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Planning Tools

Grave Liners & Burial Vaults: What’s the Difference?

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

For many of us, the ins and outs of funeral planning are unfamiliar and confusing. We don’t know where to start or even what all of our options are. Should you go with cremation or burial? How do you go about personalizing the funeral? What is the value of a funeral, and what elements should you include? All of these questions are why we have funeral directors. They help those of us who aren’t funeral professionals understand and make sense of a whole new world of information.

But, of course, you should learn about and research the different aspects of funeral planning before you ever talk to a funeral professional. This will help you know what kinds of questions to ask when the day comes that you sit across the table from a funeral professional. Today, let’s discuss what outer burial containers are, why we have them, and what options you have regarding their use.

What is an outer burial container?

Simply put, an outer burial container is used when either a casket or an urn is buried. They typically come in two forms: the grave liner or the burial vault. We will discuss these two types in more detail below. Outer burial containers are most often made of reinforced concrete (they also come in plastic and metal). Though most states do not mandate them, most cemeteries do require, at a minimum, the use of a grave liner.

Why do we have them?

A couple of reasons stand out. First, over time, a casket/urn will decay, and with that decay, the earth around the casket/urn will shift and resettle. By surrounding the casket/urn with a reinforced concrete barrier, when decay does inevitably occur, the earth around it will remain undisturbed. By preventing graves from caving in on themselves, the cemetery ensures that the cemetery grounds remain level and people who visit need not worry about falling, twisting ankles, or otherwise injuring themselves due to uneven ground. Secondly, by keeping the ground level, performing routine maintenance on the property is simpler, which keeps costs down for both the cemetery and the consumer. And finally, if the ground were to settle and shift substantially, headstones, grave markers, and monuments may shift and tip. If this happens, the marker must be fixed, which also raises the cost of maintenance.

What are my options?

Grave Liner

A grave liner partially or entirely encloses the casket/urn but only offers minimal protection from the elements. Because is it not sealed, soil, moisture, water, and other elements can make their way inside over time. Though typically made of concrete, plastic and metal are available as well.

There are two types. The first type features a removable lid. The second type, on the other hand, is bottomless and only covers the sides and top of the casket/urn. The grave liner is often less expensive. While it is not water-resistant, it does prevent the grave from settling or caving in on itself.

Burial Vault

A burial vault seals and entirely encloses the casket/urn. In addition to a water-resistant seal in the lid and walls, a burial vault (except those made of plastic) contains an interior liner. This liner works in tandem with the sealant to prevent soil, water/moisture, and other elements from reaching the contents.

In most cases, a burial vault is more expensive than a grave liner. This is due to higher manufacturing costs, the use of more expensive materials and finishing techniques, and if desired, various personalization options.

Green or Natural Burial

Both green and natural burials do not require the use of burial vaults or grave liners. The main idea behind green and natural burials is to allow the decomposition process to occur naturally. The main differences are two-fold: 1) Green burial excludes any type of embalming, and the cemetery grounds are specifically sanctioned for green burial and maintained without the use of herbicides, pesticides, or irrigation; 2) While green burials must occur on very specific plots of land, a natural burial can take place on private land (subject to regulations) or in any cemetery that allows for vault-free burial.

Now, you should have enough information to get you started, whether you are simply curious, are in the process of planning a funeral for a loved one, or are interested in planning ahead for your own funeral wishes. No matter which category you fall into, when the time comes, make sure to partner with a reputable funeral home that has your best interests in mind and is willing to work with you to create a healing and meaningful funeral experience.

5 Ways to Pay for a Funeral

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

Many people do not realize that payment for a funeral is due prior to services being rendered. So, having a financial plan in place to pay for a funeral is essential for every adult. There are many ways to pay for a funeral, in advance or at the time of need. However, not all payment methods are created equal. Each method has its own risks and benefits, so it is up to you to decide which payment method is right for you.

1. Prepaid Funeral Plans

Many people choose to pay for a funeral in advance with a prepaid funeral plan. Funeral plans with a special “preneed” contract funded with an insurance policy, trust, or annuity offer several benefits. Some funeral providers will offer a guarantee that “locks in” the cost of the selected funeral goods and services at the current price. If you expect to live another 10, 15, 20 or even 30 years, this type of contract could save your family money.

Preneed Policies

Preneed policies can be paid in full or set up on installment plans with a set number of payments that fit into your budget. The funds go to a specialized insurance company and offer growth with certain tax advantages. The plans are also transferable to another funeral home should you move away.

Funeral Trusts

Funeral trusts also offer the benefit of some growth, depending on the underlying investment, so they are a popular option for those planning ahead as well. Some states require funeral homes to deposit 100% of funeral funds, and other states require only a percentage. Be sure that you clearly understand the terms of your funeral trust before entering into a contract, and pay special attention to the portability of your trust funds should you move.

Irrevocable prepaid funeral plans can also be set up as Medicaid-exempt assets to help an individual qualify for Medicaid later in life.

In the case of using an insurance policy to fund a prepaid funeral plan, it’s best to speak with a preplanning consultant who can review all of your options and answer any questions you may have.

