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7 Pet Memorial Options

By Grief/Loss, Pets

Losing a pet can be like losing a person. While that may sound strange to some, grief isn’t about a who or a what, it’s about a relationship. And if you have a loving relationship with a pet, the grief can be very similar to what you might experience when a person dies, especially when the emotional connection to your pet is deep. And that’s okay. In fact, you may experience a variety of emotions, including sadness, anger, depression, or anxiety. All of these reactions to the pain of loss are completely normal, no matter who or what you may be grieving. One way that you can begin to process your loss is with a pet memorial.

For those who have lost a pet recently, one of the best things you can do throughout the grief process is to cherish your memories. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief expert, has walked with families through all kinds of grief. He says, “Memories are one of the best legacies after the death of a pet. Talk about and embrace these memories. Your pet entertained, comforted, frustrated but always loved you. Remember those times. If your memories bring laughter, smile. If they bring sadness, cry. Remember, though, memories made in love can never be taken away.”

Now, let’s discuss 7 pet memorial options you might consider as you look for ways to cherish the memory of your pet and find comfort as you grieve.

1. Share your memories with others

After losing a pet, your first instinct may be to turn to social media to post a picture and share your memories of your beloved pet. Alternatively, some pet owners choose to host a celebration of life for a very special pet. You could invite your closest friends over to help you honor your pet’s memory. You can share your memories and give family, especially children, the opportunity to say a few words. Make the event as lighthearted or as reflective as you want. You can hold an actual burial, placing your pet in a special spot, or you can simply celebrate the good times. You might even ask your guests to bring their own pets to the gathering. To bring in a little lightheartedness, you can make a special treat for any pets who attend or send the pets home with a little bag of treats.

2. Select an urn

For many people, choosing an urn for a pet’s cremated remains and placing it in a special place is enough. If you want to keep the urn in your home, you might choose one that is decorative and place a photo of your pet nearby. If you prefer to bury the cremated remains, you could use a biodegradable urn and bury it with your pet’s favorite toy or keepsakes made by the kids.

3. Create a custom work of art

If you like art pieces or are an artist yourself, creating (or commissioning) a custom piece of art is a great way to memorialize your pet. If you choose to create your own work of art, you will actually contribute to your own healing. Sometimes words just aren’t enough after a loss, and creative expression allows you to put whatever you’re feeling into a piece of art. The medium of art is entirely up to you – drawing, painting, sculpting, etc. The end goal is to create something that is special to you and helps you cherish the memory of your pet.

4. Place a memorial in a special location

If you have a garden, plant a memorial tree or add a memorial stone to the landscaping. You could even make a clay paw print to include. Alternatively, you can place a photo, painting, or collage of your pet in a place of honor in your home or in a different special place. If you had a favorite park to walk at together, you may be able to add a memorial bench. Determining what’s best is entirely up to you and the unique life you lived with your pet.

5. Make a keepsake

Depending on your own personal likes and dislikes, you can create a memorial keepsake in remembrance of your pet. You might buy or make a piece of jewelry and engrave your pet’s name on it, purchase an ornament and put your pet’s photo in it, create a shadow box, or put together a photo book or scrapbook of memories. The possibilities are endless. It just depends on what you like best and what will be most meaningful.

6. Order an engraved item

Another option for memorializing your beloved pet is to have an item engraved. The item entirely depends on you. You might want to have a piece of jewelry engraved or a shadow box or a memorial grave marker. You can even have your pet’s photograph engraved on an item if that will help you cope with your grief and remember the impact your pet had on your life.

7. Put together a memorial video

For some, a visual reminder is incredibly helpful. You can put together a tribute video of your pet, using photos, audio, or video elements. You can include footage of your pet and even interviews with family or friends. After it’s complete, you can watch the video any time you feel nostalgic or simply want to feel close to your pet again. Also, if you have children, the video will be a treasure trove of memories once they are older and want to reminisce about your beloved pet.

Grief is a very personal journey. Some people will take part in all of these pet memorial ideas while others may find other ways to honor and remember their pet. We all grieve differently, and those emotions can be expressed in many different ways. That’s why we must always be sure not to compare grief. We feel what we feel, and we process it the way we process it. We must all do what’s best of us individually and allow others to do the same. That goes for any kind of grief, whether you’ve lost a pet, a person, or anything in between.

3 Reasons to Have a Visitation

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

Have you ever wondered about the purpose of a visitation when a loved one dies? Why don’t we just skip to the funeral? This article will share three key reasons why visitations are a crucial part of a healing and meaningful funeral experience.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, nationally recognized grief counselor, author, and educator, says that in order to create a healing and meaningful funeral, you should intentionally incorporate seven elements: music, readings, visitation, eulogy, symbols, a gathering, and actions. He says, “People who take the time and make the effort to create meaningful funeral arrangements when someone loved dies often end up making new arrangements in their own lives. They remember and reconnect with what is most meaningful to them in life…strengthen bonds with family members and friends. They emerge changed, more authentic and purposeful. The best funerals remind us how we should live.”

Why Have a Visitation?

