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Funeral Basics Glossary: P, Q, R

By | Glossary

As with any profession, the funeral profession has its jargon, a specialized vocabulary unique to the business. Only those intimately familiar with the profession know what everything actually means. At times, this can be a problem because people need to be able to understand in order to make good decisions. Therefore, the need for a glossary! Hopefully, it will help you better understand any future conversations you may have with funeral professionals.



The individuals who are responsible for carrying the casket of the deceased. Typically, there are four to eight pallbearers, and they can be whomever you want. Most often, they are friends and family members. The funeral home can help arrange for pallbearers if needed.

Perpetual Care Trust Funds

A portion of the burial plot cost set aside in a trust fund for the ongoing care of the burial plot.


A growing trend in funeral planning. The main idea is to make each funeral personalized and unique to the person who has died, rather than have cookie-cutter type funerals.

Physical Memorial

See Headstone.


An area of ground in a cemetery used for the interment of human remains. See also Burial Plot and Cemetery Plot.

Power of Attorney (POA)

A Power of Attorney is a legal document that gives someone you choose the power to act on your behalf if you ever become mentally incapacitated. A Power of Attorney document is sometimes called a “Durable” Power of Attorney for medical care and finances. A Durable Power of Attorney simply means that the document stays in effect if you become incapacitated and are unable to handle matters on your own. Ask a trusted friend or loved one to accept this responsibility.

Prayer Card

A card with a prayer or poem on it, handed out to guests at a funeral. Normally, the card has a picture of the deceased and their birth and death date.


Advance funeral plans are sometimes referred to as prearrangements. Prearrangement offers a detailed record of a person’s funeral wishes, including service types, merchandise selections, and cash advance items (third-party charges such as flowers, cemetery property, police escort, etc.)

Prefunded Funeral Plan

A prepaid or prefunded funeral plan establishes a written and funded document or policy that covers the costs of funeral, cremation or burial expenses.

Preneed Plan

Refers to the written funeral wishes of an individual. Though not required, it can be a prepaid or prefunded insurance plan that establishes a written and funded document or policy that covers the costs of funeral, cremation or burial expenses.

Prepaid Funeral Insurance Plan

A prepaid or prefunded insurance plan establishes a written and funded document or policy that covers the costs of funeral, cremation or burial expenses.

Preparation Room

When a loved one has died and is tranferred into the care of a funeral home, the body is taken to the preparation room for care and preparation, including embalming, dressing, cosmetics, and placement in a casket for burial.


A premium is the periodic payment required to keep an insurance policy in force.

Presidential Memorial Certificate

A certificate signed by the current President of the United States, given in memory of a deceased veteran’s service to the country.

Private Family Estate

This term refers to land that is privately owned by a family. Sometimes families have buried or cremated remains of deceased relatives on private family estates.

Private Family Mausoleum

A mausoleum built to hold multiple deceased individuals from the same family.

Private Service

A funeral service attended only by close family and friends that is not made open to the public.

Private Viewing

A viewing of the open casket, available only for close friends and immediate family.


A court-supervised process by which a person’s assets are transferred to beneficiaries. If no will is in place, probate court decides how to distribute or transfer assets when a deceased person has a measurable estate.


A procession to the graveside helps families transition from the funeral service to the committal service and provides a symbol of unity and support, as friends and family travel together to the graveside. Most community members also choose to stop and allow the procession to pass out respect for the grieving family.



Register Book

A sign-in book for guests who attend the visitation, memorial, or funeral, which gives family members a record of everyone who attended the funeral events.


A term used to refer to a person’s body after death.


A term referring to the transfer of a deceased person’s body into the care of a funeral professional from the place of death.

Rental Casket

A ceremonial casket that is used only for public viewings or funeral services. The rental casket is able to hold a second cremation or alternative casket as an insert. Once the funeral ceremony is completed, the smaller, less ornate interior casket is removed and transferred to the cemetery or crematory for final disposition. A rental casket can offer a less expensive, more environmentally friendly option for families who desire a funeral ceremony prior to cremation or green burial.


The cremation chamber at a crematory used for final disposition.

Funeral Basics Glossary: S, T, U

By | Glossary

As with any profession, the funeral profession has its jargon, a specialized vocabulary unique to the business. Only those intimately familiar with the profession know what everything actually means. At times, this can be a problem because people need to be able to understand in order to make good decisions. Therefore, the need for a glossary! Hopefully, it will help you better understand any future conversations you may have with funeral professionals.


Scattering Garden

A specific area designated for the scattering of ashes. Normally, a scattering garden is located at a cemetery.

Scattering Service

A ceremony honoring the deceased by the dispersion of their ashes.

Selection Room

See Display Room.

Service Car

A car used to carry any equipment and decorations necessary for a funeral or memorial service.

Show Room

See Display Room.


A term most often given to any family members who remain living after someone has died.

Sympathy Card

A message sent to someone who has recently lost a loved one, expressing condolences.



See Canopy.

Term Life Insurance

Term Life Insurance offers insurance benefits coverage for a limited number of years. It expires without value if the insured lives for the duration of the defined period and is often a term of five to 20 years.


A large vault or chamber used as a final resting place. It is normally an above-ground structure as opposed to a grave that is below the ground.


See Headstone.

Transit Permit

A legal document granting permission for the deceased to be taken to a cemetery. The local government issues these permits. Depending on the city’s specific rules, an additional permit may be required if the deceased is to be cremated.

Transportation of Deceased

See Hearse.


A trust establishes a set of written directions determined by its creator, called the “settlor.” A valid trust must include trust provisions, a trustee, a beneficiary, and assets transferred to the trust. A trust consists of specific directions written by its creator, instructing the trustee how to hold property or assets for a beneficiary.


A trustee is the person who manages a trust. The primary trustee is the initial manager of the trust. A successor trustee takes over after the initial manager resigns or is incapacitated or deceased.



A person who “undertakes” the task of preparing a body for burial or cremation and makes arrangements for the funeral. Also called a mortician or funeral director.


A decorative or functional container used for storing the remains of a cremated body. Urns can be made from almost any material, including glass, wood, ceramic, or metal. Urns may also be biodegradable if they are to be buried in the earth or at sea.

