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beautiful woman writing into her diary, in the park

4 Reasons Why Eulogies are Important

By Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

Losing a loved one can be one of the toughest trials you face in life. And maybe the last thing you want in your time of grief is to stand before a large crowd and speak about what you’re feeling. You’re not alone in feeling that way. Your emotions may feel too raw to put into words and public speaking might make you uncomfortable.

It’s enough to make you wonder, “Why have a eulogy?”

But before you ask for someone else to be the eulogizer, you should know why eulogies are important and helpful for those who grieve. A eulogy isn’t just a speech summarizing someone’s life — it’s so much more. And not having a eulogy could slow the grieving process for many.

There are 4 reasons we have eulogies at funerals: eulogies honor the life lived, offer healing with the grieving process, can help you start a healthy grief journey, and give you a chance to say goodbye. Let’s dive deeper into the importance of eulogies and see why they are a necessary part of a meaningful end-of-life ceremony.

1. Eulogies honor the life of the deceased

female hands fingering old photographs of 1950s, stack of photos on the table, concept of genealogy, memory of ancestors, family tree, nostalgia, childhood, remembering

Eulogies are most commonly known for helping honor and celebrate a loved one’s life. A thoughtful, well-crafted eulogy celebrates the life lived and explains why the deceased was loved. A eulogy should equally share the important moments of the deceased’s life and explain how they impacted others.

The eulogy is also an excellent opportunity to share the legacy of the loved one. It’s a time when questions like, “What did they value in life? Which virtues did they show? How did they respond when things got hard?” can be addressed and answered.

2. Eulogies offer healing to the grieving

Sad and lonely woman sitting alone on a park bench.

According to renowned grief expert Dr. Alan Wolfelt, there are six universal needs of mourning. One of those needs is remembering the loved one who died. That’s where a eulogy can help guide those in pain toward healthy grieving.

The eulogy gives those who are still here a chance to think of how they wish to remember the deceased. Eulogies help recall warm memories, happy moments, and special stories that can provide needed comfort. Should you give the eulogy, your kind words can help ease the pain of loss for others.

Giving a eulogy can also be helpful for the eulogizer’s grief journey. As the eulogizer, you can find comfort throughout the entire writing process. Deciding what details to include and what themes to focus on will help you work through your own emotions and keep your loved one’s memory alive in your heart and mind. Peace and healing may come to you along the way.

3. Eulogies can start a healthy grief journey

One of the most important long-term benefits a eulogy can give is getting you started on the right foot of your grief journey. A eulogy or funeral can’t promise closure, but both can help you move closer to your pain, which will help bring you closer to healing. However, your grief journey is not a straight path.

During his time counseling families, Dr. Wolfelt found that there are certain paradoxes associated with mourning. One of those paradoxes is that before you can move on after a loss, you must first move closer to your pain.

“The truth, paradoxically, is that in grief, we have to go backward before we can go forward…Grief is not a train track toward acceptance. It’s more like “getting lost in the woods” and almost always gives rise to a mixture of many thoughts and feelings at once. (Grief) is often one step forward, two steps in a circle, then one step backward. It takes time, patience, and, yes, lots of backward motion before forward motion occurs.”

Click here if you’d like to understand more about Dr. Wolfelt’s teachings on the paradoxes of mourning.

4. Eulogies provide a last chance to say goodbye

Saying one last goodbye to your loved one is another service a eulogy can offer. This action can help symbolize your last act to the deceased as they were before you create a new relationship with them.

Saying goodbye is a common way most eulogies end, because saying goodbye can bring peace to the eulogizer and the audience.

Religion, death and dolor - man at funeral with white rose mourning the dead

Hopefully, you understand what a good eulogy can do for you and those who remain. It’s a truly special gift to be the eulogizer for someone you loved dearly, and there’s a reason you were chosen. Now that you know why eulogies are important and helpful, you can deliver a eulogy that will honor your loved one and help those who grieve.

Death certificate request form with pen on top

The Beginner’s Guide to Death Certificates

By Estate Planning, Planning Tools

If you’ve recently lost a loved one, you know how overwhelming it can be. You’re grieving, but you may also be trying to take care of their affairs. As you navigate the complicated world of funeral planning, life insurance, Medicaid, and estate settlement, one item you’ll need for everything is a death certificate.

Death certificates are official documents that provide the name of the deceased, the date, time, and place of death, and the cause of death. Different states have their own requirements for death certificates, so other details may be included, like the deceased’s birth date, Social Security number, or their parents’ names. Basically, death certificates provide official confirmation of a person’s death.

While obtaining death certificates may seem like an extra hassle at a time when you’re grieving, they play a necessary role in estate settlement. Plus, they can help you and your family members accept the death of your loved one. Here are 3 things you need to know about these important documents:

Person filling out a form

1. Why You’ll Need a Death Certificate

As you work through your loved one’s affairs, you’ll likely need 5-10 copies of the death certificate. The funeral home or crematory you work with will need a death certificate to get a burial or cremation permit. You’ll also need a death certificate to claim life insurance, close accounts, and transfer ownership of any vehicles, real estate, or other property. If your spouse has died, you’ll also need a death certificate to manage their pension or Medicaid or if you plan to remarry. Some companies will accept a copy of the death certificate, but insurance agencies typically need an official certificate.

If your loved one was a veteran, you’ll also need a death certificate for the veterans’ burial benefits provided by the VA. Whether your loved one’s death was service-related or took place after they were discharged, your family will need to present the death certificate at the VA’s office when you request burial benefits.

But death certificates are more than just legal records. By officially documenting someone’s death and what caused it, death certificates can provide some closure for your family. If your loved one died unexpectedly, knowing the official cause of death can give you and your family peace of mind as you begin your grief journey.

Black awning for a funeral home

2. Who Supplies the Death Certificate

While states have different requirements about death certificate filing, funeral directors must file them within 72 hours of the death. When you speak with a funeral director after the death of your loved one, they’ll need certain information to submit the death certificate. A coroner, physician, or medical examiner will also need to sign the certificate before it’s filed to certify the cause of death.

