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Consumers Guide to Burial Vaults

Burial vaults or grave liners, also known as burial containers, are commonly used in "traditional," full-service funerals. The vault or liner is placed in the ground before burial, and the casket is lowered into it at burial. 

The purpose is to prevent the ground from caving in as the casket deteriorates over time. A grave liner is made of reinforced concrete and will satisfy any cemetery requirement. Grave liners cover only the top and sides of the casket. A burial vault is more substantial than a grave liner.

Burial vaults surround the casket in concrete or another material and may be sold with a warranty of protective strength.

State laws do not require a vault or liner, but many cemeteries require some type of outer burial container to prevent the grave from sinking in the future.

Neither grave liners nor burial vaults are designed to prevent the eventual decomposition of human remains.

Charitable Organizations 


Alzheimer’s Association
Provides education and support to people with Alzheimer’s disease, their families and to caregivers.

American Cancer Society
Dedicated to preventing cancer, saving lives, and diminishing suffering from cancer, through research, education, advocacy, and service.

American Diabetes Association
Provides diabetes research, information and advocacy.

American Foundation for AIDS Research
Dedicated to the support of AIDS research, AIDS prevention, treatment education and the advocacy of sound AIDS-related public policy.

American Heart Association
Mission of the American Heart Association
Dedicated to reduce disability and death from cardiovascular diseases and stroke.

American Kidney Fund
Provides direct financial assistance for the benefit of kidney patients supported by educational programs, clinical research and community service projects.

American Liver Foundation
Dedicated to preventing, treating and curing hepatitis and all liver diseases through research, education and support groups.

American Lung Association
Dedicated to fighting lung disease in all its forms, with special emphasis on asthma, tobacco control and environmental health.

American Sudden Infant Death Syndrome Institute
Dedicated to the prevention of sudden infant death and the promotion of infant health.

Amyotrphic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) Association
Dedicated to the fight against ALS, commonly known as Lou Gehrig’s disease.

Camp Heartland
For children impacted by HIV/AIDS.

Cystic Fibrosis Foundation
Dedicated to the development of the means to cure and control cystic fibrosis and to improve the quality of life for those with the disease. 

Leukemia & Lymphoma Society 

Dedicated to help find a cure for leukemia, lymphoma, Hodgkin's disease and myeloma, and to improve the quality of life of patients and their families.

Living Bank International, Organ and Tissue Donor Registry
Promotes organ and tissue donation through public education and maintains a national registry of those willing to donate.

Make-A-Wish Foundation
For children with life-threatening illnesses.

March of Dimes
Dedicated to improving the health of babies by preventing birth defects and infant mortality.

Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD)
Focuses on drunk driving and underage drinking problems, and offers support for people grieving the death of a loved one caused by drunk driving.

Muscular Dystrophy Association
Provides news and information about neuromuscular diseases, and supports MDA research and services for adults and children with neuromuscular diseases and their families.

National AIDS Fund
Provides a voice on HIV infection prevention by supporting harm-reduction programs throughout the United States.

National Kidney Foundation
Seeks to prevent kidney and urinary tract diseases, improve the health and well-being of individuals and families affected by these diseases, and increase the availability of all organs for transplantation.

Salvation Army National Headquarters
Dedicated to the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ and alleviating human suffering and distress without discrimination.

SIDS Alliance
Unites families, caregivers, health professionals and scientists with government,
business and community service groups to advance infant safety and survival, support bereaved families, and hasten the elimination of SIDS through research.

Tissue Banks International
Provides corneas and other eye tissue for sight-restoring transplant surgery, as well as tissues as bone, ligaments and tendons (musculosketal tissue) that restore mobility, skin for burn and reconstructive surgery, heart valves to correct cardiac conditions, and saphenous veins to remedy circulatory problems.

United Cerebral Palsy Association
Dedicated to advance the independence, productivity and full citizenship of
people with cerebral palsy and other disabilities.

Infants Through Adolescents - How Children Cope With Grief

The cognitive and emotional levels of development from infant through adolescent cover a wide span of grief. The age of a child/adolescent and a child's/adolescent's perception of death must be understood before the caregiver or facilitator starts interacting with the child

The cognitive and emotional levels of development from infant through adolescent cover a wide span of grief. The age of a child/adolescent and a child's/adolescent's perception of death must be understood before the caregiver or facilitator starts interacting with the child.

A grieving child at each different level of development will need assistance in building coping skills and finding a sense of closure to his/her loss. Children at all developmental stages experience grief on different chronological and emotional levels.


Infants and Toddlers

Children younger than four can sense that something is wrong as they experience the grief of their primary caretaker. The absence of the mother may cause a clear biological reaction. Anger, crying, searching, lack of appetite, and finally quiet resignation are the ways in which a child will grieve for the loss of the mother/primary caretaker. 

The child should not be passed from caretaker to caretaker.

What one does is far more important to the child this young than what one says. Generally, a grieving infant or toddler needs large doses of tender, loving care--holding, cuddling, and stroking.


Four- to Six-Year Olds

Bereaved children between four and six have a limited and literal understanding of death. For a child in this age range, death may be explained in physical terms. Because thinking is very literal and bodily oriented, death may be best explained as follows:

His/her heart stopped beating and no one can make it start again. Therefore, we won't be seeing him/her move or talk anymore. We will bury the body in the ground, because (identify the person, using their name) is not able to do or say anything anymore.

Children will often note the discrepancy between burial of the body and the description of "going away" or "going to Heaven." While the young child probably can't grasp the concept, one might address the distinction as the part that we love--the part that smiled and laughed and loves us-is the part that has gone to heaven. The old, broken body is now what is in the ground.

Caretakers can facilitate therapeutic role-play by sitting with the child as he or she plays with dolls, stuffed animals, puppets, toy cars, and doll houses. Look for aggression in play and explore where the anger is focused.


Seven- to Eleven-Year Olds

Children ages seven to eleven are still primarily oriented to the family, and although they've begun to relate to and gain self-identity through their peers, play is still a mode of self-expression. Children this age also express themselves quite well orally, especially the primary feelings of mad, glad, and sad.

They have begun to grasp more abstract concepts such as truth, time, space, and death, although magical thinking still plays a role. Most commonly, seven-or eight-year-olds become fearful of death because they realize for the first time it's real.

No matter who dies, they may feel devastated at the thought of losing a parent. Obviously, the death of a parent is extremely traumatic at this age. Some of their questions may indicate fears of their own death. Death is seen as an attacker who takes life.

Free expression of grief must be encouraged, and children must be told over and over that they didn't cause the death and that the dead person did not choose to die. A child of this age may also fear that death is a punishment for improper behavior. They may fear that their naughty behavior has brought about the death of a loved one, and they are being punished for it. They may also believe that they or another loved one will be the next to die.

A more adult concept of life and death develops roughly between the ages of nine and eleven. At this developmental level, the children have learned that only people, plants, and animals live and die. Children of this age are not only sensitive to their own feelings, but can now enter into the feelings of others.

As a result, they are more understanding of what the loss may mean to others, and they are able to show empathy. Children in the upper end of this range not only need support and comfort, but also can be a source of support and comfort for others. Opportunities to be helpful to others 

during the crisis can actually help children deal with their own feelings. 


Adolescents 12-17

To the emotionally healthy adolescent, death is foreign; it's something they simply do not want to think about. Sometimes their self-destructive behavior, such as alcohol or drug abuse or playing chicken in an automobile are means of saying "I'm not afraid of death; it's a game--I'm making a plaything of it."

However, the real meaning beneath the behavior is that they're trying to control their fear and insecurity by making it a game. Moving fast and keeping the music loud can be an escape from having to face their fears.

When met with the loss of an important relationship, the adolescent's self-centered values may cause them great fear, guilt, anxiety, and anger. Adolescents have the capacity for empathy with other grieving family members or friends, so their pain is doubled.

Because an adolescent forms more intimate relationships with peers than with parents, it's advisable that networks or groups be make available for adolescents who have experienced the death of a loved one.

The adolescent may respond well to another adult who is willing to listen and assume a surrogate parent role with them. While reluctant to participate in their own family grief or support groups, they may respond well to 

a pastor, school counselor, or another adolescent who "understands." 

Caretakers of a grieving adolescent should not be discouraged if their teen reaches to someone other than family. That's normal at this stage of development.

Authored by Yvonne Butler Clark, author, It's Okay to Cry

Explaining Cremation to a Child

When a deceased family member or friend is cremated or already has been cremated, your child may want to know what cremation is. In answering 

your child's questions about cremation, keep your explanation of what cremation involves simple and easy to understand.

In explaining cremation to your child, avoid using words that may have a frightening connotation such as "fire" and "burn." Instead, in a straightforward manner, tell your child that the deceased body, enclosed in a casket or container, is taken to a place called a crematory where it goes through a special process that reduces it to small particles resembling fine gray or white sand. Be sure to point out that a dead body feels no pain.