2. Life Insurance or Final Expense Plan

Families often plan to cover funeral expenses with a life insurance policy or final expense policy. The truth is, there can be many unexpected complications. To learn more about these complications, take a moment to read The Truth About Life Insurance and Funeral Expenses. Even if your policy is problem free, it may take 6 to 8 weeks to receive payment.

Advanced Funding

Some funeral homes will agree to file the life insurance claim on your behalf, or they will partner with advance funding companies (also called an assignment company) to help families access life insurance policy benefits faster. Similar to a rapid refund on a tax return that you might receive from your tax preparer, advance funding is an advance on your life insurance policy benefits. The assignment company contacts the insurance company and verifies that the policy has not lapsed and has no other issues. You will receive funds within 24-48 hours of verification of the policy. The assignment company will deduct a small fee to cover administrative costs.

3. Personal Account/CD/Pay-on-Death Account

Some families choose to set up a pay-on-death account with a named beneficiary. This option allows your assets to be available to your heirs without having to go through probate. However, there are a few disadvantages to maintaining a personal pay-on-death account. With each year that goes by, the purchasing power in your account actually goes down. In addition, these types of accounts do not generally offer a sufficient amount of interest to offset inflation over time. Personal accounts are also not considered Medicaid-exempt should you require long-term care assistance. Personal accounts are also at risk of being used or seized due to civil judgments, bankruptcy, or divorce.

4. Credit Card or Funeral Loan

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

5. Crowdfunding Website

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

Consider the Pros and Cons of Each Payment Method

With any option that you choose, you must weigh the risks and benefits of each. On one end of the spectrum, you have fully-insured prepaid funeral plans. These plans offer the highest amount of protection. On the other end of the spectrum, you have personal accounts. These offer the least amount of protection for funeral funds. In the end, it’s up to you to decide which option is the best for you and your family.

Selecting a Cremation Urn

By | Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

According to the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA), cremation has continued to grow as a choice for final disposition. In fact, in the 2017 Cremation and Burial Report, the NFDA found that approximately half of Americans chose cremation in 2016. However, in spite of the growth of cremation in the U.S., many people don’t know about all the options available to them.

For example, families sometimes feel overwhelmed by the number of cremation urns they have to choose from. You can narrow down your options by considering what you want to do with the urn. Whether you are putting together a complete advance funeral plan or planning for the death of a loved one, consider how you want the cremated body to be memorialized. Want to plant a memorial tree or rose bush? Choose a biodegradable urn. Want to keep the urn at home? Choose a decorative memorial urn. Want to scatter the ashes at sea? Choose a scattering urn. Form follows function, so think about the function first, then choose the form.

Another aspect to consider is setting up a long-term plan for permanent placement of the urn. While keeping the cremated body of a loved one at home is comforting to many, it’s important to have a plan in mind for a final resting place. It’s unrealistic to expect that, in 50 years, future generations will keep multiple urns of family members in their homes. Instead, make a plan – a personal and meaningful one – and execute it. In 10 years, you might scatter the ashes or bury the urn in an urn garden or place it in a columbarium. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter which option you choose, simply that you have a long-term plan for the cremated remains of your loved one so that they will be cared for long after you are gone.

Materials

An urn is simply a container for the deceased’s cremated body and can be made from almost any material. Urns can be made of:

• Plastic
• Cardboard (or other biodegradable material)
• Cast Resin
• Wood
• Ceramic
• Metal
• Marble
• Glass
• Clay
• And many other types of materials!

Types

Cremation urns come in all shapes and sizes, materials, and styles. You may want to talk with a funeral director, who has years of knowledge to impart, to help you make an informed decision. To get you started, here is a quick list of the different types of cremation urns available:

Keepsake Urn

Often small, a keepsake urn is used when either a small portion of the cremated body is kept and the rest scattered, or the ashes are split between more than one relative.

Decorative Urn

A family may choose a decorative urn to display at a memorial service, at home, or to use in a glass-front niche in a columbarium or to place in an urn garden.

Biodegradable Urn

An environmentally-friendly urn option, the biodegradable urn is becoming increasingly popular. This type of urn is commonly used for scattering, especially at sea. However, burial is also possible.

Religious Urn

This type of urn showcases the spiritual beliefs of the one who has died. In most cases, the scenes or verses on the urn are associated with the person’s religious background.

Companion Urn

The companion urn has two main types: a double or single compartment. Though not a requirement, it’s more common for couples to choose a companion urn. In the double compartment urn, each person’s ashes is separate but always together. With the single compartment urn, the ashes are intermingled.

Infant Urn

Usually smaller in size, an infant urn is most often used to hold the ashes of an infant or small child. In many cases, the family wants to keep the child close as they grieve, and the infant urn meets this need.

Sculpted Urn

Sometimes called an “art urn,” this type is a lovely mini-sculpture of your choice, modified to accommodate ashes. If you plan ahead, you can commission a special art urn that reflects your personal tastes.

Themed Urn

You can purchase a themed urn, and the possible variations are as limitless as your creativity. A few common types of themed urn are sport, hobby, art, and nature.

Picture Urn

Just like it sounds, this urn is shaped like a picture frame and allows you to display a favorite photograph of your loved one on the outside of the urn.