To get copies of a death certificate, you’ll likely request them from the funeral home or your local vital records office. Some states also offer the option to request a death certificate on their website. Additionally, there are third-party websites you can use to request death certificates.

If you choose to request death certificates online, make sure to choose a reliable site. You’ll also want to make sure that you’re requesting an official copy of the death certificate. Some sites offer informational copies, unofficial certificates, or death verification letters, which aren’t official documents. If you’re unsure if a site is reliable, ask your local funeral provider or your state’s vital records office.

3. What Information You Need to Request a Death Certificate

Laws about requesting death certificates vary in different states. In many areas, only a spouse, parent, child, sibling, or legal representative can request a death certificate. To request a certificate, you’ll need to bring an ID and proof that you’re related to the deceased, like your birth certificate or your marriage license. Extended family members may be able to request a death certificate with written permission from an immediate family member.

To request the certificate, you’ll likely need the following information about the deceased:

  • Full legal name
  • Sex
  • Social Security Number
  • Date of birth
  • Date of death
  • Place of death
  • Father’s legal name
  • Mother’s maiden name

Some states may require you to provide other information, like their last known address, race, birthplace, or marital status. If you’re missing any of the above information, you may be able to request a birth certificate to find it.

As mentioned above, it’s a good idea to request 5-10 copies of the death certificate so you have plenty on hand. Pricing differs in each state, but death certificates usually cost between $5 and $25. Some states offer discounted pricing when you order more than one death certificate at a time. For example, the initial certificate may cost $20, but you only pay $5 for each additional certificate.

While navigating the world after your loved one’s death, don’t be afraid to ask for help. Your local funeral provider can be a knowledgeable source of information. You can also speak with your attorney as you navigate estate settlements and life insurance. As you begin your grief journey, don’t be afraid to accept help from those around you and to take time to process your emotions.

DISCLAIMER: Individual circumstances and state laws vary. If you have questions about obtaining a death certificate, please contact a licensed funeral professional or local vital record’s office.

Beautiful spread of ingredients to bake a cake

Gravestone Recipes: Adding a Sweet Touch to a Memorial Marker

By Explore Options, Memorial, Planning Tools

When planning a loved one’s funeral or memorial services, personalization is key to creating an event that is both healing and meaningful. The same is true when you’re considering what to include on a memorial marker (e.g., headstone, grave marker, etc.). But thankfully, there are a lot of ways to personalize a memorial marker, and one of them is bringing joy to people! What is it? Gravestone recipes!

What are Gravestone Recipes?

Memorial markers generally include the name, birth date, and death date of the person who has died. Often, the memorial marker also includes an inscription, like a sweet sentiment or kind phrase. However, some families have taken to personalizing the inscription in a new way – adding the recipe for that person’s most well-known dish.

Let’s look at a few examples!

Mom and adult daughter making cookies in the kitchen together, daughter learning from mother

Naomi’s Spritz Cookies

At a cemetery in Brooklyn, NY, Naomi Miller-Dawson’s memorial marker bears the recipe for her spritz cookies. While the memorial marker includes the ingredient list and no instructions, you can use the traditional method for spritz cookies to give you a good start on how to bake the cookies.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup butter or margarine⁠
  • 3/4 cup sugar⁠
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla⁠
  • 1 egg⁠
  • 2 1/4 cups flour⁠
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking powder⁠
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt

Kay’s Fudge

Before her death, Kay Andrews of Logan, UT, requested that her memorial marker include her go-to fudge recipe. A woman of encouragement, she often took fudge to friends and family as a gift of love and support. Thankfully, Kay’s family honored her request, and now, we all get to enjoy Kay’s fudge and remember her for her kindness.

Ingredients:

  • 2 squares chocolate
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 cups white granulated sugar
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • Pinch of salt

Directions:

  1. Melt chocolate squares with butter on low heat.
  2. Stir in milk until incorporated and bubbling.
  3. Sift in sugar and salt.
  4. Add vanilla and stir.
  5. Continue stirring overheat until the mixture reaches 273 degrees F.
  6. Remove from heat and pour onto a marble slab.
  7. Chill for 3 hours or overnight.
  8. Cut and serve.

Mother and young daughter baking together, making memories

Mom’s Christmas Cookies

In Cascade, IA, a sweet remembrance marks the final resting place of Maxine Menster. When her husband and daughter wanted to add something special to Maxine’s memorial marker, they both thought of her cookies. Handed down through generations of family, Maxine made them every Christmas, leaving her home filled with the smell of freshly baked cookies and her family with precious memories.

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup sugar
  • ½ cup oleo (margarine)
  • 2 eggs
  • 1 teaspoon vanilla
  • 3 cups flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup cream

Directions:

  1. Cream the sugar and oleo.
  2. Add two beaten eggs and vanilla to the mixture.
  3. Mix flour, baking powder, and salt into separate bowl.
  4. Add dry ingredients to wet ingredient alternately with 1 cup cream.
  5. Chill and roll out with flour.
  6. Bake 350 degrees oven and frost.

Father and adult daughter making homemade bread together

Connie’s Date & Nut Bread

For registered nurse Constance Galberd, date & nut bread must have been an important part of saying she cared. Mother of three, Connie died in 2008 and was buried in Highland Mills, NY. While it might have seemed a small remembrance, who can really say how many people have been blessed by her date & nut bread long after her passing? It’s a personalization that keeps bringing joy even today!

Ingredients:

  • 8 ounces dates, cut into small pieces
  • 1 cup raisins
  • 2 cups boiling water
  • 2 teaspoons baking soda
  • 1 1/2 cups sugar
  • 2 eggs, well beaten
  • 4 cups flour
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/2 cup chopped nuts

Directions:

  1. Pour boiling water (where 2 teaspoons of baking soda have been dissolved) over dates and raisins. Cool.
  2. Add 1 1/2 cups sugar and mix well.
  3. Add 2 eggs, well beaten.
  4. Gradually mix in 4 cups of flour and 2 teaspoons of baking powder. Beat thoroughly.
  5. Add 1/2 cup of chopped nuts. Beat thoroughly.
  6. Bake at 350 for 45 minutes to one hour.
  7. Bake in tin cans (one batch = 13 cans)*

*During the Great Depression (1929-1939), families often baked with tin cans. You can make this recipe using a regular loaf pan.

