Category

Planning Tools

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 out of state:

  • If your deceased loved one is out of state 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.

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.

Permanent Placement Options for Cremated Remains

By Explore Options, Plan Ahead, Planning Tools, Precare

These days, it’s not uncommon for the family to keep the cremated remains of a loved in an urn at home. While keeping a loved one nearby can be helpful during the grief process, it’s important to have a permanent plan for your loved one. It’s unrealistic to expect family members to continue to amass a larger and larger number of urns through the years, so in order to ensure that your loved one is cared for after you’re gone, it’s best to put together a permanent plan.

You have many options for permanent placement of cremated remains. And you don’t have to make up your mind at the time of loss. You can keep your loved one close for a few years, and then visit the idea of where you want to inter them as a final resting place.

Reviewing the Options

Urn Burial

The first option is burial. Some cemeteries have landscaped urn gardens while others offer burial plots similar to those used for traditional burial. If you choose a burial plot, the cremated bodies of multiple people can be buried together. As with traditional burial, urn burial requires an outer burial container.

Another form of urn burial is green burial. The main difference from traditional burial is that the urn must be biodegradable, and the cemetery must be specifically set aside for green burials. The number of green cemeteries in the United States is limited, so you may need to travel a distance to lay your loved one to rest. One thing to remember: an outer burial container is not needed for green burial.

Columbarium

An above-ground structure, the columbarium is filled with niches (wall spaces) where urns are placed and interred. Each niche typically includes a memorial plaque that acts as a grave marker, listing the name, dates of life, and an epitaph (if the family wishes). All columbaria are communal, though a family can purchase a family-size niche to allow multiple urns to be placed together.

Scattering

Scattering is the act of taking a loved one’s cremated remains to a special place (or places) and scattering them. The possible locations for scattering are numerous. You could elect to go to a scattering garden, which is a designated, beautiful space attached to a cemetery that is simple and environmentally friendly. With a scattering garden, the cemetery often provides a means of adding a permanent physical memorial like a plaque or grave marker.

Alternatively, you can go to the ocean, the mountains, or some other place that is special to you and your loved one. If you do decide to scatter your loved one somewhere other than a cemetery, make sure that you check the laws and regulations for that place.

Should you decide to scatter all of a loved one’s ashes, take time to prepare yourself emotionally. For some, it is an emotional shock to realize that everything remaining of a loved one is gone.

Planting a Memorial Tree

It is now possible to plant a loved one’s ashes so that a memorial tree will grow. The cremated remains don’t actually cause the tree to grow. 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 cremated remains. First, the seeds grow in the soil, and once they reach a certain level of growth, the roots spread down to the cremated remains, and everything mingles together. This option is inexpensive, and afterward, you can visit the memorial tree anytime you wish.

Options at Sea

Underwater Mausoleum

Off the coast of Florida, you can have a special urn placed in an underwater mausoleum (similar to a columbarium). With different options available for memorialization, it’s an option for those who love the ocean.

Barrier Reef

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 positively impacting the ocean’s habitat. As a memorial to your loved one, consider affixing a plaque to the artificial reef.

Burial at Sea

When we think of burial/scattering at sea, we often think of military personnel. However, scattering at sea is an option for civilians as well. While the Navy will work with a veteran’s family to arrange an official scattering at sea, services are available to civilians for an eco-friendly sea burial per US Coast Guard guidelines.

Launched into Space

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 this option is surprisingly affordable.

No matter which option is most appropriate, make a decision on providing a permanent home for cremated remains. Keeping the urn at home may be just what you need in the beginning. But, in three, five, or even ten years, consider the benefits of setting up something permanent. A permanent home will ensure that your loved one is cared for long after you are gone.

5 Great Obituary Examples

By Planning Tools

When looking at writing an obituary, it’s important to know that there are 5 building blocks to a great obituary. They are:

  • Announcing the death
  • Providing general biographical information
  • Making it personal
  • Listing the family members
  • Including funeral information

Of these five building blocks, the one that is going to make the obituary the most unique and individualized is the third block: making it personal.