Urn Ark

A large, decorative box made of wood with glass panels that is used to hold and carry an urn throughout a funeral and committal ceremony.

Urn Garden

An area dedicated to the burial of urns. Plots are generally much smaller than full-sized burial plots.

Urn Placement

The committal of an urn to its final place of rest, such as in a columbarium, niche, urn garden, or private family estate.

Funeral Basics Glossary: V, W, X, Y, Z

By | Glossary

As with any profession, the funeral profession has its jargon, a specialized vocabulary unique to the business. Only those intimately familiar with the profession know what everything actually means. At times, this can be a problem because people need to be able to understand in order to make good decisions. Therefore, the need for a glossary! Hopefully, it will help you better understand any future conversations you may have with funeral professionals.



Another type of grave liner, a burial vault is often required by cemeteries to encase a casket in order to prevent graves from sinking or caving in and to preserve the aesthetic beauty of the cemetery grounds. Vaults are usually made of concrete and offer more protection from the elements than grave liners.

Veterans Cemetery

A national or state cemetery run by the Department of Veterans Affairs specifically for the burial of eligible veterans and their dependents.


A scheduled time for guests to see the deceased body after it has been properly prepared for burial or cremation. Oftentimes, a viewing occurs just before the funeral service begins. One key difference between a viewing and a visitation is that the family of the deceased are not necessarily available to receive condolences at a viewing.


A Catholic religious service held the evening before the funeral.

Virtual Memorial

A virtual memorial is a digital space created to commemorate a deceased loved one. Memorials can be a single HTML webpage with the deceased’s name and a few words of tribute, or may be much more extensive. Multimedia content is common, including music, videos and stories and photos provided by friends and family. A timeline of the deceased loved one’s life, a family tree, a blog or journal may be created. Also see Online Memorial.


This is a time when the family is available to friends and other family members who wish to express their sympathies directly. In some cases, the body of the deceased is also present so mourners may pay their respects to the deceased as well.

Visitation Room

The room where the deceased body lies for guests to view before a funeral service.

Vital Statistics

This term refers to information regarding births, deaths, marriages, divorces, veteran status, and social security number.



The gathering of family and friends before a funeral to mourn and honor the dead. Traditional wakes are held in the home, with the body present, and a meal is usually served. Sometimes, a person, or persons, are designated to sit up with and guard the deceased body through the night. The wake can last the entire night preceding the funeral.

Web Streaming

A technological advance that allows the funeral or memorial service to be streamed over the internet in real time for guests who are unable to attend. They can watch the event on their computer or electronic device.


A will, also called a “Last Will and Testament,” is a legal document in which a person states their final wishes for the transfer of their assets after death.

Whole Life Insurance

Whole Life Insurance is also known as Ordinary, Standard or Permanent life insurance. Unlike term insurance, whole life insurance provides insurance coverage for the lifetime of the insured. Whole life insurance policies also provide tax-deferred buildup of cash value, payable upon surrender or payment default. Generally, permanent insurance has fixed premiums and death benefits. Other types of permanent coverage, such as Graded Premium Life, Universal Life, and Variable Life, offer variable premiums and death benefits.




Understanding the Opioid Crisis and What You Can Do to Help

By | Current Events, Grief/Loss

So many families across the United States are affected by the grief, anger, and confusion over the death of a loved one by overdose. Every day, more than 130 people in the United States die from opioid overdose. According to the National Safety Council, Americans are now more likely to die of drug overdose than to die in a car crash.  That’s more than 47,000 people in one year. Additionally, the number of overdoses among women (ages 30-64) has increased by 260 percent in 20 years.  Because of these alarming trends, the life expectancy in America has steadily decreased in recent years. All of these statistics make it clear just how vast the need is to help those who are struggling with addiction to opioids and other drugs.

With such a crisis growing in our nation, what can we do? How do we help the people we love? How do we work to prevent future deaths? Let’s review a few simple tips that will help you understand what opioids are, recognize an addict, and discover how you can make a difference.

Understand what opioids are

Let’s take a moment to understand what qualifies as an opioid. An opioid is a class of drugs that include illegal heroin, synthetic opioids (fentanyl) and prescription pain relievers (OxyContin, Vicodin, codeine, and morphine, to name a few). Fentanyl is 50 to 100 times more potent than morphine, and its use is on the rise. Opioids depress the body’s central nervous system, slowing down a person’s breathing. If you would like to learn what happens to the body during an overdose, click here. Warning: it may be too difficult for some to read the website’s content, especially those who have lost a loved one to opioid addiction.

Recognize the signs of an addict

As with any illness, there are specific signs and symptoms. The more familiar you are with what to look for, the more likely you are to recognize an addiction before it’s too late.

Common Symptoms:

  1. Neglected responsibilities – a person will stop caring about what used to be important. They will miss events, assignments, work, and will neglect aspects of life.
  2. Associating with unhealthy people – they will begin to spend time with people who are a negative influence and may take drugs themselves.
  3. Isolation – they will hide from the people who love them, often ashamed of their problem. They become depressed, anxious, and paranoid.
  4. Behavioral changes – the person begins to do things that are out of character. They may begin to steal, go to see doctors in hopes of getting a prescription, or have unexplained absences. Also, they may begin to ask for money frequently and be more concerned about getting it.
  5. Poor judgment – the person may have difficulty concentrating and their problem-solving skills may be affected. Additionally, they may seem detached from their surroundings.
  6. Physical symptoms – the person will show changes in appearance (weight loss or changes in hygiene), scabs or puncture marks, poor coordination, nausea, and digestive issues, like vomiting.
  7. Mood changes – the person may exhibit mood swings, depression, paranoia, or have sudden, unprovoked outbursts.

Learn how to help an addict

When considering how to help an addict, it’s first important to realize that you can help, but you cannot fight someone else’s battle. Addiction is a disease of the brain, something that is difficult to overcome but absolutely possible. However, the person struggling with an opioid addiction must want to change and must do the work of transformation themselves.