Father and young daughter baking together, holding a heart made of dough in their hands

What a Sweet Personalization

In so many ways, food is an integral part of many of our core memories. Grandma’s special cake. Dad’s famous BBQ. The family-famous trimmings that only come out at Thanksgiving or Christmas. We all have these special foods in our lives, and a lot of times, they are associated with a special person.

If you are looking for a sweet way to personalize the memorial marker of someone who loved spending time in the kitchen, a gravestone recipe inscription might be a good fit. That way, you and so many others can celebrate and appreciate your loved one’s life for years to come.

If you’d like more inspiration for personalizing a memorial marker, go 6 Ways to Personalize a Memorial Marker for ideas!

Woman choosing a color from a color wheel

Using Color to Personalize a Service

By Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

Creating a personalized funeral or memorial service is the first step toward finding the healing and reconciliation you need after a loss. Why? Because if the service details truly reflect the hobbies, interests, personality, and quirks of the person who has died, then it feels like a true tribute – something with meaning, purpose, and poignancy. Using color can be a simple way to uniquely personalize a service – let’s look at a few examples.

4 Simple Ways to Use Color to Personalize a Service

While the color black has traditionally been associated with mourning in the western world, it’s not a hard and fast rule. In fact, in other areas of the world, white, red, purple, gray, and even gold are considered colors of mourning. With the increase in personalized services, it’s become much more accepted to use different colors, especially if that color has special significance.

Beautiful pink tulips

1. Select Specific Flowers

If you are decorating with flowers or accepting flowers as sympathy gifts, you could request a specific color. To be the most meaningful, select a color that is special in some way – either to you or to the one who has died. Or, if the deceased person loved pumpkins, succulents, or even tiny cactus plants, you could encourage well-wishers to give those, instead. Imagine how sweet it would look and feel to see a loved one’s service filled with the color that brought them so much joy in life.

Decorating with seashells and the color ivory

2. Decorate with Intentionality

Another option for using color to personalize is by choosing your decorations intentionally. If you choose to focus on a specific color, you can use it in a multitude of places. For example, you could display photo frames in that color. At the gathering or visitation, use tablecloths or centerpieces in that color. Place themed decorations on memorial tables. Provide a keepsake to mourners that showcases the theme color. The options are endless. Think on what the person loved and use that information to create something one-of-a-kind.

Four men wearing matching polka dot socks

3. Request that Mourners Wear a Certain Color

Perhaps one of the easiest ways to incorporate color into a service is to ask mourners to wear it. This way, when people attend the service, there’s a sea of pink, green, orange in honor of your loved one. If you’d rather focus on a theme than a color, you can. For instance, you could ask that mourners wear a certain team’s jersey, Star Wars gear, something with unicorns, or whatever is most appropriate. You can include the color/theme when you announce service details, whether that’s through the funeral home or a personal announcement on social media.

Bright green casket

4. Customize the Urn or Casket

Urns today come in many shapes, sizes, and hues. If you plan to have a memorial service after cremation, you can select an urn of a specific color. Simply speak with your trusted funeral home or go online to review your urn options.

As for caskets, there are a few different personalization options. First, you could request a certain color for the casket lining and pillow top. Second, you could customize the casket itself. Rather than selecting one of the standard colors or wood types, you could commission a casket of any color. Third, you can ask that the interior or cap panel (the rectangle of space just above the deceased when the casket is open) be customized. You could select a specific hue, or alternatively, some funeral homes can place a photo in this space.

If any of these options appeal to you, contact your trusted funeral home. They will help you get the answers you need.

What If I Don’t Know What Color to Choose?

If a color doesn’t immediately come to mind, that’s okay. You can either personalize the service in other ways, or you could even choose a color based on its meaning.

Woman choosing a color from a color wheel

  • Red – Energy, passion, strength, love, sincerity
  • Pink – Love and romance, caring, tenderness, acceptance
  • Beige – Calm and simplicity
  • Ivory – Quietness and pleasantness
  • Yellow – Joy, happiness, imagination, hope, friendship
  • Blue – Peace, tranquility, trust, harmony, loyalty
  • Purple – Spirituality, transformation, wisdom, honor
  • Lavender – Femininity, grace, elegance
  • Orange – Enthusiasm, warmth, vibrancy
  • Green – Renewal, generosity, service
  • Brown – Stability, hearth & home, comfort, reliability
  • Gray – Security, intelligence, dignity, modesty
  • White – Purity, peace, innocence, goodness

Ultimately, color is just one option for creating a meaningful service. Whether you are planning ahead for your own funeral wishes or are planning a loved one’s services, you have options. If you have a specific idea of what you’d like to do or you need a little help, your local funeral home can help. They can brainstorm with you, offer ideas and solutions, and help you create a tribute that feels right and good.

If you’d like to learn about other ways you can customize a service to create something truly unique, go to Practical Ways to Personalize the 7 Elements of a Funeral for inspiration.

Cover of a casket with a white rose laid on top

Understanding Embalming & Your Options

By Planning Tools

Embalming may not be something you’ve given much thought to – other than a mild interest in Ancient Egyptian mummification practices. Thankfully, embalming today is much less complicated than in Ancient Egypt, but it’s still a process. Let’s take a moment to dive into what embalming is, the process behind it, and what your options are when embalming makes the most sense for your funeral planning needs.

man and woman at funeral, his arm around her shoulder in a comforting way

What is embalming?

Warning: There are a few squeamish details here, so be prepared or skip to the next section.

Following the Civil War (1861-1865) and the death of Abraham Lincoln, embalming became widely accepted in the United States. After seeing how lifelike Abraham Lincoln appeared during his lying in state period, people all across the nation selected embalming after death. This widespread approval led to the practice becoming a cultural norm, which continues to this day.