Military/Veteran Urn

If the military was a key part of a person’s life, you might consider selecting a veteran urn. The urn itself is designed to commemorate and honor the patriotism and sacrifice of veterans.

SPECIAL NOTE: If you plan to travel somewhere via airplane with cremated remains, make sure that you have an appropriate urn. If airline security is unable to see through the urn on the X-ray machine, they may need to manually search the urn. To prevent this, make sure to purchase a felt or non-metallic material for the urn.

As you can see, choices for cremation urns abound. Before making a decision, you may wish to talk to your family members and speak with a funeral professional. You may get even more ideas after discussing the topic with a knowledgeable person.

5 Reasons to Establish a Permanent Memorial

By | Explore Options, Planning Tools

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. And today, as cremation continues to rise as a preferred method of final disposition, one very important element of the healing process is being forgotten: the need for a permanent memorial.

In some areas of the United States, there has been a significant increase in the number of families that keep the cremated remains of a loved one in their homes. While this is not bad in and of itself, it may create unforeseen difficulties down the road. Unfortunately, it is not unheard of for cremated remains to be misplaced, accidentally knocked over and spilled, or even found in the trash or unknowingly donated to thrift stores.

That said, here are 5 reasons why you should consider establishing a permanent memorial for yourself or a loved one:

1. It provides a place for people to mourn.

By establishing a permanent memorial, you provide a place to mourn. If a loved one dies, and one person keeps the cremated remains, it may be difficult for other family members to find a place to go to remember and honor their lost loved one. After all, everything that remains of the person may be inaccessible without inconveniencing the one who possesses the ashes. A permanent memorial allows any person access to the one who has died. Because everyone grieves in different ways and at different rates, a specific place is beneficial for individual grief journeys.

2. It gives all mourners (not just family) access to pay their respects and connect with the one who has died.

Additionally, a permanent memorial provides an established location for non-family members to mourn. For example, if the best friend of the person who has died wants to connect with them, to talk with them, they may have no place to go where they feel as strong a connection as a permanent memorial would provide. In this same vein, it’s not uncommon to see permanent memorials for those who have died due to acts of violence or vehicular accidents. We do this because we have a need to remember, to remind, and to honor the life lived.

3. It provides a permanent place that will exist for generations to come.

Cemeteries, mausoleums, or cremation gardens will exist for many years to come. The oldest maintained cemetery in the United States is in Massachusetts, where several voyagers from the Mayflower are buried. People show great interest in their origins, and because of this curiosity, cemeteries will receive visitors consistently. They provide a permanent place for families to reconnect with their ancestors, even those who died long before they themselves were born.

4. It is practical for the family.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally-known author, speaker, and grief expert, tells us that establishing a permanent memorial is a practical choice for the family. “Families can rest easy knowing that the cremated remains [of their loved one] are being taken care of in perpetuity. …Having to pass along urns to the next generation or amassing more and more urns on a shelf…is not a viable long-term solution.”

5. It ensures respect for the dead.

Keeping the cremated remains of a loved one at home can be an important part of the healing process. It all depends on what the mourner needs. But, out of respect for the one who has died, to ensure that nothing unfortunate happens to them when you are gone, it’s best to consider how you can permanently memorialize them. Dr. Wolfelt puts it this way, “It’s about respect for the dying and the dead. Permanent memorialization is one of the most important ways in which we as a culture can ensure that respect [is carried out] ….”

It’s perfectly fine to wait to set up a permanent memorial. For some, it’s necessary to have a loved one nearby during the healing process. But, in three, five, or even ten years, consider the benefits of setting up a permanent memorial. It will ensure that your loved one is cared for long after you are gone.

What To Do When Dad Dies

By | Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

First of all, you have our sincerest sympathies on the loss for your father. Dads are special people – irreplaceable and worth remembering. If your dad completed funeral prearrangement plans, contact the funeral home he partnered with to compile the prearrangements. You will work with that funeral home to bring his wishes to pass.

But, for those whose father did not complete funeral prearrangements, this Quick Start Resource Guide is meant to help you navigate through the process of planning a funeral by supplying you with accurate, up-to-date, helpful links and information on a variety of topics.

The “Why” of Funerals

To start off, it’s important to note that, in today’s world, many families are moving away from standard funerals for their lost loved ones. While it is not inherently bad that people are moving away from traditional options toward cremation, it is unfortunate that some are confusing efficiency with effectiveness. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally-renowned grief expert who has counseled thousands of families, teaches that the funeral is an important rite of passage and “puts you on the path to good grief and healthy mourning.”

To learn more about why funerals are important, take a look at the articles below.

Should I Have a Funeral?

Why Do We Have Funerals?

Why Is the Funeral Ritual Important?

What is the Difference between a Celebration of Life and a Party?

Final Disposition Options

Nowadays, our options for final disposition (or final resting place) continue to expand. Please take a moment to read the articles below to help you decide which option is most appropriate for your needs.

What Are My Burial Options?

What is Green Burial?

How to Select a Casket

What Should I Know When Considering Cremation?

The Elements of a Meaningful Funeral Service

“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

In order for a funeral service to be a healing and meaningful experience, there are several tried and true elements that you should consider incorporating.