With that in mind, here are a few tips for helping an addict:

  1. Set boundaries and stand by them.
  2. Encourage the person to seek out help. They may not be able to search for treatment options on their own, so be ready to help. Also, if the process has caused you stress and pain, consider talking to a therapist yourself. You need support through this time, too.
  3. Set a healthy example. This may mean giving up some of your own habits.
  4. Be supportive, but don’t make excuses for them. The addict needs to deal with the consequences of their addiction. Again, this is not a battle you can fight on their behalf.

Practice compassion with those who have lost a loved one to addiction

Any grief is hard. Grieving a person who lost their life to addiction is even more difficult. When we grieve, our emotions are all over the place: anger, anxiety, sadness. But with deaths related to addiction or suicide, there is an added stigma to an already heartbreaking loss.

When you interact with someone who has lost a loved one to overdose, remember that they are struggling with more than the usual grief. They may feel guilty about not doing more to help. They may have a lot of unanswered questions. On top of everything else, they must deal with societal stigma surrounding the death. People are often far too quick to judge and too slow to offer compassion and acceptance. Make sure you aren’t one of those people – offer kindness and compassion instead.

Tell others what you’ve learned

So far, opioid deaths continue to rise. We must do what we can to speak with people, young and old, about the dangers of opioids, in all their forms. Most especially, talk to your children about the dangers of opioid abuse so that they can avoid falling into the trap of addiction.

And if you have lost a loved one to overdose, don’t be afraid to talk about what you’ve experienced. Your story, your loved one’s struggle, can make a difference in the lives of others. We all need to understand the very real impact of opioid addiction and actively work together to find a solution.

Lastly, for everyone who is mourning the death of a loved one to overdose, know that you are not alone. We all mourn. We mourn because we love. Take the time you need to mourn and grieve for the special, unique person you have lost.

Healthy Practices for Your Later Years: 60s

By | Estate Planning, Living Well

You’re in your 60s now, and if you’re intentional, it’s going to be an amazing decade for you. Now’s the time to reinvent your lifestyle and make decisions about what the next 20-30 years are going to look like. Life may still be a bit hectic. You may be looking forward to retirement. Your adult children may have moved back in while they ground themselves. You may be caring for aging parents. You may want to travel or spend time with all the grandkids. No matter what your goals, you need healthy habits and practices to get you there.

Just remember that no matter what your lifestyle looked like before, it doesn’t have to stay that way. You can change your lifestyle to reflect your new goals in life. It just takes time and determination. How you age – whether well or poorly – is almost entirely up to you and the habits you cultivate. Now, let’s talk about 10 helpful and healthy practices you can cultivate in your 60s that will lead to better physical health, mental health, and aging well.

Kick Bad Habits

We all have bad habits, but it’s never too late to kick them to the curb. Some of the most common medical concerns – obesity, diabetes, and some forms of cancer – are directly related to lifestyle choices. So, take steps to quit the habits that may be hurting your body.

For example, quit smoking, lose excess weight, drink alcohol in moderation, increase your activity levels, and reduce your sugar intake. In addition to these, you may have a few more bad habits you’d like to leave behind. Write a list of your new goals and make a realistic and actionable plan for how to accomplish them.

Exercise Regularly

As you grow older, focus on strength training, aerobic exercise, and flexibility. Building up your muscles will help you maintain strength, increase bone density, and boost energy levels. If you use weights or resistance bands, start with lighter weights and work your way up. Weight-bearing exercise will help to increase bone density and keep you active longer into your later years. Adding in aerobic exercise – anything that gets your heart rate up – will increase your heart health and help with weight management. And finally, flexibility works in tandem with your exercise regime and is vital to developing strong muscles and bones.

To begin, find an activity you like and stick with it. Invite a friend to join you. Yoga, swimming, golf, and walking are all great ways to stay strong and active. Experts say to get at least 30 minutes of physical activity on most days of the week. If needed, you can break the time up – two 15-minute sessions or three 10-minute sessions. Whatever works best with your schedule and lifestyle.

Eat Healthy & Hydrate Often

Of course, we all know that what we put in our bodies has a huge impact on how well our bodies function. So, consider adding more fruits and vegetables, fiber-rich whole grains, lean meats and proteins (e.g. chicken, fish, legumes, nuts, and seeds, and good fats (e.g. avocado, cheese, dark chocolate, whole eggs). Then, as much as you can, avoid eating too many sugary and processed foods.

As for hydration, did you know that as we age, we begin to lose our sense of thirst? That’s why so many older people suffer from undetected dehydration. Be intentional about drinking water, even if you think you don’t need it. The water will hydrate you, increase your metabolic rate, and keep you from feeling as fatigued after exercise.

Get Regular Check-ups, Screenings, and Diagnostic Checks

While regular check-ups, preventative screenings, and diagnostic tests may not sound like much fun, wouldn’t you rather know if there’s an issue so you can take steps to correct it? Visit with your doctor and discuss which screenings they recommend to keep your body healthy and strong.

And don’t be afraid to ask questions – research shows that patients who don’t ask questions or don’t understand their medical condition or prescriptions are at increased risk for complications. So, make sure you fully understand what’s going on with your health.

Pay Attention to Your Bone Density

Our bones are incredibly important to overall health. Bone mass builds rapidly until the age of about 25, and then, without proper care, our bones begin to grow weaker over time. This is one reason why older people are more likely to develop osteoporosis or to fall and break or fracture bones. In fact, according to the National Osteoporosis Foundation, 1 in 2 women and 1 in 4 men will suffer from a fracture due to osteoporosis.

But it’s not too late. You can build up your bones even now. Make sure to get enough calcium and vitamin D but also exercise. Both strength training and weight bearing, like jumping or marching, can help to improve bone density and decrease the risk of osteoporosis.

Keep Your Brain Healthy

You may be approaching retirement and looking forward to taking it easy. Enjoy your time – you’ve earned it. Just remember to keep your brain supplied with new challenges. As we age, our brains produce less serotonin (mood), acetylcholine (memory, learning, and concentration), and dopamine (movement, motivation, and learning). This means that we need to keep the brain active to keep it healthy. Don’t just sit on the couch, catching up on the last 30 years of TV shows. Instead, keep your brain healthy by taking courses, learning new things, or adding to your skillset.

