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Applying for a FEMA COVID-19 Funeral Reimbursement

By COVID-19, Explore Options

So many families across the United States have been hit hard by COVID-19 – emotionally, mentally, physically, and financially. Under the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act of 2021 and the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 Fund, FEMA can provide financial assistance to families who lost a loved one to COVID-19. Let’s take a look at how this fund will work, who’s eligible, and what documentation you will need to apply.

Red rose on cemetery monument

Background

Administrated through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), eligible families may receive a reimbursement of up to $9,000 per funeral for COVID-related burial and funeral expenses (up to $35,000 maximum). The program will retroactively reimburse for funeral expenses incurred after January 20, 2020.

On March 13, 2020, the president declared COVID-19 a national emergency. Under the Stafford Act, FEMA can offer funeral assistance for presidentially declared disasters or emergencies. While uncommon, FEMA has provided disaster-related funeral expenses before, specifically during Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Sandy.

Who Is Eligible?

At this time, just about everyone is eligible to apply. However, it’s up to FEMA to determine who receives a reimbursement and how much they will receive.

To apply, families must meet the following conditions to be eligible for reimbursement:

  • The applicant must be a U.S. citizen, non-citizen national, or qualified alien who incurred funeral expenses after Jan. 20, 2020, for a death attributed to COVID-19.
  • The COVID-19-related death must have occurred in the United States, including the U.S. territories and the District of Columbia.

Woman applying for reimbursement on computer

Reimbursement Amounts

Families will receive varying amounts, as determined by FEMA. For example, all methods utilized to pay for a funeral or cremation will be taken into account before a reimbursement is given.

As for reimbursement amounts, the assistance is limited to a maximum financial amount of $9,000 per funeral and a maximum of $35,500 per application. This funeral assistance applies to funeral services, interment, and cremation.

If given a reimbursement, families will receive a check by mail or a direct deposit. However, if your family is not given a reimbursement, you may appeal to FEMA directly.

How Do I Apply?

Remember, reimbursements will vary, and some families will not receive a reimbursement at all. The intention behind the fund is to assist families who were unable to pay for funeral expenses or took a hard financial hit doing so.

To apply, every family must complete application forms and send in the following documentation:

Official Death Certificate

Applicants must include an official death certificate. The certificate must attribute the death to COVID-19 and show that the death occurred in the United States. The death certificate must indicate the death “may have been caused by” or “was likely the result of” COVID-19 or COVID-19-like symptoms.

Funeral Expense Documents

Applicants must include funeral expense documents (receipts, funeral home contract, etc.). These documents should include the applicant’s name, the deceased individual’s name, the amount of funeral expenses, and dates the funeral expenses were incurred.

Proof of Funds Received

Applicants must provide proof of funds received from other sources specifically used toward funeral costs to avoid duplicate benefits. In other words, a family can’t receive funding from FEMA while also receiving funding from burial or funeral insurance, financial assistance received from voluntary agencies, federal/state/local/tribal /territorial government programs or agencies, or other such sources.

Person filling out an application

What if Multiple People Helped Pay for a Funeral?

If multiple people contributed toward funeral expenses, everyone should apply under a single application as applicant and co-applicant. FEMA will also consider documentation from other individuals not listed as the applicant and co-applicant who may have incurred funeral expenses as part of the registration for the deceased individual.

If multiple deaths occurred in your family related to COVID-19, you can apply for each one.

Helpful Links

FEMA COVID-19 Funeral Assistance 

FEMA Funeral Assistance FAQ

The Federal Emergency Management Agency will accept applications starting April 12, 2021. If you believe you may be eligible for reimbursements, begin gathering the required documentation. Also, don’t forget that your funeral provider can help you through this process. Additionally, for answers to frequently asked questions, go to the FEMA Funeral Assistance FAQ for even more details.

Finally, remember that FEMA has a dedicated toll-free number for inquiries: 844-684-6333 or TTY: 800-462-7585. They are available Monday – Friday, from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. CDT.

Hopefully this information will help you determine whether your family is eligible to receive a reimbursement. While this won’t bring your loved one back, it may assist your family through hard times and give a little hope for the future.

8 Pallbearer Etiquette Tips

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals

Participating in a funeral as a pallbearer is a time-honored tradition and a sign of trust. It’s both an honor and a responsibility. After all, you have been asked to accompany a dearly loved person to their final resting place, which means the family trusts and values you. However, if this is your first time acting as a pallbearer, you may feel a little unsure of the dos and don’ts of pallbearer etiquette. We’ve got you covered! Let’s review 8 tips for pallbearer etiquette.

1. Understand the honor you’ve been given

Carrying the casket is a privilege that should be treated with poise, respect, and dignity. By asking you to participate, the family is showing how much they value your role in their loved one’s life. If for some reason you think you won’t be able to complete the duties of a pallbearer, don’t be afraid to turn it down. Some common reasons for not accepting the responsibility are that you are unable to attend the funeral, unable to carry the casket (the casket alone can weigh up to 500 pounds), or you’re feeling very emotional about the loss and feel unable to do it well.

2. Arrive at the expected time (don’t be late!)

Make sure to arrive at the funeral events at the expected time (or early!). This will ensure that you are present for all aspects of the funeral and give you time to talk with the family or funeral director about your pallbearer duties. While there will be six or eight pallbearers in total, it’s best for everyone to arrive on time, identify each other, and be on the same page to ensure everything runs smoothly.

3. Talk to the family or funeral director about expectations

Every funeral is different. For some funerals, you will help carry the casket from the funeral service to the funeral car and from the funeral car to the graveside service. For other services, you may be expected to carry the casket into the building, set it down for the service, and then out to the funeral car afterward. To keep things simple, take a few moments to talk to the family or the funeral director to get a good sense of what’s expected of you and where you need to be when. Sometimes, there’s a special place for pallbearers to sit during the service. Make sure to stay with the group if this is the case.

4. Dress appropriately

Unless there’s a theme for the funeral as part of the personalization, then it’s generally expected for pallbearers to wear dark and modest clothing. For men, dark suits with ties work well; for women, a dark dress or pant suit. Everyone should wear comfortable shoes to ensure easy movement and extra stability when walking over uneven ground. If you are active or retired military, you might consider wearing your uniform, but ask the family first.