Music

First of all, music sets the mood for 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. Did your dad have a favorite type of instrument, style of music, or musician? Consider using any or all of them in the service.

Why Include Special Music in a Funeral Ceremony?

Top 10 Hymns for a Funeral Ceremony

Top 10 Songs for a Funeral Ceremony

Readings

Second, readings add another facet to a meaningful funeral. They are another way to not only invite mourners to express their emotions, but readings can bring your dad’s unique spirit to the service. Was there a book he was always reading or reciting? A poem? Was he a person of faith who would want passages read?

How do Readings Enhance the Funeral Experience?

Top 10 Poems for a Funeral Ceremony

Viewing/Visitation

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 your dad one last time and begin to acknowledge the reality of his death. For many, as part of the grieving process, it is important to physically see the body, and the viewing offers this opportunity.

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 your dad’s life. With that in mind, take time to share treasured memories, familiar quotes, or even his favorite jokes. The eulogy, sometimes called the “remembrance” or the “homily,” can be delivered by a clergy person, a family member, or even by a series of people.

What is a Eulogy?

Crafting a Eulogy

Symbols

Fifth, symbols, or symbolic acts, offer a focus point for the bereaved as well as a sense of comfort. Common symbols are a cross (or another appropriate religious symbol), flowers, and candles. For example, the act of lighting a candle, planting a memorial tree, and wearing dark clothing are all symbols we utilize.

The Importance of Symbols

Gathering

Sixth, the gathering is an opportunity for friends and family to come together after the funeral service to share stories and to support each other. For more 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, so to move others toward healing, it is important to invite them to act.

How Do Actions Help us Heal?

Choosing a Memorial Service

Some families decide that a memorial service is a more appropriate tribute for their lost loved one. In short, the main difference between a funeral service and a memorial service is the absence of the body. All the other elements of a meaningful and healing service can be incorporated into a memorial service.

What is a Memorial Service?

Personalization is Key

Whether you have a funeral service or a memorial service, the event will be more meaningful if it is personalized. By personalizing the service, you can honor your dad’s life uniquely and specifically. Moreover, the possibilities for personalization are endless. For a few ideas, read the articles below.

How to Make a Funeral More Personal

What Makes a Funeral Meaningful?

Helping Your Family Personalize a Funeral

5 Unique Venues for a Celebration of Life Service

Funeral Procession

Accompanying the body to its final resting place is a time-honored tradition. If your family chooses to continue the tradition, the procession is a way for others, even strangers, to acknowledge the value of life and show respect for your dad.

What is the Purpose of a Funeral Procession?

Deciding on a Grave Marker

Placing a marker of some kind on a final resting place is important. Not only does it identify the person laid to rest, but it also gives the living a place to go should they desire to visit or mourn the lost loved one. It will be important for you and for future generations to have a place to return to when you want to talk to or visit your dad.

Selecting and Installing a Grave Marker

How to Write a Great Epitaph

Sympathy Gifts

In essence, sympathy gifts are a way for mourners to express their support and condolences to the family who has lost someone loved. Flowers have historically been a popular sympathy gifts. However, in recent years, donations in memoriam to a favorite charity have risen in popularity. Did your dad have a favorite organization or charity that would service this purpose, if your family wishes?

7 Popular Sympathy Flowers and Their Meanings

Writing a Touching Obituary

One of the first things you will do after a loved one dies is write an obituary. You don’t have to be a great writer to beautifully express your love for your dad. To that end, even as you include the expected details, consider how you might add little touches that reflect the individuality of his life.

How to Write a Great Obituary

Burial Benefits for Veterans

If your dad was a veteran of the Armed Forces, he may be eligible for certain burial benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Therefore, you might consider looking into these benefits to see if any of them are beneficial to you and your family.

Veterans’ Burial Benefits FAQ

Veterans’ Burial Benefits Checklist

Department of Veterans Affairs

Resources for Advance Funeral Planning

Finally, if you are interested in making your own funeral prearrangement plan, or are curious about why you should do so, take a moment to review the articles below.

Why Plan Ahead for Funeral Wishes?

How to Get Started with Planning

How to Save Money with Funeral Planning

Protecting Your Funeral Funds

What To Do When Mom Dies

By | Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

First of all, you have our sincerest sympathies on the loss for your mother. Moms are special people – irreplaceable and worth remembering. If your mom completed funeral prearrangement plans, contact the funeral home she partnered with to compile the prearrangements. You will work with that funeral home to bring her wishes to pass.

But, for those whose mother did not complete funeral prearrangements, this Quick Start Resource Guide is meant to help you navigate through the process of planning a funeral by supplying you with accurate, up-to-date, helpful links and information on a variety of topics.

The “Why” of Funerals

To start off, it’s important to note that, in today’s world, many families are moving away from standard funerals for their lost loved ones. While it is not inherently bad that people are moving away from traditional options toward cremation, it is unfortunate that some are confusing efficiency with effectiveness. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally-renowned grief expert who has counseled thousands of families, teaches that the funeral is an important rite of passage and “puts you on the path to good grief and healthy mourning.”

To learn more about why funerals are important, take a look at the articles below.

Should I Have a Funeral?

Why Do We Have Funerals?

