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5 Alternative Methods of Final Disposition

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

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

5 Alternative Methods of Final Disposition

Natural/Green Burial

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

Water Cremation

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

Burial at Sea

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

Anatomical Donation

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

Recomposition

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

No Matter What, Remember the Importance of Ceremony

No matter which method of final disposition you choose, remember the importance of celebrating life. Every one of us is unique, and our lives are worth remembering. According to Dr. Alan Wolfelt, respected grief counselor and educator, “People who take the time and make the effort to create meaningful funeral arrangements when someone loved dies often end up making new arrangements in their own lives. They remember and reconnect with what is most meaningful to them in life…strengthen bonds with family members and friends. They emerge changed, more authentic and purposeful. The best funerals remind us how we should live.”

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

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

Eulogies & Sharing a Loved One’s Legacy

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

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

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

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

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

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

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

How Do Eulogies Help Us Grieve?

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

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

1. Eulogies help us acknowledge the reality of loss

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

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

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

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

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

4. Eulogies help us develop a new self-identity

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

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

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

6. Eulogies help us receive support from others

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

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

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

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

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

What Do You Do When Someone Dies?

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

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

Let’s get started. 

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

1. Report the Death 

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

2. Contact the Appropriate People 

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

3. Prepare for the Funeral Arrangement Conference 

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

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

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

4. Rest 

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

Step 2: Plan the Funeral or Memorial Service 

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

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

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

Exploring Your Options: 

The 5 Basic Steps of Funeral Planning 

What Are My Interment Options? 

What Should I Know When Considering Cremation?  

Cremation and the Importance of Ceremony 

Selecting a Cremation Urn  

What Are My Burial Options? 

How to Select a Casket 

What You Need to Know About Anatomical Donation 

Personalizing a Funeral: 

7 Elements of a Healing and Meaningful Funeral  

Why Does Funeral Personalization Matter?  

5 Meaningful Actions to Personalize a Funeral 

6 Ways to Personalize a Funeral 

Helping Your Family Personalize a Funeral  

Adding Military Honors: 

The Core Elements of a Military Honors Funeral 

What You Need to Know About Veterans’ Burial Benefits  

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

Step 3: Permanent Memorial Options 

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

Here are a few thoughts to help you: 

 5 Reasons to Establish a Permanent Memorial 

Permanent Placement Options for Cremated Remains 

Selecting and Installing a Grave Marker 

Step 4: Pay for the Funeral 

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

5 Ways to Pay for a Funeral 

7 Ways to Pay for Unexpected Funeral Expenses 

Step 5: After the Funeral is Over 

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

1. Contact outside organizations

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

2. Probate the will

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

3. Send thank you notes

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

4. Sort through possessions

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

5. Create memorial items

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

6. Put your own wishes in writing

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

Step 6Do the Work of Grief 

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

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

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

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

Practical Ways to Personalize the 7 Elements of a Funeral

By Meaningful Funerals, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

Planning a funeral after a loved one dies may seem overwhelming at first, and that’s okay. So many of us have never planned a funeral before and simply don’t know where to start. To help grieving families, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief author and educator, has identified 7 elements that create a meaningful and healing funeral or memorial service: music, readings, viewing/visitation, eulogy, symbols, gathering, and actions. When you personalize these elements, you can create a funeral experience that will touch hearts and meaningfully celebrate someone loved 

Whether you are planning for a loved one’s final tribute or are planning ahead for your own, the most important thing to remember is that personalization is key. The more personal a funeral or memorial service is, the more healing and meaningful it will be. Dr. Wolfelt says, “Focus on what is really important—what is essential—about the funeral you are planning.  What is essential is the life that was lived and the impact that life had on family and friends.  To honor that unique life, the funeral must also be unique. Over and over families tell me that the best funerals are those that are personalized.”  

Let’s review the 7 elements and discuss ideas for personalizing each one.  