Cultivate a Positive Attitude

In a culture that glorifies youth, it isn’t easy to accept aging. But time marches on for us all, and to age well, it’s best to accept it and make the most of it. In fact, according to research, you can add up to 7.5 years to your life just by cultivating a positive attitude about aging. Additionally, adults with a positive attitude toward aging are less likely to develop dementia. Adults who carry a gene that poses the strongest risk for dementia are 50% less likely to develop dementia. That’s huge! It goes to show the power of perception and positivity to our bodies and minds.

Don’t Waste Your Time

Whether or not you’ve hit retirement yet, be intentional with your time. But especially after retirement, many of us are more likely to become sedentary. In fact, the average retired person spends over 4 hours a day watching TV. That’s time that might be better spent doing things that are healthy for your brain and body. Exercise, socialize, volunteer, cook new things, travel, explore your creativity, or all of the above. Those things that you said you’d do once you had time – do them! Seek meaningful activities and relationships. You won’t regret it.

Maintain a Social Life

We all need relationships. Interacting with those we like boosts our overall health because they help us manage our emotions, reduce our stress, and hold us accountable for maintaining good habits. Perhaps you feel that you have less energy now that you’re a little older, but still, take time to be with others. But make sure that those you spend time with actually add value to your life. If there are people in your life who just drain you, limit your interactions with them and focus on the relationships that bring joy. For your own well-being, you may need to forgive those who have hurt you in the past, but that doesn’t mean they have to be a part of your normal social circle.

Get Your Affairs in Order Now

Getting your affairs in order can seem like a daunting task. Maybe you’ve considered organizing all the necessary documents and making all the right calls, but you just aren’t quite sure where to begin. Now is a great time to start. Have you written a legal will so your family knows how you would like to disburse your assets? Have you considered preplanning your funeral, so you can save money and provide your loved ones with a plan? Have you talked to your family or doctor about advance care directives, so they know what kind of medical care you want? All of these are important questions to answer and best done when you are still healthy. Now is a great time to start putting your affairs in order so that you can live with greater peace of mind for years to come.

12 Tips for Coping with Survivor’s Guilt

By | Grief/Loss

People who survive traumatic events are sometimes plagued with questions. Why did I survive, but my friend didn’t? Could I have done something to prevent this? The events repeat in their minds, and for some, survivor’s guilt settles in. In short, survivor’s guilt is feeling guilty that you survived an event while others didn’t. This could relate to many possible events, including a car accident, war, or surviving an act of violence.

Not everyone will experience survivor’s guilt, but many people will, to varying degrees. Today, let’s talk about ways you can cope with survivor’s guilt and come to a place of healing. If you’d like to learn more about survivor’s guilt, its causes and symptoms, please read Understanding Survivor’s Guilt.

Before we begin, if you have been struggling with survivor’s guilt for more than six months, go ahead and schedule time to talk with a counselor. If you can find a counselor who has experience in trauma, they may be an especially good fit to help you work through your grief and guilt.

12 Tips for Coping with Survivor’s Guilt

1. Give yourself time to grieve and accept what you’re feeling

Grief is hard at any time, but when grief is compounded by traumatic circumstances, it’s important to give yourself time to process. Not only are you processing what you feel, you’re also processing the events you witnessed. It’s going to take time and honesty. Acknowledging what you feel is a great first step, and no matter what you feel, it’s perfectly normal. Guilt, anger, relief, sadness, confusion – all of these are natural responses to what you’ve experienced. It’s okay to feel this way.

2. Talk about your feelings with those you trust

We are not meant to walk through life alone. We need each other, especially after something traumatic. While the person you talk to may not completely understand what you’ve gone through, they can offer a listening ear and encouraging words. Sometimes, just knowing that you’ve been heard and putting your thoughts and emotions out in the open can be therapeutic.

3. Take care of yourself

Grief takes a toll on us, mind and body. That’s why it’s so important to take care of ourselves during times of loss and emotional distress. So, find ways to exercise regularly (low impact is perfectly fine). Take part in relaxing activities. Eat nutritiously. Make sure to get plenty of rest. You need a healthy body to help you process what’s in your mind and heart.

4. Remind yourself that you can handle sadness and loss

While we often don’t feel like it, human beings are incredibly resilient creatures. We have the ability to “bounce back” from difficult circumstances. But first, we have to remind ourselves that we can overcome the sadness we feel. While we are not necessarily born resilient, we can cultivate it and come out of our struggles better and stronger. You can find meaning and happiness again.

5. Remember that you’re not alone

At times, we feel like we are the only one struggling. Everyone else seems to have it together. But that’s not the case. Every single one of us struggles with something, and for many of us, we struggle with the same thing. In March 2019, two survivors of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting and the father of a victim in the Sandy Hook school shooting all committed suicide. Each one of them dealt with a form of survivor’s guilt – they may have felt alone, but they were not alone. Neither are you.

6. Grieve those who died

You may know the person or people who died well, or you may not know them at all. But no matter the case, you can mourn their loss in a way that is personal and meaningful to you. We don’t have to know people personally to value their life and to pay your respects after their death. By grieving for those who are gone, you honor the life they lived while also working to heal your own heart.

 7. Accept that there may be no answers

We all want to know why something happened. We run ourselves ragged trying to understand something. But, unfortunately, sometimes there are no answers. We may never know why the gunman chose that day and place. We may never understand why that illness took our family member. And we may never understand why some live and some die. Don’t get lost in the “whys” – instead, focus on living your life to the fullest, as a way of honoring those whose lives were cut short.

8. Do something with your guilt

It may seem like your survivor’s guilt has no purpose, but you can make it purposeful. Educate others about what you’ve gone through. Raise awareness about causes of death. You may feel passionate about stopping drunk driving, eradicating school shootings, or finding a cure for cancer. Alternatively, you can find more quietly personal ways to do something with your grief. Create a memorial for the person who has died or remember your loved one through acts of kindness.

9. Try to stick to a daily routine

When life feels like it’s out of control, a daily routine can ground you and give you a sense of stability. Figure out what works best for you and stick with it. Add in relaxing activities and exercise. Go to bed at the same time each night, making sure to get plenty of rest. And make time to process through your emotions – don’t ignore them. If you want to find healing, you must face what you feel.

