10/13/17

Caitlin Doughty Talks Exploring the World to Find a Better Death in From Here to Eternity

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By Bridey Heing

The question of what happens when we die—in a literal rather than philosophical sense—haunts many of us. But few have made it the focus of their life’s work like Caitlin Doughty. An advocate for shifting the conversation about the “right” way to care for deceased bodies, Doughty owns a Los Angeles funeral home and organizes events where people discuss death with a range of approaches. Her latest book, From Here to Eternity, explores death culture around the world, illuminating the many ways to hold a funerals.

Doughty describes herself as having always been interested in death, but it was after studying Medieval History that she wanted to learn in a more hands-on setting. “When I graduated from college,” she says in an interview with Paste, “I decided that I wanted to see what real dead bodies look like and how they were being taken care of and disposed of.” She found an opportunity when she got a job at a crematory, where she immediately felt a connection to the work. “It’s hard to describe to people, but really from the second that I started working at the crematory, it was like, ‘Oh, this is what I’m supposed to be doing.’”

Doughty immediately recognized that the knowledge gap between the funeral industry and the general public is significant; she says no one quite knows what happens with a body after death. So not only did she want to learn more about the American way of death, but she wanted to talk about it with others. Her first book, Smoke Gets in Your Eyes, chronicled her journey into the funeral industry. And if she needed any indication that people were willing to listen, the fact that the book was a bestseller suggests that there is a desire to learn more about what takes place behind the scenes.

Doughty received a similar response a few years earlier when she founded the Order of the Good Death, an organization dedicated to expanding our understanding of and comfort with death. The organization established a space where everyone from academics to creatives could discuss death. “I was trying to create a community around death, and over the years it has become a resource. It’s hopefully a place where the culture of silence around death can, even just for a moment, be broken.”

Breaking the culture of silence around death is the heart of From Here to Eternity. Each chapter focuses on one or two cultures that handle death in unique ways. In Indonesia, Doughty watched as mummies were taken out of special house-slash-tombs to be feted. In Japan, she visited hotels where families spent time with loved ones’ corpses before cremation. In Colorado, she witnessed an open-air pyre where the community came together to honor the dead. In Bolivia, she made offerings to skulls called natitas, which were dressed up and paraded in the streets during the annual festival in their honor.

Doughty’s mission with her new book is to start a conversation about death in other cultures in a way that says something about U.S. funeral culture, and she wants to communicate the significance of rituals other than our own to combat a lack of cultural relativism.

“I see over and over again people talk about American death tradition, like embalming and burial in a big vault underground, and not liking that at all,” Doughty says. “But at the same time, whenever they heard about something that goes on overseas, they’d go, ‘Ugh, that’s so disrespectful and morbid.”
From Here to Eternity humanizes rituals that might otherwise seem unfathomable. “Even the things that are so out there by our standards feels so normal when you’re there. I wanted to get across that just because it’s not what you do doesn’t mean it’s weird or morbid or should be disparaged.”

Doughty’s text about the way families interact with their deceased loved ones is incredibly moving. But she doesn’t lose sight of her own role as an outsider observing a deeply intimate ritual, and she even talks about the ways in which death tourism has become an issue in countries with well known ways of handling their dead.

“You go into it thinking, ‘I have the best intentions, I’ve spent my life researching these things.’ But the family doesn’t know that,” she says. Doughty relied on local contacts and close friends, who could make sure she didn’t overstep while families were grieving. “The places I chose to go were places I had some in, whether that was a local guide or a person I know who travels all the time to these places.”

While the book has an international focus, the message is clearly one of a domestic nature. The shadow of how the United States handles death is always present, and Doughty dips in and out of her travel narratives to contrast what she sees with what she experiences in her own work. She also questions the very foundations on which the United States has built its funeral industry, including supposed health concerns that have led to profit-driven models of post-death care that many funeral homes require.

Doughty ultimately wants to change the way we talk about and experience death for a simple reason: she regularly hears about how frustrated Americans have been with their own experiences grieving loved ones. “This is my country and my own industry that I work in and own a funeral home in, and it doesn’t seem to be working for a lot of people,” she says. “If I didn’t hear that again and again, I wouldn’t keep doing this work.”