But how does embalming work? Well, embalming occurs in stages. Let’s do a quick (and abbreviated) rundown.

Stage 1

The body is disinfected and prepared (this includes massaging stiffening joints, shaving, sewing the jaw shut, etc.)

Stage 2

After the body is prepared, small incisions are made and the blood is replaced with a solution that preserves the body for a period of time.

Stage 3

After the blood is replaced, the body cavities must be embalmed as well. This includes allowing any gas or fluid contents to drain from the organs and the abdomen.

Stage 4

Now that the body is fully embalmed, the cosmetic part of the process begins (washing the hair and body, applying make-up and clothing, etc.).

Once these stages are complete, the body is ready for a viewing or visitation, depending on what the family has planned for final services.

Why do we embalm?

Different people have different reasons for choosing embalming, and ultimately, it comes down to personal choice. For some, embalming and seeing the person who has died is an essential part of the grieving process. Let’s look at a few reasons why people choose embalming.

  1. You want to have a funeral service with an open casket.
  2. You want to give far-away family members time to travel to the location of the service, so embalming will preserve the body for a longer period of time.
  3. The body needs to travel a great distance for burial (like in a national cemetery or in another state).
  4. You want to donate your body to medical research.
  5. You want to see the person you love one last time. For some people, when tragic accidents occur, it’s important to have a chance to see the body one final time. Also, it’s during the embalming process that any restorative work occurs, to repair any physical damage incurred by the cause of death.

If any of these ring true for you, then embalming may be the right choice for your needs.

Woman dressed in black standing next to casket with one hand on the casket and the other holding white lilies

What are my embalming options?

Whether you are planning ahead for your funeral wishes or planning a funeral for a loved one, it’s always beneficial to understand your options. If your family would like to have a viewing or visitation that will allow friends and family to see the deceased person one final time, then embalming is a good route for you.

It will ensure that the body is in good condition for whatever services are planned to honor the person’s life and allow the living to say their goodbyes. Currently, there are two options available for embalming: traditional embalming and green embalming. Let’s talk about each one in turn.

Traditional Embalming

With traditional embalming, a formaldehyde-based solution replaces the blood, acting as a preservative. It helps restore the skin’s natural color and appearance. This type of embalming is available widespread as it has been a common practice for more than 100 years. With traditional embalming, burial at most cemeteries is possible. The only ones that do not allow this form of embalming are green or natural cemeteries.

Green Embalming

As an alternative to the formaldehyde-based solution, some funeral homes now offer green embalming. Essentially, the process is the same, but the solution consists of non-toxic chemicals and plant-derived essential oils. While its effects do not last as long as traditional embalming, it still restores the body’s natural coloring and appearance. All cemeteries, including green or natural cemeteries, accept green embalming.

Cover of a casket with a white rose laid on top

Is embalming required?

In most cases, embalming is not required. In fact, it’s often only absolutely necessary in special cases. For example, officials may require embalming when a body needs to cross state lines or moves from one place to another via public transportation (like on an airplane).

For the most part, embalming is a choice, and families select it because they want the body to be present for the meaningful services they have planned.

Keep in Mind

Before we go, keep in mind that green embalming is fairly new. Not all funeral homes offer it at this time. If having a more eco-friendly option is important to you, the best thing to do is contact your local funeral home and see what they offer. Then, you can make the decision that makes the most sense for your family and your needs.

Can You Name the 4 Different Types of Cemeteries?

By Explore Options, Memorial, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

A cemetery is a cemetery, right? Well, to a degree, that’s true. However, there are actually several different types of cemeteries you should know about. Today, we’ll discuss the 4 main categories as well as some of the unique features that are available.

traditional upright headstones with flower arrangements

What are the 4 main types of cemeteries?

1. Public Cemeteries

Many cemeteries are public cemeteries. Often, they are the most affordable option. In short, a “public” cemetery simply means that anyone from the general public can inquire about purchasing a plot or niche. However, not all public cemeteries are run the same way.

Government-run public cemeteries

More than likely, a local government, like the city or the county, owns this type of public cemetery. Burial is open to anyone, and the local government maintains the grounds. However, they may not offer a full range of options and services.

Privately-run public cemeteries

On the other hand, privately-run public cemeteries are often owned independently or by a corporation. When you think of a cemetery, this may be the type that comes to mind most readily. They are commonly called “private cemeteries,” though they are open to the public. You can find them through the local funeral home, friends, or searching online. While the cost of a plot/niche may be higher, they also provide more services and options.

No matter which you choose, check on availability. In some cases, public cemeteries become full, sold out, or dedicated to those who die destitute (especially in the case of a government-run cemetery).

cemetery outside a beautiful old church

2. Private Cemeteries

Owned by individuals or businesses, true private cemeteries are not open to the general public. In fact, the owners have final say in who is allowed burial in a private cemetery. Let’s look at two primary examples of private cemeteries: family burial grounds and religious cemeteries.

Family burial ground

Very common in rural America in the 19th and early 20th centuries, a family burial ground is located on private land and designated for relatives only. Today, there are more regulations in place, but it is still a possibility. However, there’s one potential problem to consider: access. If land is sold, the family may no longer have access to the cemetery. Some states guarantee the family access to the cemetery, and other states do not. Therefore, make sure you understand your local or state laws before committing to a family burial ground.

Religious cemeteries

This type of private cemetery restricts availability to those of a certain faith or belief or even affiliation.

Examples include members of a certain:

  • Church
  • Fraternal/sororal group
  • Ethnicity
  • Lodge

In most cases, the organization owns the cemetery and only allows members to purchase a plot or niche. While there are a lot of religious cemeteries across the United States, each cemetery has its own rules. Because of that, some are more restrictive and others more inclusive. If you are interested in burial in a religious cemetery, start by talking with the organization most closely affiliated with it.