Why Is the Funeral Ritual Important?

What is the Difference between a Celebration of Life and a Party?

Final Disposition Options

Nowadays, our options for final disposition (or final resting place) continue to expand. Please take a moment to read the articles below to help you decide which option is most appropriate for your needs.

What Are My Burial Options?

What is Green Burial?

How to Select a Casket

What Should I Know When Considering Cremation?

The Elements of a Meaningful Funeral Service

“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

In order for a funeral service to be a healing and meaningful experience, there are several tried and true elements that you should consider incorporating.

Music

First of all, music sets the mood for 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. Did your mom have some favorite songs, instruments, or musical artists? Consider using any or all of them in the service.

Why Include Special Music in a Funeral Ceremony?

Top 10 Hymns for a Funeral Ceremony

Top 10 Songs for a Funeral Ceremony

Readings

Second, readings add another facet to a meaningful funeral. They are another way to not only invite mourners to express their emotions, but readings can bring your mom’s unique spirit to the service. Did she have a favorite book? Poem? Was she a person of faith who would want passages read?

How do Readings Enhance the Funeral Experience?

Top 10 Poems for a Funeral Ceremony

Viewing/Visitation

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 your mom one last time and begin to acknowledge the reality of her death. For many, as part of the grieving process, it is important to physically see the body, and the viewing offers this opportunity.

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 your mom’s life. With that in mind, take time to share treasured memories, quotes, or even her favorite jokes. The eulogy, sometimes called the “remembrance” or the “homily,” can be delivered by a clergy person, a family member, or even by a series of people.

What is a Eulogy?

Crafting a Eulogy

Symbols

Fifth, symbols, or symbolic acts, offer a focus point for the bereaved as well as a sense of comfort. Common symbols are a cross (or another appropriate religious symbol), flowers, and candles. For example, the act of lighting a candle, planting a memorial tree, and wearing dark clothing are all symbols we utilize.

The Importance of Symbols

Gathering

Sixth, the gathering is an opportunity for friends and family to come together after the funeral service to share stories and to support each other. For more 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, so to move others toward healing, it is important to invite them to act.

How Do Actions Help us Heal?

Choosing a Memorial Service

Some families decide that a memorial service is a more appropriate tribute for their lost loved one. In short, the main difference between a funeral service and a memorial service is the absence of the body. All the other elements of a meaningful and healing service can be incorporated into a memorial service.

What is a Memorial Service?

Personalization is Key

Whether you have a funeral service or a memorial service, the event will be more meaningful if it is personalized. By personalizing the service, you can honor your mom’s life uniquely and specifically. Moreover, the possibilities for personalization are endless. For a few ideas, read the articles below.

How to Make a Funeral More Personal

What Makes a Funeral Meaningful?

Helping Your Family Personalize a Funeral

5 Unique Venues for a Celebration of Life Service

Funeral Procession

Accompanying the body to its final resting place is a time-honored tradition. If your family chooses to continue the tradition, the procession is a way for others, even strangers, to acknowledge the value of life and show respect for your mom.

What is the Purpose of a Funeral Procession?

Deciding on a Grave Marker

Placing a marker of some kind on a final resting place is important. Not only does it identify the person laid to rest, but it also gives the living a place to go should they desire to visit or mourn the lost loved one. It will be important for you and for future generations to have a place to return to when you want to talk to or visit your mom.

Selecting and Installing a Grave Marker

How to Write a Great Epitaph

Sympathy Gifts

In essence, sympathy gifts are a way for mourners to express their support and condolences to the family who has lost someone loved. Flowers have historically been a popular sympathy gifts. However, in recent years, donations in memoriam to a favorite charity have risen in popularity. Did your mom have a favorite organization or charity that would service this purpose, if your family wishes?

7 Popular Sympathy Flowers and Their Meanings

Writing a Touching Obituary

One of the first things you will do after a loved one dies is write an obituary. You don’t have to be a great writer to beautifully express your love for your mom. To that end, even as you include the expected details, consider how you might add little touches that reflect the individuality of her life.

How to Write a Great Obituary

Burial Benefits for Veterans

If your mom was a veteran of the Armed Forces, she may be eligible for certain burial benefits through the Department of Veterans Affairs. Therefore, you might consider looking into these benefits to see if any of them are beneficial to you and your family.

Veterans’ Burial Benefits FAQ

Veterans’ Burial Benefits Checklist

Department of Veterans Affairs

Resources for Advance Funeral Planning

Finally, if you are interested in making your own funeral prearrangement plan, or are curious about why you should do so, take a moment to review the articles below.

Why Plan Ahead for Funeral Wishes?

How to Get Started with Planning

How to Save Money with Funeral Planning

Protecting Your Funeral Funds

9 Funeral Costs That Are Often Overlooked

By | Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

Funeral costs can be a tricky thing to pin down if you are trying to plan ahead and protect your family by setting aside funds for a funeral in advance. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know, and you may be overlooking a few items in your estimate. If you are planning a funeral or considering advance funeral planning, there are certain funeral costs that are actually often overlooked. With any funeral, there will be services that are not expressly provided by the funeral home. These third-party services go by the name of “cash advance items.”

