Don’t you just love the Pearls Before Swine comic strip? I purchased the rights to use one classic Pearls cartoon on the cover of A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die. This is where the subtitle comes from.
Today’s Pearls cartoon is another good one.
Pig and Goat are talking. Goat says, “Did you hear that the Grim Reaper Guy is moving back into the house next door to you? I guess he and Mrs. Death were separated for a while.”
Pig says, “Yeah. I sure missed Mr. Death. I’m even making a sign on behalf of the neighborhood welcoming him back.” In the next panel, you see the sign says “This town welcomes Death” (with little smiley faces on either side).
Goat says, “Maybe we could re-word that.” Pig says, “How ’bout this?” while holding up another sign that says, “Eagerly awaiting Death.”
Perhaps this is the start of a great series! Stay tuned…
Funeral planning doesn’t have to be painful, especially if done before there’s a death in the family. So many folks are reluctant to accept their own mortality and reluctant to make these preparations, but it makes such a big difference when done in advance.
So, in a rather different “things to do before you die” list, here are three things you should consider while you’re still in a position to do so:
1. Make yourself comfortable
Nobody wants to spend their closing days in discomfort or pain, so make the most of your later years and make yourself comfortable.
Whether this means you take more vacations, visit the family, or if you need it, have chair lifts fitted in your home is unimportant – what matters is that you are happy and comfortable.
2. Sort out your finances
This is the biggest area you need to consider, so take your time. When looking at funeral plans, shop around to compare prices and personalities, and get professional help when writing your will.
If you want to make provisions for your healthcare later in life, check out long term care insurance when you’re still healthy. Advance directives, medical power of attorney designations and ‘living wills’ outline how you want to be cared for should you become unable to make such decisions yourself.
3. Finalize the details
Do you want to be buried, cremated, or donate your body to science? Would your family go for a religious funeral or wild party? Who’s going to get which of your prized possessions and what’s going to happen to your home?
If you had chair lifts for stairs fitted in your home, these might need to be removed before putting the house on the market, so look into whether this can be managed by the company who fitted them.
Today’s Pickles cartoon looks at old long-time couples and what happens when one spouse dies.
Earl and Opal are sitting on the porch when Opal says, “My mother died at the age of 84, and 2 months later my Dad died. I guess he couldn’t bear to go on without her. I hope if I go first you’ll follow his example.”
Earl asks, “Because you’d miss me so much?” Opal replies, “Of course, but I also don’t like the idea of you having fun without me.”
We see the phenomenon of long-time couples dying within months of each other all the time. My grandparents on my Dad’s side both died at the age of 83, five months apart. Grandma Dot died in January and Grandpa Ben died in early May. We’re coming up on the anniversary of his death. Guess this cartoon just struck a cord with me.
Recently, I was a model in a fashion show with five other women. We’re all breast cancer survivors. We got to wear swanky clothes from Chico’s, get makeup done by Mary Kay Cosmetics, and take a spin on the catwalk.
After showing off two outfits, each model got to tell her individual experience with breast cancer and survival. Our group ranged from one year done with treatment to a number of years in the past, with a wide range of different treatments.
The fashion show was one of the educational sessions associated with the Nancy Floyd Haworth Foundation annual Celebration of Hope event. The seminar was called “Look Good and Feel Great: Take a Look at Me Now!”
It was such an inspiration to hear each woman’s story. Here’s a YouTube video of my talk in the second fashion show. The first show, with all the talks and the fashion show, is coming soon!
A great piece about funeral planning trends appeared in the Wall Street Journal a while ago. It offers great insights about making the party no one wants to plan a true reflection of a life.
Planning That Final Party by Kathleen A. Hughes
When my friend Margaret Goldsmith, a stylish Los Angeles real-estate agent, was battling ovarian cancer, she spent hours on the phone with her sister, Elizabeth, planning the details of her own memorial service.