Music 

First of all, music sets the tone of a funeral or memorial service 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. We often shy away from our emotions, but don’t be afraid to invite people to express their grief. Consider using music as an avenue to bring out what people are thinking and feeling. 

How to Personalize: 

  • Choose songs that were significant to your loved one, no matter their musical genre 
  • Consider whether you want music performed live or if you prefer to use recordings 
  • If you have musical family members, you might ask them to play a tribute song 
  • For those who are religious, choose appropriate hymns or praise songs 

For a few more ideas, please read Top 10 Hymns for a Funeral CeremonyTop 10 Songs for a Funeral CeremonyTop 12 Country Songs for a Celebration of Life Service, and Why Include Special Music in a Funeral Ceremony?  

Readings 

Second, readings add another facet to a meaningful service. They are another way to invite mourners to express their emotions while also honoring the unique spirit of the one who has died. Have you ever heard a poem, lyrics, or movie quote that really spoke to you? These can easily be used as a reading and can add a deeper dimension to the service.  

How to Personalize: 

  • Use quotes from favorite books, plays, movies, or TV shows 
  • For a person of faith, read passages from an appropriate holy book 
  • Consider reading special poems or quotations 
  • Read a letter you have written to your loved one
  • You could use your loved one’s own writing or incorporate catchphrases they were known for 
  • If you are planning aheadconsider writing a message ahead of time to be read at the service 

For additional ideas, check out How Do Readings Enhance the Funeral Experience or 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 you choose, a viewing creates 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. However, a family can choose to simply have a visitation, which is a set aside time to gather and receive support from caring friends and family without the body present.  

The viewing and/or visitation offers a special time for personalization. Whether the body is present or not, this is a time to tell a story – the story of a lifetime. 

How to Personalize: 

  • Display photos, mementos, or items associated with a hobby or interest (books, artwork, ceramics, model planes, etc.)  
  • Invite guests to write down a memory on provided notecards (the family can enjoy them later) 
  • Provide a keepsake token to take home (a book, a favorite recipe, etc.) 
  • Create a memorial work of art, like a thumbprint tree 
  • Bring a photo book or your loved one’s favorite book and ask people to write notes inside 
  • Create a slideshow to play during the event 

Eulogy 

Fourth, the eulogy may be the single most important aspect of a funeral service. It’s important to take care and spend concentrated time deciding what you want to say. After all, the eulogy is the time to acknowledge and affirm the significance of the life lived. 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. 

How to Personalize: 

  • Share memories, quotes, or even a loved one’s favorite jokes 
  • Tell a significant and meaningful story about the person who has died 
  • Bring visual aids (like an item the person carried or were known to cherish 
  • Share something the person taught you and how they impacted your life and the lives of others 

For more helpful ideas, please read What is a Eulogy and Crafting a Eulogy 

Symbols 

Fifth, symbols are an important aspect of a funeral because they convey love and comfort, facilitate expression, and offer a focus point for the bereaved. For instance, we send flowers or bake casseroles to convey the love we feel and the support we offer.   

For one grieving family, an appropriate symbol was the quilts their grandmother made. Before her death, she made a quilt for every child and grandchild, and at her final tribute, the quilts were displayed on the pews – a representation of her love and impact on her family. Common symbols are an appropriate religious symbol, flowers, dark clothing, and candles, but you can use whatever feels best to honor your loved one 

How to Personalize: 

  • If appropriate, ask everyone to wear your loved one’s favorite color to the funeral 
  • With traditional burial, the body and casket are the ultimate symbol or focal point 
  • With cremation, a symbol might be an urn, a portrait, or some other appropriate item 
  • If they were a person of faith, include religious symbols to offer comfort 
  • If they were known for something (like quilts), turn those items into a symbol 

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. This event may occur at the funeral home, an event center, someone’s home, or even a local restaurant. The point of a gathering is to bring people together directly following the service to share stories, remember a loved one, and connect (or reconnect) with people. 