Doughty doesn’t advocate anywhere in the book for one system over another, but she does reveal that the U.S. system as it exists is deeply flawed. Her goal is to explore better ways to handle death, and in this, From Here to Eternity succeeds.

Complete Article HERE!

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10/10/17

Being a Funeral Director Made Me Realize the Death Industry Is Too Exclusive

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By Caleb Wilde

It was nearly six in the morning when I heard the sounds of hovering helicopters a couple hundred yards away from my house. At the time, my wife, Nicki, and I lived in a small half of a double on the farthest fringe of the Borough of Parkesburg. While the occasional helicopter could be heard in the Parkesburg proper, our little house on Upper Valley Road was sandwiched by the sounds of the trains that ran on the tracks a hundred feet from our small backyard and the speeding cars on Upper Valley a mere 20 feet from our front door.

I peeked my head outside the window but couldn’t see the machines that were producing the sounds I could so clearly hear. The idea that something must be very wrong entered my mind. I turned on the television, and sure enough, the Philadelphia station I turned on had a breaking news update. The rhythmic and practiced voice of the news anchor read the prompter with all the outward concern he could exercise: “Two young boys and their aunt and uncle died in a fiery car crash outside of Parkesburg, Chester County, late last night.”

Parkesburg is an hour outside of Philadelphia. We’re the small town of 3,500 that claims Philadelphia as our closest “big city” while Philadelphia has no idea we even exist, except when something horrific happens. This morning, Parkesburg had made the news. Today, Philadelphia reporters descended upon Parkesburg to fill their 6 a.m. quota.

There have been a few times when Facebook has informed me of a death before the family has called us at the Wilde Funeral Home, where I work with my father and grandfather. But this was the first time I had turned on the television and watched aerial footage of a disaster that was soon to be passed onto me. When I got to the funeral home later that morning, I learned we were the ones entrusted to handle the services for all four of the deceased. The two adults (the aunt and uncle of the boys, who were babysitting them at that time) were to be cremated, while the boys, 8 and 10 years of age, were to be embalmed and viewed, depending on the condition of their bodies.

The following day — after the coroner performed her duty — I drove our van to remove the two adults first (our removal van comfortably fits two in the supine position). After I dropped them off at the funeral home, I jumped back in the van to pick up the bodies of the two boys. When I go on these tragic calls, I’ll usually either sit in silence or find some upbeat music on the radio to distract me from the void. It can be anything — Pop music. Oldies. Katy Perry.

After driving the bodies home, it was my duty to unzip the body bags for the two boys to see if their faces could be made presentable for a public viewing. The smell of burnt human flesh is somewhat distinct. It sticks to your hair, to your clothing, and when I opened those bags, what I saw will forever stick in my mind. You’ve seen the Hollywood versions of burn victims, and it’s all horrible, but the visuals we see on the TV screen don’t do justice to these tragic deaths. All deaths have a type of presence, but tragic deaths have a presence that fills a room. I don’t know if I believe in ghosts, but I do believe that the dead have some kind of aura.

I had to look at the boys’ faces to determine whether or not we could have a viewing, hoping to find a visage that could — through hours of work — be presentable to the family. Unfortunately, I didn’t find what I was looking for and had to inform their stricken parents that a public viewing was outside of our ability, which — in a way — produces a small sense of guilt in me. Whether the pressure is from an inward or an outward expectation, there’s always this nagging feeling that we should be able to restore any form of disfigurement, that embalmers should possess some Harry Potter magic in our prep room and magically wave our trocar (a large needle-like instrument we use during embalming), and then “poof” we have beautiful corpses. But there is no magic trocar. And there are no mystical chants.

The family was broken in more ways than one. They were fighting about who would officiate the service. One part of the family wanted a nonreligious service while the other side wanted a Christian service. Threats were made. Words were spoken that should never be spoken, and we had to involve the police. The day before the service a police officer came to the funeral home to go over the plan of action if the funeral became volatile.