“She called herself the ultimate party planner,” says Elizabeth. Margaret wanted the gathering at the Ebell of Los Angeles, a historic landmark; she wanted a friend to play bagpipes and another to sing “I’ll Fly Away” from the film “O Brother, Where Art Thou?”
After she passed away last year, at age 55, the service was spectacular and moving. Her husband, a cinematographer, assembled a slide show about her life. Her best friend told hilarious stories about their European travels in the 1970s. Her brother-in-law, a screenwriter, delivered an entertaining story about his entry into the family.
Laughing and crying, I had another thought: If something suddenly happened to my husband, how would I ever put together such a wonderful ceremony in a state of grief? And what if something happens to me suddenly? My husband is really busy. Maybe I should make my own memorial slide show now, at age 55. He’ll never get it done.
While religion and family tradition have dictated last rites for hundreds of years, funerals today are changing dramatically. Baby boomers, in particular, are shifting to more personalized-and less religious-memorial services, often calling them “A Celebration of Life.”
The Internet is helping propel and shape the changes. Some funeral homes will stream a funeral service or create a webcast for those who can’t attend. Online videos offer tutorials to help choose between cremation and burial. Burial plots are now listed on eBay.
“A lot of this is happening so fast that we are grappling to keep up,” says Ronald K. Barrett, who specializes in death and dying as head of the psychology department at Loyola Marymount University in Los Angeles. “It’s having a major impact on how people grieve.”
And on how they plan. A website launched three years ago, MyWonderfulLife.com, helps people design their own funerals. Those who sign up can enter their wishes in an online book and send loved ones a link by email.
The home page of the site-which has almost 10,000 members, according to its owners-says, “You only get one chance to make a last impression.” There are sections on trends in funerals, including “going green in the grave” with a biodegradable coffin, and fall-themed tips on flowers and on pumpkin cocktails for toasts to the deceased.
Starting the Conversation
Logging on may make it easier to have a conversation about death. After Bobbie Jo Ryan’s father, Robert Cox, was placed in hospice care two years ago, she called him and said, “I’m coming up there to plan your funeral with you.” Ms. Ryan, a 33-year-old graphic designer, drove for 20 hours to her father’s home in Linn Grove, Iowa.
After a day of visiting, Ms. Ryan took out her laptop and logged on to the site. Her father told her he wanted a fishing theme. He had been an avid fisherman and hunter until arthritis and a boating accident left him disabled in a wheelchair. He didn’t want a church full of flowers. He wanted donations to a charity that helps disabled children learn how to ice fish. He also requested a cookout by a river with a keg of beer. They calculated the exact cost in advance together.
“He wasn’t a famous person. He wasn’t rich. He always felt like he wasn’t worthy of his family and couldn’t provide for us through work because of his disability,” says Ms. Ryan. “This gave him the ability to leave this earth knowing that he meant something to other people and that he was making a difference.”
Some people become interested in planning a funeral after attending someone else’s. Even the most uninspired funeral can be inspirational. When Kathy Cartwright, a real-estate agent in Palos Verdes Estates, Calif., went to a funeral with her parents, both in their early 80s, the service seemed impersonal. There were doughnuts left over from an earlier church service, and no coffee. “It was really awful,” she says.
On the way home, Ms. Cartwright told her parents, “We need to talk about what you want. What kind of food? What kind of dessert? I need a budget, and I need it now.” They quickly agreed.
Then there are those who start planning early simply because they enjoy it. Kimba Hills says her mother, Sylvia Hills, who lived in Jackson, Tenn., started planning her own funeral 40 years ago when she was in perfect health. “My wedding and her funeral were the two most important events in her life,” Ms. Hills says. The elder Ms. Hills loved the idea of departing in a hot-air balloon but finally rejected that plan as “treacherous.”