Let your child know that these cremated remains are placed in a container called an urn and returned to the family. If cremation has already taken place and the container picked up, you may want to show it to the child. Because children are curious, your child may want to look at the contents. 

If your child makes such a request, look at them yourself first so that you can describe what they look like. Share this with your child. Then let the child decide whether to proceed further.

If possible, arrange for a time when you and your child can be with the body before cremation is carried out. If handled correctly, this time can be a positive experience for the child. It can provide an opportunity for the child to say "good-bye" and accept the reality of death. However, the viewing of the body should not be forced. Use your best judgment on whether or not this should be done.

Depending on the age of your child, you may wish to include him or her in the planning of what will be done with the cremated remains. Before you do this, familiarize yourself with the many types of cremation memorials available. Some of the many options to consider include burying the remains in a family burial plot, interring them in an urn garden that many cemeteries have, or placing the urn in a columbarium niche.

Defined as a recessed compartment, the niche may be an open front protected by glass or a closed front faced with bronze, marble, or granite. (An arrangement of niches is called a columbarium, which may be an entire building, a room, a bank along a corridor, or a series of special indoor alcoves. It also may be part of an outdoor setting such as a garden wall.) 

Although your child may not completely understand these or other options for memorialization, being involved in the planning helps establish a sense of comfort and understanding that life goes on even though someone loved has died.

If you incur any difficulties in explaining death or cremation to your child, you may wish to consult a child guidance counselor who specializes in these areas.

Consider Family in Cremation

Those who say--whether seriously or in jest--"Just cremate me and throw me out!" don't realize the burden this places on family members. Direct disposal of cremated remains without funerals or memorialization of any kind can cause serious emotional problems for survivors.

An executive of the Forum for Death Education tells of one patient under therapy as a result of scattering the cremated remains of a loved one. She had no focal point for her grief until he suggested she obtain a niche at a local mausoleum and place some memento of the loved one within.

In day-to-day contact with bereaved families, many cemetarians have noticed signs of severe emotional stress among the survivors in instances of cremation without memorialization and without funerals.

In some cases, such problems may take the form of delayed reaction many months later and are more apt to come to the attention of the medical community or clinical psychologists than to the layman or the general public.

Many psychiatrists feel that the funeral serves a very real need for the survivors. One of them stated that the primary purpose of the funeral is to fulfill the need for grieving for the living and that this need goes unfulfilled for many in our culture.

The result, in many cases, is that months or years later people require psychiatric treatment for severe depression

In suffering a loss, the traditional rites of passage and memorialization can be beneficial in helping individuals pass through the stages of grief.

When the practice of cremation is accomplished with human dignity and recognition, it will:

  • help assuage grief
  • alleviate guilt
  • contribute to emotional stability
  • create peace of mind

Frequently Asked Questions About Estate Planning

1. Why do I need an estate plan? 

Most of us spend a considerable amount of time and energy in our lives accumulating wealth. As we do this, there also comes a time to preserve wealth both for our enjoyment and for future generations. A solid, effective estate plan ensures that your hard-earned wealth will pass intact to those you intend to be your beneficiaries, instead of being siphoned off to government processes and bureaucrats.


2. If I don't create an estate plan, won't the government provide one for me? 

YES. But your family may not like it. The government's estate plan is called "Intestate Probate" and guarantees government interference in the disposition of your estate. Documents must be filed and approval must be received from a court to pay your bills, pay your spouse an allowance, and account for your property and it all takes place in the public's view. If you fail to plan your estate, you lose the opportunity to protect your family from an impersonal, complex governmental process that is a burden at best and can be a nightmare.

Then there is the matter of the federal government's death taxes. There is much you can do in planning your estate that will reduce and even eliminate death taxes, but you don't suppose the government's estate plan is designed to save your estate from taxes, do you? While some estate planners favor wills and others prefer a Living Trust as the Estate Plan of Choice, all estate planners agree that dying without an estate plan should be avoided at all costs.


3. What's the difference between having a will and a Living Trust? 

A will is a legal document that describes how you want your assets distributed at death. The actual distribution, however, is controlled by a legal process called probate, which is Latin for "prove the will." Upon your death, the will becomes a public document available for inspection by all comers. And, once your will enters the probate process, it's no longer controlled by your family, but by the court and probate attorneys.

Probate can be cumbersome, time-consuming, expensive, and an emotional trauma in a family's time of grief and vulnerability. Con artists and others with less than pure financial motives have been known to use their knowledge about the contents of a will to prey on survivors.

A Living Trust avoids probate because your property is owned by the trust, so technically there's nothing for the probate courts to administer. Whomever you name as your "successor trustee" gains control of your assets and distributes them exactly according to your instructions.

There is one other crucial difference. A will doesn't take effect until you die, and is therefore no help to you with lifetime planning, an increasingly important consideration now that Americans are living longer. A Living Trust can help you preserve and increase your estate while you're alive, and offers protection should you become mentally disabled.


4. The possibility of a disabling injury or illness scares me. What would happen if I were mentally disabled and had no estate plan or just a will?

Unfortunately, you would be subject to "living probate," also known as a conservatorship or guardianship proceeding. If you become mentally disabled before you die, the probate court will appoint someone to take control of your assets and personal affairs. These "court-appointed agents" must file a strict accounting of your finances with the court. The process is often expensive, time-consuming and humiliating.


5. If I set up a Living Trust, can I be my own trustee? 

YES. In fact, most Living Trusts have the people who created them acting as their own trustees. If you are married, you and your spouse can act as co-trustees. And you will have absolute and complete control over all of the assets in your trust. In the event of a mentally disabling condition, your hand-picked successor trustee assumes control over your affairs, not the court's appointee.


6. Will a Living Trust avoid income taxes? 

NO. The purpose of creating a Living Trust is to avoid living probate, death probate, and reduce or even eliminate federal estate taxes. It's not a vehicle for reducing income taxes. In fact, if you're the trustee of your Living Trust, you will file your income tax returns exactly as you filed them before the trust existed. There are no new returns to file and no new liabilities are created.


7. Can I transfer real estate into a Living Trust? 

YES. In fact, all real estate should be transferred into your Living Trust. Otherwise, upon your death, depending upon how you hold title, there will be a death probate in every state in which you hold real property. When your real property is owned by your Living Trust, there is no probate anywhere.


8. Is the Living Trust some kind of loophole the government will eventually close down? 

NO. The Living Trust has been authorized by the law for centuries. The government really has no interest in making you or your family go through a probate that will only further clog up the legal system. A Living Trust avoids probate so that your estate is settled exactly according to your wishes.


9. Isn't a Living Trust only for the rich? 

NO. A Living Trust can help anyone protect his or her family from unnecessary probate fees, attorney's fees, court costs and federal estate taxes. In fact, if your estate is greater than $100,000, you'll find a Living Trust offers substantial benefits for you and your family.


10. Can any attorney create a Living Trust? 

NO. You should choose an attorney whose practice is focused on estate planning. Members of the American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys receive continuing legal education on the latest changes in any law affecting estate planning, allowing them to provide you with the highest quality estate planning service anywhere.

How to Write a Eulogy

The thought of public speaking throws many people into a panic. Add to that fear the common discomfort of discussing death, and it's easy to understand why the idea of delivering a eulogy can be disconcerting. If you've been asked to write a eulogy, take heart. This article will help you put your fears in perspective so you can deliver a loving eulogy.


"Why me?"

You were probably asked to deliver a eulogy because of your close relationship to the deceased, and because the family trusts you to honor his or her memory on behalf of family and friends. The family doesn't want to make you feel uncomfortable, foolish or as though your grief is on display. It's an honor they've bestowed upon you. Helping others say goodbye may turn out to be a rewarding experience. Don't worry about making mistakes. A eulogy comes from the heart of the deliverer. I can't see how a mistake could be made as long as it is honest and true.


"I can't write." 

Don't let the thought of writing intimidate you. You don't have to be a novelist to move people. Everyone has a story to tell and that's your job as a eulogist. Tell people your story.

In the book "A Labor of Love: How to Write a Eulogy," author Garry Schaeffer says a eulogy should convey the feelings and experiences of the person giving the eulogy, and should be written in an informal, conversational tone. Schaeffer dispels the misconceptions that a eulogy should objectively summarize the person's life or speak for all present. Sit down and write from the heart.

Eulogists often write about the person's attributes, memories and common times that were shared together. Sometimes they include the deceased's favorite poems, book passages, scripture verses, quotes, expressions, lines from songs or items that were written by the deceased. Whatever is selected, it generally reflects the loved one's lifestyle.


These questions should get you thinking:

  • How did you and the deceased become close?
  • Is there a humorous or touching event that represents the essence of your passed loved one?
  • What did you and others love and admire about the deceased?