As we were going over the funeral procession route with the officer, I collapsed and momentarily lost consciousness; the policeman called the ambulance, and I was taken to the hospital’s emergency room with what would later be generically diagnosed as physical exhaustion.

On my way to the hospital, not knowing what was happening to me, I had a moment of unshackled clarity: Was this what I wanted to do? Is this who I wanted to be?

* * *

Months before I found myself in the back of that ambulance, watching the strobe lights bounce off nearby houses and road signs, I found myself struggling with depression and compassion fatigue. My doctor had prescribed me antidepressants to combat the day-to-day experience of depression, but there wasn’t anything for rejuvenating my burnout.

The first couple years of working at the funeral home, I felt like a duck swimming in deep water. From the outside, I was calm, confident, and natural, but underneath, I was kicking furiously against the darkness. Although I knew what I was getting into when I joined the funeral business, it wasn’t my closeness to death that was destroying me; it was how I viewed it. If someone had suggested to me then that there’s beauty in death, that there’s goodness in death, that death could inspire a healthy spirituality, I would have thought them both morose and naïve.

Even though I had grown up around death — funeral director was the family profession on both my mother’s and father’s side — I was just as susceptible as anyone to what I call the “death negative narrative” that so many of us have come to believe. On a practical level, I had seen too many tragic, traumatic, and horrific deaths portrayed on TV, the internet, and at work. And beyond the normalization of extremes via the media, the death-negative narrative is wired into our very biology. Humans are a most advanced death-defying machine.

We have highly evolved systems to fight against the onslaught of death, foremost of which is a brain that sets us above all our competition. And that brain has kept us alive and given us the chance to evolve through its fight-or-flight mechanisms. Death is our oldest evolutionary enemy, and we are so advanced at fighting it that for about 50 to 90 years, most of us win. Still, fearing death is part of our biology; it numbs our minds whenever we try to think about it, and even the most rational among us struggles to find clarity when confronted with the death-negative narrative.

Another thing that made me susceptible to the death-negative narrative is that even though I had seen thousands of dead bodies, I had never seen someone die. Many have had the privilege of holding the hand of a loved one as he or she passed, but many others of us haven’t, in part because the dying process has been isolated in nursing homes and hospitals. In times past and in many other cultures outside the United States, death and dying happen in home and community, with family and friends acting as death doulas, leading the dying through their final life stage. Today, though, doctors and nurses have replaced family and friends, an unintended consequence of the advancement of medical science. We fear death because we don’t know it, we don’t see it, and we don’t touch it.

* * *

Dressing a loved one, caring for him or her after the person has passed away is a great example of what a good death, a positive narrative, looks like. Part of what contributes and perpetuates the death-negative culture we find ourselves in is that death care has become an industry that has told people, This is beyond your capabilities to handle. Death is scary, messy, gross, sad. Let us take care of it for you.

When the funeral industry professionalized death care and did away with the “community undertaker,” it implicitly and legally made death amateurs of everyone else. With doctors having authority over dying, and funeral directors gaining authority over death, it created a culture of death virgins, people who have little experience and know-how when it comes to the end stage of life. The funeral industry is partially to blame for creating the “death professional”; after all, the industry has worked hard to secure our position by creating laws and educational requirements to make us at least seem like the exclusive practitioners of death care.

But it wasn’t just capitalist undertakers who created this professional and amateur divide. Part of the reason the funeral industry buried the community undertaker was because death doesn’t jibe with the modern American vision and those Americans who embrace it. Death questions our delusion of self-mastery. So let’s just ignore it. Or better yet, let’s find someone else to handle it.

Americans found a “win-win” situation by giving their dying and dead over to a willing nursing home industry, hospital care that stays death like an overdue pregnancy, and a funeral industry that happily disposes of our dead. We’ve created multiple groups of professionals to handle our dead, and we pay loads of money for the service.