When Ms. Hills became terminally ill from breast cancer, she began to plan with great detail. She chose a casket and pallbearers, the scripture readings and the hymns. She wanted a soloist, because, she explained, the congregation “is always off-key.” She selected white silk pajamas to wear in the closed casket. Her daughter, the owner of Rumba, a furniture store in Santa Monica, Calif., wrote her mother’s eulogy and read it at her bedside. Her mother gave critiques: “I liked it better when you read it the first time,” she said in her Southern drawl. “You put more emphasis on ‘when you go h-o-o-o-m-e.’ “
The service went beautifully. Ms. Hills says she thinks the funeral planning helped take her mother’s mind off her own death. “Being proactive takes the anxiety out of it,” she says.
A Laugh and a Shrug
All this led me to call my 81-year-old father, James Hughes, to at least broach the issue of funeral planning. He has had a stroke but is otherwise healthy. So I was surprised to find he has been hard at work on his own obituary. My stepmother asked him to begin writing it, saying she will be too distraught when he passes away. He is now trying to shorten it after discovering that newspapers charge by the line.
“In my zeal to be honored with glorious words, I chose too many glorious words,” he says with a laugh. “It’s not something I was enthusiastic about doing. But you don’t want it to suddenly fall to everyone else.”
Indeed. I logged on to MyWonderfulLife.com and tried to plan my own funeral. But the job is…daunting. I picked cremation, but I’m having a hard time deciding where to be scattered. The ocean seems cold.
When I asked my husband, he said he hasn’t decided whether to be buried or cremated. “It doesn’t seem imminent,” he explained, shrugging.
I have warned him that if he doesn’t decide soon, I’ll cremate him.
Debra Greene, Ph.D., recently sent me this letter about her mother’s death. Her mom had done her funeral planning arrangements, and still, the news is such a shock. Debra, an Energy Health Specialist practicing Mind-Body Medicine, has some good insights on processing grief.
Debra said I could share her story on the blog. She is a big fan of A Good Goodbye: Funeral Planning for Those Who Don’t Plan to Die.
Let’s Talk About Death and the Interlife
There is so much stigma, fear, and misunderstanding about death in our culture. My intention in sharing this story is to inspire deeper conversations and honor our endless energy essence. I consulted with several people before sending this email. Most said, “Go for it!” Several said, “Proceed with caution.”
When the call came it was a lovely Maui afternoon. I was sitting at my desk working on an article. The voice said, “I’m sorry to inform you but your mother has passed away.” It was the retirement community in Dallas where my mom had been living for the past four years. She passed peacefully while napping in her favorite chair. My mom was 88 years old so this was not completely unexpected, but it was still a shock to my system. Then came the question, “What do you want us to do with the body?”
I was still struggling to absorb the news and couldn’t quite register the question. “What do you normally do with a body?” I heard myself ask. “You contact the funeral home and inform them. They send someone out to collect the body. Which funeral home was your mother working with?” I had no idea. The person on the other end became quite insistent that this be dealt with right away. Then I heard myself say, “What do you suppose is going to happen? She’s already dead!”
On a practical note, if you or your parents are aging it’s a good idea to put affairs in order. Although many people don’t like talking about death, it’s a necessary part of life and planning ahead can really help those left behind.
Luckily my mom was very organized and thorough. She had preplanned and prepaid her funeral arrangements. I just needed to find the documents she had sent me all those years ago. Once I located them, everything became easier. I could stop task-mode and focus on my feelings.
After the initial shock wore off (lasted for several hours) the grief came rolling in like waves. This consisted of uncontrollable sobbing on various occasions over the course of a few days. And then the process felt compete. There doesn’t seem to be unprocessed grief lurking around, but I am open to that if there is.
It helped that my mom had appeared in a dream about a week before she passed and the dream made it clear she was about to leave the physical plane. I didn’t remember this when the phone call came, but on some level I had been forewarned.
Also, I knew my mom had been dis-incarnating over the past several years. Unless someone dies in an accident, this is usually how it goes. It is a process that is marked by discernible stages. So I had been preparing for it.