In many ways, the gathering is another excellent place for personalization because you may have more time and a lot of space to work with.  

How to Personalize: 

  • Have the gathering at your lost loved one’s favorite restaurant 
  • Choose a venue that meant something to the person who has died (for example, a church, local country club, beach, park, etc.) 
  • Serve your loved one’s favorite foods 
  • Display photos, cherished possessions, and mementos 
  • Decorate with your loved one’s favorite colors 
  • Include a set aside time when friends or family can publicly share special memories 
  • Create a memorial work of art together or plant a memorial tree 

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 to Personalize: 

  • Participate in a release ceremony (biodegradable balloons or lanterns, doves, etc.) 
  • Incorporate keepsake items 
  • Invite mourners to write down memories on note cards
  • Ask family and friends to bring photos they have of your loved one to add to a group collage 
  • Set a theme that invites attendees to wear your loved one’s favorite color or style of clothing (i.e. Hawaiian shirts, sports jerseys, etc.)
  • Light candles of remembrance 
  • Ask people to take part in the service as eulogists, readers, singers, musicians, or pallbearers 

Hopefully, these thoughts will spark ideas of your ownUltimately, planning a funeral or memorial service that accurately reflects your loved one’s life, passions, values, and beliefs creates an opportunity to specifically and meaningfully remember, honor, and celebrate their life.  

As you consider how you can incorporate these 7 elements into a funeral or memorial service, remember that you aren’t on your own in this. The funeral home has caring and experienced staff ready to help you with all your questions and concerns as you create a moment in time that can bring peace and comfort for years to come.

Top 15 Bible Verses for a Celebration of Life Service

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

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

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

Verses to Bring Comfort

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

Matthew 11: 28-30

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

2 Corinthians 1:3-4

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

Psalm 23

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

Matthew 5:4

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

Psalm 34:18

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

Lamentations 3:22-26, 31-33

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

Verses to Remember God’s Promises

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

John 14:1-3

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

Romans 8:35, 37-39

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

Isaiah 41:10

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

John 14:27

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

Psalm 56:10-13

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

Verses of Hope for the Future

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

1 Corinthians 15:50-57

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

John 11:25-26

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

Job 19:25-27

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

Philippians 1:21-23

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

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

5 Obituary Writing Tips We Can Learn From Viral Obituaries

By Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

If we’re honest, all too often obituaries are a little formulaic and offer only a few facts and details. They don’t truly reflect the person who has died – their personality, life circumstances, decisions, or impact on the world around them. While not every obituary will go viral, there are a few things you can learn from viral obituaries that will help you craft an obituary that reflects the unique life of the person you love.

Before we begin, it’s valuable to understand the purpose of the obituary. Dating back to around 59 B.C., the obituary has evolved over time. In our current day, it serves both as an announcement of the death and service details and as an opportunity to honor, remember, and celebrate a life in a meaningful way.

5 Obituary Writing Tips We Can Learn from Viral Obituaries

Below, we are going to look at 5 obituaries that have gone viral in the last few years and take away a helpful tip from each one.

1. Paint a picture

It’s hard to connect to someone when you don’t know them and can’t see them. But good obituaries do just that. They make you wish you’d known the person who has died. You feel like you could connect to them in some way. So, make an effort to paint a picture of your loved one’s life. Discuss what made them unique and one-of-a-kind. In Joe Heller’s viral obituary, his family chose to highlight his mischievous side, focusing on his pranks, his frugality, and his charm.

Since every person is different, choose a few characteristics that clearly define your loved one’s life and personality. Focus on bringing those few aspects to life as you paint a picture.

2. Be genuine

Every life has its ups and downs. Some may be more up and others more down. As you write an obituary, it’s important to be genuine. This doesn’t mean that you give away secrets or expose dirty laundry. It simply means that you strive for authenticity and sincerity.