Funeral directors are one of those groups. We perform the magical disappearing act when we take your body, embalm it, dress it, casket it, and give you back a sleeping corpse unscathed by the deterioration of decomposition. Cremation is no different. The body is whisked away and comes back in a small little box, with little to no family participation. This magic is modern and means people never get to touch death or care for their dead.

The axiom is simple, although forgotten, or ignored: the more we practice death care, the less we fear death itself; the closer we become to our dead, the less we fear death. In much of the history of our world, people have been much closer to death than they are now.

But sometimes, families transcend the narrative for just a little, and instead of being an audience to the funeral process, they take the active role, pulling away the magic and making death visible once again. They take death into their hands and decide they are the professionals. In fact, many Amish still dress and casket their loved ones. The funeral director will embalm the deceased and then the Amish family will take the body into their care. Some families will wash the deceased, then they’ll gently clothe the deceased and place the body into the plain wooden casket. Many Mormons, Muslims, and Jews all do the same. This is one of the luxuries of a close-knit community. And when the family of Tommy Ricci, a friend of my grandfather, called to let us know Tommy had died, it was a luxury I wanted to offer them, too.

My grandfather agreed. “Why don’t you ask them,” he said.

We rolled the stretcher through the front door, walked it over to the bed where Tommy lay. My grandfather invited anyone who wanted to to help lend a hand, and in a couple of seconds a good dozen people surrounded Tommy’s bed; we grabbed the bed’s mattress sheet, cocooned his body with it, and passed his body over to the stretcher. After we had strapped him on the stretcher, my grandfather confirmed the time we’d meet with them tomorrow for the funeral arrangements, instructed them to bring the clothing they wanted Tommy to wear for the viewing, and then left the conversation open for my question.

I cleared my throat, not sure how they’d respond to what I was about to ask them. I said, “Would you guys be interested in dressing Tommy for his funeral?”

Tears stared running down the face of Tommy’s wife. His sisters started, too.

Amid the tears, they responded, “Could we?” And with my yes, Tommy’s wife embraced me and started sobbing on my shoulder. By the time she was done hugging me, I had joked that she’d have to pay to have her snot dry-cleaned off my suit.

The next day, Christmas Eve, the Riccis were at our front door, clothing in hand. They made the funeral arrangements with Pop-Pop, and when they were finished, I guided them to the dressing room while explaining how the process of dressing a dead body worked. “Grief brain” is like being drunk. It’s hard to be “in the moment” as nearly 80 to 90 percent of your brain energy is being redirected to grasping the new normal of life after loss. I wasn’t sure if Tommy’s family’s grief brain would keep them from being able to do the task at hand. Maybe they’d burst into tears and storm out of the dressing room. Maybe they wouldn’t be able to stomach seeing the incision near his collarbone from the embalming.

They walked into the dressing room with stoic faces, bent on not being encumbered by the obvious emotional weight of the whole thing. We laid out the clothing and cut Tommy’s undershirt, dress shirt, and sport coat down the back. We used the body lifter to put his underwear, pants, and socks on. Then we tucked in the shirt, laced the belt through his pants. One of the sisters combed his hair and styled it. They all talked to him, just like I do when I’m with bodies.

Are your pants too tight? I’ll loosen that belt.

Let me get your hair just how you liked it. You could be a pompous thing with this hair of yours.

I know you hated dressing up, but you have a big day coming, gonna see a lot of people.

On the day of the service, all of Tommy’s family and over two hundred other people showed up to the church. It was a few days after Christmas, and the church was still dressed in its Advent outfitting. Wreaths and candles filled the air with holiday scents, and the cheer that seeps into this special time of year was still detectable.

Because life is this beautiful, complex, and messy web of giving ourselves away to others, and allowing others to give themselves to us, shouldn’t our dying process be supported by those who created our web of life? Shouldn’t our death be supported, not by a single funeral home or funeral director, but by these life connections that have been created by us and those that have created us? Funeral directors hold incredible value — and we’ve always existed in one form or another — because death is hard, but I believe bereaved families are robbing themselves and our loved ones by capitulating dying and death over to the “experts.”