To put it simply, a family will advance funds to the funeral home, who will then use those funds to pay for third-party services on the family’s behalf. Of course, the family will first approve these funeral costs. According to The Funeral Rule, set in place by the Federal Trade Commission, a funeral home can mark up the price for cash advance items, but they must disclose how much the service is marked up in their General Price List (GPL). As an additional protection for you, as the consumer, The Funeral Rule requires that a funeral home inform you if any refunds, rebates, or discounts applied to the cash advance items you requested.

That said, if you feel that the mark up is not commensurate to the task, you can always take care of arranging these third-party services on your own. However, keep in mind that in most cases, families don’t have the time or energy to take care of all the necessary details in a short amount of time. Instead, they rely on the funeral home to take care of these needs so that they can focus on spending more time with their loved ones.

Some of the most commonly overlooked funeral costs are:

1. Death Certificates

First of all, most people don’t realize how many death certificates they will need. Keep in mind, the state or municipality determines the cost of a death certificate, and it can change over time. As a general rule, purchase multiple copies – more than you think you will need. Copies of a death certificate are typically requested for life insurance policies, social security or veterans’ benefits, stocks, bonds, banks, or for any number of other documents or establishments.

2. Cemetery and Monument Charges

Whether you choose burial or cremation, you will likely need to consider cemetery costs in your plans. Cemetery charges would include the cost of a burial plot or a niche in a columbarium or mausoleum, plus any fees associated with opening and closing the grave. Also, consider the cost of a plaque or monument, along with a monument or plaque installment fee. The cemetery proprietor and monument or plaque company determine these fees because many funeral homes do not own a cemetery or monument company themselves.

3. Obituary/Death Notice

Many people are surprised at the cost associated with publishing an obituary or death notice in a newspaper, especially in a larger city. In most cases, the funeral home will publish an obituary to the funeral home’s website, but if you wish to post it elsewhere, the fee may be higher than you expect.

4. Church or Venue Charges

If you choose to have a funeral or memorial service outside the funeral home’s facility, the venue you choose may charge a fee to use the space. Be sure to set aside enough for the rental of a space for the funeral service, visitation, and reception after the funeral.

5. Specialty Music

If you elect to have special music, it is likely that an honorarium will be necessary. Additionally, the musician/group you choose to hire will determine the cost.

6. Officiant Honorarium

It is customary to offer an honorarium to the officiant or celebrant. In many cases, this will be a clergy person. A friend of the family may officiate for free if you agree to this arrangement in advance. However, be sure to communicate clearly with the clergy person who takes their time to prepare a personalized eulogy. Also, be aware that independent celebrants will set their own fee.

7. Flowers

Depending on the time of year, the cost of flowers will fluctuate. Unfortunately, this makes it hard to pin down an actual cost. Again, the funeral home is not likely to have its own florist (though some may). The funeral home can purchase floral arrangements on your behalf.

8. Pallbearers

In many cases, pallbearers are family members and friends. However, for some, it is difficult to find a full six to eight pallbearers. If you require assistance with pallbearers, the funeral home can help you hire the help needed. The pallbearers will expect payment for services rendered.

9. Police Escort

Finally, it is common practice to request a police escort for the funeral procession from the funeral home to the final resting place. With an escort, the funeral procession is able to move through traffic in an orderly way and without traffic delays. The cost associated with this service is determined by local rates.

While not all-inclusive, this list shares nine of the funeral costs that most people don’t usually consider. If you are interested in planning ahead, you can sit down with a funeral director or advance planning specialist. You may want to discuss getting an accurate funeral cost estimate that includes cash advance items. That way, you can carefully consider how much money to set aside for these expenses when the need arises. A funeral professional can help you determine an accurate amount based on local and customary rates.

 

11 Meaningful Ways to Honor Your Loved One’s Ashes

By | Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

If you are considering cremation, whether for yourself or for a loved one, it’s important to think about all the options available to you. As a term, “final disposition” refers to the body’s final resting place. It is important, no matter which option you choose, to decide on a permanent resting place for a person’s body. If traditional burial is chosen, the body is placed in a casket and respectfully interred in a cemetery. When cremation is selected, because there are many additional options, the decision isn’t quite so simple.

If you are looking for meaningful ways to honor the cremated remains of a loved one, this list may give you some ideas on where to start. Some are popular options; others are a little out of this world. Keep in mind that a loved one’s ashes can be divided so that some are used for one purpose and the rest for another. As you review this list, put careful consideration into your decision. Remember, it’s important to give family members and future generations a place to return to as they search for meaning. Many people desire to have a place to return to for a time of reflection.

1. Burial

Typically, a cremated body is buried in either a plot (grave) or in an urn garden. Cemeteries can often accommodate either request. If you purchase a plot, most cemeteries will allow you to bury the cremated remains of multiple people in one plot, if you desire. One thing to remember: if you do purchase a plot, you will likely need to purchase an urn vault as well. By placing the urn in an urn vault, you protect it from the pressure of the soil. Also, in the event that the urn begins to deteriorate, the vault will keep the soil around it in place, protecting the cremated body inside. Regarding urn gardens, some cemeteries have an area dedicated to the garden while others inter the remains in the landscaping, perhaps in a fountain or a bench.