5. Watch your step

Because you are sharing this responsibility with five to seven other pallbearers, make sure that you walk slowly and evenly. Stay in step with the other pallbearers, going at a steady pace. It would be terrible if someone were to stumble while carrying the casket. By taking it slow, you reduce the possibility that an accident will happen.

6. Be dependable

The last thing the grieving family needs is an absentee pallbearer, so make sure that you are dependable and responsible. If you’re unable to commit, let the family know that you are unable to participate. Once you accept, the family is counting on you to take part in a poignant and meaningful moment and help make the funeral a healing experience. Be there when they need you, do what’s expected, and everything will work out just fine.

7. Turn off or silence your phone

It’s disruptive to hear the shrill sound of a cell phone in a silent movie theater. Imagine if your phone is going off while you’re carrying the casket, and it’s extremely awkward to fumble for your phone while balancing the weight of the casket. Instead, take a few moments before the service to silence or turn off your phone out of respect for the person who has died and their family.

8. Stick around for a bit

Just as the bridal party is expected to stick around after the wedding to help with clean-up, it’s generally expected that pallbearers will stay after all services are complete to ensure there’s nothing the family needs. During this time, offer your condolences and support. Ask if there’s anything you can assist with (like taking flowers or personal items to vehicles). Once the family lets you know that they’re good, feel free to head out.

As a pallbearer, you’ve been given an opportunity to serve the family and pay your respects through a meaningful and healing action. Take it in and consider your pallbearer duties an act of love and respect. Don’t stress about your role – the family has everything planned and organized. If you have any questions at all, simply ask the family or the funeral director. You can do this!

5 Alternative Methods of Final Disposition

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

Choosing which method of final disposition is right for you is a very personal decision. For some, burial is most desirable, while for others, cremation is best. There is no wrong decision – only the best decision for you and your family, based on your values. That said, some alternative final disposition options do exist. While these are not the most common choices, they may be right for you and your family. After all, it’s always helpful to know your options. Let’s review them together.

5 Alternative Methods of Final Disposition

Natural/Green Burial

Both green and natural burials focus on allowing the decomposition process to occur naturally. This means that there is no (or very limited) embalming, a biodegradable coffin or shroud is used, and there is no outer burial container. However, there are differences pertaining to the place of burial. For a green burial, the body must be buried at a cemetery specifically sanctioned for green burial that is maintained without the use of herbicides, pesticides, or irrigation. On the other hand, a natural burial can take place on private land (subject to regulations) or in any cemetery that allows for vault-free burial.

Water Cremation

With water cremation (also called alkaline hydrolysis), the body is placed in a pressurized steel container with a solution that is 95% percent water and 5% potassium hydroxide before being heated to 350 degrees. The body breaks down until only the bones remain. In essence, water cremation speeds up natural decomposition by about 20 years. Like traditional cremation, the bones are ground into a powder and given to the family for memorialization. This method is not available in all states yet. If you are interested, you must speak with a funeral professional to determine if water cremation is an option for you.

Burial at Sea

Burial at sea has a long history and is one of the oldest types of funeral ceremony. Today, there are two ways to request burial at sea: through the U.S. Navy or through a civilian charter company. Both full-body burial and scattering are available options. As a specialized service, burial at sea is subject to very specific regulations, so it’s best to prepare ahead of time with a funeral professional and make sure that all the details are taken care of according to your wishes.

Anatomical Donation

Anatomical donation typically refers to the donation of the whole body to medical or scientific research. However, in some ways, anatomical donation is not a true final disposition because, after the research is complete, the body is cremated and returned to the family. At that time, the family must decide how to honor the cremated remains, whether by burial, scattering, placement in a niche, or some other means. However, if you wish to help further scientific advancements, this may be a great option. Click here to learn more in-depth information about the anatomical donation process.

Recomposition

A new option currently only available in Washington State is the process of recomposition. In simple terms, the deceased body lies outdoors in a protected area, covered with natural materials like straw or wood chips. The straw or wood chips hasten the rate of decomposition. Once the body breaks down, it becomes part of the soil. Then, the soil goes to the family, who can decide which memorial option is best for them. For instance, they could plant a memorial tree. While composting the human body won’t be right for everyone, for some, it may offer a method of final disposition that meets their core values, especially if they want an option that is less harsh to the environment.

No Matter What, Remember the Importance of Ceremony

No matter which method of final disposition you choose, remember the importance of celebrating life. Every one of us is unique, and our lives are worth remembering. According to Dr. Alan Wolfelt, respected grief counselor and educator, “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.”

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

No matter where your body finds its final rest, remember to give others the opportunity to mourn you, remember you, and most of all, celebrate who you are and what you mean to them.

Eulogies & Sharing a Loved One’s Legacy

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

When a close loved one dies, you may be asked to give a eulogy. So, you may be wondering, where do I start? First of all, what is a eulogy? How do I write one? And how can I share the essence of the person I loved with others in a way that will make sense to them?

Giving a eulogy is essentially telling your loved one’s story. The eulogy allows everyone to look back, remember, grieve, and truly honor your loved one’s unique personality. Oftentimes, mourners only know one or two sides of a person’s life. However, at the funeral or memorial service, they get a broader picture, with all of its heartaches, triumphs, and joys.

Nationally respected grief counselor and author, Dr. Wolfelt, puts it this way: “For mourners, telling the story is central to healing. In the context of the funeral ceremony, the eulogy is the grand, public telling of the story that unites” everyone who has come together to mourn.

How Does a Eulogy Help Us Share a Loved One’s Legacy?

The eulogy (also called “homily” or “time of remembrance”) is a time set aside to specifically and personally remember and honor a person’s life. Family, friends, clergy, or colleagues may come forward to share stories about the deceased’s life and impact. This is a time to talk about what your loved one left behind and what you will remember about them for the rest of your life. It’s a time to discuss what they imparted and how they left a mark on the world. This could mean sharing family stories, what they were passionate about, causes that were close to their heart, how they loved others, and how they made people laugh.