10. Find ways to express your feelings

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 an excellent way to process the painful feelings we encounter, especially during times of grief. For example, you could: draw, paint, scrapbook, keep a grief journal, take photographs, garden, write, cook, compose music, or restore a car. Give it a try – see if it works for you.

11. Embrace life

As hard as it may be, celebrate your survival. There is absolutely nothing wrong with having survived a traumatic event. In fact, your family is likely very grateful that you did. You’ve been given a gift that others were denied. Don’t push it away – embrace it. Most of all, remember that you can be grateful for your own life while also feeling grief for those who died. These two feelings can co-exist. You aren’t negating the importance of other lives because you are thankful for your own.

12. Consider joining a support group or speaking with a counselor

If you have been struggling with survivor’s guilt for more than six months, it may be time to speak with a counselor. They will help you wade through the complex web of thoughts and emotions inside you. Also, if you’re comfortable with it, join a support group. Speaking with others who have a shared experience is an incredibly helpful exercise and may be just what you need.

Survivor’s guilt is a form of grief. There is nothing wrong with it; in fact, it’s a normal response to what you’ve witnessed. But you can’t stay where you are. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected counselor and grief expert says, “You don’t get to go around or above your grief. You must go through it. And while you are going through it, you must express it you are to reconcile yourself to it.” So, pluck up your courage and begin the journey of facing your grief. In the end, if you do the work of grieving, you will find renewed purpose and meaning in life.

*If you have had suicidal thoughts, please seek out help. You may not feel like it, but you are irreplaceable and have something one-of-a-kind to offer the world.

Understanding Survivor’s Guilt

By | Grief/Loss

In a world filled with events beyond our control, we try so hard to make sense out of the senseless. Cancer, car wrecks, wars, mass shootings, and natural disasters are just a few of the events we grapple with on a day-to-day basis. And with each new event, a new set of people are at risk to suffer from survivor’s guilt. But what is survivor’s guilt? And how can we better understand it so that we might help ourselves and those around us?

What Is It?

In a nutshell, survivor’s guilt occurs when a person has survived a life-threatening situation while others did not. It is a type of grief, a way of working through complex emotions after a traumatic event. This form of guilt was first documented after the Holocaust when those who survived concentration camps felt guilty that they lived through the horror while others perished. Since then, we have found that survivor’s guilt is more common than was previously thought.

According to Nancy Sherman, PhD, survivor’s guilt begins with an endless loop of “counterfactual thoughts that you could have or should have done otherwise, though in fact you did nothing wrong.” In other words, survivors think they could have done something to prevent the tragedy from happening, when in most cases, they could not. Often, it is accompanied by thoughts like, “Why not me?” “Why did I survive, and they didn’t?” “I shouldn’t have lived; they deserved to live more than I do.”

Survivor’s guilt is made even more complex by the fact that its effects aren’t universal. Not everyone who experiences a traumatic event will deal with survivor’s guilt. Additionally, of those who do experience it, the severity will vary from person to person. Some people will work through the guilt quickly while others will find themselves bogged down by it.

It has been suggested that certain factors may increase a person’s likelihood to experience survivor’s guilt. A few examples are a history of depression, low self-esteem, childhood trauma, or unresolved past losses. But the most important thing to remember in the midst of it all is that feeling survivor’s guilt is a normal response to traumatic events. There is absolutely nothing wrong with feeling it, but it’s important not to stay there.


With survivor’s guilt, people may feel guilty about different things. So, in a sense, there are different buckets or themes that people fall into, depending on why they feel guilty.

Guilt about surviving – This one is most typically associated with survivor’s guilt. It revolves around the idea that a person stayed safe while others suffered. They feel that they don’t deserve to be safe and should have been hurt or even killed with everyone else. The person questions the fairness of the world.

Guilt over what you “should” have done – This aspect of guilt plagues people who feel like they didn’t do enough to help or to stop events from unfolding. There’s a sense that they should have known it was going to happen and tried hard to prevent it. Or, in some cases, a person may have tried to save someone’s life and failed. There’s a sense of responsibility and failure.

Guilt over what you did – Some may feel guilty about their actions. From pushing others out of the way while fleeing an active shooter to killing someone in a drunk driving incident, a person may feel guilty because of their own actions.

Guilt that someone died for you – For those who were sheltered from harm by another person, there is guilt that the person died saving them.

Those suffering from survivor’s guilt may experience any one of these themes or even a combination of them. As we seek to understand survivor’s guilt, it’s important to know that people feel guilty about different things, and no two people will manifest survivor’s guilt in exactly the same way.

Rational vs. Irrational Guilt

In most circumstances, we cannot take responsibility for another person’s fate. But, in some cases, the guilt may be rational while, in others, it’s irrational. For instance, there may be a time when our actions did impact the death of another person. For example, if a drunk driver survives a car wreck but kills a pedestrian. This is a type of rational guilt.

However, irrational guilt is tied to something that we did or didn’t do, or perhaps something that we feel that we should or shouldn’t have done. Even if you believe that someone’s survivor guilt is irrational, don’t try to minimize their feelings. They feel what they feel, and remember, it’s completely normal and natural to experience some form of survivor’s guilt after a traumatic event. In no way should you make someone feel that survivor’s guilt is an unhealthy form of grief – it’s not. It is only unhealthy if it isn’t dealt with or becomes overwhelming or obsessive.

Who’s Susceptible?

Everyone. We all grieve in different ways, and for some, grieving will include processing through survivor’s guilt. While those who have a history of depression, childhood trauma, or unresolved past losses may be more susceptible to survivor’s guilt, absolutely anyone could go through it. Survivor’s guilt is also more common in children, teenagers, and others with less developed coping skills.

In general, survivor’s guilt is more common in the following situations (some events may be more familiar than others):

  • After surviving war
  • When a child dies before a parent
  • After surviving an accident (e.g. plane crash, car wreck, freak accident, etc.)
  • After surviving cancer or another life-threatening illness
  • When a parent dies from complications of childbirth
  • After surviving an act of violence (e.g. shooting, assault, etc.)
  • After a fellow drug-user dies of an overdose
  • When a sibling dies, especially in the case of an illness
  • After receiving an organ transplant
  • After causing an accident in which others died
  • Guilt for not being present to save someone’s life

What Are the Symptoms?