What will you miss most about him or her?

Some of the simplest thoughts are deeply touching and easy for those congregated to identify with. For example, "I'll miss her smile," or "I'll never forget the way he crinkled his nose when he laughed," are just as good as "I admired her selflessness."


"I can't speak in front of people."

It may not be easy, but you can do it. A funeral is one time you'll surely have a kind and empathetic audience. They feel for you and are on your side. You'll only have to speak for five to ten minutes, but your gift will live in the hearts of the deceased's family 

and friends.

If you're worried about choking up or breaking down in the middle of your eulogy, you can take a moment to compose yourself, then carry on, as Schaeffer recommends, or you can have a back up person ready to step in. Give a copy of your eulogy to the minister or funeral director so that person can finish the eulogy if you're unable to continue.


Tips

  • Be honest and focus on the person's positive qualities.
  • Humor is acceptable if it fits the personality of the deceased.
  • "If you are inclined to be a perfectionist, lower your expectations and just do what you can given the short time-frame and your emotional state," writes Schaeffer in "Labor of Love."
  • Keep it brief. Five to ten minutes is the norm, but it's a good idea to verify that with the minister or funeral director.
  • Leo Saguin recommends interviewing family and friends in his book "How to Write and Deliver a Loving Eulogy."
  • Put the eulogy on paper - at least in outline form.


Eulogy or Sharing Time?

If you're planning the funeral, you might want to consider "sharing time" as an alternative to a eulogy. In sharing time, the people congregated pass a microphone or take turns standing up to share their thoughts. It's like a lot of mini eulogies and is more spontaneous.


Books Offering Help, Examples and Inspiration

  • "A Labor of Love: How to Write a Eulogy" by Garry Schaeffer
  • "The Book of Eulogies: A Collection of Memorial Tributes, Poetry, Essays, and Letters of Condolence" by Phyllis Theroux (editor)
  • "How to Write and Deliver a Loving Eulogy" by Leo Seguin
  • "Final Celebrations: A Guide for Personal and Family Funeral Planning" by Kathleen Sublette and Martin Flagg
  • "In Memoriam: A Practical Guide to Planning a Memorial Service" by Amanda Bennett and Terence B. Foley
  • "My Deepest Sympathies: Meaningful Sentiments for Condolence Notes and Conversations, Plus a Guide to Eulogies" by Florence Isaacs
  • "Remembering Well: Rituals for Celebrating Life and Mourning Death" by Sarah York
  • "Readings for Remembrance: A Collection for Funerals and Memorial Services" by Eleanor C. Munro (introduction)
  • "Remembrances and Celebrations: A Book of Eulogies, Elegies, Letters, and Epitaphs" by Jill Werman Harris (editor)

FREQUENTLY ASKED QUESTIONS

Many people have questions that they may or may not feel comfortable asking their funeral director. We hope this will be of some help to you and if you think of something else you would like us to add to this list of questions, please contact us by email or telephone. 


WHAT DO WE DO IF OUR FAMILY DEATH OCCURS AWAY FROM HOME? Our funeral home staff will arrange with another funeral home or mortuary, where the death occurred, to have preparation and transportation made back to our funeral home. We can also help you if you are planning to have a service prior to having the family member returned to your home area.


WHY IS A FUNERAL IMPORTANT?  For thousands of years, funerals have allowed survivors to express their feelings about the death of someone they love. The rituals provide comfort when things seem chaotic and out of control. The funeral is for expressing intense grief. For many, a visitation followed by a funeral or memorial service is the first step in the grieving process. It is a time when friends, family and other guests can come together to grieve openly and to support one another in a community environment. It is also a time to say good-bye. Viewing the deceased can bring a sense of closure to the bereaved who may be in shock and denial.


WHAT DOES A FUNERAL DIRECTOR DO?  

  • Pick up the deceased and transport the body to the funeral home (anytime day or night)
  • Notify proper authorities, family and/or relatives
  • Arrange and prepare death certificates
  • Provide certified copies of death certificates for insurance and benefit processing
  • Work with the insurance agent, social security or Veteran''s Administration to ensure that necessary paperwork is filed for receipt of benefits
  • Prepare and submit obituary to the newspapers of your choice
  • Bathe and embalm the deceased body, if necessary
  • Prepare the body for viewing including dressing and cosmetizing
  • Assist the family with funeral arrangements and purchase of casket, urn, burial vault and cemetery plot
  • Schedule the opening and closing of the grave with cemetery personnel, if a burial is to be performed
  • Coordinate with clergy if a funeral or memorial service is to be held
  • Arrange a police escort and transportation to the funeral and/or cemetery for the family
  • Order funeral sprays and other flower arrangements as the family wishes
  • Provide Aftercare, or grief assistance, to the bereaved


WHAT IS EMBALMING?  It is a process that sanitizes and preserves a dead body. It delays the decomposition process and allows time for viewing and services by the family prior to burial or cremation. It restores a life-like appearance to the body and can enhance the appearance of a body that has undergone a traumatic death or illness. This process can take anywhere from one to three hours to perform. The time spent embalming depends upon the severity of damage to the body, whether it be from traumatic injuries and or by not being able to perform it immediately after notification of the death.


IS EMBALMING REQUIRED WHEN A PERSON DIES?  No, however most states insist on embalming under certain circumstances such as when the death is caused by a contagious disease or if final disposition isn''t made within a certain time frame. Embalming preserves the body, often allowing more time for arrangements. It is required if there will be a visitation. If the deceased is to be directly buried or cremated, embalming is not necessary. 


WHY SHOULD I BUY MY CASKET OR CREMATION CONTAINER FROM YOUR FUNERAL HOME INSTEAD OF A CASKET OR CREMATION DISCOUNT STORE? The casket and cremation discount stores do not have a history of longevity in the business. Several people have purchased units from these stores and before they know it, these stores are out of business within a year or so after the purchase. Because of their short lived existance, many people who have purchased products have ended up with no product to have for their respective service. Casket and cremation retail stores also have limited suppliers for merchandise, therefore on some units, they do not carry any liability agreement on units that may have already been purchased by the family. We purchase our fine quality products from reputable casket and cremation companies who have been in the business for many years. Their products all come with a liability warranty attached on each unit. With cost being very important to the consumer, most all funeral homes are able to sell merchandise at a lesser price than a retail store, as they have other income to offset their overhead. 


IF I CHOOSE TO BE CREMATED, CAN I HAVE A FUNERAL? Yes, cremation can take place either before or after a funeral depending on what type of service you choose. You can have a viewing, funeral/memorial service or burial.

Disposition Options with Cremation

With cremation, you actually have more choices for a final resting place than with a typical earth burial.


Interment

With interment, you can choose burial in the family plot, church garden, or other memorial site. You can also choose a columbarium, which is an arrangement of niches, indoor or outdoor, with memorial identity plaques. This is also sometimes referred to as an urn garden.


Graveside Services

You can choose to have memorial prayers and religious rites performed at the graveside with cremation, just as you can with a typical earth burial. You can also choose to have a marker or monument as a permanent testimony to the life and the history of the deceased, and as a place of pilgrimage for loved ones to visit.

With cremation, you also have other options that aren't available with a typical earth burial.


Scattering the Cremated Remains

Options with scattering remains include scattering within a memorial garden or cemetery; with the comfort of identifying marker, plaque, or memorial book entry to memorialize the loved one; or over water or in some other site loved by the deceased.

You can also do partial scattering, in which some of the cremated remains are scattered and the rest are retained in an urn for interment.


Multiple Urns

Cremated remains can also be placed in two or more urns. This offers the comfort of interment near more than one family member when families are divided by great distances.

Understanding Cremation Options

There are some issues to consider when deciding between cremation and burial. Families may encounter some discomfort with cremation and resistance from family members for a variety of personal reasons.

Will your family be comfortable with cremation? Some family members are disturbed at the thought of death itself, much less cremation, which many perceive as a cold and uninvolved process. They may resist your wishes when the time comes. Address it with your family now if you want to be cremated. You can put their unease to rest, and have peace of mind knowing your wishes will be carried out.

Direct cremation is another option--many people request to eliminate "all the bother of funeral services" for family members. Funeral services aren't provided for the deceased--they're there to help support and comfort the living. Take time to consider family and friends and their need to work through the grieving process before you make this decision. 

Scattering requests should be given careful consideration as well. Emptying the urn of all that remains of a loved one can be a traumatic experience--carefully consider the feelings of the family in deciding whether or not to do this.

Another factor you should consider when deciding whether or not to choose cremation include the fact that crematories are operated by dedicated people with great respect for the deceased.

For purposes of safety and dignity, it's generally required that bodies are cremated in a rigid container such as a casket or other container approved for cremation.