According to Dr. Wolfelt, one of the purposes of the funeral and visitation is to offer support for those who are grieving. We aren’t meant to walk through life alone, which is why the visitation is included in the seven elements of a funeral. The visitation is a time specifically set aside for friends, relatives, neighbors, and coworkers to come pay their respects to the person who has died and to offer condolences and support to the grieving family.

While it is common for the body to be present at a visitation, it doesn’t have to be. If the body is not present, it’s best to have some kind of representation of the one who has died, such as a prominently placed portrait, urn, or some other personalized display.

1. A Visitation Activates Your Support Network

As mentioned earlier, a visitation is one way to activate a community of support. Dr. Wolfelt puts it this way: “Funerals make a social statement that says, ‘Come support me.’ Whether they realize it or not, those who choose not to have a funeral are saying, ‘Don’t come support me.’” By including a visitation in your funeral plans, you give others the opportunity to show their love for you, support you, and offer words of kindness and sincerity. Who knows…someone may say exactly what you need to hear to find solace and comfort following the loss of a loved one.

2. A Visitation Provides Opportunities for More People to Participate

Often, friends, coworkers, and acquaintances want to offer their support but may not be able to make it to a funeral in the middle of the day because of work obligations, especially on short notice. Because a visitation typically takes place in the evening, it offers your extended network of friends an opportunity to show their support, even if they can’t make it to the funeral.

3. A Visitation Can be the Most Meaningful Part of the Service

The visitation is often the first time extended family, friends, and immediate family members will be able to gather in one place after a loss. For many mourners, this time is special because they are able to see many people they haven’t seen in years. It is often like a family reunion that becomes the most meaningful part of the service for some mourners. The visitation allows time and space to talk about the loss, express emotions, and generally feel the outpouring of love from friends and family alike.

What Are My Visitation Options?

If you do decide to include a visitation in a service you are planning, there are typically two main options to choose from. However, keep in mind that they are not either/or options. You could choose both!

Visitation the Day Before the Funeral Service

Your first option is to have the visitation the day or evening before the funeral service. By having the visitation the day before the service, you break up the length of the event, which may be helpful for the grieving family. Grief is exhausting, so splitting up the events of the funeral into more manageable chunks is often helpful. Also, people who may not be able to attend the funeral service still have the opportunity to show their support and pay their respects.

Visitation Just Prior to the Funeral Service

Your second option is to have the visitation just prior to the funeral service (usually the hour before). For some families, this option may work well because everything takes place on just one day. However, keep in mind, the day will be long for the grieving family. Because there is only one event to attend, everyone who would like to attend may not be able to come. Also, for those who can only stay for the visitation, it may feel awkward to leave before the funeral service.

Ultimately, you need to do what’s best for you and your family. Both of these options will help activate the support system you will need for your journey toward healing and reconciliation. Weigh the pros and cons of each option. Talk to your family. Ask a funeral professional about what works well and what doesn’t. Then, with the knowledge you’ve gained, make the decision that’s best for you and your family.

Suicide Loss Survivors: Your Grief Matters

By Grief/Loss, Loss from Suicide

No matter the type of loss, grief is hard. But in many ways, losing a loved one to suicide has its own added difficulties. You aren’t sure if you should talk about it. In fact, a family member may have asked you not to talk about it. You don’t know what to say when others ask about it or it comes up in conversation. In many ways, you just want the situation to go away, as if it never happened. But then, you feel bad because wishing it never happened is like wishing your loved one away. Why does it have to be so complicated? Does your grief even matter?

Yes, it absolutely does. Your grief matters. No matter the manner of death, take the time you need to mourn and remember your loved one.

Noted grief educator and counselor Dr. Alan Wolfelt attests to the reality of the deep pain that accompanies suicide loss. He says, “The death of someone from suicide feels unlike any other loss you may have experienced. The traumatic nature of the death may leave you feeling turned inside out and upside down. When suicide impacts our lives, we all need to grieve and to mourn. But our grief journeys are never exactly the same. Despite what you may hear, you will do the work of mourning in your own unique way.

Sadly, the society we live in is not always as compassionate and understanding, particularly in relation to suicide. There are certain types of losses that go largely unacknowledged by society or are not given public expression. These losses are mourned in secret and are often not spoken of. We even have a name for this type of grief – disenfranchised grief. Dr. Ken Doka, who coined the phrase, describes it as, “Grief that persons experience when they incur a loss that is not or cannot be openly acknowledged, socially sanctioned or publicly mourned.”

To the many mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, aunts, uncles, grandparents, cousins, friends, and colleagues who have lost someone to suicide, society may not acknowledge the gravity of your loss, but your loss is significant and worth grieving. Your grief is not something that should be swept under the rug or spoken of in whispers. It is real, and it is important.

So, as you move forward in your grief journey, as you mourn the loss of someone you loved, remember these things:

You have the right to grieve your loss

Despite what society may say, you have the right to grieve. You have lost someone special to you in a traumatic way. Any hopes and dreams you may have had for them are gone. You are left with a hollowness in your heart and a burning question – “why?” Even though you may never have the answers you seek, remember this – your loved one was one-of-a-kind, and you have a right to mourn them.

You have the right to talk about what you’ve been through

Particularly when we lose someone in a traumatic way, our feelings are all over the place. Maybe that’s you today. Find people you trust or others who have experienced a similar loss and talk with them. Share the weight of your grief. You don’t have to walk through this journey alone – you can invite others in. By talking about your loss, you help us all move toward being a society that acknowledges the depth of pain associated with suicide.