Personalization is the key to capturing the spirit of your loved one and creating a written tribute that makes yourself and others laugh, cry, and nod in affirmation. Yes, that is who they were.

As you plan and prepare to write, think about your loved one’s actions, their likes, dislikes, and what make them so unique and special. Below, you will find some examples of wonderful, heartfelt tributes to someone loved. They were all normal people, just like you and your loved ones. May they help you craft an obituary that brings your loved one’s individuality to life.

Albert Vincent “Skip” Werner

During his years at Deering High School, Skip excelled in football and earned multiple championships in track. After graduating high school in 1964, Skip attended Maine Maritime Academy, where he shined in football, rowing, and on the track. A Dean’s List student, he graduated in 1968. His first job as a merchant mariner was a hazardous duty assignment delivering wartime supplies to Vietnam. During his free time on the ship, Skip enjoyed painting scenes of lobstermen and working waterfronts. 

After three years of shipping-out, he bought a new lobster boat and became one of Portland’s top lobstermen and a Portland waterfront icon. For the past thirty years, he fished with his iconic boat—the Foxie Lady. Throughout his lobstering career, Skip was known for his scientific approach to lobster trap design and fishing techniques – something he passed down to his son, Thomas. His incessant and gregarious commentaries over the boat’s VHF radio energized, entertained, and educated three generations of lobstermen. The absence of Skip’s animated voice will leave a somber void on the water and docks of our community.

To read the full obituary of this well-known and beloved Maine local, click here. Also, if you like to learn more about his “underwater lasso” method to catch lost lobster traps, click here.

Wynter Danielle Pitts

It was in high school and college that Wynter discovered her love for travel. She studied abroad in France during her high school years and in England during her college years. While in college she met her soulmate, Jonathan Pitts. They dated for a short eight months, were engaged for a year and made a commitment to God and each other to be husband and wife on June 27, 2003. They found their greatest commonality in their shared hope and faith in Jesus Christ, and this was the foundation of everything they would do in life from that point on. Focused and determined (some may even say lovingly stubborn), Wynter always knew that she wanted to write for a living. 

Niece of Pastor Tony Evans and an author herself, click here to read the full obituary of a woman who sought to fulfill God’s purpose for her life.

Houston Hogg Jr.

While he was an avid outdoorsman, that loved hunting, fishing, gardening, and continued playing sports of all kinds, his biggest impact was in the community. He was loved and known by everyone as Mr. Houston. He never met a stranger, always had time for everyone, and never failed to shake the hand of a child and make them feel special. He routinely handed out candy, money when needed, and would load up kids in the back of his truck and took them out to the country to ride his horses.

While Houston will be dearly missed by all who knew him, he would want everyone to know that he was more than prepared and eager to meet his Lord and Savior. He had run his race and was prepared to be offered up.

One of the first African-American players to play football in the Southeastern conference, click here to read the full obituary of a man who made a positive impact on the world in more ways than one.

Betty Weber

Known as “Miss Betty, The Cake Lady”, she was active in her “Baking Ministry” in support and prayer of our Firefighters, and held a special bond with the Firefighters of East Baton Rouge Parish. She frequented Fire Stations everywhere in the Greater Baton Rouge Area, bringing Cakes, Cookies, Muffins and other Baked Goods and passing out Prayer Cards to her Firefighters. Firefighters were family to her and she was frequently seen at Fire Department functions, including Academy Graduations and was regularly invited to dinner by the shifts at various Fire Stations. Her regular quote was, “I love my Firefighters and Pray for them daily.” She knew them by name, along with many of their Wives and Children. 

To read the full obituary of this beloved local, click here. To watch Betty do what she did best – bake cakes – watch this video.