Now that you have a better understanding of what survivor’s guilt is, it’s helpful to know what to look for in yourself and others. From person to person, the symptoms will vary, but the most common are:

  • Flashbacks
  • Irritability
  • Difficulty sleeping (including nightmares)
  • Lack of motivation
  • Feeling disconnected or numb
  • Intense fear
  • Physical pain (headaches, stomachaches, palpitations)
  • Depression and/or anxiety
  • Suicidal thoughts

In addition to these symptoms, a person experiencing survivor’s guilt will wonder why they lived and others died. They will also wonder if they could have done something to prevent the deaths of others. If unaddressed, survivor’s guilt can have a significant impact on mental and emotional health, but it may also serve as a catalyst. Some people transform their feelings of guilt into an increased sense of meaning and purpose. They look for ways to assist others who are dealing with the aftermath of traumatic events.

Having a better understanding of survivor’s guilt, its causes, its challenges, and its symptoms will help you identify it in yourself and those around you. If you take nothing else away, remember that survivor’s guilt is a form of grief. It is natural and normal to feel this way. The most important thing is to begin processing your grief and move toward learning to reconcile yourself to the loss you have suffered so you can heal.

To learn about coping methods, please read 12 Tips for Coping with Survivor’s Guilt.

7 Ways to Pay for Unexpected Funeral Expenses

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

When a loved one dies, the last thing you want to do is think about how to pay for the funeral, especially if funds are tight and the death is unexpected. Sadly, this is sometimes the case. In a recent survey, research shows that only 39% of Americans have enough savings to cover a $1,000 emergency. This means that many families won’t have the personal finances available to cover the unexpected cost of a funeral.

If this is your situation, you aren’t alone, and you do have some options. Be aware that most funeral homes require payment upfront, but a good funeral director will work with you as much as he or she can to help you access benefits that may be available and stick to your budget.

Let’s discuss 7 practical options available to you when it comes to paying for unexpected funeral expenses. You may find that a combination of these options helps you and your family create a plan that honors your loved one and meets your needs for a healing and meaningful service.

1. Use life insurance or a final expense plan

If your loved one had a current life insurance or final expense plan in place at the time of their death, talk to your funeral director about using a life insurance policy for the funeral expenses. You may also check with your loved one’s employer, as sometimes employers offer life insurance policies through the workplace. Often, a funeral home will file the claim on your behalf. Depending on how much the policy is worth, the beneficiary may even receive excess funds above the cost of the funeral. Also, both kinds of policies can have unexpected complications, and even if your policy is problem free, be aware that it may take 6 to 8 weeks to receive payment. Some funeral homes use a third party assignment company to expedite payment on verified benefits, which usually involves a small fee.

2. Choose an affordable option

First and foremost, choosing affordable options is the best way to reduce the overall cost of a funeral. Typically, cremation costs trend lower than burial costs, but be sure to look into both options before you jump to conclusions. Sometimes a direct burial is nearly the same cost as cremation. And keep in mind that choosing cremation or direct burial doesn’t mean you have to skip a healing and meaningful service. Often, a very inexpensive memorial service can be arranged to honor and celebrate your loved one’s life, even if it’s an informal gathering just for family.

3. Apply for free benefits (based on eligibility)

Next, look into any benefits that your family may be eligible to receive from the government. For instance, if your loved one was a veteran, they may be entitled to certain burial benefits, including monetary assistance and possibly a free burial space in a state or national cemetery and a grave marker. Also, the Social Security Administration pays out a small, one-time survivor’s benefit at the time of death. And finally, look at nonprofits, charities, or churches. For example, the Little Love Foundation assists families who have lost an infant with funeral costs.

4. Tap into personal funds

While this option is not ideal, it can help to consider liquidating any assets that you may have access to. Is there anything you can sell, such as non-retirement stocks or bonds, collectors’ items, or an unused vehicle or RV? Or, you may have a bit of personal savings set aside that can be combined with other sources of funding. Tapping into your personal assets and savings could help you avoid having to take on debt to pay for a funeral.

5. Recruit friends and family to help

More often than not, people will try to help each other out. While you may feel embarrassed at first, don’t be afraid to ask others for help. First, ask any family members – siblings, cousins, children, aunts, uncles – to contribute to the funeral expenses. After that, you may consider asking any close friends whom you think would want to support you and your family in this way. With all the funds gathered, you can then choose an affordable option for your loved one.

6. Set up a crowdfunding campaign

If no financial plan is in place at the time of need, you can use a crowdfunding website to pay for a funeral. Some of these websites are general fundraising platforms that can help you raise money for a funeral., in particular, has become a very popular way to campaign for a service. Other websites such as Funeral Fund are specifically tailored to funeral fundraising. These sites provide efficient ways to receive the financial support needed to create a meaningful ceremony for your loved one.

7. Use a credit card or funeral loan

The final possibility you may consider is using a credit card or taking out a personal loan. Obviously, this is not the best option since it includes the possibility of paying interest on the funeral amount. Some lending companies offer families funeral loans, often with no interest for the first few months. Ask your funeral director about funeral lending companies, if interested.

The Value of Planning Ahead

Ultimately, the best way to save money and prevent future headaches for your family is to plan ahead. If you are dealing with a death right now, this advice comes a little too late, but it bears keeping in mind for the future. Once you’ve chosen your preferred funeral provider, ask to speak with a funeral prearrangement specialist. Most funeral homes offer free advance funeral planning services to their communities. Take advantage of this opportunity to understand your options and take care funeral costs in advance.

When you plan ahead, it is much easier to stick to a budget and choose only the options that you know you want. Planning ahead also prevents your family from paying for options that you do not want! For everyone involved, it helps to make decisions with a cool, calm, and collected head rather than in a time of grief. So, if you are young and in good health, planning ahead can potentially save your family hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. There are several safe and secure payment options available for advance funeral planning. Speak to your local funeral professional for more information.