Restrictions on cremation are different from state to state, even from one cemetery to the next. Depending on the final resting place you choose, requirements may include an urn, urn vault, and other items. Making your choices now can help your family down the road. In most cases, cremation satisfies federal clean air requirements.

You should check to ensure that all personal property has been removed from the deceased at the funeral home and returned to the family or executor unless otherwise instructed. Families should also be mindful of valuables and mementos placed with the loved one. For more on the cremation process, and what happens before, during, and after, visit the cremation process information on Funeralplan.com provided by the Cremation Association of North America.

Helping Children Understand Death

by Karen Nilsen

STAR Class Founder for Funeralplan.com

The days surrounding a death can be a confusing and disorienting time for young children. Altered daily routines and unfamiliar sights and sounds can be difficult for them to understand and cope with. Children notice even the most subtle changes in their routines and surroundings. We must validate their feelings and encourage them to share their thoughts, fears, 

and observations of the events taking place around them.

Most important, I believe, is to first find out what your child already knows about death, then what they think they know, and then provide the facts in simple, honest, terms.

Explaining death to children is similar to talking to kids about sex, except that many parents find death a more difficult topic. We often use euphemisms such as "passed away" "Grandpa is sleeping," or "we lost Grandma" instead of the words "dead" and "died." These softened explanations can cause fears in a young child that they too may get lost or go down for a nap and never wake up. Or worse yet, as 4-year-old Clayton asked, “What if I go to sleep and wake up in a casket like my Grandpa?”

Children see the evidence that livings things die in many areas of their lives. They see and hear about it on the television, in movies--even cartoons, and on an ordinary walk in the park or to school, e.g., : a dead bird, a squirrel, or other small animal. They notice the change of the seasons as plants and trees appear to wither and die.

They may have experienced the death of a pet. It's hard not to notice the difference between a live goldfish and one floating motionless on the top of the fish bowl. Death causes changes in a living thing. Very young children may not be able to fully comprehend the complexities, but they are aware that death looks and feels different.

If possible, begin a dialogue with your child about how all living things on this earth will die someday. Death is a reality; we can't hide it from our children. It is the circle of life. If the situation arises where a plant, pet or animal dies, allow the child to investigate it, see it, touch it, even smell it.

With an accepting adult standing close by or holding a child while he/she discovers death on the sidewalk, children often adopt the attitude and the emotion of the adult. Talk about feelings. Share your feelings with your child. Tell him that when someone or something dies, we might feel sad, mad, or confused. And sometimes we might even cry--and that's okay. 

Explain the difference between an "alive" bird and a dead one. When the bird was alive, he could fly, and sing, and eat worms, but now, his body has died. It doesn't work anymore. He cannot see, or hear, or move. His body is dead. You may even hold a "funeral ceremony" for the animal. Explain that a funeral is a time to say good-bye. It is a Special Time to Always Remember.

Another readily available example in a child's world is a simple flower. You can show the child a living flower. Point out its qualities of life--e.g., vibrant color, soft velvety petals, strong sturdy stem and enjoyable fragrance. If you want, you may even discuss the flower's purpose here on earth. It brings us joy, brightens a room, provides food for insects and bees, etc. Then show the child a flower that has died. Compare its qualities to the living flower. The flower has changed. Allow the child to touch and smell the flower.

When talking to a child about the death of a family member or friend, remind them that like the flower, or bird, or pet, the body of their loved one has changed. It cannot see, or hear, or move. Look through photo albums, talk about special memories and their relationship with the deceased. 

Read books available for children. Acknowledge your child's feelings. Reassure them that sad and mad feelings are normal and okay. Allow them to attend the funeral or memorial service for their special person. Encourage them to write a letter or draw a picture that can be placed in the casket or displayed near the urn

You may want to talk about your family's faith tradition. Heaven is another concept which is a life long learning process.

Death IS a frightening concept for all of us. But, with loving explanations, acceptance of feelings and an opportunity to express those feelings, a child can begin to understand that death is a part of life.

Helping Parents Cope With Losing a Spouse

What can you do to help your parent through his or her grief when a spouse dies? This is one of the major losses in life, but there are things you can do to help.

Acceptance--Be accepting and supportive of the new person your parent becomes in the wake of this devastating loss. Support him or her in new ventures and new friendships. Your parent must find a new way to live, and build a new life for himself or herself.

Decisions--Let your parent decide when and how to dispose of the deceased's clothing and personal items. Some may not be ready to do this right away. Others may want to get it over with almost as soon as they get home from the funeral.

Family Traditions--Let your family traditions change and evolve to fit your family's new structure. Don't force things that don't work without the deceased, or that are exceptionally painful without him or her.

Independence--Help your parent be independent. Teach him or her something new that the deceased used to do rather than taking it on yourself. This could be anything from balancing the checkbook to maintaining the car to cooking.

Major Decisions--Encourage your parent to delay making major decisions, such as selling a home or moving to a new part of the country--for at least one year after the death. Discourage other major financial decisions as well.

Money--Your parent may be tempted to loan money to family or friends. Help them resist this urge, at least until they have a better understanding of their new financial circumstances, whether it's for better or worse.

New Life--Encourage your parent to make a new life for himself or herself. Encourage him or her to make new friends, take up new activities, and find new focus in life.

Talking--Talk about the deceased parent. Tell stories, and bring up his or her name often. Talking about the person keeps the memories alive and helps the healing process.

Telephone--Call your parent frequently, and make sure they feel comfortable calling you more often. A surviving parent may become very dependent on his or her children for communication and companionship, at least in the short term.

Helping Others Experiencing Grief

There are many ways to be supportive of a person experiencing the grieving process.

Listening

Listening to grieving people is the most important thing you can do. Listen in a non-judging way, and allow them to tell the story or stories over and over if they need to. Repetition is often a key part of the healing process.


Sharing

Share your memories of the loved one, too. Reflect on the feelings they are experiencing--but as you share, be careful not to start one-upping their feelings, or comparing your loss to theirs. And don't say "I know exactly how you feel." It's usually much more helpful to say something along the lines of "I can't imagine what you must be feeling right now," because most grieving people feel like no one else could know what they're experiencing.

It's also important not to tell people that time heals all wounds, or that their loved one is in a better place. While that may be true (depending on your belief system--and theirs) they're not in a place to hear that at this point.


Timing

Each person recovers from grief at his or her own pace. Some can recover quickly, while others can take a full year or more (this will also depend on the severity of the loss). Be careful not to impose a time limit or tell people to get over it and move on--feeling that they've grieved too long can cause people to suppress their feelings, and slow or stop the healing process.

Understand that grieving people are very likely to have emotional setbacks, even after a long period of healing and outward "improvement." Something could spark a memory that causes them to spiral downwards--dates that were important in the loved one's life, such as birthdays, anniversaries, and holidays, are often triggers for setbacks. Be there for the grieving person as long as (s)he needs you.


Be Tolerant

Remember that there's no definitive way to experience grieving, and that everyone experiences a unique set of feelings or physical symptoms. Understand that the grieving person will always feel the loss, but that he or she will learn to live with it over time.


Celebrate

It may sound strange to talk about celebrating, but it can help grieving people heal. Help them celebrate the life of the loved one they've lost. Help them develop rituals they need to get through the difficult early stages of the grieving process.


Be Watchful

Sometimes grieving people can go to extremes--if you notice signs of suicidal behavior or fear they may harm themselves or others, it's your moral, legal, and ethical duty to refer them to a mental health professional. 

Why Pre-Plan Funeral Services

No one likes to think about death, let alone plan for it. In many families, discussing one's mortality is an extremely uncomfortable topic. But it is a topic that should be discussed and planned for well in advance of your death.

By pre-planning your funeral, you relieve your family of having to make important financial decisions during a period of great stress and grief-a time when people aren't thinking very clearly and may not know what to do because you never made your wishes known.

It's easy to say, "Don't make a fuss. I don't want a ceremony. Just bury me and be done with it." But it is important to realize that the ritual of a funeral and/or memorial service isn't for the deceased but for the living. It is a time when friends and family can gather together to grieve openly and to provide support for one another.

Pre-planning your funeral can be very informal, and as simple as jotting down your preferences and sharing your wishes with a family member. More formal arrangements in the form of a preneed contract can be set up with us and can be pre-funded through life insurance, bank trust agreement, or another method.

Pre-planning, when done properly, can give you peace of mind becaused you know that your arrangements are ready and pre-funded.


By pre-planning your funeral, you can:

  • make all the arrangements during a time of peace and not leave them to your family during their time of grief; 
  • make your wishes known; 
  • control the cost of your funeral and protect from inflation; 
  • ensure that personal records are organized and easy for your survivors to locate; 
  • protect your insurance so that it provides for your survivors and not for funeral expenses; and 
  • provide protection in case the need arises before it is expected; 

The Grieveing Process

Since there's very little grief training in our culture, people are often surprised by how hard their grief hits them. We usually don't know what to expect until we experience a major loss and begin to suffer the consequences.