You have the right to feel whatever it is you feel

Grief expresses itself in many different ways. You may feel shock, denial, confusion, anger, guilt, sadness, or shame, to name a few. None of these are wrong. They are all normal. In fact, there’s no “right” way to grieve. For every one of us, the experience is different. So, embrace whatever it is that you feel – don’t push it away. We must go through the pain to move toward healing and reconciliation.

You have the right to be physically and emotionally weary

Grief is hard work. All of the emotions swirling inside, often not finding expression, sap your energy. You may find it hard to sleep, and as a result, feel tired and overwhelmed. In some cases, people may even experience physical symptoms like headaches, nausea, and weight loss or gain. Please know – this is a natural reaction. The body is in distress, the same as the mind and heart. Be kind to yourself as you grieve so that you have the energy needed to move toward healing.

You have the right to find freedom from negative emotions

Particularly with suicide loss, certain negative emotions rise to the surface. You may feel guilty that you didn’t see something sooner. Anger at your loved one may grip you. Shame and its terrible baggage may try to tell you that you shouldn’t talk about your loss. Or, blame may be turning your family against each other. All of these negative emotions swirl around, but you have the right to be free from them. If you do the work of grief, you can find peace.

You have the right to be unashamed of your loss

Despite what society or insensitive people around you may say, your loss is not shameful. You have every right to feel deep emotions. Your loved one fought a fierce internal battle and that struggle is real and should not be demeaned. Don’t feel like you need to hide. Openly express what your loved one’s loss has meant to you. If others don’t understand, that doesn’t mean you should try to conceal your grief. By no means do you need their permission to grieve.

You have the right to have your loss acknowledged

You do have the right to have your loss acknowledged, though you shouldn’t go around demanding that people do so. Forcing people into something is never truly successful. Instead, find comfort in the knowledge that your loss is worth acknowledgment, and because it is, awareness groups all over the country are working to bring it out of the shadows and into the light.

You have the right to experience grief bursts

In times of grief, you may experience grief bursts. When this happens, a surge of grief is triggered by something innocuous or unexpected. The trigger could be anything – a photo, an anniversary, a quote, a movie, an article of clothing. These bursts are a normal and natural part of the grieving process. Don’t be surprised or frightened when you experience them. Instead, find someone who knows your struggle to talk with when they occur.

You have the right to cherish your memories

Even though you lost your loved one prematurely and in a devastating way, you have the right to cherish their memory. You can do this in a variety of ways. Collect keepsakes – photos, your loved one’s favorite things, clothing, etc. – and create a memory box or scrapbook. Write your thoughts and feelings down in a grief journal or write letters to your loved one. Have a piece of jewelry made with your loved one’s initials or start a tradition that brings you comfort.

You have the right to move toward your grief and heal

Like any grief – recognized or not – you have the right to grieve and to heal. You may not feel like you have the right to move forward. You may feel a crushing sense of guilt or shame at the moment. That’s okay. That’s where you are right now, and it’s not bad. But learn to embrace the truth – you have the right to move toward your grief and heal. You can find new meaning.

Dr. Wolfelt tells us that we never get over a death; instead, we learn to reconcile ourselves to the loss. He states, “Your feelings of loss will not completely disappear, yet they will soften, and the intense pangs of grief will become less frequent. Hope for a continued life will emerge as you are able to make commitments to the future…. The unfolding of this journey is not intended to create a return to an ‘old normal’ but the discovery of a ‘new normal.’”

If you take nothing else away, know that your loss is significant, and it is heartbreaking. You have the right to mourn the loss of your loved one – gone much too soon. Grieve in whatever way you need so that you can find healing, peace, and reconciliation.

The Core Elements of a Military Honors Funeral

By Plan Ahead, Planning Tools, Veterans

Our veterans represent courage, honor, and sacrifice. Throughout our history as a nation, our military men and women have stepped up to face the opposition, protect our way of life, and preserve our freedom. Because we owe them a tremendous debt of gratitude, it’s appropriate that we honor them in special and symbolic ways upon their death. They served us in life; let us honor them in death.

The Department of Defense, through a program called “Honoring Those Who Served,” is responsible for providing military funeral honors. In most cases, the military personnel who participate do so on a volunteer basis. Keep in mind, military honors must be requested, so if you are in the process of planning a funeral for a veteran, work with a funeral director to make an official request.

Military funeral honors vary. A few factors that affect military honors are whether the armed forces member was active duty, retired, or a veteran; their rank; and the place of burial. For veterans buried in national cemeteries, the honors will have an added element of formality and include additional elements, such as a horse-drawn caisson for commissioned officers buried at Arlington Cemetery. Veterans buried in private cemeteries will be less formal and include fewer elements.

For now, let’s review the most common ceremonial elements and why they are significant to our veterans.

The Main Elements

Honor Guard

If a family requests military honors, at least two honor guards will attend the funeral, one of which is currently serving in the same branch that the deceased veteran did. Depending on availability and the rank of the veteran, the honor guard may consist of more members. The honor guard will carry out the requested honors with precision and respect.