Tommy’s family taught me that anyone can — and should — be a part of the death-care process. And I’m sorry our sometimes-capitalist intentions have made people “amateurs.” I’m sorry that we’ve helped exacerbate the fear of death by monopolizing death care, but I think together, in the messiness of life and death, we can find a way to grow closer to our dying and our dead.

Complete Article HERE!

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10/7/17

Washington State University considers composting human remains

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A nonprofit group, the Urban Death Project, is seeking what it calls an ecological alternative to disposing of dead bodies by transforming them into soil to be used to nourish trees, flowers and memorial gardens.

By Taylor Nadauld

Washington State University is acquiring the necessary approvals to test equipment to compost human remains at one of its facilities in what is bluntly being called the Urban Death Project.

Founded by Seattle-based designer Katrina Spade, the Urban Death Project is a registered 501(c)3 nonprofit organization that seeks to create an ecological alternative for the care of the deceased by returning their bodies to the earth through a process she calls “recomposition.”

Lynne Carpenter-Boggs, associate professor for WSU’s Department of Crop and Soil Sciences, said the project team is in an exciting yet boring phase of seeking necessary approvals to conduct such research on WSU’s campus.

Carpenter-Boggs and Rick Finch, manager of the WSU Waste Management program, both sit on the project’s technical advisory team, which consists of several other professors, morticians, anthropologists and authors from across the country.

The WSU Compost Facility has received modifications to its air quality permit from the Washington State Department of Ecology that would allow it to conduct a pilot study of composting human remains in part of the university’s existing 66-foot-long, in-vessel composter.

The approval order for the permit modifications will be issued in a week or two, Robert Koster of the department’s air quality program wrote in an email.

The facility, at the end of Dairy Road in Pullman, already converts animal carcasses and entrails, as well as animal bedding and manure, into compost.

Air emissions from the composting of human remains are not expected to change from those of composting other animal carcasses, according to a notice from the state Department of Ecology.

The project has also been approved by state and county offices for the state Department of Health’s Office of Environmental Health and Safety, said Marta Coursey, director of communications for WSU’s College of Agricultural, Human, and Natural Resource Sciences.

Still, several WSU scientific committees, the dean of CAHNRS and the WSU vice president of research must review legal and ethical issues, biosafety protocols and other aspects of the research before it can move forward. A verdict is likely to come in by the first or second week of October, Coursey said.

Were the project to move forward, the compost facility’s in-vessel composter would be divided into three 22-foot sections to isolate the study from other composting activity.

Koster said the department received no comments for or against the project during a monthlong public comment period that closed Sept. 15. The university published a legal ad about the comment period, but issued no news releases about it.

Complete Article HERE!

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09/26/17

Dogs in Funeral Homes Offer Comfort for the Grieving

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Mourners receive unconditional love from the animals, who often know who needs it most

Marcy Johns who is preparing for the funeral of her sister holds Angel at Cornerstone Funeral Services in Boring, OR.

By Kerri Fivecoat-Campbell

Jan Thomas wouldn’t have described herself as a “dog person” six months ago. But that was before she met an 8-year-old Lhasa apso named Angel at a most unlikely place, the funeral home that hosted her sister’s visitation and funeral.

Angel is the official mascot and unofficial therapy dog at Cornerstone Funeral Services, a small family business owned by Elizabeth Fournier in Boring, Ore.

For years, therapy dogs have been used to help in hospitals, nursing homes, hospices, schools and even at the site of disasters such as Ground Zero at the World Trade Center. Fournier and a growing number of funeral directors across the country also believe therapy dogs can help people in possibly their greatest time of distress: when they’re making arrangements after the death of a loved one. And the dogs have been greeted — often literally — with open arms.

Dogs in Funeral Homes Offer A Calming Effect

Thomas, 52, said most of her family was prepared for the death of her sister, Tammi, 56, who had battled a long illness. But Jan Thomas’ 18-year-old son, Zachary, was close to his aunt and took the loss hard.

When Zachary, who has autism, was introduced to Angel, the small dog calmed him as he sat for nearly two hours petting and playing with her.

