln Memorial, the Korean War Veterans Memorial makes a lasting impression on those who view it. On the dedication stone, these words appear:

Our nation honors her sons and daughters
who answered the call to defend a country
they never knew and a people they never met.

There are several prominent features to the memorial, each one significant and intentional.

Mural Wall

The memorial is built in the form of a triangle, with the tip intersecting the Pool of Remembrance. One side of the triangle is the mural wall, designed by Louis Nelson. Made of polished black granite (164 feet long, 8 inches thick), the mural wall consists of 41 different panels with over 2,400 photographs from the Korean War sandblasted onto the granite. The images selected represent Army, Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force, and Coast Guard personnel and their equipment.

19 Stainless Steel Statues

If the wall doesn’t command your attention first, the 19 stainless steel statues displayed within the walled triangle will. Designed by Frank Gaylord, each figure stands more than seven feet tall and weighs nearly 1,000 pounds. Together, the statues represent a platoon on patrol and all Armed Forces branches are present (Army – 14; Marine Corps – 3; Navy – 1; Air Force – 1). Dressed in full combat gear, they stand amidst strips of granite and juniper bushes, which represent Korea’s rice paddies.

The mural wall stands nearby, and due to the granite’s reflective quality, there actually appear to be 38 soldiers reflected on its surface. The soldiers represent the 38 months of the war and the 38th parallel, which still forms the border between North and South Korea.

The Pool of Remembrance

At the head of the triangle sits the Pool of Remembrance, a shallow pool lined in granite and surrounded by trees and benches. Nearby, engraved granite blocks pay tribute to the lives affected by the war.

Dead — United States: 54,246*, United Nations: 628,833

Wounded — United States: 103,284, United Nations: 1,064,453

Captured — United States: 7,140, United Nations: 92,970

Missing — United States: 8,177, United Nations: 470,267

United Nations Wall

On the north side of the statues is the United Nations Wall. This wall lists the 22 United Nations members who contributed both troops and medical support to the war effort.

Why Do We Have Memorials?

Permanent memorials ensure a lasting tribute for those who have been loved and lost. They also allow us, as people, to honor those we wish to always remember. Just as we create memorials for our heroes, we also create them for our loved ones. There are five key reasons why permanent memorials are important, whether it is to commemorate an event, a group of people, or just one person, like a close loved one.

  1. A permanent memorial provides a place for people to mourn.
  2. It gives all mourners (not just family) access to pay their respects and connect with those who have died.
  3. It provides a permanent place that will exist for generations to come.
  4. A permanent memorial allows people the opportunity to remember and reflect on the lives lived.
  5. It demonstrates our honor and respect for those who have died.

For many of our veterans, a large-scale memorial honors the group as a whole, as is the case with Korean War veterans and the Korean War Veterans Memorial. However, for individuals, families set headstones, grave markers, or inscriptions in place. Both types of memorialization are important and honoring to our veterans and our loved ones.

Want to Get Involved?

In 2016, President Barack Obama authorized the installation of a Wall of Remembrance at the Korean War Veterans Memorial. The Wall of Remembrance will specifically name the 36,574 Americans who lost their lives during the war. Funding is coming in from private donations. If you would like to help with this effort to honor veterans of the Korean War, please visit www.koreanwarvetsmemorial.org.

*In 2000, 5 years after the memorial’s dedication, it was discovered that a clerical error had been made and the total 54,246 included deaths that occurred outside the Korean War theater. The correct number is 36,574.

10 Questions to Ask Before You Prepay Your Funeral

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

A recent study by the Funeral and Memorial Information Council found that nearly 70% of adults over the age of 40 say they would prefer to prearrange their own funeral. However, only 17% had done so. If you are like most adults, you agree that preplanning and prepaying for your funeral wishes is a good idea, but you just don’t know how to get started. As with any financial decision, you probably have questions about the long-term benefits for you and your family. Planning ahead can be an incredible gift of love to those you care about, when it is done correctly. With that in mind, here are a few questions you might consider asking as you work with a licensed funeral planning specialist.