One person may deliver the eulogy or several people may be invited to speak. Often, the family meets with a clergy member or celebrant to share stories and what they’d like the eulogist to say. Sometimes people speak from their heart, one after another. You get to decide how you want it to be done and what will best honor your loved one’s life and legacy.

How Do Eulogies Help Us Grieve?

The eulogy is an important part of the journey through grief because it helps meet what Dr. Alan Wolfelt calls the six needs of mourning: 1) acknowledge the reality of the death, 2) embrace the pain of the loss, 3) remember the person who died, 4) develop a new self-identity, 5) search for meaning, and 6) receive ongoing support from others.

When preparing a eulogy, you can help those who are attending the funeral by addressing each of these needs.

1. Eulogies help us acknowledge the reality of loss

After losing a loved one, it can take a little while for our minds to catch up. Our first instinct is to deny the reality of loss because it’s hard to grasp all that we’ve lost. During the eulogy, you will be forced to use the past tense to tell the story of the life lived. Speaking in past tense helps reinforce the reality that a death has occurred and our loved one really is gone. Until we accept that truth, there is no way to move forward.

2. Eulogies help us move toward the pain of the loss

As humans, we naturally want to move away from pain. But in order to heal, we have to let ourselves look back before we can move forward. For a brief moment in time, the funeral and the eulogy especially gives every mourner the chance to reflect on and experience the pain of the loss together.

3. Eulogies give us the opportunity to recall and share cherished memories

One of the most common ways to deal with grief is to talk about the person who has died. It’s about remembering them, recalling favorite moments, discussing the wisdom they imparted, or even learning new things about the person you loved. As we come together as a group to mourn, we all bring different memories, different perspectives. That’s why a eulogy not only helps us remember the person who has died – it also reveals facets of that person we may not have known. Together, the words spoken and memories shared create a beautiful opportunity to reflect and take a step toward healing.

4. Eulogies help us develop a new self-identity

As we hear about another person’s life, we also reflect on our own. What can we learn from this person’s life? Did they change the world for the better? What can I do to be more like them? We consider what we need to change in ourselves to bring greater good to those around us and what we must do to make the impact we want to on the world. We emerge from the story of a life inspired, hopeful, and transformed.

5. Eulogies provide us with an opportunity to search for meaning

When faced with the reality of death, we often ask ourselves questions and search for meaning. Did this person live a good life? Why was this person taken from us? Why now? Why this way? What happens next? The eulogy may not be able to help answer these big universal questions, but it helps us explore our feelings about the loss. Through the laughter, the tears, memories, and stories, we see just how meaningful one life can be.

6. Eulogies help us receive support from others

Finally, grief can feel very lonely. But the eulogy provides everyone with a common experience that brings them together and creates connection. Everyone present feels the strength of solidarity, knowing that the person who lived impacted everyone’s life in some way. We tell the love story, not just once at the funeral, but over and over, at every gathering, every holiday, every birthday and anniversary. We tell the story to friends who never knew the person we loved, we tell the story on social media, and to family members who know exactly what we mean. And we begin, little by little, to heal.

The pain of the loss may never quite go away. The sharpness and immediacy of the pain will heal over time, but the scar will always remain. But scars can tell their own story — they become a part of your story. And they represent a deep and abiding love that transcends death.

Embrace the eulogy and make it a beautiful opportunity to celebrate your loved one’s life – they are worth it.

If you are interested in learning about the other essential elements of a funeral, click here.

If you need to write a eulogy, click here for some helpful tips on how to craft a eulogy.

What Do You Do When Someone Dies?

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

If you’ve recently lost someone you love, you have our sincerest sympathies. For many of us, dealing with death and all the logistical and emotional details associated with it is unknown territory, and frankly, a little frightening. We ask ourselves, “What do you do when someone dies?” Here, you will find a comprehensive guide filled with a suite of articles and helpful tools that will assist you through the process from start to finish 

Let’s get started. 

Step 1: What to Do Just After a Death Has Occurred 

1. Report the Death 

The first step is to report the death. Depending on where your loved one was located when they died, this step may have already happened. However, if it hasn’t, you will need to contact the appropriate people. For example, you will contact a different person if your loved one died at home versus in hospice care. For help knowing who to contact, click here.  

2. Contact the Appropriate People 

Next, you will need to start contacting anyone who needs to know immediately that your loved one has died. This includes other family members, a funeral home or funeral director, a clergy person if needed, and any other key people, like close friends or your boss. Each of these people needs to know what has happened, and some of them will offer caring and support through the funeral planning process.  

3. Prepare for the Funeral Arrangement Conference 

After you’ve contacted a funeral home, a funeral director will come to your location, and they will respectfully transport your loved one’s body to the funeral home. At that time, you and the funeral director will schedule an arrangement conference so that you (and anyone you would like to bring) can discuss the details of the funeral or memorial service.  

After the time is set, you should prepare for the arrangement conference so that it goes as smoothly as possible. Go to What to Expect at a Funeral Arrangement Conference and What Vital Statistics Should I Bring to a Funeral Arrangement Conference? to learn more.  

If you don’t already have a funeral home in mind, look online for funeral homes near you that have a good reputation. However, if your loved one is currently in hospice care, consider taking a little extra time finding a funeral home partner. Feel free to read Top 10 Characteristics to Look for in a Funeral Home to help you choose a funeral home that will meet your needs 

4. Rest 

After you’ve reported the death, contacted the appropriate people, and arranged and prepared for the arrangement conference, make sure to take time to rest. The coming days will be difficult and require many decisions. You’ll need all the energy you can get. 

Step 2: Plan the Funeral or Memorial Service 

Next, attend the arrangement conference at the funeral home. If your loved one planned ahead for funeral wishes, the funeral director will pull their file and you can go over your loved one’s wishes. However, if no plans were set in place, you and the funeral director will need to start the funeral planning process from scratch 

There will be many decisions to make. You may know a little bit about what your loved one wanted – burial, cremation, beachside service, church service, etc. However, if you just don’t know, simply do your best. In the ideal situation, your loved one has already planned ahead, but if not, the most important thing to consider is how you can thoughtfully and meaningfully honor their life and legacy through a personalized tribute that truly reflects your loved one’s life, beliefs, and core values.  