I had also been preparing my mom for it by assuring her that we don’t die, and that there is nothing to be afraid of. Since Mom had a Catholic upbringing I also assured her there is no such thing as hell. I knew this was a fear she harbored, so I firmly stated, “It has been scientifically proven that there is no hell.” Given everything I’d studied about death, the dying process, and near-death experiences, I could say this with sincere conviction.
Since she made the transition in early February, Mom has “visited” me twice and we have “talked.” I must follow this by saying I do not typically communicate with the dead. Some people do, but I am not one of them.
This was an unusual experience. Although I did not see her, I knew it was her because I could not control her information input in my mind. (This is not to be confused with “old tapes” running. I knew it was her because years of meditation and self-work brought me to a place where I could clear my mind at will, controlling my thoughts. But I could not control these.) I also recognized the energetic signature of her presence. (Having studied my inner landscape thoroughly, I could recognize the contents of my own subtle energy system and discern the energetic presence of another.)
During her “visit,” she told me she was doing well. I asked how she spends her time. She said most of her time is spent “floating.” I suspect that has changed by now but this is the stage she was at in February, about two weeks after passing.
I told her it’s okay to visit me as long as it doesn’t interfere with her next step. We can hold people back and keep them earth-bound if we become too attached to them and try to keep them around. So far I have not heard more from her. Overall, I still feel very connected. I think of her from time to time and the thoughts are pleasant. I send her healing light, the Golden Light of Grace, and trust she is enjoying the great adventure.
Yours in the One Life,
The Federal Trade Commission has The Funeral Rule to help protect consumers when they shop for funeral goods and services. The FTC conducts undercover inspections of funeral homes to check up on compliance with the rules. In 2011, 23 of 102 funeral homes were out of compliance.
I’m disappointed. So many of the funeral directors I know are honest, caring, and do the right thing. While 77% may be following the rules, 23% is far too many falling short. Here’s the news release about the story from the FTC.
FTC Conducts Undercover Inspections of Funeral Homes in Nine States to Press Funeral Homes to Comply with Consumer Protection Law
FTC’s Funeral Rule Requires Funeral Homes to Provide Price Lists to Consumers
Investigators working undercover in nine states detected significant violations of Federal Trade Commission consumer protection requirements in 23 of 102 funeral homes they visited during 2011.
The FTC conducts undercover inspections every year to make sure that funeral homes are complying with the agency’s Funeral Rule. The Rule, issued in 1984, gives consumers important rights when making funeral arrangements. Key provisions of the Rule require funeral homes to provide consumers with an itemized price list at the start of an in-person discussion of funeral arrangements, as well as a casket price list before consumers view any caskets. The Rule also prohibits funeral homes from requiring consumers to buy any item, such as a casket, as a condition of obtaining any other funeral good or service. By requiring itemized prices, the Funeral Rule enables consumers to compare prices and buy only the goods and services they want.
Funeral homes with significant violations can enter a training program designed to increase compliance with the Funeral Rule. The three-year program is known as the Funeral Rule Offenders Program (FROP), and is an alternative to an FTC lawsuit that could lead to a federal court order and civil penalties of up to $16,000 per violation. It is run by the National Funeral Directors Association and provides participants with a legal review of the price disclosures required by the Funeral Rule, and on-going training, testing and monitoring for compliance with the Rule. In addition, funeral homes that participate in the program make a voluntary payment to the U.S. Treasury in place of a civil penalty, and pay annual administrative fees to the Association.
FTC inspections during 2011 encountered varying levels of compliance:
- In Northwest Indiana, one of 12 funeral homes inspected had significant violations;
- In Maui, Hawaii, none of the four funeral homes inspected had significant violations;
- In the New York City area, as well as parts of Connecticut and New Jersey, one of 22 funeral homes inspected had significant violations;
- In Cleveland, Ohio, four of 16 funeral homes inspected had significant violations;
- In Columbia, South Carolina, five significant violations were found in 10 funeral homes inspected;
- In Austin, Texas, four of 19 funeral homes inspected had significant violations; and
- In Richmond and Fredericksburg, Virginia, eight of 19 funeral homes inspected had significant violations.