It's important to understand that grief is a pervasive experience that impacts the whole person--physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. It's also important not to be afraid to experience grief symptoms--many people try to put their grief aside and "get over it," but this only delays the healing process. As you go through the grieving process, 

you'll probably experience three distinct phases of grief.


Shock and Denial

Most people experience this as their initial reaction--shock, a feeling of numbness or unreality, and possibly even denial that the loved one is gone. In this initial phase, our minds begin to adjust to the loss of our loved one.

Because this is such a difficult time, thinking about or experiencing grief constantly is too painful, so we go back and forth between believing the loss has happened and a sense of denial or unreality. It's critical to give yourself time to adjust to the loss and to come to terms with it. This stage can last as long as several weeks.


Disorganization

This is a time of chaos for individuals experiencing grief at the loss of a loved one as they try to adjust to the world without the person in it. During this phase, we are intensely aware of the reality of our loss, but will try almost anything to escape it.

This is a period of exhaustion and intense emotion, and the grieving person will often experience mood swings, sometimes dramatic ones. Normal emotions at this stage include anger, extreme sadness, depression, despair, and extreme jealousy of others who haven't suffered the same loss.

During this stage, people begin to understand all the implications of the loss and begin to rebuild their life. This stage can last a year or more.


Recovery

This stage is also known as acceptance or reorganization. The disrupted stage people go through comes to an end as they find a new balance. People in mourning become aware that the physical signs of their grief are beginning to fade and that they are less exhausted than they once were.

The pain of the loss remains, but the unbearable intensity of it recedes, and people begin to experience hope again. Life begins to seem possible again.

Losing a Child ...Losing Your Future?

It has been said that parents who lose a child also lose the hopes, dreams, and expectations they had for that child. They lose a part of 

themselves. They lose their future because their child represents their sense of ongoing life. Psychologists believe, because of these reasons, the death of a child is possibly the most difficult loss of all to accept.

People who have children often feel that parenting is life’s most important role, regardless of the child’s age. Therefore, the death of a child can be a tremendous assault on a parent’s very identity.


What to Expect

If your child has died, you will most likely experience several common reactions of bereavement. However, your grief can be more acute than normal. You may go into periods of shock and denial. You will likely become depressed. If you are normally a committed, caring person, you could find that you do not care about anything or anyone. You may find yourself preoccupied with the circumstances of your child’s death, recreating them over and over again in your mind. You may think you see or hear your child. You might have dreams and nightmares about them.

The intense grief caused by your child’s death can take a physical toll as well. You may lose weight, have difficulty sleeping, become irritable or listless, or feel short of breath. Grief has even been known to cause hair loss.


Anger and Guilt

Perhaps the most acute feelings you will experience are anger and guilt. Because the death of a child does not follow the normal order of nature, there is a strong urge to place the blame on someone or something. You may be angry at the doctors or nurses who could not cure your child’s illness, or at God for "letting" your 

child die. If your child died because of a traumatic accident, you may be angry at whomever you believe caused it. If your child’s actions partly caused the death, you may be angry at him or her and then feel guilty about your anger toward your child.

Parents often feel terribly guilty for simply living. If you had an argument with your child or had to discipline him or her shortly before the death, you may feel guilty for those actions.

You may feel the most guilt because you believe you should have prevented your child’s death. You may find yourself consumed by thoughts of "if only."

A father tends to suffer guilt over failing to prevent a child’s death. While both parents feel responsible for their child’s safety, men have  often been taught that protecting the family is their primary role.


The Grief Experience

While bereaved parents know they will experience intense grief, their child’s death can have another effect they did not anticipate. The death could alter their feelings toward each other. Almost always, the marriage will never be the same. The change could be for the better 

or for the worse. However, the relationship rarely stays the same.

Parents think their grief will be similar because they have lost the same child. This similar type of mourning rarely happens. The relationship the father mourns is different from the relationship the mother mourns because each parent shared a different relationship with the child.

Fathers may have a more difficult time expressing their grief, believing on some level that "big boys don’t cry," or that they need to be strong for their surviving family. Unfortunately, this may keep fathers from working through their grief and resolving it. It may become necessary to seek counseling or spiritual help.

Couples may experience difficulty in communicating after the death of their child. The intensity of grief comes at different times for each parent. One parent may use work as an escape while the other finds solace in photo albums and home videos. Dad may feel the need to box up and store the child’s personal belongings while Mom cannot bear to look at them. A physical resemblance to the dead child can also cause difficulties between the parents.

A child’s death may cause sexual problems within a marriage as well. Time, patience, and communication are key elements to resolving these problems. It is not uncommon for these effects to last up to two years or more following the child’s death.


Answering the Questions of Your Other Children

Your other children will look to you to explain the death to them. A child’s questions will depend on their age, but your answers should always be honest. Guard against telling children that their brother or sister is "sleeping," or that "God wanted their brother or sister." These may simply cause other fears in your children that may be more difficult to resolve than a more direct answer. Be direct, without offering more information than necessary.

Young children sometimes fantasize that they caused the death by being mean to the deceased sibling or by fighting with them. In this case, it is important to assure your child that he/she had nothing to do with their brother’s or sister’s death.

Remember, your other children need to resolve their grief. They will take their cues from you, so support them in their grief by being open in showing yours. You will not do them any favors by protecting them from the grieving process; in fact, there is no way you can.


Dealing with Grief

It may not be possible to work through your grief alone. We can recommend support groups, counselors, books, and videos which deal specifically with child bereavement. Ask us to recommend a specific book, or visit your local library.

It is important for parents to realize that severe grief can make them feel like they’re going crazy. If you are afraid your grief is out of control, you might consider asking your clergy, doctor, or funeral director to suggest a counselor. You may be relieved to find that your problems, in this situation, are normal.

Finally, remember that other people will likely feel very awkward around you because they will not know what to say. You can help bridge the gap by simply telling them what you need and letting them know if it is all right to mention your deceased child.

Losing Your Spouse, Losing the Present

How can one possibly absorb the shock of the death of a mate? No matter how many years you have shared, memories of courtship, lifelong plans, and your marriage are most difficult to bear. Not to mention what has been left behind: children and grandchildren; dreams yet to be fulfilled. These memories are part of your past and the death of your spouse is something you must deal with today. The thought of which is painful at the very least.


Reactions to Death

If your spouse has died, you will probably experience some of the common symptoms of grief. You will very likely go into shock and denial. You may experience feelings similar to what an amputee goes through, where they actually "feel" pain in the missing limb. In the case of a lost loved one, you’ll “see” them sitting in their favorite chair or coming through the front door. This "phantom" pain may manifest itself in hearing their voice calling from another room. Their cologne or perfume lingers in closets and throughout the home you shared, evoking powerful feelings.

You may feel "numb," like a spectator watching events unfold. This is nature’s way of protecting you from what is happening while your life is in transition.

You may also find yourself filled with anger. You may feel angry at the doctors or nurses who couldn’t save your spouse, or maybe even with God. You may feel anger toward your spouse for leaving you, and then feel guilty for this anger.

In fact, guilt can be one of the toughest feelings to overcome in your grief recovery. It is common, in transition, to feel guilty simply for being alive when someone else has died. You may believe you somehow could have prevented the death, or should have been present to say good-bye.

Because relationships are never perfect, you undoubtedly had unresolved issues at the time of death. These can be very difficult to overcome, and many choose to seek counseling to help bring about closure.

Powerful reactions to grief are most often unexpected by the bereaved. The effects are physical as well as mental. The feeling of being alone causes your mind to race. You cannot sleep. You cannot think clearly. Your muscles are tense and your body aches.

It is not unusual to experience nausea, dizziness, rashes, weight loss, in addition to difficulty in sleeping. You may become irritable or listless, feel fatigued, or short of breath. Grief has even been known to cause hair loss.


As the Shock Wears Off 

The acceptance of your spouse’s death will slowly become a reality. You may think "My life will never be the same again." "I cannot change what has happened to me." "Oh God, what am I going to do now?" A course of grief recovery depends partly on your age and mostly on your individual situation.

A surviving spouse from a younger, two-income family may end up in a tight financial situation; not to mention any children to consider, as the transition to a single-parent household is made.

Profound loneliness occurs when future plans include having children and the opportunity is lost by the death of a spouse. This is especially true if the bereaved feels a child would have been a living part of the mate who died.

"Empty-nesters" feel the effects of a spouse’s death in other ways. The fact that the house is completely empty now, precipitates an entirely different level of loneliness. This is especially true in marriages that have lasted many years, where plans for a long and enjoyable retirement were disrupted by a spouse’s death.