The articles below will help you learn more about your options, how to personalize a funeral, and the burial benefits available to veteransAlso, here’s a printable Funeral Planning Checklist to help you out.  

Exploring Your Options: 

The 5 Basic Steps of Funeral Planning 

What Are My Interment Options? 

What Should I Know When Considering Cremation?  

Cremation and the Importance of Ceremony 

Selecting a Cremation Urn  

What Are My Burial Options? 

How to Select a Casket 

What You Need to Know About Anatomical Donation 

Personalizing a Funeral: 

7 Elements of a Healing and Meaningful Funeral  

Why Does Funeral Personalization Matter?  

5 Meaningful Actions to Personalize a Funeral 

6 Ways to Personalize a Funeral 

Helping Your Family Personalize a Funeral  

Adding Military Honors: 

The Core Elements of a Military Honors Funeral 

What You Need to Know About Veterans’ Burial Benefits  

Though it may seem like a lot, by working with a funeral professional, you don’t have to worry about missing anything. They will walk you through the planning process, step by step. Once you’ve planned a personalized service, you can move on to considering permanent memorial options.  

Step 3: Permanent Memorial Options 

In addition to planning a final tribute for your loved one, you will also need to consider permanent memorial options. If your loved one is buried, this may mean a grave marker. If they are cremated, it could mean burial, scattering, cremation jewelry, and more. But ultimately, you must make a permanent plan for your loved one’s remains so that they will be taken care of for generations to come.  

Here are a few thoughts to help you: 

 5 Reasons to Establish a Permanent Memorial 

Permanent Placement Options for Cremated Remains 

Selecting and Installing a Grave Marker 

Step 4: Pay for the Funeral 

Now that all of your selections have been made, you will need to consider how to pay for the funeral. If your loved one purchased a prepaid funeral plan, then payment should be covered already. For other families, there are a variety of options available to pay for a funeral or memorial service.  

5 Ways to Pay for a Funeral 

7 Ways to Pay for Unexpected Funeral Expenses 

Step 5: After the Funeral is Over 

The funeral or memorial service is complete. Hopefully, you feel a sense of accomplishment and deep peace that you were able to honor and remember your loved one’s life in personalized and meaningful way. Now, it’s time to turn your attention to a few more logistical tasks.  

1. Contact outside organizations

You will need to inform banks, insurance companies, health clubs, social media platforms, and many more places about the death of your loved one. More often than not, you will need to provide a death certificate as proof, so make sure to request plenty when the funeral home asks how many you wantTo help with this process, print this Things to Remember Checklist so you have a simple, printable list of places to contact and things to remember as you inform others about your loved one’s death.  

2. Probate the will

If your loved one had a legal will or trust, then you will need to work with an attorney or the court system so that you can begin the process of distributing your loved one’s property in the way they desired. If there is no legal will, you and your family will need to petition the court to find out what will happen to your loved one’s property and assets.  

3. Send thank you notes

During the funeral planning process, there may have been people who were particularly helpful or kind that you want to thank. It could be that they took care of your kids, sent flowers or a sympathy gift, or offered practical help. Regardless, you might consider sending a quick note to express your gratitude for their love and support. For a few tips on writing funeral thank you card, go to Simple Tips for Writing Funeral Thank You Notes 

4. Sort through possessions

For some, sorting through a loved one’s possessions can take place over a longer period of time, but for others, the sorting process is more immediate. No matter which camp you fall into, read Sorting Through a Loved One’s Possessions for a few tips about developing a strategy for success.  

5. Create memorial items

If you like to keep something to remind you of a time, place, or person, then you might consider the value of creating a memorial item. For instance, as you sort through your loved one’s possessions, you might find an old shirt that reminds you of them. Using that shirt, you could create a Christmas ornament or pillow to remind you of the one you love. For a few more ideas, feel free to read Creating Memorial Keepsakes with Funeral Flowers or Creating Memorial Keepsakes with a Loved One’s Clothing 

6. Put your own wishes in writing

Now that you’ve planned a funeral from start to finish, it’s easy to see how planning ahead for funeral wishes can protect loved ones from a lot of stress and worry. Consider putting your own funeral wishes in writing, a simple way you can give your family a gift of love even after you’re gone. Also, consider the benefits of estate planning, especially writing a legal will and putting your advance care directives in order. The more you do now, the easier everything will be on your family should something happen.  

Step 6Do the Work of Grief 

Though it is listed last here, grief will be your companion throughout the entire funeral planning process and beyond. In many ways, the funeral or memorial service simply marks the beginning of the grief journey, not the end. Now, you must do the work of grief and find a way to reconcile yourself to the loss you’ve suffered.  

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected author, counselor, and grief expert, says:  

In life, everyone grieves. But their grief journeys are never the same. Despite what you may hear, you will do the work of mourning in your own special way. Be careful about comparing your experience with that of other people. Also, do not adopt assumptions about how long your grief should last. Just consider taking a ‘one-day-at-a-time’ approach. Doing so allows you to mourn at your own pace.” 

In other words, this is a journey only you can take. It’s unique. It’s personal. You’ve lost someone you love – you have a right to feel what you feel. It may be sadness, anger, guilt, fear, or even relief. All of these are normal reactions to loss and nothing to be ashamed of. In the end, the main goal is to face your emotions, reconcile yourself to a future you didn’t ask for, and find a way to move forward with new purpose and meaning. It’s possible – one day at a time.  

Why Should Veterans Plan Ahead?

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Veterans

As veterans, you gave a part of your life in committed service to our nation, and we offer you a sincere and heartfelt thank you. But did you know that you can also do a great service and offer a gift of love to your family by planning ahead?

While no one likes to think about their own death, the fact remains that, one day, your family will need to make dozens of hard decisions to arrange your final life tribute. They will want to gather together, offer support to one another, remember you, and honor your legacy, including your noble service in the armed forces. Even if you don’t want a big fuss, the fact still remains: someone will be responsible for making funeral plans for you. Why couldn’t that person be you?