Veteran cemetery with white headstones and small American flags

3. Veteran Cemeteries

Have you heard of Arlington National Cemetery and the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier? This beautiful cemetery is an iconic example of veteran cemeteries across the nation. For eligible active duty servicemen and women, veterans, and their dependents, both national and state veteran cemeteries are an option.

Maintained by the Veterans Administration, there are more than 100 veteran cemeteries in the United States. For those who are eligible, burial benefits are available. These benefits include a plot, opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, a headstone, and military honors…at no charge. Some state veteran cemeteries charge a nominal fee, but the funeral home can contact the cemetery on your behalf to confirm.

tree with heart marker, representing natural burial

4. Green or Natural Cemeteries

The natural or green cemetery focuses on minimizing environmental impact and limiting the carbon footprint. While natural cemeteries have all the hallmarks of a standard cemetery, there are some notable differences.

They require the use of a biodegradable casket or urn. While embalming is not prohibited, it must be done without specific chemicals or avoided entirely. Instead of headstones, some cemeteries plant trees with minimal markers. For more information on green or natural burial, talk to your trusted local funeral home. They can answer your questions.

Do cemeteries have special features?

Yes, some cemeteries focus on a certain aesthetic. Let’s review a few examples.

Monument Cemetery – features traditional, upright headstones made of granite, marble, or stone; additionally, may include a designated area for flat memorial plaques

Memorial or Lawn Park – uses lawn-level granite or bronze memorial plaques; by using ground-level markers, they intend to promote natural beauty and decrease maintenance costs

Garden Cemetery – similar to a memorial park, except the design of the cemetery includes specific garden elements; for example, Mount Auburn Cemetery is the earliest known garden cemetery in the United States

Columbarium or Mausoleum Niches – while burial is an option for cremated remains, columbarium or mausoleum niches are also available at many cemeteries

Bench overlooking a cemetery on a beautiful day

Is there a cost difference?

Absolutely. The cost of cemetery good and services varies widely and depends on several factors, including:

  • Where you live
  • Type of cemetery
  • Type of burial
  • Location of the plot
  • Memorialization selections
  • Perpetual care fee

Let’s recap. First, public cemeteries are most likely to receive funding from the local government, so their costs are lower. Second, with private cemeteries, there will be fees associated with opening/closing the grave, perpetual care of the grounds, grave liner, headstone, and so on. Third, in most cases, burial in a veteran cemetery will incur little or no cost to you or your family. And lastly, a green or natural cemetery will likely cost less than a private cemetery because they don’t require certain items, such as a grave liner.

Ultimately, the decision of which cemetery to use is up to you and what’s available in your area. Your trusted local funeral home can give you all the information you need to determine what’s best for your needs and your family.

Shows a memorial service with urn

What’s the Difference Between a Funeral and Memorial Service?

By Cremation, Explore Options, Planning Tools

Have you ever planned a funeral or memorial service? If you haven’t, then you’re in good company. Most people haven’t. That’s why it’s not surprising that you may not know the difference between funeral and memorial services. But today, we’re going to break things down, and hopefully, clear things up.

“Funeral” as a General Term

First, let’s talk about the word “funeral.” Often, it’s used in two different ways.

The word “funeral” can be used in a general sense to refer to the entire process of taking care of the body after death including all associated services. So, “Our family is planning the funeral” could mean either a traditional service or a memorial service, burial or cremation, simple or elaborate. As a culture, we’ve used the word “funeral” for so long that no matter what kind of service it may be, we still use “funeral” in a general sense in our conversations.

However, there is a second meaning to the word that more directly applies to our topic today.

Shows a family of four with flowers honoring a loved one

What’s the Difference Between a Funeral and Memorial Service?

At the risk of sounding anticlimactic, the difference between the two is quite simple: is the body present or not?

Funeral Service

At a funeral service, the body is present, often in a casket in a place of honor. Considered the traditional way of putting a loved one to rest in our culture, the funeral service often features common elements, such as the presence of a casket, religious rituals (if applicable), and  post-funeral burial. They also tend to take place in certain traditional locations.

Memorial Service

At a memorial service, the body is not present, though there may be an urn or a portrait in a place of honor. The specific nature of a memorial service can vary on a case-by-case basis depending on the choices you make. In general, though, a memorial service is a ceremony that memorializes and honors the deceased without the body present (regardless of whether burial or cremation is chosen).

And that’s the main difference between the two. However, let’s go a little deeper.

What are My Service Options?

Most of the time, we associate a memorial service with cremation. However, did you know you can have a viewing, visitation, and traditional service with cremation? Funerals (general use, here) are becoming more and more customizable, so there are lots of options available.

Shows a young woman standing next to a casket with white lilies

Here are 3 basic types of services:

Traditional Service with Burial

Traditional burial may be what comes to mind when you first think “funeral.” A long-time practice, traditional burial typically includes a viewing or visitation, a funeral service (with body present), a graveside committal, and often, some sort of informal gathering following the conclusion of services. After services are concluded, the body is taken to a cemetery and buried according to the family’s wishes.

Traditional Service Before Cremation

Believe it or not, you can have a traditional ceremony, viewing, and/or visitation even if you select cremation. You can choose a private family viewing or a public visitation. You could even hold a full funeral with the body present using a rented ceremonial casket. After the services are concluded, the body will be taken to the crematory so that cremation can take place.   

Shows a memorial service with urn

Memorial Service After Cremation

On the other hand, you can plan a memorial service where cremation takes place before the service. Most often, the family will place the urn or a portrait in a place of honor. If the family has elected to bury the urn, then there may be a committal service, but otherwise, it’s common to invite guests to an informal gathering (like a meal or reception) where they can share stories and memories.

No matter what type of service you select – funeral or memorial – the most important thing you can do is create a meaningful and healing event. With a personalized ceremony, you can give grieving loved ones a solid foundation by creating a special moment in time that can bring comfort and peace, allow everyone to say goodbye, and encourage each person to start the grief journey on the right foot.  

Shows a woman placing flowers on a grave as a remembrance

After all, the funeral or memorial isn’t for the dead; it’s for the living. It’s a chance to share stories, to reminisce about the sweet memories, to cry, to give and receive support, and most of all, to express what’s deep in our hearts as we say goodbye.  