Flag-Draped Casket/Urn

The flag-draped casket or urn is a prominent feature of a military funeral that dates back to the Napoleonic Wars in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. At that time, it was tradition to cover the dead with a flag before removal from the battlefield. Today, the tradition continues to remind the living of that person’s service and sacrifice. With the American flag, the blue field spreads at the head, over the left shoulder of the casket. After services conclude, the honor guard folds the flag and presents it to the next of kin.

Folding of the Flag

The honor guard at the funeral will also fold and present the flag. It takes 13 individual folding movements to create the ceremonial triangle, which is intended to represent the tricorn hats worn by George Washington and his men at the foundation of our country. After the flag is folded, the service member representing the veteran’s branch of service presents the flag to the next of kin and says:

On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States (Army, Marine Corps, Navy, Air Force or Coast Guard), and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.”

Playing of Taps

In 1862, during the Civil War, General Daniel Butterfield, with the help of bugler Oliver Norton, revised an earlier bugle call into what is now known as “Taps.” Previously, the song signaled to troops that it was time to put out the lights and go to sleep. However, shortly after Butterfield’s revisions, captain-in-charge John Tidnall presided over a funeral. He asked his men to play Taps rather than firing the customary three volleys. At the time, three volleys conveyed to the enemy an intention to begin fighting again. To avoid sending this message, the bugler simply played Taps. Since that time, the song has been associated with military funerals.

At funerals today, if a bugler is available, Taps will be played live. However, if no bugler is available, a recording of the song will always be played.

Additional Elements

To review, the honor guard, draping of the casket, folding and presentation of the flag, and the playing of taps are the core elements of a military funeral. Depending on availability, families can incorporate other symbolic actions.

These elements include:

  • Three-volley salute
  • Color guard
  • Pallbearers
  • Horse-drawn caisson
  • Military flyover

Know Your Veterans’ Benefits

In addition to the performance of these time-honored, symbolic actions, eligible veterans also receive other burial benefits. The VA offers burial benefits for eligible veterans, their spouses, and their dependent children. For instance, eligible veterans receive a burial space in a national cemetery where there is space available. This is at no cost to the family. Additionally, certain state cemeteries offer burial spaces to veterans, at no cost to the family. A veteran buried in a national cemetery is also eligible to receive opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, a government headstone or marker, one burial flag, a Presidential Memorial Certificate, and a grave liner, at no cost to the family.

To learn more about your veterans’ benefits, visit www.benefits.va.gov.

Why Does Funeral Personalization Matter?

By Explore Options, Grief/Loss, Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

I encourage you to slow down, take a deep breath and focus on what is really important—what is essential—about the funeral you are planning. What is essential is the life that was lived and the impact that life had on family and friends. To honor that unique life, the funeral must also be unique. Over and over families tell me that the best funerals are those that are personalized.”  – Dr. Alan Wolfelt

As people, we are unique individuals. We may sometimes resemble each other or like similar things, but no other person on earth is exactly like anyone else. Because we are so different, because we have our own nuances and intricacies, it makes sense to personalize a funeral. Just as we personalize our weddings, our birthdays, or our anniversaries, the final celebration of our life should reflect who we are, what we value, and what we leave behind as a legacy to others.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally-respected grief counselor and educator, tells us that “people who take the time and make the effort to create meaningful funeral arrangements when someone loved dies often end up making new arrangements in their own lives. They remember and reconnect with what is most meaningful to them in life…strengthen bonds with family members and friends. They emerge changed, more authentic and purposeful. The best funerals remind us how we should live.”

Whether you are planning ahead for your own funeral wishes or are planning a final tribute for a recently lost loved one, personalization is the key to creating a healing and meaningful experience that will meet the emotional needs of family and offer comfort throughout the grief journey.

What Parts of the Funeral Can I Personalize?

Dr. Alan Wolfelt tells us that to create a healing and meaningful funeral, you should include seven elements: music, readings, visitation, eulogy, symbols, a gathering, and actions. You can personalize any one of these elements to fit your personality, beliefs, and core values. For example, the music can include favorite songs, no matter the genre. You could incorporate a release ceremony or share readings from a favorite book, song, or poet. If it’s something that will honor the life lived, and it will be meaningful, then that’s a way to personalize.

How Do I Go About Personalizing a Funeral?

The first step is taking time to brainstorm the person’s likes and dislikes, their values and beliefs, their passions, hobbies, and pastimes. You can do that through asking yourself a series of questions and then deciding which ones capture the essence of the person who has died and reflect who they were.

  • What was my loved one passionate about?
  • What attributes were they known for?
  • Do you have any cherished memories of your loved one?
  • Did your loved one have any special achievements you’d like to recognize?
  • Was your loved one exceptionally talented at something?
  • When you think of your loved one, what do you think of?
  • What were your loved one’s hobbies or special interests?
  • What was your loved one’s faith or spiritual belief?

Once you’ve pinpointed the answer to these questions, decide how to use them to personalize each of the seven elements of the funeral. You can weave a theme throughout the event or you can simply focus on a few aspects of your or a loved one’s life. As long as you are taking the time to truly honor a life, then choose whatever seems best for you and your family.