Why Plan Ahead?

There are so many reasons to plan ahead, but here are the top five.

1. Planning ahead can actually save your family money.

When most people are called upon to plan a funeral, they are doing so for the first time in their lives. Because of this, surviving family members don’t know very much about how to keep costs from ballooning and often end up emotionally overspending because they want “only the best” for you. However, if you put your plan in writing and your family knows exactly what your wishes are, they are generally able to save considerably by avoiding unnecessary spending.

2. Planning ahead allows your family to spend more time together.

At the time of loss, the last thing family members want to do is spend several hours at a funeral home making arrangements. With a plan in place that outlines your wishes for a final tribute, your family is able to spend more time together, offering comfort, support, and love to one another at a time when they need it most.

3. Planning ahead helps avoid arguments.

We are emotional beings, some more than others. The loss of a loved one often brings out those emotions, and if a family is torn about which options to choose, feelings can tend to run high. Even when a general consensus is reached, family members can sometimes continue to feel anxiety, doubt, and regret about the decisions that were made and how they were made. However, when family members know exactly what you want, they experience greater peace knowing that they are honoring your final wishes.

4. Planning ahead gives you time to create a meaningful and healing final tribute.

The more personal the service is, the more meaningful it will be. By planning ahead, you give yourself and your family time to plan and prepare a service (burial or cremation) that truly reflects your life and meets the emotional needs of your family. It will also give you time to mull over other questions, like whether you want to include military honors at the funeral or if you’d like to ask any fellow veterans to participate.

5. Planning ahead brings peace of mind even before you die.

Have you ever completed a big project and just felt a weight lift off your shoulders? That’s what it feels like when you finally take that step and plan ahead for your funeral wishes. Not only does it bring you peace of mind, but it can also bring comfort to family members who know that they won’t have to face those difficult decisions on one of the worst days of their lives.

Also, by planning ahead, you can ensure that you know exactly what you qualify for regarding veterans’ burial benefits. With these benefits provided by the Veterans Administration, you can further alleviate the financial burden left for your family.

What Are Your Burial Benefits?

While the Veterans Administration (VA) does not pay for everything, they do offer assistance that will help you take care of your family and create a healing and meaningful funeral ceremony.

Eligibility

The first step is to determine if you are eligible to receive the burial benefits available. The main thing to remember is that those who received honorable or general discharges qualify while those who received dishonorable discharges do not qualify. If you have questions about your eligibility, contact your local VA office.

Dependents and survivors of veterans may also be eligible for VA benefits. This means that your current spouse and any dependents are also eligible to receive certain burial benefits because of your service.

Now, let’s review the five main burial benefits available to you:

Burial Allowances

Generally speaking, when a veteran’s cause of death is not service-related, the reimbursement is described as two payments:

  1. (1) a burial and funeral expense allowance (associated with funeral or memorial options)
  2. (2) a plot interment allowance (associated with burial costs)

In a nutshell, the burial allowance is a designated dollar amount that the VA pays toward a veteran’s funeral. To receive this benefit, your family must apply following your death (or the death of a spouse or dependent child). The VA will direct deposit a designated amount into your family’s account. Then, they put it toward paying burial/cremation and funeral service costs. Due to rising costs each year, the VA increases the burial and plot allowance amounts annually.

For more detailed information on eligibility, click here.

Cemetery Interment Benefits

Choosing a final resting place is a very personal decision, and it’s always good to know your options. In the VA’s eyes, there are three types of cemeteries: national, state veterans, and private.

National Cemetery 

In addition to burial allowances, the VA also offers burial (cremated or full body) in a national cemetery through the National Cemetery Administration (www.cem.va.gov). This benefit includes a plot, opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, and a government-issued headstone. While placement is based on availability, you, your spouse, and any dependent children can be buried in a national cemetery. Of course, as with anything, there are certain rules and guidelines.

There is no charge for a burial plot in a national cemetery. Because of this, the plot allowance is not available for burial in a national cemetery. In some cases, the VA may even pay for the cost of transporting a deceased veteran to the national cemetery. Speak to a funeral director or your regional VA office to get more details.

State Veterans Cemetery 

A second option for burial is a state veterans cemetery. These cemeteries are facilitated by the individual states, not by the National Cemetery Administration, so regulations will vary. Because of this, you or a funeral professional will need to contact your nearby state veterans cemetery to see if there are any fees associated with burial there and if they allow dependents to be buried on the grounds. However, you will be eligible for a government-issued headstone as well as the plot allowance.

Private Cemeteries 

If you choose burial in a private cemetery, then you will be responsible for cemetery costs on your own. However, you will be eligible for the plot allowance to assist with the total cost. Again, you are still eligible to receive a government-issued headstone or medallion. Spouses and dependents buried in a private cemetery receive no benefits.

Government-Issued Headstones or Medallions

The VA will provide a government headstone or medallion to mark the grave of an eligible veteran. If you want, you can even request a government headstone for eligible dependents if they are not buried in a private cemetery. The headstone can be placed in any cemetery around the world, but the grave must be unmarked.

Additionally, if you prefer burial in a private cemetery, you can request to receive a medallion. Medallions are durable and can be easily affixed to any headstone. They offer a way to identify a veteran who elects to use a more personalized grave marker.

Click here to view the headstone and medallion options available through the National Cemetery Administration.

Burial Flags

Because the American flag is a symbol of your service and sacrifice, its presence is a tribute to your life. Due to its importance, the VA provides an American flag to drape the casket or urn, and after the funeral service, the flag is given to the next of kin. Only one flag is issued per veteran.

Presidential Memorial Certificates

Finally, the VA offers a Presidential Memorial Certificate (PMC), which is an engraved certificate, signed by the current President, that is given to honor your memory and your service.

So, these five elements make up the basic lineup of burial benefits that are available to an eligible veteran. There are many details to the whole process. That’s why it’s important to work with a funeral professional and your local VA office. They will ensure you have all the answers you need.

What’s Next?