MCPO “Rudy” Boesch

He was forever in charge of the SEAL physical fitness program and was diligent about ensuring that all SEALs participated in daily PT or face the consequences! While serving at SEAL Team TWO Rudy became the “Bullfrog” in 1981. This is a little known honor bestowed on the active duty SEAL with the most time in the Navy. Rudy remained the “Bullfrog” until 1990. Also while on active duty he was a crewman on the US Navy Olympic Bobsled Team. Rudy continued to be extremely physically fit and competed in the Virginia Senior Olympics. Although he could never beat Marge in racquetball, he did win the state championship in his age bracket. During the 1996 Georgia Summer Olympics, Rudy captained a support boat as he did during the 1992 America’s Cup. Marge accompanied Rudy on all his adventures. Marge was always the Master Chief in Rudy’s life until she predeceased him in 2008.

Once a contestant on “Survivor,” Rudy left a mark on those he loved and the country he served. To read the full obituary, click here.

As you can see, the writing styles are vastly different. The lives are unique. But each one of these obituaries captures the essence of the person who lived. They make you wish you had known that person, that you could have benefited from their friendship and life story. That’s what makes a great obituary – writing about someone you love and simply sharing what made them them.

If you are interested in learning more about the building blocks of a great obituary, make sure to read How to Write a Great Obituary.

The 5 Basic Steps of Funeral Planning

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

Thinking about planning a funeral may make you feel anxious, especially if you are arranging a funeral for a loved one who has recently died. The whole thing just sets your anxiety alarm bells ringing! If that’s you, you’re not alone. Being tasked with planning a funeral can feel very intimidating.

In large part, the anxiety comes from not knowing what to do, how to start, or what to expect. Most people only plan one or maybe two funerals in their entire lifetime, so it makes sense if you aren’t entirely comfortable with the process. After all, you don’t know what you don’t know. But think of it this way: everything new is a little scary in the beginning. That first day of class. Your first day at a new job. Moving to a new place. Eventually, you find your groove and become comfortable. But it only happens with exposure and actively working to familiarize yourself with your surroundings.

The same line of thinking applies to funeral planning. It’s intimidating because you don’t know much about it. On top of that, funeral planning is about death and dying, a topic that most of us usually try to avoid thinking about as much as possible. All this to say, it is completely natural to feel apprehensive when thinking about planning a funeral.

One of the keys to overcoming anxious feelings about the unknown is to educate yourself about the new task or experience ahead of you. In this case, funeral planning. Let’s talk about the major aspects of planning so you can feel empowered and informed. Also, feel free to print this Funeral Planning Checklist to help you make sure that you’ve hit all the key steps.

Let’s get started.

The 5 Basics Steps of Funeral Planning

1. Choose the type of disposition you’d like

The first order of business when making funeral arrangements is choosing a disposition type. The two most common types of final disposition are traditional burial and cremation. There are other, less common options, like green burial, burial at sea, or anatomical donation. None of these are necessarily better than the others. It all comes down to what aligns most closely with your loved one’s and your family’s personal values.

2. Choose the type of remembrance service you’d like

Next, you need to decide what type of remembrance service you’d prefer. For those who choose traditional burial, it’s common to have a visitation before the funeral service so that friends and family have an opportunity to say goodbye to the one who has died and offer condolences to the grieving family. For those who wish to be cremated, you can still have a funeral service and/or visitation with the body present before cremation takes place. Alternatively, a memorial service can follow cremation. The most important thing is that you do something to honor and remember the life that was lived.

3. Choose options to personalize the funeral experience

Personalization is key to a healing and meaningful funeral experience. Dr. Alan Wolfelt, nationally-recognized grief counselor, author, and educator, says “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.”

To create a meaningful, healing, and personalized funeral, consider including the seven elements of a funeral, adding your own personal flair to each one. For example, if they were a huge fan of big band music, include that style of music. If they enjoyed making quilts, display those quilts. You can even allow specific mourners to take one of the quilts home as a remembrance. If they loved the beach, have a beachside service. The possibilities are endless. You may also want to prepare a personalized obituary, a touching eulogy, or other special remarks or readings that capture your loved one’s character and spirit.