For example, in Bill Ebeltoft’s viral obituary, his family openly spoke about his mental health struggles after the Vietnam War and how that experience deeply affected the rest of his life. By the end of the obituary, you come to care about Bill and wish that he had been dealt a different hand. His family didn’t expose anything deeply personal or inappropriate. You can tell from the tone and the wording that they deeply love Bill and want to mourn him in a genuine and sincere way.

As you craft an obituary, you will put a little bit of yourself into the words. As you write, get in touch with what you feel about your loved one and lace the words with your own sincerity.

3. Find a balance

Every personality is different, and they each come with their quirks. That’s why it’s always good to find a balance when writing an obituary. Write about the good, the bad, the funny, and the serious. The key to finding balance is often in the voice and tone you use. For instance, in Tim Schrandt’s viral obituary, the family set a tone somewhere between humorous and irreverent. But it works. You get a sense of who Tim was as a person while also understanding that he may have been a handful. His family didn’t beat around the bush, but they found a balance that honored Tim’s life and his quirks.

Your loved one may be a “character,” or they may be the sweetest, most genteel person you know. Either way, find a way to balance the different aspects of their life and character as you paint the picture of their life.

4. Offer specifics

Sometimes, it’s the details that make the difference. As you write the obituary, don’t be afraid to liberally sprinkle the little details into the mix. For instance, in an obituary she wrote herself, Dorothy McElhaney called herself the “Grand Diva of All Things Domestic” after she got married. In her viral obituary, Dorothy went into detail about her childhood remembrances, her beloved family, and even makes mention of blue ribbons she won at the State Fair for her famous sugar cookies. It’s the details that make Dorothy’s obituary sweet, thoughtful, and genuine. She shares openly about herself, wanting us to know her and the life she lived.

5. Inspire others

One last thing we can learn from viral obituaries is that they can be used to inspire others. When you are genuine, real, and vulnerable, you can truly touch hearts and make positive change in the lives of others. Take Sonia Todd. Knowing she was dying of cancer, Sonia decided to write her own obituary, which went viral several years after her death. She spoke of being real, sharing the truth, loving people, admitting mistakes, and doing something worthwhile.

You don’t have to be famous or notable to make a difference in the world. Sometimes, you just need to be sincere, be honest, and encourage others to live their best life.

A Final Note

It would be remiss if we didn’t also talk about what not to say in an obituary. In recent years, some obituaries have gone viral because they were used as a place to release pent-up negative emotions. These types of obituaries go viral for two main reasons: 1) they are shocking, and 2) people are concerned about the emotional health of the person who wrote the obituary.

While you may have feelings of anger, disappointment, even rage, toward the person who has died, the obituary is not the place to find healing. As we discussed earlier, the obituary announces service details and meaningfully celebrates a life. If you can’t honestly celebrate the life of your family member, that’s okay. Simply don’t write an obituary. Or, ask someone who has never met your family member to write the obituary with just the facts and service details.

Unfortunately, every person does not bring joy, happiness, and encouragement to others. Sometimes, the person who has died was abusive or hurtful. Instead of writing an obituary, consider taking some time alone to write down everything that needs to be said. Write the good, the bad, the very ugly. Then, take action. Burn the words you’ve written, rip them up, get rid of them somehow. This symbolic act can serve as a release, a way of taking back your life and refusing to be a prisoner to that person’s influence any longer. Don’t let them rob you of healing and wholeness. Get the emotions out on paper, release them totally from your life, and breathe freely for the first time in a long time. Your family member is gone. Holding onto the pain will only hurt you. Instead, turn over a new leaf and begin a new season in your life.

More Resources

To learn more about the building blocks of writing an obituary, go to How to Write a Great Obituary.

To see some examples of simple yet personalized obituaries, go to 5 Great Obituary Examples.

How to Plan a Healing Funeral if You Are Not Religious

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

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

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

Core Elements of a Funeral

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

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

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

Music

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

Why Include Special Music in a Funeral Ceremony?