Losing your life companion can leave you feeling confused and panicky at any age. For this reason, you should delay making any major decisions. Try to postpone them until you can think more clearly and have a better idea of how your life is going to change. Antoine de Saint-Exup’ery wrote, "... you cannot plant an acorn in the morning and expect that afternoon to sit in the shade of the oak."

You have grown accustomed to living a certain life-style and engaging in favorite activities with your spouse. You are used to being the object of your spouse’s love. For example, a woman who becomes a widow didn’t just lose her husband. She lost her best friend, her confidant, her "knight in shining armor."

The death of your spouse can also change the relationship you had with mutual friends. Those same friends you socialized with as a couple, may have a difficult time interacting with you as an individual. You may begin to feel like the "fifth wheel." Life without your spouse may steer you in the direction of a new circle of friends. Many times, lasting friendships develop between people who met in grief support groups. Your loss is a common bond.


Coping

How can you overcome the problems you face after your spouse has died? First, you must recognize that grief is necessary; it is something you must work through. There are no shortcuts.

It is important to express your feelings. Take time to cry. Don’t be afraid to share your tears with others. Express your anger when you feel the need. Talk openly with family members and friends; this is a time to lean on them. Some of your friends may feel awkward for awhile because they don’t know how to talk to you about your loss. You can help them by simply telling them what your needs are. Don’t try to protect your children or other family members by hiding your sadness.

If you normally have a pressing schedule, try to lighten it. Remember, grief is mentally taxing; you do not need the added strain of too much to do. Set aside some quiet time for yourself, time when you can think about your spouse’s death and put things into perspective.

If you are worried that you are not coping well with your grief, consider talking to a counselor. You may be relieved to discover that you are reacting normally. If you believe you need help, ask your clergy, doctor, or funeral director to suggest a counselor who will help you through your transition.

Many bereaved spouses find adjusting to life without a partner becomes easier if they talk to others in the same situation. You might want to consider joining a local support group. Ask us for information regarding local groups specifically for those who have lost a spouse.

After some time and effort, you will adjust to your new life and your grief will diminish. This does not mean you must forget your loved one; it means you have accepted the death and can begin to live each day in the present, savoring the memories as part of your new life. In fact, many agree the best way to honor a loved one who died, is to live a life full of friendship and even new love.

Dealing properly with your grief can make it all possible.

Mourning the Death of Your Pet

Having a beloved pet die is traumatic and painful, and the most natural thing in the world is to have intense feelings of grief and sadness. Our pets give us unconditional love, are always there to patiently listen to us when we need to talk, and are often our best friend.

Even though psychologists have long maintained the grief that pet owners experience after the death of their pet is comparable to the grief suffered after the death of a family member, society doesn’t offer a grieving pet owner much sympathy or compassion. Consequently, pet owners often feel isolated in their grief, and are without the support they so desperately need.

When a person dies, friends and relatives show their support by attending the funeral or memorial service. Even in weeks following the funeral, people usually continue to provide comfort to the bereaved person in a number of different ways. Usually when a pet dies there is no funeral, no memorial service; often friends and family members don’t understand the depth of the loss that is felt.


Stages of Grief

The emotions that you may experience after the death of a pet often go through various stages, such as denial, anger, depression, and finally, acceptance. Don’t be surprised at the overwhelming grief that you feel; when you love profoundly, you will mourn profoundly. The 

intensity and length of the grieving process depends on many factors, but a lack of support prolongs your feelings of anguish. You may want to seek the help of a counselor or a pet loss support group, which are often sponsored by local Humane Societies and/or veterinarians. As time passes, your pain will subside as you focus more on the good times and wonderful memories of your pet, and not on the death. Even though the grief and pain may be intense right now, don’t rule out 

someday having another pet. A new pet could never replace your dearly loved companion, but will fulfill your need to nurture and care for a pet -- once again providing you with that treasured unconditional love.


Helping Children Cope with the Death of a Pet

Although children tend to grieve for shorter periods of time, they can be as initially devastated as an adult can by the death of a pet, if not more so. Although each will react differently, some things can prove helpful to a child:

  • Encourage your child to talk openly about their pet. Include your child in all family discussions and talk about death and dying honestly. If you can be honest and open about your own grief, your child won’t be as likely to hold back their emotions or feel alone. 
  • Give your child plenty of comfort and hugs. 
  • Make sure to inform their teacher about the death of their pet. 
  • Never tell your child that the pet was "put to sleep," or that "God took your pet." Your child may start to have fears that God will "take" them, their siblings, or you; and your child also may become frightened of going to sleep. 
  • Encourage your child to cherish the happy memories of their pet, and help them say good-bye in whatever way they choose. 


Can Other Family Pets Grieve?

Animals can become very attached to each other when they coexist in the same household, and can display intense symptoms of stress when they are separated. They may become depressed, nervous, or restless, or they may begin having disturbances in their sleeping and eating patterns. They may also wander around, seeking their companion, or they may become more needy and desire undivided attention from you. If your pet displays any of these symptoms, the following guide may be helpful:

  • Don’t overdo when it comes to giving your pet extra attention; it may lead to problems with separation anxiety. 
  • Don’t let your pet’s normal routine be interrupted; continue all the regular activities you usually do with him/her. 
  • Do be flexible and patient. If your pet doesn’t seem to have an appetite, don’t try changing food or feeding times. Allow your pet to go at their own pace; however, consult your veterinarian if there is a drastic change in eating patterns for any extended period of time. 
  • Don’t get a new pet immediately. Give your surviving pet (and yourself) time to mourn. 


Helping the Healing Process

As time passes, healing will occur, but there are several things you can do for yourself in the meantime:

  • Give yourself permission to mourn, and consider avoiding others who don’t understand. 
  • Take time to heal. Don’t let anyone tell you how long a "normal" grieving period should be. 
  • Lean on friends and family. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; you may want to take advantage of support groups for grieving pet owners. 
  • Remember to get plenty of rest, eat sensibly and exercise. 
  • Memorialize your pet in whatever way you feel comfortable. You will find closure and, at the same time, pay meaningful tribute to your beloved pet. 

Grief is more than likely the most difficult emotion a person can experience, especially when someone is mourning the death of their precious pet. However, more and more resources are becoming available to help us recognize that feelings of grief are completely natural, and above all, that we are not alone.

Coping Through the Holidays After Losing a Loved One

Halloween barely passes before stores stock their shelves with holiday decorations. Christmas carols echo through shopping malls, and the first of the holiday commercials hits the airwaves. If you've lost a loved one, these can be stark reminders that the holidays won't be the same.

Whether your loved one died recently or decades ago, the holidays bring forth powerful memories that may trigger your grief. If the person died on or near a holiday, the two events are forever linked and may be particularly painful, especially if you have unresolved feelings about the lost relationship.

When trying to cope with grief, it's important to understand that grief is cumulative. We don't experience a loss, move through predetermined emotional stages, then emerge on the other side.

This holiday season, if the first Christmas card you open or the first "Happy Hanukkah!" you hear starts to bring on sadness, use that opportunity to work through your feelings. Don't just ignore those feelings. Here are some tips to help you cope. 


DO:

  • Expect to have some pain. When the feelings come, let them. 
  • Accept a few invitations to be with close family or friends. Choose the ones that sound most appealing at the time and avoid the ones that feel more like obligation. 
  • Talk about your feelings. Let people know if you're having a tough day. 
  • Incorporate your loved one into the holidays: 
  • Share your favorite stories over dinner. 
  • Make a toast or light a candle in remembrance. 
  • Make a donation in his or her name. 
  • Help others: 
  • Take a meal to a homebound couple. 
  • Volunteer in a shelter or soup kitchen. 
  • "Adopt" a family to buy presents or food for.


Modify or make new traditions if it feels right. Just remember to include others who are grieving, especially children, in the decision. If the idea of holiday shopping overwhelms you, buy gifts online or through catalogs. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones. Prepare yourself for January. Sometimes the aftermath of the holidays can bring more sadness than the holidays themselves.


DON'T:

  • Don't hide your feelings from children in an effort to be strong for them or protect them. You'll only be teaching them to deny their own feelings. 
  • Don't isolate yourself. Although you may not feel much like celebrating, accept a few invitations. 
  • Don't accept every invitation or throw yourself into work in an effort to keep busy. It may only add more stress. 
  • Don't expect to go through defined stages of grief. Every person is different and every relationship is unique. 
  • Don't act as if your loved one never lived. 
  • Don't be afraid to cry. Crying is like the valve on a pressure cooker. It lets the steam out.


If someone you know is grieving:

  • Encourage him or her to talk about their feelings. Listen to them. 98 percent of people who have recently lost someone want to talk about the person who died. 
  • Let them cry. 
  • Don't pretend their loved one didn't die - it's okay to say the deceased's name. 
  • Don't say things like: 
  • "At least he's not suffering anymore" 
  • "She's in a better place." 
  • "I know you'll miss him." 
  • "I know how you feel."