Hopefully, you have a better understanding of the differences between funeral and memorial services as well as a general idea of the types of services that are available to you. There are other options – like natural burial or burial at sea or scattering – so make sure to talk with a reputable funeral home in your area. They can discuss all the options with you so that you can make decisions that balance your own personal wishes with the emotional needs of your family.

Illustrates what an inscription would look like

6 Ways to Personalize a Memorial Marker

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Memorial, Planning Tools

When visiting a cemetery, it can seem like your options are limited when choosing a memorial marker, but that’s not true. There are many options for creating a personalized monument that will identify a loved one’s final resting place for generations to come. Today, let’s talk about why memorial markers matter and 6 different ways you can personalize a monument to create something unique and special.

Shows an example of a memorial marker

What is a Memorial Marker?

A memorial marker goes by many names. Tombstone. Headstone. Grave marker. Monument. It can get confusing quickly, so we will use “memorial marker” and “monument” for our purposes today.

If you’ve ever visited a cemetery, then you’ve seen memorial markers. It could be a plaque, an upright headstone, a footstone, or even occasionally a ledger stone, to name a few options. Typically, a memorial marker lists the deceased person’s name and life dates. Anything beyond that is customized.

Why is a Memorial Marker Important?

As human beings, when we lose someone we love, our feeling of connection to them continues, even though they are no longer with us physically. It is this connection that contributes to our feelings of loss, that makes it so difficult to process death and move toward healing and reconciliation.

Not only do memorial markers highlight the value of remembering people by name – names are so important – they also give us a place to go to feel close to the person who has died.

To learn more about why memorial markers and a final resting place can be valuable to families, especially when feelings of grief arise or anniversaries come around, check out 5 Reasons to Establish a Permanent Memorial.

Illustrates why a memorial marker is important as two young people visit a loved one's final resting place

6 Ways to Personalize a Memorial Marker

Now, let’s dive into 6 ways you can personalize a memorial marker to reflect a person’s unique life, personality, and preferences.

To help you decide what’s right for your needs and situation, consider which of these categories you want to focus on (or if you’d like to create a mix):

  • Choose elements that reflect personality (kind, giving, friendly)
  • Focus on family attributes (father, grandmother, uncle, sister)
  • Highlight achievements, hobbies, interests, or long-term commitments

With these categories in mind, let’s talk about personalizing a memorial marker.

1. Create a Personalized Inscription

Also called an epitaph, you can include a short message on the monument that has meaning and significance to everyone – family, friends, and the person who has died.

For instance, you could include:

  • A focus on family (“Beloved mother, sister, and friend”)
  • A poignant sentiment (“Forever in our hearts”)
  • A spiritual quote or verse for a person of faith
  • Pop culture references to music, movies, etc. (“May the Force be with you” or similar)

For a real-life example, one beloved grandmother included her famous fudge recipe on her memorial marker so that everyone who came by could make and enjoy it as much as she did. The possibilities are quite literally endless with how you can personalize the inscription.

Illustrates what an inscription would look like

2. Choose a Color

Next, let’s talk about color. Depending on what material you select, you can choose a color to personalize a memorial marker. Granite is the most popular monument material because it retains its shine for many years. It is available in black, blue, gray, pink, red, and more. If your loved one had an affinity for a certain color, you can ask your monument representative what your color options are.

Bronze is another common material used for memorial markers. Keep in mind, bronze will develop patina over time, resulting in a color change ranging from antiqued green to light or dark brown. Some people love this color change, and one more famous example of patina is the greenish hue that we now see on the Statue of Liberty.

3. Select a Shape

While most people choose a rectangular, square, or pointed top monument, memorial markers aren’t one-size-fits-all. Custom monuments come in many forms—from benches to unique shapes like hearts, books, arches, or even guitars.

If you have a specific vision for what shape you’d like the memorial marker to be, talk to the monument designers about the possibilities. They will discuss the cost and what’s possible when working with stone.

Shows one shape option for memorial markers

4. Add an Image or Symbol

If you’d like, you can request that the memorial marker feature a specific image or symbol. From animals and military insignia to pop culture references or nature scenes, anything is possible. The key is to pick something that is meaningful.

If you aren’t sure what kind of image to request, ask yourself, “Does my loved one have a well-known hobby? A pet who is always nearby? A deep faith? A favorite instrument or talent or sports team?” These types of questions will help you narrow down the options.

Monument companies will work with you on the design and help you create something that will bring your creative vision to life as you honor your loved one’s legacy.

5. Include a Photo

Similar to an image or symbol, you could add a photo (or photos) to personalize a memorial marker. Depending on your wishes, the photo could be etched (by hand or with a laser), or if you prefer to use a color photo, the image can be created in ceramic or porcelain and then permanently affixed to the marker in whatever size you want.

If you decide to include a photo, select one of your favorites and go over your wishes with the monument designer so they can create exactly what you want.

Shows a man leaving flowers at a loved one's memorial marker

6. Incorporate a QR Code

A new trend in memorial marker personalization is the QR code. The code is affixed to the marker, and when mourners or visitors scan the code, they view a website dedicated to that person’s life and legacy.

Imagine if you could scan a QR code for someone who died 100 years ago. It would be both amazing and interesting to read more about who they were and what their life was like.

Of course, this personalization option takes a little additional work on your part (you have to create a website), but it may be a good option for remembering and honoring your loved one’s life.

Do What’s Best for Your Family

The best thing about this whole discussion? There’s no right or wrong. If something traditional is right and good for your needs, do that. If a photo with inscription is best, do that. Would a book top with a literary quote be meaningful? Do that. It’s entirely up to you.

One final note as you consider the possibilities, remember to ask the cemetery representative if they have any specific regulations. Some cemeteries place firm restrictions on monument color and material.

Shows woman visiting a cemetery where there are monument regulations

Now, take some time to brainstorm. Talk to a funeral home or monument company to learn what the options are. Then, start creating a vision for a personalized memorial marker that makes the most sense for your family, your needs, and your loved one.