Top 10 Songs for a Funeral Ceremony

Readings

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

How do Readings Enhance the Funeral Experience?

Top 10 Poems for a Funeral Ceremony

Viewing/Visitation/Reception

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

Why Have a Visitation?

Why Should the Body Be Present?

Eulogy/Remembrance

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

What is a Eulogy?

Crafting a Eulogy

Symbols

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

The Importance of Symbols

Exploring Your Release Ceremony Options

Gathering

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

What is a Gathering?

Actions 

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

How Do Actions Help Us Heal?

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

10 Ways to Use Photos to Personalize a Service

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

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

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

10 Ways to Use Photos to Personalize a Physical Service

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

1. Add Photos to the Order of Service

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

2. Make a Collage or Timeline

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

3. Put Together a Memorial Photo Album

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

4. Create a Memory Board

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

5. Use Photos to Personalize the Gathering/Reception

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

6. Make a Tribute Video

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

7. Invite Mourners to Bring a Favorite Photo

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

8. Make a Memory Wreath

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

9. Ask Someone to Take Photos at the Funeral

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

10. Print Remembrance Tokens

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

What to Do in the First 24 Hours Following a Death

By mtp-at-need, Planning Tools

For many of us, we deal with death so infrequently that we aren’t sure what to do when we lose a family member or close friend. The first 24 hours following a loss can be very difficult. You might feel a wide range of emotions: shock, sadness, anger, or even relief. All of these are normal reactions to loss, but the first question you may ask yourself is, “What do I do now?” To answer this question, this article shares what you should do in the first 24 hours following a death. While you will still feel the pain of grief, knowing what actions to take will make things just a little bit easier.

0-1 Hours After Death: Report the Death

1. If a death occurs at home:

  • Death under hospice care: If your loved one has endured a prolonged illness at home under hospice care, contact their primary medical professional, who will follow all proper procedures, including making a legal pronouncement of death. Hospice professionals may also advise you in this circumstance.
  • Sudden, unexpected death: For an unexpected or unattended death, call 911 to notify the police and emergency medical personnel, who will attempt resuscitation, if they are authorized to do so (note: if your loved one has signed a Do Not Resuscitate (DNR) document or is wearing a “DNR” or “Comfort Care Only” bracelet, medical personnel will not attempt resuscitation). The body of your loved one may need to be moved to the hospital where a doctor can make a legal pronouncement of death.
  • Arrangements for organ donation: If your loved one’s driver’s license or advance healthcare directive gives authorization for organ donation, immediately inform the medical staff so that they can determine if organ or tissue donation is a viable option.

2. If a death occurs in a nursing home, assisted living facility, or hospital:

  • Alert the staff, nurse, or physician if you are the first to be aware of the death. Calling 911 is not necessary if the person is under hospice, nursing home, or hospital care.

3. If a death takes place away from home:

  • If your deceased loved one is away from home and you are notified of the death, you may need to travel to where your loved one is. Speak to the local authorities or medical professionals to determine what actions are needed.
  • If you have purchased a travel protection plan, like the ones available through American Pre-Arrangement Services, Inc. (APASI), make sure to contact the company immediately. In the case of APASI, if a death occurs 75+ miles away from home, they will pay for all transportation costs to have the body returned home. APASI does not offer expense refunds, so if you have this type of plan, always contact them first to ensure you receive the full benefits of the service.

4. If a death occurs out of country:

  • Contact the U.S. Embassy or call 1-888-407-4747 for the Office of Overseas Citizen Services in the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs.

1-4 Hours After Death: Who to Contact

1. Contact loved ones.

Contact immediate family members and ask them to contact others. After making direct contact by telephone with your loved one’s closest family members, you can begin telling friends and extended members of your network. Try to make sure that immediate family members do not learn of the death through social media or acquaintances.