A Few Ideas to Get You Started

Even after a brainstorming session, it can be tough to get started. Here are a few personalization ideas to get your creative mind up and running. Feel free to use these or come up with your own ideas!

  • Include a memorial DVD
  • Add in a candlelight ceremony
  • Choose a special location for the service
  • Pick a color or clothing theme
  • Bring in special music
  • Share a meal that includes favorite foods
  • Incorporate cherished items
  • Establish a memorial together
  • Make a collage or timeline of life events
  • Give guests a token/item to take home as a remembrance
  • Consider a release ceremony (butterflies, balloons, lanterns, doves, etc.)

All of these are potential ideas, but they are just the tip of the iceberg. The options are as unique as you are. Whether your loved one was a quilter, a collector, an artist, an animal lover, a teacher, a cowboy, a fisherman, a golfer, you can do something special to honor that person’s memory in a very unique and personal way.

No two funerals should be the same. Each one should be unique and personal. And with a funeral that is personalized, family and friends leave feeling that the service was healing, comforting, and meaningful. And above all, that the life lived was truly celebrated.

How to Personalize a Funeral When an Infant Dies

By Explore Options, Grief/Loss, Meaningful Funerals

Sometimes the smallest things take up the most room in your heart.” – A.A. Milne

Losing an infant or a small child is one of the most difficult situations to face as a parent. It feels wrong. Out of order. Unnatural. And yet, it has happened, and now it is time to grieve the loss of a life that could have been. But how do you go about creating a healing, meaningful, and personalized service for an infant?

If you are feeling at a loss for how you can celebrate a little life that has barely begun, your funeral director can help you find unique and personalized ways to create a service you will never forget that you can look back on for comfort in the years to come.

For example, let’s read about SuperGirl and her loving parents, as told by a caring funeral director.

Remembering SuperGirl

This week, I found myself sitting across the table from a young couple, who – until the day before – had been anxiously awaiting the arrival of a new baby. Sadly, the little girl had arrived far too early… bypassing a life in our broken world for a direct return to the arms of God.

The young couple was clearly in love but devastated and enduring tremendous heartache. The pair held hands and wept as we discussed how to create a meaningful funeral service to soothe their own pain, but also celebrate a little girl they would never have the chance to raise.

By asking a series of questions, I found out that they were planning to decorate their daughter’s room in pink and silver, and they often called her SuperGirl because “she kicked so hard when I was carrying her.”

In that moment, it became my desire to lay SuperGirl to rest in such a way that everyone would realize just how much this little girl meant to her family. I asked the family’s permission to borrow their SuperGirl idea for the service, telling them that I had a few ideas on how to make things extra special.

After they left, I quickly called up an artist friend of mine, who created custom vinyl graphics to adorn the tiny casket and a handful of small stickers to hand out to friends and family who attended SuperGirl’s service the following day. Our secretary also made memorial folders to match the theme, and once the family saw what had been done, they were overwhelmed with emotion.

In the end, we were able to transcend the “typical” funeral and create an experience worthy of a SuperGirl.

So, What’s Next?

As you can see, the personalized and meaningful touches included at their precious girl’s remembrance deeply touched SuperGirl’s family. For the rest of their lives, they can hold onto the knowledge that they took the time to grieve, to remember, to mourn, and to celebrate what she meant to them, even though she was gone too soon. But how do you get started?

Familiarize Yourself with the Seven Elements of a Funeral

First, familiarize yourself with the seven elements of a funeral: music, readings, visitation/reception, eulogy, symbols, a gathering, and actions. According to Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor and educator, when used together, these seven elements create a personalized, meaningful, and touching ceremony that will help bring healing to hurting hearts. When an infant dies, because their personality was still developing, these elements may be a bit more personalized to the parents and their desires, prayers, and dreams for their baby.

In SuperGirl’s case, because she was lost before birth, it was the parents’ wishes and plans that were used to personalize the service. This made the service meaningful to them and to their cherished memories of their little girl.

Brainstorm Together How to Make the Service Special and Unique

After you’re familiar with the elements of a funeral, you can begin looking for ways to personalize these seven aspects of the service to create a meaningful and healing experience. To help you as you get your thoughts together, you can ask yourself these questions:

  • What special memories do you have of your child?
  • What were your hopes and dreams for your child?
  • When you think of your baby, what do you think of?
  • Were there any special mementos that you might want to include?
  • Did you give your baby a special nickname?
  • Depending on the age of your child, did they have favorite toys or activities?
  • Do your loved ones have special memories of your child that you might want to include?

Identify Ways to Personalize the Service

Here are a few ideas for ways that you can make the service personal to you and to the memory of your infant. These are just to jumpstart your own thoughts. Try to make the service truly unique to you, your child, and your needs.

  • Consider incorporating a release ceremony. For example, you can do a balloon release ceremony with appropriate-colored balloons and invite mourners to write messages on them. When released, the balloons disappear into the sky, almost like sending a message to heaven.
  • Consider using a theme. You might include special items, like a blanket made specifically for the baby, shoes, or other items. If you had a color theme for a nursery, you could incorporate those colors into the service.
  • Consider inviting others to give of their time or resources to a charity in honor of your child’s legacy. If you have miscarried, invite mourners to give to a foundation that supports mothers going through miscarriage. If your child died because of a certain illness, provide details of how to give toward a cure. Choose whatever organization you feel is appropriate to honor your child’s memory.