2. Columbarium

An above-ground structure, the columbarium functions expressly as an interment location for cremated remains. It is filled with niches (wall spaces) in which urns are placed and interred. A bronze plaque with an epitaph will be placed on the exterior of the niche.

3. Scattering

Scattering is the act of taking a loved one’s ashes to meaningful places and scattering them. This could be by the ocean, in the mountains, specific countries or places. If you want to scatter your loved one’s ashes in a special place, make sure that you are following all the laws and regulations associated with that place. If you decide to scatter all of a loved one’s ashes, take time to prepare yourself emotionally. For some, it is a shock to realize that everything remaining of a loved one is literally gone.

Another option is a scattering garden. This is a designated, beautiful space often attached to a cemetery. The scattering garden is simple and environmentally friendly. If you select a scattering garden, the cemetery often provides a means of adding a permanent physical marker so that family and friends feel more connected to the lost loved one.

A final option for scattering is an ossuary. An ossuary is a community resting place for cremated remains, often underground, with a memorial plaque nearby. It is often a less expensive option.

4. Keeping the Ashes at Home

More people are beginning to keep the cremated body of a loved one at home. Most often, the family selects an urn to house the ashes. This option is definitely viable, but something to consider if you decide to keep the ashes at home: make sure that you indicate in your will what should be done with the cremated body when you die. After your own death, whoever handles your estate may not know about your loved one’s urn and may dispose of it unknowingly. So, if you do keep a loved one’s cremated body in your home, make sure that you communicate a plan for their care after you are gone.

5. Cremation/Memorial Jewelry

Another popular option is to place a small amount of a loved one’s ashes in cremation jewelry. Often cremation jewelry design includes a small interior space (like a locket) where the ashes are placed. You can choose from various styles, metals, and types (e.g. necklaces, rings, pendants, etc.).

6. Planting Ashes

It is now possible to plant a loved one’s ashes so that a memorial tree will grow. The tree does not actually grow because of the cremated body. Instead, you will place a special, biodegradable urn in the ground. In the top section, seeds and soil mix together. There is a separate section underneath for the ashes. First, the seeds grow in the soil, and once they reach a certain level of growth, the roots spread down the ashes, and everything mingles together. There are a number of companies that specialize in this practice, if you are interested.

7. Under the Sea

There are now options available at sea. One option is to have a special urn placed in an underwater mausoleum (similar to a columbarium). Another option is to mix the cremated body with concrete to create an artificial coral reef. These artificial coral reefs assist in the repair and conservation of natural coral reefs by having a positive impact on the ocean’s habitat. As a memorial to your loved one, consider affixing a plaque to the artificial reef. Also, in many cases, it’s possible to be present as the reef is placed in the ocean.

8. Launched into Space

Interestingly enough, it is now possible to send a person’s ashes into space. If your loved one adored space and all its mysteries or was always looking for the next big adventure, you might consider this option. Of course, there will be regulations and stipulations to follow, but it is an option available to you.

9. Stained Glass or Hand-Blown Glass Keepsakes

Another possibility is to have the ashes of a loved one infused with glass to create beautiful pendants, paperweights, orbs, and other glassware. During the creation process, layers of hot glass encase the ashes. The process fuses the two (glass and ashes) together permanently. As with memorial jewelry, this option requires only a small portion of the cremated body.

10. Pressed into a Diamond

A growing trend is to forge a cremated body into diamonds, which are made of crystallized carbon. This is possible because the second most abundant element in the human body is carbon. After the diamond-making process is complete, the family can create memorial jewelry or other items of significance to remember someone loved.

11. Hour Glass

Essentially, this is exactly what it sounds like. Rather than purchasing an urn, you can purchase an hour glass for a loved one’s ashes. They come in many shapes, sizes, and colors, and you can mix in colored sand if you want. They also have the added benefit that you can choose to place a specified amount of ashes in the hour glass and then place the remainder somewhere else, such as in an urn or scattering garden.

As you can see, there are many ways to honor the cremated body of someone dearly loved. The most important thing now is to determine which will be the most meaningful for you and your family. And keep in mind – these are only some of the options. There may be something else out there just right for you.

7 Elements of a Healing and Meaningful Funeral

By | Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

The Elements of a Meaningful Funeral Service

“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

In order for a funeral service to be a healing and meaningful experience, there are several tried and true elements that you should consider incorporating. Dr. Wolfelt tells us that these elements are necessary to facilitate the six needs that a funeral fulfills: 1) acknowledging the reality of the death, 2) embracing the pain of the loss, 3) remembering the person who died, 4) developing a new self-identity, 5) searching for meaning, and 6) receiving ongoing support from others.

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. Consider using music that was significant to the lost loved one.

Why Include Special Music in a Funeral Ceremony?

Top 10 Hymns for 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? Poem? Were they a person of faith who would want passages read?

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.

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. The eulogy, sometimes called the “remembrance” or the “homily,” can be delivered by a clergy person, a family member, or even by a series of people.

What is a Eulogy?

Crafting a Eulogy

Symbols

Fifth, symbols, or symbolic acts, offer a focus point for the bereaved as well as a sense of comfort. Common symbols are a cross (or another appropriate religious symbol), flowers, and candles. For example, the act of lighting a candle, planting a memorial tree, and wearing dark clothing are all symbols we utilize.