Sleeping Tips for the Grieving

By | Grief/Loss, Living Well

The best bridge between despair and hope is a good night’s sleep.”  – E. Joseph Cossman

Sleep is essential for human beings. Without it, our minds and bodies quickly begin to show the negative effects of sleeplessness. Times of grief are especially difficult. The word “bereaved” means “to be torn apart,” which is an appropriate description for how we feel internally when we lose someone we love. Because grief is a struggle, we must take care of our bodies to ensure that we have the energy for the coming grief journey.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief expert, counselor, and author, puts it this way: “Good self-care is important at this time. Your body is the house you live in. Just as your house requires care and maintenance to protect you from the outside elements, your body requires that you honor it and treat it with respect. The quality of your life ahead depends on how you take care of your body today. The ‘lethargy of grief’ you are probably experiencing is a natural mechanism intended to slow you down and encourage you to care for your body.”

Grief is Hard on the Body

Grief doesn’t just affect our minds or our emotions; it takes a toll on our bodies. Physical symptoms differ from person to person, but one of the most common physical experience is a disruption to sleep habits. This may mean that you have trouble falling asleep or that you fall asleep easily enough but wake up in the middle of the night and then can’t get back to sleep.

Just like we need sleep when recovering from illness, we need sleep when recovering from the physical and emotional strain associated with losing someone we love. A few reasons why you might experience difficulty sleeping while you are grieving:

  • Intrusive thoughts
  • Stress, worries, anxiety
  • Bad dreams or anxiety about having bad dreams
  • Trouble sleeping in the bed (for those who have lost a partner)
  • Other disorders like depression, insomnia, or PTSD

Oftentimes, questions plague us. Could I have done more? What if we’d sought treatment sooner? Should I have seen that this was going to happen? What comes next? How am I going to work and take care of my family? And so on.

The Importance of Sleep

If you are grieving, and you don’t get enough rest, then it’s even harder to deal with the complicated feelings associated with grief. You may be more easily overwhelmed, feel more irritated, get angry more quickly, become hostile or depressed, feel hungrier than is usual, and generally feel less friendly. On top of that, your immune response is weaker, which leaves you more susceptible to illness.

So, what happens when you don’t get the recommended 7-8 hours of sleep each day?

The science is a bit staggering and alarming. According to research, long-term sleeplessness can lead to accelerated aging, decreased bone density, and an increased risk of stroke, obesity, heart disease, and cancer. Sleep is incredibly important to our overall health and well-being in addition to being essential to healthy grieving.

Now that you know, what’s next?

6 Tried & True Tips

Create the ideal sleeping environment

Our bodies and minds need time to unwind before we can fall into a deep, restful sleep. The ideal environment is going to vary from person to person, but a few tips from the experts are:

  • Block out as much light as possible (use an eye mask, if necessary)
  • Leave your phone in another room and refrain from using it for at least 60 minutes before sleep
  • Keep the room cool (60-68 degrees) – we sleep better at cooler temperatures
  • Consider adding a white noise device (to block out sudden changes in sound or city noises)
  • Make sure your bed is comfortable – good mattress, pillows, blankets, etc.
  • Avoid doing anything stimulating, frustrating, or anxiety-inducing just before bed (or in your bedroom in general; you want the bedroom to be associated with peace and rest)
  • If you have lost your partner, you might rearrange your room, get a new bed, sleep in a different room, or get a body pillow to help with sleeping

Set a nighttime routine

Grief throws our lives and routines off balance, which is why we need to re-establish them to help with our rest. Routines give us a sense of peace and calm. We know what’s coming, and we enjoy the comfort of regularity. So, determine what the best routine is for you. Perhaps you dim the lights an hour before bed, read, snuggle with a furry friend, journal, or listen to soothing music. Find what best fits you but make sure that it is a relaxing, non-stimulating activity.

Stick to a regular sleeping and waking time. And if you haven’t fallen asleep after 20 minutes or so, get up. Read, meditate, work a puzzle – choose a relaxing activity. You could even practice breathing exercises to calm your mind and lull you to sleep. However, make sure you don’t turn on the tv or look at your phone. Research shows that the artificial light from screens actually reduces your melatonin production, which then affects your sleep.

Avoid caffeine and alcohol in the evening

We all know that caffeine is a stimulant, and if you’re trying to sleep, it’s best not to have it in your system. It takes 3-5 hours for your body to eliminate just half of the caffeine you consumed. One study even found that consuming caffeine within six hours of bedtime reduces your total rest time by one full hour.

And alcohol, while it does help you relax, actually suppresses melatonin, a key component to restful sleep. Research shows that drinking a moderate amount of alcohol an hour before sleeping will reduce melatonin production by almost 20 percent. To read more about the negative effects of alcohol on sleep, click here.

Avoid naps as much as possible

If you are already having trouble sleeping, a nap can really throw things off and mess up your established routine. Instead, stay awake until a decent hour and then fall into bed. Think of it like jet lag. When you are jet-lagged, you stay awake as long as you can so that the next morning, you can rise with the correct time zone. In some cases, especially early on in the grief journey, it’s important to take naps, but when the naps begin to interfere with your nightly rest, change is needed.

Engage in some form of exercise

Did you know that regular exercise improves sleep? The research shows that it does. Exercise reduces stress and improves mood, which is important while you are grieving. Studies have even found that daytime physical activity may trigger a longer period of slow-wave sleep, which is considered the deepest and most restorative stage.

If you already participated in a regular exercise routine before the death of your loved one, try to continue. If you did not practice a lifestyle of exercise, start out small. Take a walk, ride a bike, or pick up some small hand weights. Even moderate daily exercise can help you sleep better and improve your outlook on life.

Don’t be afraid to get help

Perhaps you’ve already tried all of these tips, and nothing has worked. Don’t be afraid to make an appointment with your doctor. They may have other resources available to you that will help. Deep, restful sleep is critical to rejuvenating your body throughout the grief process. But in addition to that, sleep is necessary for you to live a healthy life, physically, mentally, and emotionally.