Now you know why planning ahead is beneficial and which burial benefits are available to you. The next step is to reach out to a local funeral home and get started! Do a little research and find a funeral home with a good reputation. To help you, take a moment to read 10 Characteristics to Look for in a Funeral Home.

Once you’ve selected a funeral home, their staff will walk you through the rest of the process. They will make sure you don’t miss any details. With all the decisions made, you and your family will have peace of mind, knowing that everything has been taken care of.

Top 15 Bible Verses for a Celebration of Life Service

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

A Christian funeral service is not complete without a few readings from scripture. Readings can help mourners process the loss and find meaning in the midst of pain. Additionally, the Bible is full of verses that give hope to the hopeless, comfort to the grieving, and the promise of an eternal future with God at the end of life.

Personalizing the service with your loved one’s favorite verses or passages that bring hope can help you create a healing and meaningful service for all who attend. Now, let’s explore a few options.

Verses to Bring Comfort

When someone you love dies, you may experience a wide variety of emotions: sadness, anger, shock, denial, relief, and guilt, to name a few. In the midst of the emotional turmoil, words of comfort from the Bible can be exactly what you and other mourners need.

Matthew 11: 28-30

Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. God is our merciful Father and the source of all comfort. He comforts us in all our troubles so that we can comfort others. When they are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.

Psalm 23

The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need. He lets me rest in green meadows; leads me beside peaceful streams. He renews my strength. He guides me along right paths, bringing honor to his name. Even when I walk through the darkest valley, I will not be afraid, for you are close beside me. Your rod and your staff protect and comfort me. You prepare a feast for me in the presence of my enemies. You honor me by anointing my head with oil. My cup overflows with blessings. Surely your goodness and unfailing love will pursue me all the days of my life and I will live in the house of the Lord forever.

Matthew 5:4

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Psalm 34:18

The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he rescues those whose spirits are crushed.

Lamentations 3:22-26, 31-33

The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease. Great is his faithfulness; his mercies begin afresh each morning. I say to myself, “The Lord is my inheritance; therefore, I will hope in him! The Lord is good to those who depend on him, to those who search for him. So it is good to wait quietly for salvation from the Lord. For no one is abandoned by the Lord forever. Though he brings grief, he also shows compassion because of the greatness of his unfailing love. For he does not enjoy hurting people or causing them sorrow.

Verses to Remember God’s Promises

Remembering the promises God has made to his people can not only comfort mourners, but in many ways, it will also bring a renewed perspective of who God will be through this trial.

John 14:1-3

Don’t let your hearts be troubled. Trust in God, and trust also in me. There is more than enough room in my Father’s home. If this were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? When everything is ready, I will come and get you, so that you will always be with me where I am.

Romans 8:35, 37-39

Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Isaiah 41:10

So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

John 14:27

 I am leaving you with a gift—peace of mind and heart. And the peace I give is a gift the world cannot give. So don’t be troubled or afraid.

Psalm 56:10-13

I praise God for what he has promised; yes, I praise the Lord for what he has promised. I trust in God, so why should I be afraid? What can mere mortals do to me? I will fulfill my vows to you, O God, and will offer a sacrifice of thanks for your help. For you have rescued me from death; you have kept my feet from slipping. So now I can walk in your presence, O God, in your life-giving light.

Verses of Hope for the Future

In addition to feeling God’s comfort and remembering His promises, the Bible gives hope for the future – an eternal life in God’s presence. Moreover, verses that talk about Christ’s sacrifice and his victory over death give comfort that earthly death is not the end. Jesus has conquered death, as have His children. Because of his sacrifice, there is hope. Hope for a future filled with God’s goodness. Hope for life with Him in heaven.

1 Corinthians 15:50-57

What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled: “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.

John 11:25-26

Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying. Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.

Job 19:25-27

But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last.  And after my body has decayed, yet in my body I will see God! I will see him for myself. Yes, I will see him with my own eyes. I am overwhelmed at the thought!

Philippians 1:21-23

For to me, living means living for Christ, and dying is even better. But if I live, I can do more fruitful work for Christ. So I really don’t know which is better. I’m torn between two desires: I long to go and be with Christ, which would be far better for me.

*All Scripture references are from the New Living Translation of the Holy Bible.

All You Need to Know About Funeral Programs, Prayer Cards, and More

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals

Whether you are planning ahead for funeral wishes or planning a final tribute for a loved one, you may have noticed that many funeral or memorial packages include memorial stationery. But for those of us who’ve never planned a funeral, what exactly is memorial stationery? Does that mean funeral programs only or is there something more?

Let’s review the 4 most common pieces of memorial stationery. Afterward, you will have a better sense of the purpose and function of these different pieces. The more you know, the better you’ll be able to decide whether memorial stationery is right for your family.

What are the 4 Most Common Memorial Stationery Pieces?

1. Funeral Programs

Also called memorial folders or bulletins, the funeral program is a folded pamphlet. Funeral programs usually include the order of service, which are the details of what will take place during the funeral or memorial service. Funeral programs are often printed on a decorative piece of paper folded in half. They can be as simple or complex as you want.

Additionally, funeral programs are an excellent place for personalization. For instance, in addition to name and service details, you could include favorite photos of the person who has died, a poem or passage, a favorite recipe, the obituary, or other personal details. If they were religious, you could include a relevant scripture or verse.

There’s a lot of room for flexibility, so if you want to do something different, go for it! Alternatively, if you’d prefer not to have a funeral program, they are not required, though they are a standard part of funerals and memorials.

2. Memorial Cards

Memorial cards are often used as a meaningful keepsake distributed at funeral or memorial services. They include basic information about the person who has died and you can easily slip one into a book or wallet. They serve as a reminder of a lost loved one and often include a photo and an inspirational quotation. Each funeral home will have outlined on their General Price List which kind(s) they offer.

Folded Memorial Card

Similar to the memorial folder but smaller in size, this type of memorial card can be personalized in many different ways. They are typically used at memorials, wakes, or viewings and visitations. You can also send a memorial card as an invitation to a funeral or memorial service. As with any kind of memorial card, make sure to include service information.