Resources:

Grief Recovery Institute® 

www.grief-recovery.com 

(818) 907-9600 

Holiday Hotline: (800) 445-4808 


Fernside 

www.fernside.org 

(513) 841-1012 


National Funeral Directors Association 

www.nfda.org 

(800) 228-6332 or (262) 789-1880 


GriefNet.org 

www.griefnet.org 


Books:

  • "The Grief Recovery Handbook: The Action Program for Moving Beyond Death, Divorce and Other Losses" by John W. James and Russell Friedman 
  • "I'm Grieving As Fast As I Can: How Young Widows and Widowers Can Cope and Heal" by Linda Sones Feinberg 
  • "Gone but Not Lost: Grieving the Death of a Child" by David W. Wiersbe 
  • "Remembering With Love: Messages of Hope for the First Year of Grieving and Beyond" by Elizabeth Levang, Sherokee Ilse 
  • "Life Is Goodbye, Life Is Hello: Grieving Well Through All Kinds of Loss" by Alla Renee Bozarth, et al. 
  • "When Your Friend Is Grieving: Building a Bridge of Love" by Paula D'Arcy 
  • "How Can I Help?: How to Support Someone Who Is Grieving" by June Cerza Kolf 
  • "Healing Your Grieving Heart: 100 Practical Ideas" by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. 
  • "Helping Your Grieving Heart for Teens" by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D. 
  • "The Grieving Teen: A Guide for Teenagers and Their Friends" by Helen Fitzgerald 
  • "When Children Grieve" by John W. James and Russell Friedman with Dr. Leslie Landon Matthews 
  • "The Grieving Child: A Parent's Guide" by Helen Fitzgerald, Elizabeth Kubler-Ross 
  • "35 Ways to Help a Grieving Child" by The Dougy Center for Grieving Children 
  • "Nobody's Child Anymore: Grieving, Caring and Comforting When Parents Die" by Barbara Bartocci 

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Vital Statistics

  1. Full name and complete address
  2. How long at current/former residence(s)
  3. Occupation, job title, nature of work, and history
  4. Location of workplace
  5. Social security number
  6. Veteran's serial number
  7. Date and place of service, date of discharge
  8. Date of birth
  9. Place of birth
  10. Family origin
  11. Father's name
  12. Mother's maiden name
  13. Educational attainment


Paperwork and Documents to Collect

  1. Will
  2. Birth certificate
  3. Social security card
  4. Marriage license
  5. Military discharge
  6. Insurance policies (life, health, accident, property, auto)
  7. Bank books
  8. Stocks and bonds
  9. Property deed
  10. Cemetery deed
  11. Auto titles
  12. Tax returns, receipts, and cancelled checks


Decisions to Make

  1. Exact location of burial/disposition
  2. Location of service
  3. Casket
  4. Outer burial container
  5. Items for memento display
  6. Clothing and jewelry for deceased
  7. Service type (religious, fraternal, military)
  8. Selection of scripture and readings (poems, etc.)
  9. Clergy to officiate
  10. Register book, memorial/prayer cards
  11. Casketbearers
  12. Floral arrangements
  13. Music selections
  14. Transportation for family and guests, including funeral procession lineup

While your friends resolve to make 2003 the year they finally lose weight, get fit and kick those unhealthy habits, why not do yourself and your loved ones a favor and complete your estate and funeral planning? It's certainly ewww.estateplanforyou.comasier than dropping those last 10 pounds, and making your wishes known now will give you and your family peace of mind.

A nation faces the inevitable

Estate and funeral planning used to be dreaded tasks many of us knew we needed to do but never quite got around to. The Sept. 11 tragedy has jolted our collective procrastination. Lawyers around the country are reporting a rise in will requests and their clients' urgency to complete them. They're noticing younger clients from all walks of life. The New York Times, The Washington Post, USA Today and other publications have reported the trend.


Why plan ahead?

Estate planning can: 

  • save your family financial and emotional strain. 
  • designate a personal guardian for minor children. 
  • provide for children with special needs. 
  • reserve funds for college. 
  • preserve a family business. 
  • ensure that money, valuables and family heirlooms go to the people you want to have them. 
  • and much more, depending on the plan you choose.

Funeral planning can: 

  • ensure your wishes for your funeral or memorial service, burial and other details are carried out. 
  • save your family from having to make difficult decisions in their time of grief. 
  • prevent family squabbles and speculation about your wishes. 
  • pay for funeral services in advance.


Planning your estate

Making your wishes known doesn't necessarily have to be complicated or expensive. Most people are familiar with wills. You can type one up yourself or buy a kit, but if you have children or a lot of assets, financial planners usually recommend consulting an attorney. If your estate is simple and you decide to do it yourself, know that most states require that wills be typewritten, name an executor and be signed by two witnesses who are not beneficiaries.

Keep in mind that wills, even those prepared by attorneys, go through court (probate). Probate can be time consuming, stressful for your family and costly to your estate. Consider consulting an estate planner about alternatives to wills. Some options avoid probate and certain taxes.

Wills only go into effect upon your death, so they're no help if you become incapacitated. If that happens, your case will go through living probate and the court will appoint someone to handle your affairs. If you die without a will (intestate), the state will decide who gets your money, your valuables, even your children.


Planning your own funeral

Funeral or memorial service? Burial or cremation? Not sure what you want? Then imagine how your family will feel when they're forced to make those decisions when you die. Save them the added turmoil, potential disagreements and second-guessing. Make those decisions now and let them know what you want. It can be as easy as typing up your wishes and giving it to a trusted family member, friend or attorney, though we invite you to contact our funeral home to understand all of the options available to you and your family.


Are preneed plans safe?

The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) has issued consumer protection guidelines for preneed contracts, consumer tips on prepaying your funeral and a consumer bill of rights. You may want to review them at www.nfda.org before you sign on the dotted line. Our funeral home abides by the guidelines set forth by the NFDA.


You might also consider involving your family or loved ones in the preparation of your funeral arrangements. After all, the funeral service is really for the living. Consult with family about what type of arrangements they would like to remember you. For example, you may desire a direct cremation, but your spouse may prefer going through a more traditional funeral program. There are many choices to accommodate both desires. Contact us to help you with these choices when pre-planning.


Resources:

  • American Academy of Estate Planning Attorneys, www.estateplanforyou.com 
  • National Funeral Directors Association, www.nfda.org, (800) 228-6332 or (262) 789-1880. 
  • The Consumer Federation of America, www.consumerfed.org

A funeral can and should be as unique as the life that is being celebrated. Don't feel that you have to have a cookie cutter type of service or that your ideas for a special ceremony are foolish. 

You shouldn't feel pressured or rushed into making a decision. We want to help you make the arrangements that you want.

Personalizing a funeral or memorial service can be very therapeutic--it gives you and your family something to concentrate on as you relive memories. It's also welcomed by family and friends attending a visitation or service because it gets them involved and provides a topic of conversation when they might otherwise not know what to say. We offer many ways to personalize a service. 

Ask questions and make suggestions; we want to assist you in any way we can to ensure that your loved one is memorialized in a meaningful way.

To Remember Me - a poem by Robert N. Test

Give my sight to the man who has never seen a sunrise, a baby's face, or love in the eyes of a woman.

Give my heart to a person whose own heart has caused nothing but endless days of pain.

Give my blood to the teenager who was pulled from the wreckage of his car, so that he might live to see his grandchildren play.

Give my kidneys to one who depends on a machine to exist from week to week.

Take my bones, every muscle, every fiber and nerve in my body and find a way to make a crippled child walk.

If you must bury something, let it be my faults, my weaknesses, and all prejudice against my fellow man.

Give my sins to the devil.

Give my soul to God.

If, by chance, you wish to remember me, do it with a kind deed or word to someone who needs you. If you do all I have asked, I will live forever.

When we think of November holidays, chances are Thanksgiving springs to mind first. But the first November holiday we celebrate in America is Veterans Day on November 11, which is our day to give thanks to the men and women who have served in the military. This Veterans Day, take a moment to reflect on the sacrifices veterans have made and thank a veteran in your community.


A History – Celebration and Tribute

Veteran’s Day, originally called Armistice Day, began November 11, 1919. President Woodrow Wilson commemorated the first anniversary of the end of World War I (which ended at 11 a.m. on November 11, 1918). He paid tribute to Allied soldiers who lost their lives in "the war to end all wars." November 11 became a holiday, under different names, in the U.S., France, the United Kingdom and Canada.


In 1954, the holiday became known as Veterans Day in America to honor American veterans, living and dead, who served honorably in the military during war or peace. According to the Veterans Administration, there are 25 million living veterans. Veterans Day reminds us to thank them for their service while they are living, and to celebrate the freedoms they have protected.


In addition to expressing our appreciation to living veterans, Americans pay tribute to those who lost their lives fighting for our freedoms. The official national ceremony for Veterans Day is held each Nov. 11 at 11 a.m. at the Tomb of the Unknowns in Arlington National Cemetery. Color guards from all U.S. military services "Present Arms" at the tomb, a presidential wreath is laid and a bugler plays "Taps."



What You Can Do

Korean and Vietnam War veteran Robert W. Skelton, Chief Warrant Officer, U.S. Army (Retired) of Lynn Haven, FL says, "I was honored to serve my country with distinction as did my father, brothers and uncles before me. The sense of pride in all veterans is tantamount to the preservation of our freedoms and way of life. Thank a veteran every day, not just on Veterans Day." Here are some ways you can say "thanks."


  • Simply say "thank you" to someone who has served
  • Attend a Veterans Day parade or public ceremony
  • Fly an American flag
  • Donate time or money to a veteran’s organization
  • Write a letter or poem expressing your gratitude. Ask the editor of your local paper to publish it
  • Send a card, letter or care package to someone who is serving our country away
    from home
  • Learn more about America’s military history by reading a nonfiction book or asking veterans to share their experiences
  • If you’re a veteran, share your experiences with someone. The Veteran’s History Project, administered by the Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, is collecting and preserving audio and videotaped oral histories, letters, diaries, maps, photographs, home movies and other documentary materials of American veterans and those who’ve worked in support of them.

Learn More

Here are some websites where you can learn more or look for other ideas on honoring veterans in your community:

What to Do When Someone Dies

Whether you received a 2 a.m. phone call with news of an unexpected death or shared your loved one's final moments of a long illness, your initial reaction to the death was likely shock. It doesn't seem to matter how prepared we are - or aren't - a loved one's death often leaves us feeling numb and bewildered. If you're responsible for making the funeral arrangements or executing the will, shock and grief can be immobilizing. Even simple decisions can be overwhelming.


Making the first phone calls

What to do first depends on the circumstances of the death. When someone dies in a hospital or similar care facility, the staff will usually take care of some arrangements, such as contacting the funeral home you choose, and if necessary, arranging an autopsy. You will need to notify family, friends and clergy. It may be easier on you to make a few phone calls to other relatives or friends and ask each of them to make a phone call or two to specific people, so the burden of spreading the news isn't all on you. If you are alone, ask someone to keep you company while you make these calls and try to cope with the first hours after the death.


When someone dies at home or at work

If a person dies at home or at work, first call 911 or the emergency phone number in your area. According to Eva Shaw, author of "What to Do When a Loved One Dies," any death occurring without a physician or medical personnel in attendance must be reported to the police and an investigation held. After the coroner's examination, the body will either be transported to the morgue for autopsy or to the funeral home of your choice, depending on the circumstances of death.

If your loved one was under medical care, be sure to notify the doctor. If you don't know the doctor's name, look for prescription bottles or medical bills. If the person was under the care of a hospice program, call the hospice organization instead of 911


Call the funeral director

Whatever the circumstances of death, one of your first calls should be to a licensed funeral director. We can help you:

  • transport the body
  • obtain a death certificate
  • select a casket, urn and/or grave marker
  • arrange the funeral, memorial and/or burial service
  • prepare the obituary
  • help you notify the deceased's employer, attorney, insurance company and banks
  • offer grief support or direct you to other resources

Call the employer

If your loved one was working, you'll need to call his or her employer immediately. Ask about the deceased's benefits and any pay due, including vacation or sick time, disability income, etc. Ask if you or other dependents are still eligible for benefit coverage through the company. Ask whether there is a life insurance policy through the employer, who the beneficiary is and how to file a claim.


Call the life insurance company

Look through the deceased's paperwork for the life policy. Call the agent or the company and ask how to file a claim. Usually the beneficiary (or the beneficiary's guardian, if a minor) must complete the claim forms and related paperwork. You'll need to submit the death certificate and a claimant's statement to establish proof of claim. Remember to ask about payment options. You may have a choice between receiving a lump sum or the having the insurance company place the money in an interest-bearing account from which you can write checks.


Call Social Security and other organizations

Notify Social Security of the death. If your loved one was covered, the spouse or dependents may be eligible for certain payments or benefits. Also call any unions, professional or service organizations your loved one belonged to. He or she may have had life insurance or other benefits through these organizations.


Gather important papers

Of course the first thing you may be looking for when someone dies is the will or trust. But remember to gather other important papers, such as deeds, business agreements, tax returns, bank accounts, earnings statements, birth and marriage certificates, military discharge papers, Social Security Number, vehicle registration, loan payment books, bills, and any other important papers pertaining to your loved one's affairs. You'll need these to file a final tax return and settle the estate; you may want to consult an accountant.


Executing the will

If you were named the executor of your loved one's will, you've got more work to do. First, you'll need to file a probate case with the court. Although an attorney isn't required in most states, you'll probably want to hire one who is experienced in probate. You may choose to hire the lawyer who prepared the will, but that isn't necessary.


Depending on the specifics of the estate, probate can be complicated and lengthy. As executor, you'll be responsible for carrying out your loved one's wishes according to the will, paying creditors and balancing the estate. There's no standard amount of time a probate lasts, but some states are initiating laws to expedite the process.


Dying intestate - without a will

If someone dies without a will - dying intestate - the court will appoint an administrator. If you are appointed administrator, your responsibilities will be similar to those of an executor: distributing assets, paying creditors and balancing the estate.


Accessing bank accounts

If you have a joint account with the deceased you may be able to conduct business as usual, depending upon how the account was opened. Otherwise, normally only the will's executor or administrator can access the account after providing the required paperwork to the bank. Call or visit the bank to find out what is required.



Finding help

Wrapping up your loved one's affairs can be tedious and stressful. Find guidance you can trust to help you work out the details, such as a funeral director, accountant, attorney, grief counselor and/or clergy to help you manage the legal, financial and emotional issues a death can bring.


Resources:

  • "The Mourning Handbook: The Most Comprehensive Resource Offering Both Practical and Compassionate Advice on Coping with All Aspects of Death and Dying" by Helen Fitzgerald
  • "I Wasn't Ready to Say Goodbye: Surviving, Coping and Healing after the Sudden Death of a Loved One" by Brook Noel and Pamela D. Blair
  • "How to Go On Living When Someone You Love Dies" by Therese A. Rando, Ph.D.
  • "What to Do When a Loved One Dies: a practical and compassionate guide to dealing with death on life's terms" by Eva Shaw (Dickens Press, 1994).
  • "Step by Step: Your Guide to Making Practical Decisions When a Loved One Dies" by Ellen Shaw, (Quality Life Resources, 2001).
  • AARP, www.aarp.org

The purpose of a funeral is to provide a way of commemorating a life and drawing together friends and family members so that they can support each other as they share memories. Although different religious communities have created set formats or rituals that they follow in conducting funeral services, there really is not a right or wrong way to do a funeral.

The most important thing to keep in mind when creating a service or commemoration is that it should be reflective of the person who has died. While religious elements may play a part, it should also include stories about the person's life that help everyone recapture and revisit their own memories. Sometimes this is best accomplished by having friends or family members share their reflections as part of the service. Some people personalize the service with special music (which may be religious or non-religious). Others bring in pictures to have at the service. Sometimes favorite things that belonged to the deceased are integrated into the ceremony such as wood carvings, golf clubs or even a motor cycle.

The goal is to give a true sense of who this person was. There is nothing wrong with telling funny stories about the person who died: a funeral recognizes the sad event of a death, but can include humor.

Whether or not an open casket is part of the ceremony is an individual family choice. The main reason that we have any "viewing," is because that allows people to have a physical presence to focus on when saying their goodbyes. Since most people are very visually inclined by 

nature, it seems to help them to see the person for the death to be "real" to them and allows them to better focus to begin to tidy up the loose ends that they have with this person. A funeral helps people begin to complete their relationship with the person who died, and sometimes seeing the body helps.

The value of the service depends on how it is constructed. Our family attempts to create funerals that leave families and friends feeling very lucky that the deceased was a part of their lives: the music, the stories, the whole nature of the person being well integrated into the service that it captures just who they were.

Have a will drawn up by an attorney. Leave one copy with him or her and one with a trusted friend or family member (e.g., the principal beneficiary, your spouse, your child, etc.)

One thing you should not do is put your will in a bank vault or safe deposit box. Keep your will and other important papers in another safe place. Safe deposit boxes are often sealed for a period of time at the owner's death.

Make sure your insurance coverage is up to date. Major changes in life circumstances such as marriage, the birth or adoption of a child, divorce, or retirement can change your insurance needs.

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