For more helpful information, make sure to read Selecting and Installing a Grave Marker.

Older man and woman using calculator to add up costs

Understanding Prepaid Funeral Insurance Policies

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

We all know the value of being prepared. We buy car insurance, fire insurance, health insurance, life insurance – all just in case. When you stop to think about it, why do we buy these policies? Answer: Because the future is unknown. We don’t know if we will be in a fender bender, if hail will damage the roof, or if a health issue will arise. While most aspects of the future are unknowable, we can be sure of one thing – we will all face death someday. So, if we prepare for events that might occur, doesn’t it make sense to prepare for an event that will occur?

Advance funeral planning is writing down your funeral wishes so that your family knows how you would like your life honored when that day comes. By doing this, you take the mystery out of your wishes. Your family doesn’t have to make decisions in a cloud of grief, uncertain about what you would have wanted. Instead, with your wishes in hand, they can make decisions with confidence and certainty.

Older man and woman reviewing paperwork with professional

However, you can take things one step further and also protect your family financially by preparing for the cost of a funeral. At this time, you may be planning to use a life insurance or final expense policy to pay for any final services. While it’s better than having no plan at all, check out The Truth About Life Insurance and Funeral Expenses and Myth Vs. Fact: The Truth About Final Expense Plans to get a fuller look at what using these policies will mean for your family.

Today, let’s talk about a type of policy you may not know much about: prepaid funeral insurance policies.

What is a Prepaid Funeral Insurance Policy?

Definition

In a nutshell, a prepaid funeral insurance policy is an insurance policy based on a contract between you and your chosen funeral home. You select a funeral home and make an appointment to talk about your final wishes. Then, you make your selections – burial, cremation, casket, urn, service, visitation, etc. – and the funeral home will draw up an itemized contract. Once you know the cost of your selections, you can make adjustments or move forward with what you have.

Once your selections are determined and the contract is drawn up, it’s time to open a prepaid funeral insurance policy in the amount of your contract. You can do all of this without leaving the funeral home. However, please note: You will not pay your premiums to the funeral home, but to the insurance company that backs the prepaid funeral insurance policy. Go to 10 Questions to Ask Before You Prepay Your Funeral to see a few other questions to ask before signing anything.

Person signing contract

You can draw up a contract at any age, regardless of health. However, when you submit the paperwork for a prepaid insurance policy, the insurance company will ask health questions. In most cases, these health questions won’t prevent you from opening a policy. However, your answers may affect the type of plan you are eligible to sign up for.

When you sign the contract, your down payment and all other payments will be kept in escrow with the funeral insurance company (not the funeral home) until the time of death. The insurance company ensures that your funds are available for use by your family when they are needed.

A Step-by-Step Breakdown

  • Select a funeral home partner.
  • Sit down with an Advance Planning Specialist to learn about all your options.
  • Write down your funeral wishes.
  • Once your wishes are determined, review an itemized list of the cost of the funeral (based on the funeral home’s pricing).
  • Once the pricing is set, the funeral home will submit your contract to their insurance company partner.
  • Based on your answers to a few quick health questions, the insurance company will determine which plan types you are eligible for, review your payment options, and finalize the policy.
  • Now, all that’s left is to pay for the plan. You can pay in one lump sum or make payments over a set period of time. Most companies allow early payoff options, if desired.
  • When you have completed your payments, your policy is paid in full!

Man wearing white shirt and woman wearing blue shirt reviewing contract

Revocable vs Irrevocable

There are two types of prepaid funeral insurance policies available: revocable and irrevocable. The only difference is that you cannot cancel an irrevocable policy to receive its cash value. The main reason to choose an irrevocable policy relates to Medicaid eligibility. Essentially, because you cannot access funds in an irrevocable account, Medicaid considers them an exempt asset. For more information about using an irrevocable prepaid funeral insurance policy to help you qualify for Medicaid, please read Medicaid Qualification Rules and How to Spend Down With a Burial Plan.

One more note regarding revocable and irrevocable accounts. Most funeral insurance companies have a “grace period” where you can revoke your policy, no matter which type. But, after that time frame (different for every insurance company), you can only cancel revocable plans.

Guaranteed vs Non-Guaranteed

In some states, funeral homes offer a guarantee on the goods and services you select for your prepaid plan. This means that you can lock in today’s prices for certain items. However, not all items and not all states offer guaranteed prices. If the prices are not guaranteed, the cost for goods and services is determined at the time (date/year) that the funeral takes place.

If the funds set aside in your prepaid funeral insurance policy are not enough to cover the end cost of the funeral, your family will be responsible for paying the difference. However, in most cases, the funds in the policy are more than enough to pay the total cost as they usually grow over time to offset inflation.

Mature couple walking together, smiling at camera

How Do You Benefit from a Prepaid Funeral Insurance Policy?

There are so many ways that both you and your family benefit from both preplanning and prepaying for funeral wishes. Here are a few:

  • Affords you control over your end-of-life plans. Because your wishes are written into the contract, the funeral home will follow them precisely. (If  needed, your surviving family members do have the ability to make adjustments.)
  • Protects your family from having to make difficult decisions at an emotionally stressful time.
  • Guarantees that the funds necessary to pay for a future funeral are available right away.
  • Grants you the opportunity to spend down your assets for Medicaid purposes (irrevocable only).
  • Covers the cost of inflation due to growth in the fund over time.
  • Gives your family more money because life insurance policy funds aren’t reduced for funeral costs.
  • Gives you time to consider all your options and make sound, financially responsible choices.
  • Spares loved ones the financial burden of paying for funeral or memorial services.
  • Allows your family to simply grieve during a time of loss rather than focus on funeral or memorial details.
  • Saves you money in the long run. As with everything, the cost of a funeral continues to go up. Planning now will only help your family in the future.

Older man and woman using calculator to add up costs

Some Important Details

If you do decide to purchase a prepaid funeral insurance policy contract, there are a few important things to remember:

1. Give a copy of the contract to several people you trust and keep a copy with your other important documents. It is the family’s responsibility to contact the funeral home you have partnered with regarding your final wishes. Make sure they know who to contact.