10 Questions to Ask When Prepaying a Funeral

1. How safe are my funeral funds going to be?

Your funds will not go directly to the funeral home. For your safety, the law requires that your payment(s) go to a third-party insurance company or trust account to manage the funds.

Before signing anything, look into the safety, stability, and performance of the insurance company or funeral trust account. Do they have a good rating by an independent rating company? Do they have a sound financial outlook? What is their reputation? Does it seem likely that they will be in business for years to come? You don’t want to commit to a prepaid funeral insurance policy or funeral trust unless you have confidence that your funds will be in safe hands. If you are not comfortable with the funding options available, request an alternate option.

2. Can I qualify for a prepaid funeral plan if I have health issues?

There are two standard ways to prepay for a funeral: a funeral insurance policy or a funeral trust. Most funeral insurance policies require you to answer a few basic health questions (funeral trusts do not ask health questions). Your answers to the health questions will determine the type of coverage you are eligible for. In most cases, your health status will not prevent you from setting up a prepaid funeral plan that is right for your situation.

To get specific details about the plans you qualify for health-wise, it’s best to speak with your funeral provider. They can give you more details about the funeral insurance policies that you are eligible to receive or how to set up a funeral trust. In general, some funeral insurance policies are easier to qualify for but offer no insurance protection in case death occurs before your payments are complete. Other plans offer limited insurance for accidental death only, but after a certain amount of time, the policy converts to a fully insured plan that covers the full cost of your plan should you die before payments are complete. Another possible option is a fully-insured policy that covers your plan 100% from day 1 and requires a few basic health qualifications to be met.

Again, your funeral provider can give you more details about funeral trusts, or the funeral insurance policy you are eligible to receive based on your honest answers to the health questions.

3. Can I cancel my funeral insurance policy or trust?

When planning ahead for funeral costs, it’s important to understand the terms of your contract should you decide to cancel at a later date. For a funeral insurance policy, in most states, there is an initial cancellation period. During this period, you can cancel your funeral policy for a full refund within a certain time frame, usually between 3 and 30 days. After the cancellation period passes, your ability to cancel will depend on whether the policy is revocable or irrevocable.

Revocable policies

With a revocable policy, you can cancel the plan at any time to receive the cash value of the policy. Keep in mind that depending on the type of policy you have, you may get back less than the amount you paid in. It’s a good idea to talk to a customer service representative at the insurance company to understand all of your options before canceling your plan.

Irrevocable policies

With an irrevocable policy, you cannot cancel the plan. An irrevocable funeral plan is usually used when an individual wants to spend down funds for Medicaid qualification by creating a Medicaid-exempt asset. Essentially, Medicaid does not consider an irrevocable plan as part of a person’s countable assets. To learn more about how irrevocable plans work, go to Medicaid Qualification Rules and How to Spend Down with a Burial Plan.

Funeral trusts

You can also set up a funeral trust as an irrevocable plan to help you qualify for Medicaid. However, revocable trusts are a little different. If you decide to cancel a revocable trust, the amount of your refund will vary from state to state. In some states, a canceled trust may be subject to penalties and the funeral home may have the right to retain a certain percentage of the trust funds. In other states, the beneficiary is entitled to a 100% refund of principal and interest. Always be sure to speak to your funeral provider or a customer service representative before canceling a trust so that you have all the information you need to make a good financial decision.

4. Can the funeral home guarantee any prices in my funeral contract?

Many funeral providers offer guarantees on funeral goods, services, and merchandise provided by the funeral home with a prepaid funeral plan. This usually means that, according to your agreement, the funeral home accepts the death benefit as payment for the price of the items included in the guarantee at the time of death.

For example, let’s assume your funeral options today add up to $6,500. In 20 years, you can expect the cost of those same or equivalent options to have risen by an estimated 2% per year to approximately $9,000. With a price guarantee, the funeral home will accept the policy’s death benefit as payment in full, even if the benefits are less than the then-current funeral cost. And, if inflation doesn’t grow as expected, in most states, the family will receive a refund of any excess death benefits over the then-current price. Guarantees work differently from state to state, so be sure to check the terms of your contract to understand what will happen in case the death benefit is above or below the funeral prices at the time of loss.

Remember, not all states or funeral homes offer a guarantee and not all items are eligible for a guarantee. Additionally, some funeral homes include an added charge to guarantee items. Ensure that you understand what items, if any, are guaranteed and what items are not.

5. How often will I receive correspondence from my account administrator?

Before you sign a prepaid funeral contract, make sure that you read and fully understand the entire document. Once you’ve signed, you will receive a copy of the contract for your records. Also, when the administrating financial institution receives the funds, you will get an acknowledgment letter.

From there, the amount of correspondence you receive depends on the insurance company and/or financial institution and their practices. Some will send a privacy notice when you first sign up, though not all will do so. Some trust accounts will send you annual 1099’s on the growth of your account. In our technological times, the best way to keep up with your account is to register with the company’s website if possible and keep track of your payments there. Alternatively, if you request paper billing statements, you will see your balance on the statement when it arrives every month.

6. Are there any funeral expenses that cannot be included in my funeral contract with the funeral home?

Absolutely not, you can include anything in your plan. However, for Medicaid qualification purposes, only “normal and customary” funeral expenses will be considered exempt assets. Keep in mind, too, that certain items in your plan may involve a third-party provider and are not typically eligible for a price guarantee. These are usually referred to as cash advance items because the payment is advanced to a third-party providing a service, such as a cemetery, florist, newspaper, caterer, or police escort. Because a third party determines the cost of these items, the funeral home cannot typically guarantee them in a contract. However, you can set aside money within your plan for cash advance items. Or, you can let your family know that these expenses will not be covered within your plan. Communication with your family is the key to avoiding unexpected surprises during a time of loss.

7. If I move, can I transfer my funeral contract to another funeral home?

It’s important to understand what your options are if you move away or need to transfer your plan. In most cases, you should have no issues transferring a funeral insurance policy or funeral trust to another funeral home. However, any price guarantees or discounts from your original contract may not carry over. If you are interested in a transfer, ask the funeral home of your choice to review your policy.

8. What happens if my prepaid funeral plan hasn’t been paid in full at the time of death?

It depends. With a fully-insured policy, your family will typically receive full death benefits regardless of whether your plan was paid up. However, even fully-insured plans are contestable in the first two years. In cases of suicide or fraudulent information on the application, full benefits will not be paid.

In general, accidental death is fully covered even by limited benefit insurance policies. If the policy has no insurance coverage, your next of kin will receive the current death benefit of the plan. If any expenses still remain, the surviving family members must cover the cost. Funeral trust accounts do not have accidental death or full coverage benefits.

9. Is it possible to make changes to my funeral contract?

If your funeral contract allows it, you can make changes to the goods and services you originally selected. You cannot make changes to the final disposition (burial or cremation). Should you want to change your final disposition, you must cancel your contract and start over. If you want to make changes to your funeral contract, discuss which changes can be made with your funeral provider. Please note, changing your preferences on an irrevocable plan does not mean you can remove money from the plan.

10. How do I file a claim?

To file a claim, contact the funeral home listed on your agreement. The funeral home can proceed with filing the claim on behalf of your family. If your family wishes to transfer the policy or trust to another funeral home, that should not be a problem. If your family has questions, your next of kin may contact the administrator of your account for information.

As you decide what questions to ask, the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) is also an excellent resource. On their website, they list the important components to look for when signing a prepaid funeral contract. To learn more, click here.

*Also, keep in mind: your next of kin can make changes to the funeral contract after your death in order to meet the needs of surviving family members, unless your state law prevents such changes.