  • Use music that was special to you as a parent and reminds you of your infant in the ceremony. Whether that’s music you listened to throughout the pregnancy or something your child went to sleep to, you can select what is most meaningful to you and your family.
  • Write a letter to your baby, expressing all your hopes and dreams and wishes for what should have been. This will help you as you grieve but may also be a beautiful tribute to share at the funeral service.
  • Consider establishing a memorial in honor of your little one, whether it is a physical memorial, charitable donation fund to a special cause, or memorial website or blog chronicling your journey.

Take Time to Grieve

After the ceremony, it may be a little more difficult to feel supported for as long as you need. Because support for infant loss is usually not as present as it is for other types of loss, seek out caring counselors, mentors, support groups, and friends when you need help processing through your emotions. You can also start a grief journal that expresses all your feelings about the loss–good, bad, and everything in between. So often, grieving the loss of an infant can feel like a very lonely road. When you are able, you can also bring significance to the life of your little one by helping others who have gone through a similar loss.

Whatever you choose to do, your child was beautiful and is worth remembering in a sweet, meaningful, and personalized way. Don’t worry about “making too much of a fuss.” That is the last thing you should worry. Every life deserves honor, remembrance, and celebration, no matter how briefly they graced our world.

8 Ways to Honor a Loved One’s Life on Halloween

By Exclude from Top Posts, Seasonal

It’s the Halloween season, and people all over are decorating their homes, buying candy, and making costumes. But for you, this year might be different. Grief may be taking a toll on you emotionally, physically, and mentally. The holiday may be especially difficult for those whose lost loved one truly enjoyed Halloween and called it their favorite holiday.

Rather than hiding for the holiday and wishing it away, why not give it a meaningful twist and take time to honor and remember your loved one’s life, especially if they valued the Halloween holiday? You can fill the holiday with meaningful and positive actions that will help you make it through the day (and possibly bring some joy to others). Think about what your loved one enjoyed most about Halloween – it can be a small yet meaningful aspect – and focus in on that idea, inviting others to join you in making the most of the day and honoring your loved one.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor and educator, 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 if you are to reconcile yourself to it.” One way you can begin to work through your grief is by allowing yourself to feel the pain and expressing your emotions through purposeful, meaningful, and positive symbolic actions.

If you aren’t sure where to get started, take a look at these 8 ideas for honoring a loved one on Halloween. If none of these work for you, that’s okay. You can brainstorm your own ideas that are more fitting for your loved one’s life and memory.

1. Make a Costume

Costumes are a big part of Halloween. If your loved one enjoyed the holiday, you might consider creating a costume that would make them smile. For instance, if they loved Disney princesses, make a costume based on their favorite one. No matter what they loved – Marvel movies, John Wayne, the color red, or cats – think of a way to incorporate it into a costume in their honor.

2. Visit Your Loved One’s Grave

If Halloween was special to your loved one, you might consider taking time to visit their final resting place. Depending on the cemetery’s regulations, you could leave flowers, candy, or even a few seasonal decorations. While there, you can tell your loved one how much you miss them and share your holiday plans.

3. Plan a Halloween Gathering

If the person you are grieving loved a good Halloween party, you might put on a fun celebration or attend a costume party in his or her honor. You could ask some friends over – new ones and old ones – and have an unforgettable Halloween bash. Put together some of your loved one’s favorite treats and add a few of your own. Then, simply enjoy the time of friendship and fun. Afterward, you can write a letter to your loved one or visit a place where you feel close to them and tell them all about it.

4. Participate in a Halloween-Themed Run

If your loved one enjoyed Halloween and also loved participating in runs from 5k’s to marathons, then taking part in a Halloween-themed run might be the perfect fit. You can dress up as your loved one’s favorite character or wear an armband or t-shirt that says, “In Memory Of” and join in the Halloween festivities.

5. Take Part in a Traditional Halloween Activity

Depending on what your loved one liked about Halloween, you might join in on some of the traditional fun to honor their memory. For instance, you may take the family out to go for a hayride, wander through a corn maze, carve a pumpkin, or enter the scary depths of a haunted house. Or, you could stay close to home and give candy to trick-or-treaters. Alternatively, you could take part in a fall festival in your community. Sometimes, choosing to honor a loved one means carrying on old traditions in their memory, even as you enjoy the things they did and make new memories along the way.

6. Bake a Favorite Fall Recipe

If your loved one was a baker, you can honor their memory by whipping up the family’s favorite fall recipe. Whether it’s moist pumpkin bread, ginger snap cookies, pumpkin pie, or candied apples, you and your family can enjoy a tasty fall treat and remember the good times that you had with your loved one.

7. Watch a Scary Movie

Some people love a good scary movie and make a tradition out of watching their favorite flicks every Halloween season. If that was your loved one, grab some popcorn and treats, invite your friends over, and relive all the nail-biting moments that you and your loved one enjoyed together. This is a great time to share memories about your loved one. It also allows you to continue a tradition that he or she really enjoyed.