2. Often, a prepaid plan does not include cemetery costs (unless the funeral home you partner with also owns a cemetery). You will need to coordinate any burial needs with a cemetery of your choosing.

3. Make sure that the insurance company backing your prepaid funeral insurance policy is reputable. Look into the company and their business practices before signing your contract.

4. Regarding revocable plans. If you decide to cancel, you are not guaranteed to receive back everything you have paid in so far. You will receive back a certain percentage but not a full refund. Some people treat an revocable contract like a bank account. This is not the case, so don’t make the same mistake.

5. Make sure that the contract states:

    1. The name and address of the funeral insurance company
    2. How the funds will be invested (to grow the fund and account for inflation)
    3. What happens if the total amount in escrow is more or less than the final cost of the funeral at the time of death
    4. Whether you receive a yearly statement of the money in your account

No matter how you decide to pay for the funeral, take the steps necessary to ensure the burden doesn’t fall entirely onto your family’s shoulders. Planning ahead is a gift you can give those you love and one they will always be grateful to have received.

Man and woman reviewing documents on a clipboard

What Services Do Funeral Homes Offer?

By Explore Options, Planning Tools

You may think that funeral homes only plan and facilitate funeral and memorial services, but that’s not all they do. In fact, funeral homes have a wider range of services than you might think, and several of them are completely complimentary! Let’s review the top services available and what they entail.  

Woman standing next to casket holding white lilies

Meaningful & Healing Funeral or Memorial Services 

First and foremost, the funeral home assists families with creating personalized and unique healing experiences. Depending on the family’s needs, these services could include a funeral, a memorial, a visitation or viewing, a gathering, and a graveside service. In addition to offering different options for remembrance services, the funeral home also helps to facilitate all the moving parts. To name a few, the funeral home will: 

  • Brainstorm and implement personalization ideas 
  • Prepare and decorate spaces for the service options chosen by the family 
  • Seek out clergy, musicians, pallbearers, etc. unless the family already has people in mind 
  • Review options for caskets, urns, flower sprays, burial liners, and more 
  • Coordinate any burial or cremation processes 
  • Care for the body in accordance with the family’s wishes 
  • Request military honors 
  • And so much more (click here for a look more closely at a funeral director’s duties) 

The funeral home staff is committed to listening and implementing the family’s vision for a healing and meaningful service.  

Red rose on grave marker

Grave Marker, Cemetery, & Memorial Needs 

As part of the process for laying a loved one to rest, the funeral home will coordinate with the cemetery and monument company of your choice. This does not mean the funeral home staff will purchase a burial plot or columbarium niche on your behalf. In most cases, the funeral home and the cemetery are separate proprietors. You will need to work with both after the death of a loved one. That said, the funeral director will coordinate with the cemetery of your choice to ensure that your previously selected choices are ready and services can run smoothly. 

Additionally, they will submit your wishes for a grave marker with the monument company, so the family doesn’t have to do so. In some cases, the funeral home may own a cemetery or monument company themselves. Regardless, the funeral home staff will help you navigate through any grave marker, cemetery, or memorial needs.   

Man and woman reviewing documents on a clipboard

Assistance with Legal Documents 

The death of a loved one brings a lot of legal documentation, but the funeral home can help you work through many of the documents. Not only will they take care of preparing and filing for the death certificate, the funeral home can help with: 

Group of people sitting in a circle offering each other comfort

Grief Resources & Aftercare Services 

Losing a loved one is hard emotionally, physically, mentally, and sometimes spiritually. Good funeral homes recognize that the funeral or memorial service isn’t the end of your grief journey – it’s a good beginning. That said, many funeral homes offer grief and aftercare resources, though the type will vary from funeral home to funeral home. Some will offer informational resources that will direct you to local support groups, grief therapists, or helpful books and literature. Additionally, some funeral homes employ a grief counselor or keep a grief therapy dog on staff to offer comfort and stress relief  

NOTE: The four services listed above are available to families who work with a funeral home following the death of a loved one. They are included in the service options you choose for your family.  

People sitting together with one woman raising her hands

Educational Resources for End-of-Life Planning  

As a complimentary service to the community, many funeral homes host educational events that share valuable planning information. Topics can include advance health care directiveswriting a will, preparing for nursing home care or assisted living, senior safety tips, information on veterans’ burial benefits, understanding Medicaid, or the benefits of planning ahead for funeral wishes. To attend one of these free events, check out the funeral home’s website or Facebook page or keep a lookout for flyers on public boards or an invitation through the mail. While you are certainly not required to attend any of these events, they are an available resource for topics that are often a bit of a mystery.  

Planning Ahead for Funeral Wishes  

Another complimentary service the funeral home offers is the ability to plan ahead for funeral wishes. This means that you can set up a free visit with a preplanning specialist who will help you wade through all the options available. Do you want to be buried or cremated? What kind of service would you like? Are you a veteran who would like military honors at the service? With every question you answer, you take more and more of the burden off your loved ones. Because you’re answering these questions now, they don’t have to in the future, and you can both have peace of mind knowing that everything is taken care of.  

Man and wife smiling at camera

Plus, if you’d like (it’s not required), you can also look into prepaying for a funeral. In many cases, this actually saves your family money in the long run. But again, it’s not required. Even if you don’t pay in advance, it’s valuable to put your wishes in writing. You will give your family a roadmap to your wishes, rather than leaving them completely in the dark. Many family disagreements have occurred over what the deceased person would have wanted to honor their life, and by answering a few questions, you can make the funeral planning process much simpler for your family. And don’t forget – this is a complimentary service. You can always take your plan to another funeral home if you move or things change. 

Funeral homes provide much-needed services to grieving families. You just have to make sure you choose a funeral home that has a good reputation and deeply cares about people. Once you find a funeral home you can trust, take advantage of everything they have to offer and consider them a resource for valuable end-of-life planning information.  

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