2. Choose a funeral director or service provider.

Hopefully, your loved one planned for their funeral by completing a prearranged funeral plan with a local funeral provider. If not, talk to a trusted friend, relative, or faith-based support person for help locating a well-recommended funeral home. A local funeral director will know the state and municipal laws that apply to the circumstances and death of your loved one and will help you through the planning process.

3. Contact clergy, a minister, or a spiritual advisor.

If your loved one was active in a faith-based community or held religious or spiritual values, contact the leader of that community to notify them of the death. This is an important time to honor the spiritual or religious values of your loved one.

4. Contact other key support people.

Managing the details surrounding the death of a loved one can be physically and emotionally exhausting. Reach out to your support network for help – don’t be afraid to ask. Consider choosing a few close friends or family members to help you make funeral preparations. Ask a trusted friend to field calls, help run errands, care for children, and to act as your advocate. Be sure to give yourself the care you need to get through the challenging process of losing and grieving for a friend or loved one.

4-12 Hours After Death: Prepare for Funeral Arrangement Conference

1. Locate important documents.

If your loved one made advance plans for funeral arrangements, locate any insurance policies, prepaid funeral contracts, or written plans. Your loved one may have also left instructions in a will or estate plan, which families often discover after the funeral has taken place, so you may want to look for any legal documents your loved one completed. If you are unfamiliar with your loved one’s wishes for funeral arrangements, speak to your family members to determine which options resonate with them.

2. Gather vital statistics:

  • Full legal name of the deceased
  • Marital status, including marriage certificate, if available
  • Parents’ full names, including mother’s maiden name
  • Children’s full names
  • Immediate family member names
  • Family members who have predeceased your loved one
  • Place of birth
  • Date of birth
  • Employment history
  • Education
  • Social Security Number
  • Veteran’s discharge papers (DD-214)

12-24+ Hours After Death: Rest and Prepare

1. Rest and nourish yourself.

Try to sleep as much as you can to help prepare for the events to come.

The next several days will be filled with activity, plans, phone calls, visitors, and emotion. Even short naps will help you manage the details, events, and sentiments that follow the death of a friend or a loved one. Remember proper nutrition, even if it may seem challenging. Taking time to care for yourself is as important as the final planning for your loved one.

2. Gather meaningful remembrances of your loved one.

Gather items that you might be able to incorporate into a meaningful tribute for your loved one. These may include photos, videos, articles of clothing or jewelry, and prized possessions that were an integral part of your loved one’s life. Select items that are genuine reflections of your loved one so that you can create a personal and meaningful funeral. This step can also be an important part of the grieving process.

3. Determine how the funeral will be paid for.

Funeral and cemetery or crematory charges will typically need to be paid for before the services are performed. If the service is not paid for in advance with a prepaid funeral contract, consider alternate ways to address costs:

  • Cash, personal check, or money order
  • Life insurance policy – since it could take 6 to 8 weeks for the insurance company to process your claim, your funeral director can help you assign the benefits to the funeral home to cover the funeral expenses
  • Veterans’ burial benefits – again, your funeral director can assist you in determining if your loved one is eligible for any veterans’ benefits that may help you save money
  • Personal credit card
  • Loan from a lending institution
  • Establish a memorial fund to which friends and extended family members can donate

4. Allow yourself to grieve. You may experience moments of intense grief throughout the day.

Some people are afraid that if they start to cry, they may not be able to stop, but this is simply not the case. Usually people cry in bursts of 5-10 minutes, which helps relieve tension and gives expression to deep emotions. It is important to give yourself this time to process your grief and release some of the emotions you are feeling. Accept your feelings and allow them to come without judgment. Surround yourself with people who will not minimize or try to stifle your emotions and who will comfort you and accept you as you are.