10 Family-Focused Pet Remembrance Ideas

By | Grief/Loss, Pets

Pets have a special place in our hearts. When we lose one of our furry family members, every person in the family is affected, some more than others. As a parent, following the loss of a pet, it’s valuable to help your child learn how to mourn and grieve the loss. For many children, losing a pet will be the first experience they have with the pain of loss. Helping children remember, memorialize, and properly grieve a beloved pet teaches them how to process grief in a healthy way so they can do it again the next time the pain of loss visits them.

According to Dr. Wolfelt, a noted grief educator and counselor, “Any child old enough to love is old enough to grieve. And many children love their pets with all their hearts. As an adult, if you are open, honest and loving, experiencing the death of a pet can be a chance for children to learn about both the joy and the pain that comes from caring deeply for pets or for people.” This is a lesson they will take long into their adulthood and will pave the way for healthy grieving habits.

Let’s discuss 10 family- and kid-focused ways to remember and memorialize a pet that will help focus your and your child’s grief in productive and healthy ways, allowing everyone to say goodbye, process the pain of loss, and move toward healing.

10 Family-Focused Pet Remembrance Ideas

Before we begin, it’s important to take your child’s age into account when selecting any of these activities for your family. You may do some with a younger child and others with an older child. Or, if you’re comfortable with it and feel that it’s right for the entire family, do them together. The most important thing is to allow your family the opportunity to mourn and express the feelings of sadness that may be growing inside.

Share Stories

Let’s start off with something simple, easy, and good for everyone – sharing stories and allowing each family member to tell stories about the family pet. Tell the funny stories that you all know. Remember the moments when the dog knocked over the card table, dumping the contents, or laugh about the times you bathed the cat, making him look like a drowned rat. This activity will make you laugh and cry, but most of all, it will bond you together in your grief and allow each of you to talk about your feelings for your pet.

Plan a Memorial/Burial Ceremony

While funerals do not bring an end to grief, they are an important rite of passage and give us a certain measure of comfort. If this is the case for you, chat with your child about planning a small burial or memorial ceremony for your household pet. This could be as simple as having a small family gathering with a few words spoken, or you could invite friends and neighbors to take part, turning the event into a full celebration of your pet’s life. You could choose to bury your pet with his favorite toy or bedding or even invite your child to make an item to bury with your pet. The ceremony would allow you as a family to reinforce the importance of your pet’s life while also intentionally marking its death.

Create a Memory Album

Memory is a funny thing. After a period of time, we begin to forget – what our old house looked like, what our first grade teacher looked like, what our childhood pet looked like. That’s one reason why visual reminders are so powerful. They help us recall what we might otherwise forget.

To create a visual reminder for your kids, consider gathering up photos of your pet and allowing them to each create a scrapbook. Or you can create a scrapbook for the entire family, allowing each person to participate in its creation. Alternatively, you could place photos of your pet in a special place in your home. You could even create a shadow box and fill it with your pet’s collar, tags, photos, or other special keepsakes. In some ways, creating this type of memorial gives your kids something tangible to hold onto or look at, which is incredibly valuable during the grieving process.

Keep a Memento

Children often find safety in objects, like security blankets or a favorite toy they take everywhere. The same might be true as they grieve the loss of a pet. For instance, a child might find it helpful to keep the pet’s collar or sleep with its favorite toy for a while. Alternatively, you could place a photo of your pet next to the bed or help the child make a bracelet or necklace that spells your pet’s name. All of these will help younger members of the family feel that their feelings matter. If your child doesn’t want to do any of these things, that’s just fine. We all grieve in different ways.

Put Together a Memory Jar

Sometimes we just need a little reminder of the good times when we’re in the midst of the hard times. Consider having everyone in the family write down some happy memories of your pet and place them in a jar or bowl. Then, when someone is really missing your pet, you can pull out a memory and smile at happier times. This activity will allow everyone the opportunity to recall the good times and process what they’re feeling in the safety. You can either write down a memory for a child too young to write or have them draw a picture instead.

Create a Tribute Video

For some, a visual reminder is incredibly helpful. If it’s best for you and your family, put together a tribute video of your pet, using photos, audio, or video elements. Invite your kids into the process, and you might even add in a few family stories, like remembering the day you brought your pet home or some its more infamous escapades. Then, take time to watch it together as a family, allowing each person the opportunity to remember, smile, or cry if needed. Also, a video can be watched when the kids are older if they want to reminisce about your beloved pet.

Get Creative with Writing and Drawing

For some children, drawing a picture or a pet or writing a letter to a pet are helpful exercises. It helps them feel that they are communicating their feelings to the pet who is gone, and as with adults, sometimes you just need to get something off our chest. Another option is to write poems or short stories about your pet, perhaps giving them fun and amusing adventures or just writing down your feelings. Either way, creative expression is a helpful activity for anyone who is grieving and will help you process the loss.

Make Remembrance Jewelry

This is a simple activity that may help your child feel close to your pet at times when grief hits. You could order a special necklace or bracelet online that has a paw print or a photo of your pet. Or, you could involve your child in the jewelry’s creation by gathering beads, pendants, and other materials. Then, you can spell out your pet’s name or use charms to customize it.

Read Helpful Books

Books are a great way to teach children. That’s why we use them in our homes and in our schools. Story is powerful and can teach important lessons in a simple way. Consider finding a few books that will help your child deal with the loss of your family pet. A few books to look into are “The Tenth Good Thing About Barney” by Judith Viorst, “I’ll Always Love You” by Hans Wilhelm, and “Cat Heaven” or “Dog Heaven,” both by Cynthia Rylant. These are just a few to get you started. Check out your local bookstore or shop online to find an option that’s good for your family.

Mark the Anniversary

By taking time to mark an occasion, we acknowledge that date’s importance to our lives. We do this with birthdays, anniversaries, and other life events. Consider whether it’s appropriate and helpful for your family to mark the anniversary of your pet’s loss. That could be at the one-year mark or it could be the one-month mark. Either way, sharing a story, reading a book, or looking at photos can help your child realize the value of remembrance and that your pet was a valuable and irreplaceable part of your family.

No matter what you decide to do, that most important thing is to talk about your pet with your child, often and with love. Let your kids know that while the pain will eventually lessen and perhaps go away, the happy memories will always remain. When the time is right (best not to rush this), you might consider adopting a new pet — not as a replacement, but as a way to welcome another animal friend into your family.