8. Volunteer at a Halloween-Themed Event

If your loved one was someone who loved Halloween and/or the fall season and also loved helping others, you might choose to volunteer at a children’s Halloween event, pumpkin patch, or fall festival in your community. Getting involved is a great way to honor a loved one’s memory, meet new people, and grow through new experiences.

These are just a few ideas to get you started. Ultimately, what matters most is that you feel good about what you did to remember your loved one. Just because they are gone doesn’t mean you can’t still love and celebrate them for years to come.

However, if Halloween is a more difficult holiday for you and you would like to learn about a few ways you can grieve well during the Halloween season, click here to read Grieving Well During the Halloween Season.

How to Support Someone Struggling with Mental Health

By Living Well

So many of us know someone who is struggling with their mental health. It can strike fathers, mothers, siblings, grandparents, friends, classmates, and co-workers. And oftentimes, the struggle is hidden from view and whispered over rather than treated with the compassion and care it deserves.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 1 in 5 U.S. adults experiences mental illness in a given year. That’s 46.6 million Americans. And each year, more than 8 million deaths worldwide are attributed to a mental illness, including many due to suicide or overdose. NAMI research also shows that 46% of people who die by suicide had a known mental health condition. These numbers tell us that millions of people worldwide struggle with mental health on a daily basis. The battle is real, and its reach is vast.

The question is: What can we do as individuals to help the people closest to us who are suffering from some form of mental illness live long and healthy lives? First, let’s go over the most common types of mental illness, and then we’ll discuss some practical ways you can help those around you who might suffer from a mental illness.

Five Categories of Mental Health Disorders

The term “mental illness” or “mental health disorder” refers to any disorder that affects mood, thinking, or behavior. The five major categories of mental illness are: anxiety disorders, mood disorders, schizophrenia and other psychoses, dementia, and eating disorders. Let’s take a closer look at each type.

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders affect approximately 40 million American adults. Typically, people suffering from an anxiety disorder experience distressing and frequent times of fear and apprehension. If not treated, the symptoms can worsen and begin to include panic attacks, physical symptoms, nightmares, and obsessive thoughts. Some common anxiety disorders are: panic disorder, OCD, PTSD, social anxiety disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder.

Mood Disorders

The two most common mood disorders are depression and bipolar affective disorder. Depression affects an estimated 300 million people worldwide and is characterized by loss of interest, sadness, feelings of guilt, low self-worth, difficulty falling asleep, exhaustion, and a lack of concentration. Depression can be long-lasting or recurring, leading to significant interference with a person’s ability to function on a daily basis.

Bipolar disorder, on the other hand, is marked by mood swings from extreme highs (elevated mood, hyperactivity, inflated self-esteem) to extreme lows (depression, sadness, hopelessness, lethargy), occasionally with a stabilized mood in between. Affecting more than 60 million people worldwide, the cause of bipolar affective disorder is not entirely known.

Schizophrenia and Other Psychoses

Psychoses, including schizophrenia, are a much more severe form of mental illness and impact about 23 million people worldwide. Pychosis disorders are characterized by distortions in thinking, perception, emotions, sense of self, and behavior. Often, people suffering from psychosis experience hallucinations, making normal life difficult. There is a strong stigma associated with type of mental illness, so many people don’t get the medical help and social support they need to heal.

Dementia

Though we don’t always group it with the others, dementia is a form of mental illness. It is generally chronic or progressive and often refers to the deterioration of memory, comprehension, calculation, and language, as well as emotional and social control. Dementia is caused by a variety of diseases that impact the brain, and while we don’t currently have a cure, there are treatments available to ease the confusion of the sufferer.

Eating Disorders

For many, eating disorders can be a life-threatening condition if left untreated. While there are many variations, they all involve obsessive behavior around food, weight, and body image. Usually, the behavior starts out relatively harmless but can escalate to the point where the body is unhealthy, causing damage that can lead to an early death. The three most common types of eating disorders are: anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and binge-eating disorder.

Now that we have a better understanding of mental health disorders and what illnesses fall into them, let’s talk about how you can support those around you who are struggling with one or more of these health problems.

Eight Simple but Practical Support Tips

First, let’s acknowledge that relationships are hard, and when one person in the relationship is dealing with a mental health condition, it’s often harder to maintain a good relationship and positive interactions. So, when talking to friends or family who are dealing with mental health problems, try to focus on the opportunity to learn and provide support. The more you talk to others about a mental health issue they are dealing with, the more you can recognize symptoms and offer greater understanding and compassion.

1. Educate Yourself and Others Who Want to Learn

Even though you may not experience a mental health disorder yourself, you can seek to understand what others are dealing with. By getting to the truth of the difficulties of a particular mental health disorder, you can offer a greater degree of compassion and even locate mental health resources in your area that may provide treatment and medical care. The more you learn, the better. And if you can share what you’ve learned with others, more and more people will feel empowered to support their friends and loved ones who are dealing with mental illness.

2. Listen to Understand

So often, we only listen half-heartedly. While we hear the words, we are actually formulating our own response. When we do this, the other person often feels like you aren’t hearing them or trying to understand. When talking to a person who is struggling with a mental health issue, listen carefully. You don’t have to agree with them – the point is to understand how they feel and respect their feelings. It’s not a debate; it’s simply a dialogue. Build trust and rapport. Treat them with kindness and let them share as little or as much as they want. It’s not about fixing them – it’s making them feel heard.