What You Need to Know About Burial at Sea

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools

After a loss, we feel both a deep sense of loss and an innate desire to honor the memory of the person we love. We want to remember them for who they were. Recall the times when they spoke truth to us, comforted us, or simply made us laugh. This desire to honor and remember our loved ones is why it’s important to personalize a funeral – so that there is a unique and special tribute for the one you love.

One unique way to honor a loved one is through burial at sea. While burial at sea is not as common as burial or scattering on land, it is still an option worth considering, especially if your loved one had a special connection to the sea.

What You Need to Know About Burial at Sea

Burial at sea has a long history and is one of the oldest types of funeral ceremony. Throughout history, we see it used by the Greeks, Egyptians, and the navies of various nations.

Today, there are two ways to request burial at sea: through the U.S. Navy or through a civilian charter company. Each one has its own regulations, though both will provide your family with the date, time, and longitude/latitude of your loved one’s committal.

Naval Military Vessel

With the Navy, the committal ceremony is performed while the ship is deployed. This means that the family cannot attend, though the commanding officer will send a letter to the family sharing the exact date, time, and location where the committal ceremony took place in addition to any photos that may have been taken.

Only eligible veterans and their dependents can request burial at sea with the Navy. Following the death, your trusted funeral professional contacts the Navy and Marine Corps Mortuary Affairs Office on your behalf and begins the coordination and transportation process.

You will need several documents to request naval burial at sea:

  • Photocopy of the death certificate
  • Burial transit permit or cremation certificate
  • Copy of the veteran’s DD214, discharge certificate, or retirement order
  • Completed “Burial at Sea Request Form”

As with shore burial, veterans will receive the proper military honors, including the playing of Taps and the closing of colors. An American flag will fly at half-mast during the committal ceremony. If the family provides the flag, it will be returned; if not, the Navy will provide one.

Civilian Vessel

For those who are not veterans, you can charter a vessel through a burial at sea provider. By going through an official provider, you ensure that the vessel is Coast Guard inspected for comfort and safety and that the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) regulations are followed. Additionally, you can select a vessel intimate enough to accommodate only close family, or if you wish, you can charter a larger vessel to allow additional family and friends to take part in the committal service.

The EPA states that the vessel must journey to a distance of at least 3 nautical miles and to a depth of 100 fathoms (600+ feet) before any kind of burial can take place. Additional state laws may apply. Also, any materials placed in the water must readily decompose, so plastics and metals are not allowed. To learn more about the EPA’s guidelines, click here.

If you wish to bury a full body at sea, a licensed funeral director must be present to oversee the care and custody of the body until final interment. If possible, ask that preparation of the body be done with non-toxic chemicals. Any casket or burial cloth must be biodegradable.

The most common form of burial at sea is scattering of the cremated body. For this, you do not need a funeral director present. The family can facilitate a private service onboard, followed by scattering the ashes and placing wreaths or flowers in the water.

Whether you choose full-body burial at sea or scattering, the charter company will provide a certificate marking the exact coordinates of your loved one’s final resting place.

Helpful Hints for Civilian Vessels

  • Dress casually with a wind breaker and non-slip shoes.
  • Bring a camera, sunscreen, sunglasses, and other desired personal possessions.
  • Report any known or potentially unknown medical conditions to the captain before disembarking; this includes pregnancy, back or neck pain, or susceptibility to sea sickness.
  • If you are susceptible to seasickness, it’s for the good of all that you remain on shore. Many charter companies will provide binoculars for viewing and will call your cell phone when the committal ceremony begins. If you choose not to remain on shore, consider using motion sickness aids.

Planning Ahead for Burial at Sea

If you or a loved one are interested in burial at sea, it’s best to make your wishes known now. You can do this either by communicating your wishes to your family or by sitting down with a knowledgeable funeral professional who can walk you through the process of preplanning the funeral. The more information you provide, the easier the funeral planning process will be on your loved ones. Also, because burial at sea is a specialized service, it’s best to prepare everyone ahead of time to ensure that all the details are taken care of according to your wishes.

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