4. Choose a place of final rest

It’s important to have a plan for a permanent final resting place. This may mean a burial plot, which is an option for those who are buried traditionally or for those who are cremated. The options available for cremation are many and varied, so it’s important to choose what works best for you. Some of the options for cremated remains include scattering and placement in a mausoleum or columbarium, among others.

Some families prefer to keep the cremated remains of a loved one at home for a time. This is perfectly fine – sometimes it’s necessary to help process grief. However, keeping an urn somewhere in the home is not a long-term solution. Instead, after a period of time has passed and the grief isn’t as sharp, select a final resting place for the cremated remains so that they are taken care of long after you are gone.

5. Choose a method of payment

If your loved one has preplanned and prefunded a funeral, then you will be in good shape. You may have to pay for a few items out of pocket that were not included in the original plan, such as catering, a reception hall, flowers, and possibly flowers or police escort. However, compared to many other families, you will not have much to cover in the way of funeral expenses.

If no prearrangements exist, your loved one may have had life insurance or a final expense plan set up to help pay for funeral costs. Talk to a funeral professional about how to use these types of funds to pay for a funeral. If the funeral was unexpected, there may be no funds available to pay for a funeral. If this is the case, you can ask family members to help pay for different parts of the funeral or to contribute in different ways, such as bringing food or sending flowers. Sites like youcaring.com or gofundme.com can assist with crowdfunding to help pay for a loved one’s services if money is tight. See 5 Ways to Pay for a Funeral or 7 Ways to Pay for Unexpected Funeral Costs to review several payment options.

Now that you know these 5 major points of planning, you can talk to a funeral professional with more confidence. While the intimidation may not have entirely disappeared, you have tools in your belt now that will help you during the planning process. And for what you don’t know, funeral professionals are there to help. While you may only plan a handful of funerals in your lifetime, they have planned hundreds or even thousands. You aren’t on your own in this. Lean on them for their expertise and ask all the questions you want.

Consider the Benefits of Planning Ahead

Before we finish, did you know that you can take care of these areas of planning ahead of time? Planning ahead for funeral wishes can be extremely helpful to your loved ones when they themselves are faced with the unknown of how to plan a funeral. We all know that death is inevitable. It’s something we cannot escape, so why not make every effort to plan for it and maybe make things a little easier on our loved ones?  The more your family knows about your final wishes, the easier the funeral planning process will go for them after you’re gone. Many families are plagued by the question, “Did we do the right thing?” It would be so much easier if they knew exactly what you wanted. And that’s just one reason why planning ahead benefits your family. For a full list of 10 reasons why planning ahead benefits you and your family, read 10 Reasons to Plan Ahead. You can give your family a special gift of love by planning ahead today for peace of mind tomorrow.

3 Reasons to Have a Visitation

By Explore Options, Meaningful Funerals, Planning Tools

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

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

Why Have a Visitation?

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

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

1. A Visitation Activates Your Support Network

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

2. A Visitation Provides Opportunities for More People to Participate

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

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

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

What Are My Visitation Options?

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

Visitation the Day Before the Funeral Service

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

Visitation Just Prior to the Funeral Service

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

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

The Core Elements of a Military Honors Funeral

By Plan Ahead, Planning Tools, Veterans

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

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

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

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

The Main Elements

Honor Guard

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

Flag-Draped Casket/Urn

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

Folding of the Flag

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

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

Playing of Taps

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

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

Additional Elements

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

These elements include:

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

Know Your Veterans’ Benefits

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

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

Why Does Funeral Personalization Matter?

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

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

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

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

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

What Parts of the Funeral Can I Personalize?

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

How Do I Go About Personalizing a Funeral?

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

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

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

A Few Ideas to Get You Started

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

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

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

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