The Importance of Symbols

Gathering

Sixth, the gathering is an opportunity for friends and family to come together after the funeral service to share stories and to support each other. 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.

How Do Actions Help us Heal?

If you use these elements as a guide for creating a funeral service, it will be a sweet, meaningful, and healing experience. 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.

What to Expect at a Funeral Arrangement Conference

By | Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

None of us are ever truly prepared to lose someone we love. Whether the loss comes suddenly or has been long expected, you may experience a wide range of emotions: shock, denial, fear, confusion, guilt, regret, sadness. Numbness and shock are common in the first two days, which is usually when the arrangements occur. To help ease the burden you may feel so soon after a loss, it’s helpful to know what to expect when you head into an arrangement conference. Preparing ahead of time will help ease your mind and prepare your thoughts.

Why Do We Have Arrangement Conferences?

It may be best to start off with a definition. An arrangement conference is a time specifically set aside for a recently bereaved family to meet with a funeral director and discuss the details of a meaningful tribute and final disposition. Additionally, it’s an opportunity for the funeral director to get to know you better and learn how to best honor your loved one.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief author and counselor, says that the funeral ritual is incredibly important for our individual grief journeys. “Rich in history and rife with symbolism, the funeral ceremony helps us acknowledge the reality of the death, gives testimony to the life of the deceased, encourages the expression of grief in a way consistent with the culture’s values, provides support to mourners, allows for the embracing of faith and beliefs about life and death, and offers continuity and hope for the living.

With this in mind, the arrangement conference is a time set aside for you and the funeral director to work together to create a meaningful and healing funeral service. Most arrangement conferences take place in the funeral home, but if you are traveling from a long distance or can’t make it to the funeral home in person, you may also be able to work with your funeral director over the phone and via text, email, and other digital solutions.

Main Objectives

There are three main objectives for your time with the funeral director during the arrangement conference.

1. Gather the vital information of the person who died, which the funeral director will then use on your behalf to request death certificates, file for veterans’ burial benefits, and file life insurance claims.

2. Make your wishes known about how you want to remember and honor your lost loved one.

3. Select the most fitting funeral, cremation, and burial options.

Typically, the conference takes about 2-3 hours on the day of or the day after a death. The funeral director will guide you through the available funeral service and memorial options, music selections, coordination with a church and cemetery (or other desired location for the service), and much more.

What Questions Should I Consider in Advance?

The funeral director is your partner and your guide throughout this process. They have the experience and the knowledge to help you make informed decisions. Consider your funeral director a resource – they will explain all the options that are available to you as well as answer any questions you may have. Even though you will get a thorough explanation, it’s a good plan to come to the arrangement conference having considered a few key questions:

  • Where and when should the services be held?
  • Do you want to publish an obituary? If you do, who will write it? Where will you publish it?
  • In lieu of flowers, do you want to offer charitable contributions as an option for sympathy gifts?
  • Have you chosen a cemetery or other final resting place?
  • Do you need assistance with selecting a monument or grave marker?
  • What kind of funeral service is most appropriate? Simple? Elaborate? Public? Private? Religious?
  • What would you consider to be the best way to honor and memorialize your lost loved one?
  • Should there be a viewing, visitation, funeral service, committal service?
  • If there is a service, who will participate? Musicians, speakers, pallbearers?
  • Do you want floral arrangements present, and if so, what kind?
  • Will the final disposition be burial, cremation, or another type of interment?
  • Will the body be present at the funeral or memorial service?
  • If applicable, open or closed casket?
  • Do you know someone who will act as officiant, or will you need the funeral home’s assistance in this matter?

What Should I Bring?

The more information you bring, the smoother the meeting will be (and the less documentation you will need to bring back later). For a checklist of items to consider taking with you to an arrangement conference, print and review this Funeral Arrangement Conference Checklist. The list is fairly comprehensive and gives you an excellent place to start. However, the funeral home may ask you for something not included.

Some Final Tips

First of all, prepare as much as you can ahead of time. You can gather necessary documents, clothing and personal items, details for the obituary, and photos to be used in the service ahead of time.

Secondly, don’t feel rushed during the conference. Remember, the funeral director is there to help you with all your needs and is ready to serve you fully.

Thirdly, ask as many questions as you need. As you plan a tribute for your loved one, the funeral director is there to be a knowledgeable and available partner in a difficult situation. Make use of their experience and ask as many questions as you need.

Finally, take notes. You will receive a lot of information during the arrangement conference, and it’s unlikely you will be able to remember it all. Take a notepad with you and make sure to write things down.

The Importance of Planning Ahead

If your loved one has made arrangements in advance, many of these questions will be answered for you. With the answers already in hand, the arrangement conference will go very smoothly. Often, the only question left to answer is the date and time for the service to be held! If your loved one has not planned ahead, you now know how difficult it can be to make dozens of decisions under a cloud of stress and grief. Once you are back into your routine, you might consider planning ahead for your own funeral wishes. By doing this, you can spare your family the stress of making decisions at an incredibly emotional and stressful time.