Memorial Prayer Card

Rooted in the Catholic faith tradition, a prayer card (also traditionally called a holy card) is the most common memorial card. This type often includes a religious symbol, a prayer, and personal information about the person who has died. Mourners may use them as a keepsake or as a reminder to pray for the family of the person who has died.

Memorial Bookmark

A memorial bookmark is just what it sounds like. It is a bookmark with a photo of the person who has died along with their birth and death dates. To personalize it, you could include a favorite poem, reading, scripture, or an inspirational quote. The bookmarks can be offered as keepsakes and used as a reminder to pray for the family, similar to a memorial or prayer card.

3. Register Book

Many families choose to use a register book at a funeral or memorial service. The book may be placed at a viewing or visitation as well as at the funeral or memorial service. Because everything may be a bit of a blur, a family may not remember everyone who attended the services. Having a register book gives the family a complete record of everyone who attended. When the family later runs into friends, coworkers, and acquaintances in the grocery store or around the community, they don’t have to wonder if that person attended the funeral. They can always go back and check the register book.

4. Acknowledgment Cards

Lastly, acknowledgment (or thank you) cards are a common piece of memorial stationery. Throughout the entire process, friends and family take on roles and responsibilities to help the grieving family. Afterward, the family may want to thank those who went above and beyond. For instance, a card may be sent to someone who sent flowers or a sympathy gift, gave a donation to a designated charity, prepared meals for the family, or perhaps said something particularly kind and meaningful. For a few helpful hints on how to write a funeral thank you card, please read Simple Tips for Writing Funeral Thank You Notes.

Every funeral home offers memorial stationery, though the look and cost will vary between funeral homes. You can choose which of these items you would like to use and which ones you prefer not to. Make sure to talk to the funeral home of your choice about their memorial stationery and their other memorial options (like memorial tribute videos).

More than anything, the funeral home and its staff want to help you create a personalized, meaningful, and healing funeral experience that will bring comfort and peace to your family. Talk to them about what you need and work together to create the perfect final tribute.

How to Plan a Healing Funeral if You Are Not Religious

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

Funeral rites have a rich history rooted in spiritual and religious traditions. So, what do you do for a funeral if you are not religious? Some families may consider skipping the funeral ceremony altogether, but that would be a mistake. Many of the core elements of a funeral can help the family process their emotions of grief, honor the memory of the person who died, and search for deeper meaning in the loss, whether the funeral is religious or not.

Before missing out on the benefits of a funeral ceremony, take a look at the core elements of a funeral and how these elements might be combined to create a healing and meaningful tribute to a life lived.

Core Elements of a Funeral

“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.” – Dr. Alan Wolfelt

To create a healing and meaningful funeral experience, there are several tried and true elements that you should consider incorporating. Dr. Wolfelt, a nationally respected author and grief counselor, tells us that these elements are necessary to facilitate the six needs that a funeral fulfills: 1) acknowledge the reality of the death, 2) embrace the pain of the loss, 3) remember the person who died, 4) develop a new self-identity, 5) search for meaning, and 6) receive ongoing support from others. All of these basic needs apply to both religious and non-religious families.

If you are planning a funeral, whether because someone you love has died or you are making advance funeral plans, give thoughtful consideration to how you can implement these healing and meaningful elements.

Music

First of all, music sets the tone of a funeral and brings emotions to the forefront. In fact, one of the purposes of a funeral is to allow mourners to grieve together, and in many ways, music says what words cannot. Don’t be afraid to invite people to express grief. With a non-religious ceremony, consider using music that was significant to the lost loved one or songs that cause you to remember them. This might include bluegrass, hip hop, rock, or any other genre of music.

Why Include Special Music in a Funeral Ceremony?

Top 10 Songs for a Funeral Ceremony

Readings

Second, readings add another facet to a meaningful service. They are another way to not only invite mourners to express their emotions, but readings bring the unique spirit of the one who has died to life. Did they have a favorite book or poem? Did the person who died write a letter or even a social media post you would like to highlight? Is there a reading or quote that springs to mind when you think about this person and the loss you have experienced? Or perhaps you or someone you know is inspired to write a poem for the occasion. Whatever you choose, readings can bring aspects of the person you love to life in a very special way.

How do Readings Enhance the Funeral Experience?

Top 10 Poems for a Funeral Ceremony

Viewing/Visitation/Reception

Third, the viewing or visitation is a time for family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors to gather and express support and sympathy. If it is decided to have a viewing, it is an opportunity for mourners to see this special person one last time and begin to acknowledge the reality of their death. For many, as part of the grieving process, it is important to physically see the body. The viewing offers this opportunity. No matter what type of ceremony you create, a viewing or visitation is an important element to consider.

Why Have a Visitation?

Why Should the Body Be Present?

Eulogy/Remembrance

Fourth, the eulogy may be the single most important aspect of a funeral service. It is the time to acknowledge and affirm the significance of the life lived. With that in mind, take time to share treasured memories, quotes, or even the lost loved one’s favorite jokes. Focus your eulogy on describing the legacy that the person has left behind. What did they value most? What were they passionate about? How did they leave the world a better place? The eulogy can be delivered by a celebrant, a family member, a close friend, or even a series of people.

What is a Eulogy?

Crafting a Eulogy

Symbols

Fifth, symbols, or symbolic acts, offer a focal point for the bereaved as well as a sense of comfort. Symbols such as flowers, a portrait of the person, or personal items can be used throughout the ceremony. You also may want to incorporate symbolic acts, such as lighting a candle to symbolize your love or creating a photo display. Releasing balloons, butterflies, or lanterns are symbols that help us process the emotions of “letting go.” We release the pain of the loss while keeping the memory of the one who died alive. You can also consider giving away small memorial keepsakes to attendees that symbolize a passion or hobby your loved one had.

The Importance of Symbols

Exploring Your Release Ceremony Options

Gathering

Sixth, the gathering is an opportunity for friends and family to come together (often around food) after the funeral service to share stories and to support each other. One of the most important purposes of a funeral is to activate support for the grieving family – this is one reason why gathering people together is so helpful. It allows the family an opportunity to engage with others and receive support and condolences. While you consider the benefits of a gathering, take a few moments to read the article below.