3. Let Them Share Without Fear of Judgment

Being open and vulnerable with others is hard, especially if the trust between people isn’t strong. In order to support someone struggling with their mental health, you need to create a safe space for them. Don’t try to diagnose them or question their feelings. Ask them open-ended questions so that you encourage a full response rather than a simple “yes” or “no.” Look for common ground, and if you find yourself feeling defensive, gracefully end the conversation until you can talk in a calm, compassionate way. The more they trust you, the more they will open up and let you support them.

4. Avoid Belittling Their Experience or Alienating Them

Sometimes, we simply don’t think before we speak, and usually, that’s when we hurt our relationships with others. Careless words cut deep. So, make sure that you don’t blame them or raise your voice. Allow them to speak. Don’t make the conversation about you and your struggles – focus on them. Avoid sarcasm, condescension, or jokes about their condition. Instead, offer kindness and compassion.

5. Ask How You Can Help

While your friend or loved one may not know how you can help them, the act of asking the question lets them know that you want to be helpful and supportive. If they do give you ways to help them along the journey, only take on what you can handle. You’re only one person, and you may need to enlist others to help, particularly those who also love the mentally ill person. Also, don’t be afraid to ask the question more than once. As time goes on, needs may change, so it’s good to create a habit of asking how you can help every so often.

6. Encourage Self-Care

For anyone who is dealing with a physically, mentally, or emotionally distressing situation, self-care is especially important. Encourage your friend or loved one to exercise regularly, eat healthy foods, and do things that bring them joy and help reduce stress. The more they care for themselves and are aware of their current mood, the better.

7. Intentionally Include Them in Your Life

For those who are suffering from mental health disorders, being included can help them feel wanted and loved. If they say no, then they say no, but continue to invite them. There may be moments when the situation feels tense or uncertain, and that’s okay. Supporting someone through a mental illness is not easy, and you may find that you can only handle small doses of involvement. That’s okay, too. Help your loved one find a community of support, not just a person of support.

8. Know your Own Limits

As much as you may want to help, there are some things that are beyond you or that you just don’t have the emotional fuel to deal with. And that’s okay. It’s important to know when you are able to help and when you aren’t. When the person you love is dealing with psychosis or is feeling suicidal, get them to the hospital as soon as possible. The doctors there can help you understand which next steps to take.

Also, don’t be afraid to seek counseling yourself, either with a counselor or a support group. If you have been dealing with a loved one’s mental illness for a long period of time, lots of negative emotions can settle in, including stress, worry, anger, and anxiety. Having someone outside your family to talk to about the situation can give you some much-needed clarity, objectivity, and a safe place to deal with your own emotions. The healthier you are, the more effectively and compassionately you can enter into demanding situations.

Funeral Basics Glossary: A

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.

Advance Planning

The act of making funeral, memorial, ceremony, or other service/plans prior to death. This can refer to recording one’s funeral wishes and paying in advance or simply to recording one’s funeral wishes.

Aerial Scattering

The act of scattering a loved one’s ashes via airplane, hot air balloon, or some other airborne device.

Aftercare

A term used to refer to services that are available to families following the death of a loved one, commonly grief resources.

Alkaline Hydrolysis

Also called flameless cremation or water cremation, alkaline hydrolysis is an alternative to traditional burial or cremation. The body is placed under high pressure at a lower temperature than traditional cremation. The body breaks down, and the ashes go to the next of kin. This method allegedly produces less carbon dioxide and pollutants than regular cremation. It is not yet legal in all 50 states of the United States.

Alternative Container

An unpainted, undecorated container designed to hold the deceased, usually made of unfinished wood, fiberboard, composition materials, or very rigid cardboard (also known as the minimum basic container). The alternative container must be combustible since it is used for cremations. Oftentimes, people use alternative containers for direct burials or green burials. They are generally less expensive than typical hardwood or metal caskets.

Apportionment

The act of separating cremated remains. Reasons for dividing the remains may be to enable the family to scatter some and keep the rest or to give an allocation to different family members.

Administrator

The probate court appoints an administrator to an estate to act on behalf of a person who has died without a will in place or who did not name an executor in the will.

Anatomical Donation

The act of giving a deceased body, organs, or tissues to science to improve medical education. It can also be a donation of organs and/or tissue from a deceased person to enhance a living individual’s life.

Arrangement Conference

The arrangement conference is a time set aside for family members to discuss a loved one’s funeral arrangements with the staff of a funeral home. During the arrangement meeting, family members will relay important information about the person who has died, as well as discuss their desires and preferences for the funeral service.

Arrangement Room

The room in which a funeral director meets with the deceased’s family to plan ceremony/service arrangements.

Ashes

A term given to the remains of the human body after cremation.

At-Need Funeral

A funeral and its associated planning that takes place at the time a death occurs. It is not planned ahead of time.

Attorney-in-Fact

An Attorney-in-Fact refers to the person named in a legal Power of Attorney document. In essence, this person legally acts on a person’s behalf according to the powers granted in that document. Ask a trusted friend or loved one to accept this responsibility.