In addition, the FTC identified 33 funeral homes, within the nine states, with only minor compliance deficiencies. In such cases, the FTC contacts the funeral home and requires it to provide evidence that it has corrected the problems.
Since the FROP program began in 1996, the FTC has inspected more than 2,500 funeral homes and found fewer than 400 engaged in significant Rule violations. In conducting its annual enforcement sweeps, the agency has received assistance from several state attorneys general. This year, the FTC wishes to thank Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine for the valuable assistance provided by his office.
The FTC educates consumers in English and Spanish about their rights under the Funeral Rule, and provides guidance to businesses in how to comply. For more information read Paying Final Respects: Your Rights When Buying Funeral Goods & Services, Funerals: A Consumer Guide, and Complying with the Funeral Rule.
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 2,000 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s website provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.
Filed under: Religious Traditions | Tags: funerals, Jewish traditions, rituals
The Jewish tradition of “sitting shiva,” where a family retreats to their home after a funeral to receive the support of their community for up to seven days, can be a source of confusion. There are so many traditional observances and rituals – covering mirrors, sitting low to the ground, prayers, food, what to do and not do, and on and on.
Sharon Rosen, founder of the registry website ShivaConnect.com, received a call from an elderly woman who said, “I’m 84 years old and I don’t know anything about shiva. How are my kids going to know?”
As with so many sources of information, the details of shiva are now available at your fingertips on the Internet. Rosen’s ShivaConnect website provides background on the Jewish tradition of sitting shiva and online tools to manage the whole megillah.
The key part of the site is a registry where families can record all the details that a supportive community would want to know: dates and addresses for visiting the family, prayer service times, minyan requests (to get a minimum of 10 people praying together), mailing addresses to send condolence cards to the mourners, memorial donations, and most importantly, managing food.
As Rosen puts it, “Jews and food – need I say more?” One of the more overwhelming aspects of being a mourner is managing the offers of platters of food to feed the people who come to the house to visit and participate in prayer services.
ShivaConnect helps sort out food requests – for how many, what kind, what days and times, and lets those who want to send food know what they can provide. The site has a database of delis around the country that will deliver platters.
Technology and Tradition
“We use today’s technology to assist people when immediacy is important. It lessens the overwhelm of calls and it increases memorial donations,” explains Rosen.
The tool goes out quickly via email, Facebook, or any way that families do their social networking. It helps let people know how to best express their condolences. It can also be an outreach tool for non-Jews and the non-observant, as well as an educational tool for hospice staff.
The use of the site is growing. Rosen has noticed some registry listings received hundreds of views as people check for information. “It is growing,” says Rosen. “People just need to know about it and find it at a time of stress.”
The site includes articles on what to expect, customs and prayers, etc. Rosen notes, “Knowing why something is done makes it more meaningful and they’ll participate when they understand. For example, there’s the tradition of having a shomer watch the body before the funeral. It’s comforting to know a loved one is being watched and prayed over.”
Resources include places to donate leftover food, poems, prayers, YouTube video of a rabbi reciting the Mourner’s Kaddish, a funeral home finder, and veteran and Social Security benefits.
Rosen never expected to wind up doing this. When she faced the daunting challenge of coordinating a shiva after her mother died in July 2009, the idea for ShivaConnect was born.
“This has been an unexpected journey that’s been incredibly rewarding,” says Rosen. “It’s such a blessing to find my purpose in life, offering this service that touches so many people and helps when they really need it.”
Filed under: Trends in Death Care | Tags: cremation, funerals, green burial
Earth Day is Sunday, April 22. You can go green and save money while saving the planet with your final arrangements! Did you know these interesting facts about green burial, traditional funerals and cremation?
Every year, traditional funerals utilize enough metal to build a Golden Gate Bridge and enough concrete to build a two-lane highway from New York to Detroit — resources simply buried in the ground, every single year.