What is a Gathering?

Actions 

And finally, by inviting others into action at the funeral service, you engage mourners and invite them to put their grief into motion. Simply put, mourning is the outward expression of our inward grief. To move others toward healing, it is important to invite them to act. For an artist, you might invite attendees to create a communal painting. For a horse enthusiast, you may hold the memorial at a barn or equestrian center. Even actions as simple as joining a procession, planting a memorial tree, writing down a memory, or wearing a certain type of clothing can help mourners become participants rather than observers in their own grief journey.

How Do Actions Help Us Heal?

All together, these elements help you create a service that is healing and meaningful for all who attend. Whether the person was religious or not, those who come to mourn will leave feeling like they have honored a life lived and have taken the first healthy step on their grief journey.

10 Ways to Use Photos to Personalize a Service

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

Funeral and memorial services are about remembering and cherishing a loved one’s memory and honoring their life. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized grief expert, author, and counselor, often says, “When words are inadequate, have a ceremony.” Meaningful ceremonies are reflective of the life that has been lived. They spark memories, help honor a legacy, and bring to mind the good times that were shared. Using photos is one important way we can personalize a funeral and reflect on a life well-lived.

They say a picture is worth a thousand words, and that is certainly true when you are sharing photos of a loved one’s life. Let’s talk about how you can use photos to create a tribute that will bring meaning, hope, peace, and comfort to those who are hurting.

10 Ways to Use Photos to Personalize a Physical Service

Photos are unique to a person, a time, a place, a memory. That’s why they are a perfect way to personalize a funeral or memorial service. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

1. Add Photos to the Order of Service

For most funeral or memorial services, you will receive an “Order of Service” program. This pamphlet usually outlines the order of events that will occur at the service, including speakers, special songs, opportunities to share memories, etc. The Order of Service is a good place to incorporate photos. You can be as creative as you’d like, including your favorite photos or simply ones that capture your loved one’s personality.

2. Make a Collage or Timeline

A photo collage or timeline allows you to tell your loved one’s life story. The big moments, the small ones, the ones that mean the most to you and your family. You can highlight weddings, births, vacations, milestones, hobbies, childhood photos, and so much more. Then, as people view the collage or timeline at the service, conversations will spark. Memories will become fresh. Hearts will be comforted.

3. Put Together a Memorial Photo Album

Sometimes there’s something special about a tangible object. Just like some people prefer physical books over electronic books, there are those who prefer the sturdy presence of a photo album to any amount of digital storage. If you are one of these people, you might consider putting together a memorial photo album or bringing your old family photo albums to the gathering or visitation. Holding the book and flipping through the pages often evokes a strong feeling of connection. By allowing friends, family, and guests to look through the album, you create an opportunity to remember special times and learn new things about the one you love.

4. Create a Memory Board

Similar to a photo collage, a memory board intentionally leaves space open for family, friends, and other guests to add photos of their own or to write personalized messages on the board. By inviting people to participate, you do two things. First, you allow others to mourn; that is, put their grief into action. Dr. Wolfelt tells us that, “Grief is what you think and feel on the inside, and mourning is when you express that grief outside of yourself. Mourning is grief inside out. [It] is showing and doing.” Secondly, by inviting others to add their own thoughts and memories, you create a lovely keepsake that gives a full, vibrant picture of your loved one’s life.

5. Use Photos to Personalize the Gathering/Reception

Many families decide to include a gathering or reception following the funeral or memorial service. Doing this allows family, friends, and others an opportunity to share memories and offer support to one another. The gathering/reception is also a great time to add personal touches to the funeral experience. You might string a clothesline in one area of the room and invite friends and family to a bring a photo to hang. Or, you could use photos to decorate the tables – as centerpieces or even as a table runner. Alternatively, if you are having an outdoor event, you could decorate a tree with photos of your loved one and add mason jars with candles to add softness to the display.

6. Make a Tribute Video

With a tribute video, you can use photos, audio clips, video clips, favorite quotes, and so much more to create a truly personal account of your loved one’s life. A tribute video adds a meaningful element to the service, allows guests to reflect on their memories, comforts family and friends, evokes laughter and tears, and can be a special keepsake that can be watched for years to come.

7. Invite Mourners to Bring a Favorite Photo

Another option you might consider is inviting mourners to bring a favorite photo of your loved one. You could ask people to write a favorite memory on the back and leave the photo with the family as an encouragement. Alternatively, you could create a collective collage. By requesting that everyone bring a 4×6 photo, you can create pre-made spaces where people can add their photos to the collage. Or, you could simply ask mourners to look at the photo and remember your loved one as the eulogy is spoken. A visual reminder – especially one that means something – will help each person connect with their own feelings and begin the grief journey on the right foot.

8. Make a Memory Wreath

Another way to use photos in a unique way is to create a memory wreath. This special wreath will not only serve as a special focal point for any gathering or reception, it can also be re-used in your home afterward. Photos are a great way to remember our loved ones. They connect us to the past; they remind us of the stories of our lives. Sometimes, they even express emotions better than words.

9. Ask Someone to Take Photos at the Funeral

While it may sound odd, you might consider asking someone to take photos at the funeral or memorial. Not necessarily of your loved one – but of the events and the people who have gathered. Photography is about capturing the important moments in life, and the passing of a loved one is significant. Photos taken at any point of the service (funeral, reception, graveside, etc.) will all show a variety of emotions – sadness at the loss, joy at seeing living loved ones, happiness at sharing cherished memories. Who knows, you may find that one of these photos becomes a cherished favorite.

10. Print Remembrance Tokens

Finally, for many of us, specific items have great value and significance to our memory. “I bought this painting when we went to France,” or “This scarf always reminds me of my grandmother.” Photos can do the same. Consider printing out some of your favorite photos and giving them to guests as a remembrance token. You might add a quote, scripture verse, or poem on the back. As each person takes a photo, they have a physical reminder of your loved one, something they can hold onto and contemplate on as they walk through their grief journey.

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