“When Elizabeth told me I could go in with Angel, I did,” Jan Thomas said. “When I went in the room with Angel, I felt more like I was with a friend next door. Elizabeth has a very casual setting with a homey feel and Angel really made a difference for me, she is such a quiet dog. There is definitely something to the calming effects.”

Indeed, many studies have proven that animals have not only a positive emotional effect on humans, but also physiological effects, including reducing blood pressure. And therapy dogs have also shown to have a calming effect on children with autism.

Fournier introduced Angel in the business as a puppy. “I had a baby and brought Sofia [the baby] to work with me,” said Fournier. “Sometimes people would come in and hold her, and when she got older and it was time to quit bringing her to work, people would still come in and ask for her. I realized something was needed to help people cope, so Angel took Sofia’s place.”

‘Unconditional Love’

Kriss Kevorkian, a therapist who works in private practice in Gig Harbor, Wash., and is an adjunct professor at Walden University, said that it’s especially important for children to have such interaction at a difficult time.

“I’ve worked with kids in therapy who wanted to bring their own pet to funerals and they weren’t allowed,” said Kevorkian. “Animals give us so much unconditional love, as any of us are going through the process of grief, it gives us that extra sense of comfort.”

Michael Perotto has seen that same unconditional love from Rocky, a 2-year-old goldendoodle that he and his family raised to work at their business, Bartolomeo and Perotto Funeral Home in Rochester, N.Y.

When a family is gathered before a service, “he greets every single person,” Perotto said. “Somehow, some way, he can figure out who’s having the hardest time and then he’ll park with that person.”

Rocky is even trained to go with a mourner to the kneeler bench, put his paws on it and lower his head, as if in prayer.

Perotto said he watched one small boy approach the kneeler with Rocky to pray. “When I watched it, it was so moving and so powerful — it’s unreal,” he noted.

Easy to Relate To

Fournier said she has never had any complaints about Angel, but said she learned with Sofia to only include her in the meeting if people were receptive. “I would schedule appointments during Sofia’s nap times; I know everyone isn’t receptive to a baby in the office,” said Fournier. “With Angel, I leave her in the office and if people have an issue with her, she stays there.”

Fournier said Angel seems to also know when people need some comfort and instinctively keeps her distance if people aren’t receptive to her presence.

For Thomas, her only challenge now is the debate at home with Zachary about getting a dog. “We have the conversation almost daily,” said Thomas, laughing. “He really wants a dog.”

Complete Article HERE!

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09/7/17

Meaningful Planning for Final Arrangements

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By Melanie Ball

Some people wait to reach a certain age or receive a serious diagnosis before they start planning their final wishes.

Luckily, when we lost Dad to mesothelioma, we didn’t have much planning to do. Ever the family overseer, my father preplanned his memorial services.

He prepared for everything, including financial planning.

I am only now realizing the gracefulness of Dad’s consideration of our family during our time of grief. We were all a mess when he passed, and his prior decisions relieved some of the stress at a time when his guidance was most needed.

Exploring final arrangements ahead of time can relieve families of unnecessary anxiety during a time of emotional need. Preplanning also presents an opportunity for a person to make their own choices regarding their final wishes.

Dad found peace of mind by guiding our family through the difficult process of saying goodbye.

Developing a Plan Early Reduces Stress Later

Most folks don’t know much about the funeral process until they face the loss of a loved one.

Lack of planning often leads distraught family members toward emotion-based final arrangement decisions. The shock of loss can cloud one’s judgment.

Exploring aspects of final services in advance is a helpful step toward developing a solid plan.

For many, the most alarming part of final arrangement planning is the cost. Financial concerns may guide much of the decision-making process.

The National Funeral Directors Association is a reputable organization of more than 10,000 funeral homes in 49 states. In 2014, the NFDA estimated the median cost of a traditional funeral with burial at more than $8000.

Such a price tag may surprise bereaved families.

An expensive funeral doesn’t necessarily equate to a meaningful service.

A thoughtful service is a reflection of the memorialized person. Preplanning ahead of time allows families to create a memorial that truly embodies the essence of a loved one’s life.

Remembering them with honor and dignity is the goal of most funeral planning.

Be Aware of Different Types of Services

Most families consider spiritual beliefs, family and cultural traditions, and of course, the costs when making their final decisions.

Knowing what types of memorial services are offered is a good starting point for most people. It is also important to understand legal and ethical elements that may influence final decision making.

Each state governs funeral practices differently, but the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides national regulations that guide funeral providers.

There are many options available, so it helps to have a clear, universal definition of services. The FTC has an important role in clarifying the options available for customers across the nation.

According to the FTC, there are several basic types of services provided in most states, including:

  • Traditional Full-Service: Traditional funeral services are the most expensive type of memorial. This type of funeral includes a viewing or “wake,” a formal funeral service, hearse transportation and a graveside memorial. Often services take place on two separate days.)
  • Direct Burial: Direct burials exclude a formal viewing, hearse transportation and certain services provided the funeral home. There are fewer necessary goods which brings the cost down significantly. This type of service usually shortens the time between passing and burial.)
  • Direct Cremation: Services that involve direct cremation generally omit the formal viewing. After processing, the remains are placed in a container called an urn which is usually present at a memorial service where families join together. Cremation is much more affordable than traditional services.

Planning final arrangements can be a bit overwhelming. Understanding the basic services available can ease the decision-making process.

Protections Provided by the Funeral Rule

Federal guidelines are designed to protect customers shopping for funeral products and services. The FTC’s Funeral Rule offers peace of mind to many shoppers.

While each state passes their own laws regarding legal funeral practices, the state laws coincide with these federal guidelines.

Among the many protections in the Funeral Rule:

  • Customers can shop with funeral homes and only pay for the goods and services they want to buy, rather than choosing from lavish packages that lump products together. Families can save money by only buying the goods they need.
  • When seeking a price quote, shoppers don’t have to show up at the establishment in person. Service providers must give customers a price quote over the phone, if they inquire. This is especially helpful for families planning under time constraints.
  • People who meet with funeral home professionals to discuss plans are provided with a General Price List. This document clearly states the prices of all goods and services available from the provider. Seeing the listed price can help people make cost-conscious choices.
  • Sometimes the cemetery or crematory has separate requirements which families should know before signing a funeral arrangement contract. The provider must inform the customer with a list of those requirements in advance of purchase.
  • With some services such as cremation, caskets are not necessary. The customer may choose to use an alternate or less elaborate container. Other shoppers may choose to order a casket from a different provider. Funeral homes must allow people to order them from other companies, rather than exclusively selling their own products.

Making final arrangements is a difficult process under the best of circumstances.

During times of emotional despair, discernment escapes most of us. I’m not sure my mother was capable of planning Dad’s services in the days immediately following his death.

It was a tough time for our family, and I learned from my father’s thoughtfulness. Taking care of my family in the future is just as important as taking care of them now.

Making arrangements for our final goodbyes is a way I can comfort them when they confront life without me.

Complete Article HERE!

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09/1/17

You’re Sorry for Someone’s Loss. But How Do You Say It?

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When you express condolences, share a memory of the person who died with the bereaved, experts said.

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Expressing condolences to a grieving friend or loved one can make the most articulate of us feel tongue-tied.

It often feels like an obstacle course of etiquette and taste: What should you say? Should you send a card or meet in person? Is an email or Facebook message acceptable? The answers to those questions often depend on your relationship to the grieving party, but here are some tips that are applicable in any situation.

Digital Condolences

Experts were divided about the use of social media to express sympathies.

In the case of someone you know mainly as a friend on Facebook, sending a Facebook message or an email could be “right on,” Sheila K. Collins, the author of “Warrior Mother: Fierce Love, Unbearable Loss and Rituals that Heal,” said in an email, adding: “Like the birthday wishes — short and to the point — ‘My thoughts are with you in this difficult time.’ ‘Sorry to hear of your loss.’ ”

April Masini, who writes about relationships and etiquette for her website Ask April, said in an email that offering sympathy via social media can fall short. Many people post comments primarily to be seen publicly expressing condolences, she said, and comforting the bereaved becomes a secondary goal.

If you do leave a message on a grieving person’s Facebook profile, be sure to follow up with a phone call, or maybe a note or card in the mail, experts said. You want your condolences to be personal and direct, so taking time to treat the grieving party to coffee or to send them a personal note means more than a quick “I’m sorry for your loss” via Facebook message or text.

Also, only offer condolences on social media if the person has posted the death and personally publicized it, said Michelle P. Maidenberg, the president and clinical director of Westchester Group Works, a group therapy center in Harrison, N.Y. The last thing you want is to force your grieving friend into an unwanted public conversation about the death.

Experts differed on the use of emails, but Ms. Maidenberg recommended against them.

“It puts the burden of responsibility on the other person to respond, and if they don’t have the time or wherewithal to answer, they could be left feeling regretful and guilty,” she said.

How to Get Started

As soon as you learn your friend has lost someone, send a note or condolence card. It can be difficult, but put yourself in your friend’s shoes and consider how helpful it would be to have someone to lean on during a tough time. Ms. Masini acknowledged that writing a condolence card can be a challenge, but she warned against procrastinating.

“Schedule some quiet time to compose a heartfelt message,” she wrote. “Chances are the person you’re writing to is going to value this card way more than you realize and will reread it several times, especially if you knew the person who died.”

You can start with “I’m sorry for your loss” or “My thoughts and prayers are with you.”

Draw on Your Memories

If you knew the person who died, talk about how what you loved most about that person.

“Your written memories are going to be like Christmas ornaments on a tree,” Ms. Masini wrote. “Help the bereaved grieve and remember fondly the one they’ve lost with your detailed anecdotes, memories and compliments.”

Ms. Collins said sharing something positive is a “very powerful action” that reminds the bereaved of how others interacted with the person who died.

“You want the person to get the message that you care, that they are not alone in their grief,” she said in an email. “You want to offer support, comfort and encouragement.”

Offer Concrete Ways to Help

“Making general offers of help such as ‘Let me know if I can be of help’ will go nowhere, so be specific when you offer your help,” Mr. Alpert said in an email.

Similarly, “I’m here if you want to talk” or “I’m around if you need anything” puts the onus of action onto the grieving party, who’s already struggling emotionally and may not have the energy to reach out. Instead, be proactive and spend that energy so they don’t have to.

He suggested: “I’d like to bring you dinner on Tuesday evening” or “I’m going to the grocery store and would like to bring you food. What can I get you?” The goal is to be helpful and offer comfort during a difficult time.

What Not to Say

Don’t make it about you. Avoid referring to your own experiences with the death of a loved one, Ms. Masini wrote, adding that those references can be saved for a future conversation.

“For now, comparing the loss of your beloved pet to the loss of your uncle’s brother diminishes the death at hand,” she wrote. Similarly, don’t try to empathize so much with your friend that they wind up feeling like they have to console you.

Avoid clichés, and do not use expressions such as “It happened for the best” or “I can’t imagine what you’re going through.”

If you are stumped about what to write or say, look for inspiration in sympathy cards or search online for sample condolence messages.

Just Being There Matters

Linda Fite of Kerhonkson, N.Y., emphasized the importance of reaching out. Don’t avoid sending a note because you are unsure of what to write, she said in a Facebook posting.

“Honestly, when my mother died, I was so touched and lifted up by ANY and all the expressions of sympathy,” she wrote.

Ms. Collins, who had a son die of AIDS at 31 and whose daughter died of breast cancer at 42, emphasized the importance of reaching out.

“It is often difficult to know what to do in situations like this, and everyone feels a bit unnerved and intimidated,” she wrote.

She said she was “deeply comforted” by cards, phone calls and visits, adding: “As supporters we always think, ‘I don’t want to bother them now.’ The truth is that grieving people need bothering so they don’t spend all their time grieving.”

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