This is based on information compiled by Mary Woodsen, a science writer for ten years at Cornell University. In 2002, she surveyed mortuary schools and funeral directors on the amount of resources they use annually and calculated from there. She believes these careful calculations provide a conservative estimate and the figures could actually be higher.
Annually, more than 827 thousand gallons of formaldehyde-based embalming fluid is pumped into bodies buried in the ground — toxic chemicals that eventually leak into the earth.
Every year, conventional burials utilize over 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete for vaults; more than 90 thousand tons of steel and 27 hundred tons of copper and bronze for caskets; and 14 thousand tons of steel for underground vaults.
Cremation – Not So Green
Cremation isn’t as environmentally-friendly as you might think – it has a HUGE carbon footprint. A typical flame based cremation can use approximately 25 therms of natural gas to generate 2.5 million BTUs to process one body. That generates 532.4 pounds (242 kilograms) of CO2 emissions in the cremation process.
To put that in perspective, I have solar photovoltaic panels on my house here in sunny Albuquerque, New Mexico. The monitoring system tells me how much CO2 I’m offsetting by generating my own electricity from the sun’s energy. I would have to run my 4.05 kilowatt solar panel system for 14 sunny days to offset ONE cremation.
The Cremation Association of North America (CANA) said that there were 930,429 cremations in the U.S. in 2009. That would mean to offset all of those cremations with my one solar panel system, it would take 13,026,006 days. More than 13 million days – how many years is that?
The number of cremations is skyrocketing due to the economy and changing preferences. CANA estimates indicate the annual one million mark for cremations may be reached this year. Will you be contributing to the generation of greenhouse gasses?
One of the benefits of cremation is that you can bury a loved one in your back yard, in a garden, or under a tree. For a full body burial at home, you would need to own a certain number of acres (per local zoning ordinances) and can prove a burial won’t affect the water table. You also will have to include mention of the buried body (or bodies) should you sell the property.
The New Eco-Cremation
Some funeral homes are starting to offer a new disposition system called alkaline hydrolysis that uses very little energy to dissolve bodies into a sterile, coffee-colored solution. It can be safely poured into streams, onto land, or even down the drain. This may be the wave of the future, as revolutionary as cremation was 50 years ago.
Religions with Green Burial
There are two religions that have funeral traditions that ensure a green burial: Judaism and Islam. Green burial fosters returning to the earth as naturally as possible. Both religions avoid embalming, the body is dressed in cotton or linen clothing that’s biodegradable, and the body is either placed in a shroud or soft wood casket in contact with the earth.
With Jewish or Muslim burial in the U.S., some cemeteries will require liners over the body or casket to prevent the earth from sinking over time. However the body or casket is in contact with the earth. It’s the closest you can get to a green burial in a conventional cemetery.
In fact, when my husband and I preplanned our funerals, he chose a wicker basket casket, like the one pictured above. He does the laundry in our family, so it’s very appropriate, kosher, and green!
Have a happy, healthy Earth Day. Do your part to go green.
Keep Calm and Carry On was a propaganda poster produced by the British government in 1939 during the beginning of the Second World War, intended to raise the morale of the British public in the event of invasion. Seeing only limited distribution, it was little known. The poster was rediscovered in 2000 and has been re-issued by a number of private sector companies, and used as the decorative theme for a range of other products. There were only two known surviving examples of the poster outside government archives until a collection of about 20 originals was brought in to the Antiques Roadshow in 2012 by the daughter of an ex-Royal Observer Corps member.
Variations on a Theme
This site, e-membrance.com, “a free online Memorial and Tribute site for those who have gone,” has three variations on the theme. Here’s one of them.
At this particular post “Keep Calm and…” there’s this delightful variation, “Keep Calm and Plan for Death.” They also offered “Keep Calm and Discuss Death” and “Keep Calm and Accept Death.”
Thanks to the Good Funeral Guide for finding this fun post!
Grim Reaper Cartoon
And then there’s this fun cartoon that Larry Mandel with Piser Funeral Services in Skokie, IL sent along: