Colorado woman helps families cope by crafting baby burial gowns out of wedding dresses

By Alexandra Zaslow

Sandi Fasano has been there for over 60 families during a time of pain — a pain she knows all too well.

After losing two grandchildren to stillbirth in the past few years, she decided she wanted to help families going through similar tragedies using her lifelong skills as a seamstress.

“I’m a mother, a grandmother, a great-grandmother,” Fasano, who is 66 and lives outside Denver, told “I struggled to help ease my children’s pain, but it did inspire me to turn it into something that would be able to help the next family.”

Sandi Fasano
Sandi Fasano creating an angel gown

So about six months ago, she took to Facebook with an idea she hoped might help grieving couples find healing: use recycled wedding dresses to create beautiful infant burial gowns.

Fasano learned to sew doll clothes as a child. As a teen, she designed her own clothes and later, when she became a mother, made outfits for her four children.

Within days of the Facebook post, she was receiving lace, ribbon and fabric from donors both locally and as far away as England.

Angel Gown

In August, Front Range Angel Gowns was born.

“What started out as a little project has now become way bigger than I expected,” Fasano said. “Once I saw all the beautiful threads and fabrics that were coming in, I had to keep going.”

Fasano’s effort is one of several aimed at turning old wedding dresses into burial gowns for babies. The NICU Helping Hands’ Angel Gown program offers similar services to bereaved families across the U.S., Canada and even in Australia.

Angel Gowns2

Fasano now has 20 volunteers helping her pick up gowns and take them apart. On her website, she offers instructions for donating wedding dresses and other materials as well as links for volunteer seamstresses and tailors to apply. The group can make anywhere from eight to 36 outfits from of one dress.

The company donates completed gowns to local hospitals and mortuaries in Colorado, and is in the process of trying to become a non-profit so she can expand to other states.

Angel Gowns3

A few families have called Fasano directly to ask for a dress for their sweet angel who didn’t get a chance to live.

“I recently met a grandmother whose daughter just lost a baby, and after I handed her the gown, we just hugged for a long time,” Fasano said. “There are no words to use.”

Angel Gowns4

In some cases, she includes something extra she hopes will bring comfort: two little hats.

A note with them reads, “One for your baby to wear and one for you to hold near.”

“These families are dressing their babies for the first and last time,” Fasano said. “I’m glad I can be there to help them through this difficult time.”

Complete Article HERE!

What working in a nursing home taught me about life, death, and America’s cultural values

by Valery Hazanov

nursing home


The first thing I noticed when I began working in a nursing home was the smell. It’s everywhere. A mix of detergent and hospital smell and, well, people in nursing homes wear diapers. It’s one of those smells that takes over everything — if you’re not used to it, it’s hard to think about anything else.

Being in the nursing home is tough. People weep and smell and drool. Sometimes you can go on the floor and hear a woman in her 90s scream, “I want Mommy.”

But it’s also ordinary — just people living together: gossiping, daydreaming, reading, watching TV, scratching their back when it itches.

People at the nursing home like to watch TV. It’s always on. How strange, then, that there are no old people on TV.

For the past eight months I have been working as a psychotherapist with dying patients in nursing homes in New York City. It’s an unusual job for a psychotherapist — and the first one I took after graduating with a PhD in clinical psychology. My colleagues were surprised. “Why not a hospital? Or an outpatient clinic? Do the patients even have a psychiatric diagnosis?”

The short answer is that I wanted to see what death looks and feels like — to learn from it. I hope that I can also help someone feel a little less lonely, a little more (is there a measure to it?) reconciled.

I haven’t gotten used to the smell yet. But I have been thinking a lot about the nursing home and the people who live and die there, and wanted to share what I learned.

1) At the end, only the important things remain

“This is all I have left,” a patient recently told me, pointing to a photograph of himself and his wife.

It made me notice the things people bring to the nursing home. The rooms are usually small, so what people bring is important to them. If they have a family, there will be photos of them (most popular are the photos of grandchildren). There might also be a few cherished books, a get-well-soon card, a painting by a grandchild or a nephew, some clothes, maybe flowers. And that’s about it. The world shrinks in the nursing home, and only a few things remain: things that feel important — like they’re worth fighting for, while we still can.

2) Having a routine is key to happiness

‘m a little lazy. My ideal vacation is doing nothing, maybe on a deserted beach somewhere. I look in terror upon very scheduled, very planned people. Yet I have been noticing that doing nothing rarely fills me with joy, while doing something sometimes does. Hence, the conflict: Should I push myself to do things, or should I go with the flow and do things only when I feel like doing them? Being in a nursing home changed my perspective somewhat: I noticed that all the patients who do well follow a routine. Their routines are different but always involve some structure and internal discipline.

I am working with a 94-year-old woman. She wakes up at 6:30 am every day, makes her bed, goes for a stroll with a walker, eats breakfast, exercises in the “rehabilitation room,” reads, eats lunch, naps, goes for another walk, drinks tea with a friend, eats dinner, and goes to bed. She has a well-defined routine. She pushes herself to do things, some of which are very difficult for her, without asking herself why it is important to do them. And, I think, this is what keeps her alive — her movement, her pushing, is her life.

Observing her, I have been coming to the conclusion that it might be true for all of us. And I often think about her when I am debating whether to go for a run or not, whether to write for a couple more hours or not, whether to finally get up from the couch and clean my apartment or not — she would do it, I know, so maybe I should, too.

3) Old people have the same range of emotions as everyone else

“You are so handsome. Are you married?” is something I hear only in extended-family gatherings and in nursing homes. People flirt with me there all the time. This has nothing to do with their age or health — but rather with whether they are shy. When we see someone who is in his 90s and is all bent and wrinkled and sits in a wheelchair, we might think he doesn’t feel anything except physical pain — especially not any sexual urges. That’s not true.

As long as people live, they feel everything. They feel lust and regret and sadness and joy. And denying that, because of our own discomfort, is one of the worst things we can do to old people.

Patients in nursing home gossip (“Did you know that this nurse is married to the social worker?”), flirt, make jokes, cry, feel helpless, complain of boredom. “What does someone in her 80s talk about?” a colleague asked me. “About the same things,” I replied, “only with more urgency.”

Some people don’t get that, and talk to old people as if they were children. “How are we today, Mr. Goldstein?” I heard someone ask in a high-pitched voice of a former history professor in his 80s, and then without waiting for a response added, “Did we poopie this morning?” Yes, we did poopie this morning. But we also remembered a funny story from last night and thought about death and about our grandchildren and about whether we could sleep with you because your neck looks nice.

4) Old people are invisible in American culture

People at the nursing home like to watch TV. It’s always on. How strange, then, that there are no old people on TV.

Here’s a picture I see every day: It’s the middle of the day and there is a cooking show or a talk show on, and the host is in her 50s, let’s say, but obviously looks much younger, and her guest is in his 30s or 50s and also looks younger, and they talk in this hyper-enthusiastic voice about how “great!” their dish or their new movie is, or how “sad!” the story they just heard was. Watching them is a room full of pensive people in their 80s and 90s who are not quite sure what all the fuss is about. They don’t see themselves there. They don’t belong there.

I live in Brooklyn, and I rarely see old people around. I rarely see them in Manhattan, either. When I entered the nursing home for the first time I remember thinking that it feels like a prison or a psychiatric institution: full of people who are outside of society, rarely seen on the street. In other cultures, old people are esteemed and valued, and you see them around. In this manic, death-denying culture we live in, there seems to be little place for a melancholic outlook from someone that doesn’t look “young!” and “great!” but might know something about life that we don’t.

There isn’t one Big Truth about life that the patients in the nursing home told me that I can report back; it’s a certain perspective, a combination of all the small things. Things like this, which a patient in her 80s told me while we were looking outside: “Valery, one day you will be my age, God willing, and you will sit here, where I sit now, and you will look out of the window, as I do now. And you want to do that without regret and envy; you want to just look out at the world outside and be okay with not being a part of it anymore.”

5) The only distraction from pain is spiritual

Some people in the nursing home talk about their physical pain all the time; others don’t. They talk about other things instead, and it’s rarely a sign of whether they are in pain or not.

Here’s my theory: If for most of your life you are concerned with the mundane (which, think about it, always involves personal comfort) then when you get old and feel a lot of pain, that’s going to be the only thing you’re going to think about. It’s like a muscle — you developed the mundane muscle and not the other one.

The saddest people I see in the nursing home are childless

And you can’t start developing the spiritual muscle when you’re old. If you didn’t reallycare about anything outside of yourself (like books, or sports, or your brother, or what is a moral life), you’re not going to start when you’re old and in terrible pain. Your terrible pain will be the only thing on your mind.

But if you have developed the spiritual muscle — not me, not my immediate comfort — you’ll be fine; it will work. I have a couple of patients in their 90s who really care about baseball — they worried whether the Mets were going to make the playoffs this year, so they rarely talked about anything else; or a patient who is concerned about the future of the Jewish diaspora and talks about it most of our sessions; or a patient who was worried that not going to a Thanksgiving dinner because of her anxieties about her “inappropriately old” appearance was actually a selfish act that was not fair to her sister. Concerns like these make physical pain more bearable, maybe because they make it less important.

6) If you don’t have kids, getting old is tough

The decision to have kids is personal, and consists of so many factors: financial, medical, moral, and so on. There are no rights or wrongs here, obviously. But when we are really old and drooling and wearing a diaper, and it’s physically unpleasant to look at our wounds or to smell us, the only people who might be there consistently, when we need them, are going to be either paid to do so (which is okay but not ideal) or our children. A dedicated nephew might come from time to time. An old friend will visit.

But chances are that our siblings will be very old by then, and our parents will be dead, which leaves only children to be there when we need it. Think about it when you are considering whether to have children. The saddest people I see in the nursing home are childless.

7) Think about how you want to die

José Arcadio Buendía in One Hundred Years of Solitude dies under a tree in his own backyard. That’s a pretty great death.

People die in different ways in the nursing home. Some with regrets; others in peace. Some cling to the last drops of life; others give way. Some planned their deaths and prepared for them — making their deaths meaningful, not random. A woman in her 90s recently told me, “Trees die standing tall.” This is how she wants to go: standing, not crawling.

I think of death as a tour guide to my life — “Look here; pay attention to this!” the guide tells me. Maybe not the most cheerful one, slightly overweight and irritated, but certainly one who knows a lot and can point to the important things while avoiding the popular, touristy stuff. He can tell me that if I want to die under a tree in my backyard, for example, it might make sense to live in a house with a backyard and a tree. To you, he will say that if you don’t want any extra procedures done to you at the end, it might make sense to talk about it with the people who will eventually make this decision. That if you want to die while hang-gliding over an ocean, then, who knows, maybe that’s also possible.

I think of death as a tour guide to my life — “Look here; pay attention to this!”

My father, who has spent the past 30 years working in an ICU as a cardiologist and has seen many deaths, once told me that if he had to choose, he would choose dying well over living well — the misery of a terrible, regretful death feels worse to him than a misery of a terrible life, but a peaceful death feels like the ultimate reward. I think I am beginning to see his point.

I am 33. Sometimes it feels like a lot — close to the end; sometimes, it doesn’t. Depends on the day, I guess. And like all of us, including the people in the nursing home, I am figuring things out, trying to do my best with the time I have. To not waste it.

Recently, I had a session with a woman in her 90s who has not been feeling well.

“It’s going in a very clear direction,” she told me. “Toward the end.”

“It’s true for all of us,” I replied.

“No, sweetheart. There is a big difference: You have much more time.”

Complete Article HERE!

Passwords and Powers of Attorney: Your Digital Estate Planning Options

With digital estate planning sites, you can upload wills, trusts, health care directives and even appraisals of your valuable items.


Digital planning
Digital planning sites encourage you to discuss end-of-life issues with your family, record your wishes and then make it easy for family members to find them when necessary.

We don’t like to talk about the end of our lives, but it’s something that is important to plan for, both for ourselves and for those we leave behind.

These days, estate planning includes not only who will inherit our worldly goods when we die, but also what will happen to our digital legacies. While the digital passwords of our lives may be needed by our heirs after our deaths, it’s not exactly practical to update our wills every time we add a new password.

New companies are springing up to help us make plans and gather all the information our heirs will need in one place. Not only do the services provide a digital value, they provide prompts to encourage us to think about issues we haven’t put in writing, such as what music we would like playing in our final hours.

“I can’t tell you how important it is to have all this information in one place,” says Abby Schneiderman, co-founder of, which started out as a content site and then grew into a planning platform after her brother’s death in a car crash in 2012. “It helps people get together all of the important information and documents the family needs in the event of an emergency or, even worse, a death.”

Everplans is one of several companies that allow you to create a digital repository of your wills, health care directives, funeral wishes, plans for your pet, desires for your Facebook page, what you’d like to see in your obituary, family photos and even your grandpa’s cherished spaghetti recipe. You can enter information during your life that you want your family to find when you die or share information with family now.

Steve Byrne, co-founder of, says many of his clients are baby boomers who are struggling to figure out what their parents want. They don’t want to put their children into the same position. The sites drill down into much more detail than you would typically include in a will or an advance health care directive, down to what interventions you want and who you want in the room while you’re dying.

If you’re in an accident, for example, who has the power to make decisions for you? If you’ve given your sister that responsibility, how will your doctors know, and does she have a copy of the document?

“People say I don’t want to be a vegetable, but what does a vegetable mean?” Byrne says. “Our mission is to encourage people to think about, to document and share end-of-life wishes.”

Everplans and Final Roadmap are two among a number of sites that provide this type of service, including The,, and

All sites encourage you to discuss end-of-life issues with your family, record your wishes and then make it easy for family members to find them when they’re needed. “What we try to do is not only have a place for everything, but guide them through those questions,” Byrne says. “There are people still years after they’ve made decisions wondering if they did the right thing because it was just a guess.”

You can designate whom you wish to see specific information and whether you want to share it now or not until after you’ve passed.

“I try to make this as easy as possible for people to have this all in one place,” says Byrne, who founded the site with his wife, Kerry Shannon, a health care consultant. “We want people to do this while they’re healthy, while they still have the faculties. … We try to tell people this is not about dying, this is about planning ahead.”

The sites provide places to upload wills, trusts, health care directives, powers of attorney and even appraisals of valuable items you may own. You may also be asked to record the location of notarized and signed copies of documents and the contact information for your estate planning attorney.

Users can add all kinds of details, from records of their pets’ health, to family genealogy, to password for online accounts to instructions on how elements in the house work. “I guess you could call it a smart vault,” Schneiderman says.

Everplans charges $75 a year, while Final Roadmap charges a one-time fee of $249, with discounts for multiple users. The services also have options for sharing all the aspects of your digital life, from passwords to bank accounts to the message you want sent to your Twitter followers after you’re gone.

“I consider [digital estate planning] in this day and age traditional estate planning,” says Wendy Goffe, an estate lawyer who is a partner at Stoel Rives in Seattle. “Your digital life is a big part of your life. For some people, that’s the biggest part of your life.”

Goffe cautions that everyone’s situation is different and no online service can replace the advice of an experienced attorney who understands your situation. “You don’t know what you’re not getting,” she says. “A program only gives you what you ask for, and you’re not always asking the right things.” Your digital life may include valuable intellectual property, for example, which requires more planning than what to do with your Facebook status updates.

The other issues people need to be aware of with online repositories, she says, are security and what will happen to your documents if the company goes under. One option for customers might be to print out copies of everything they place online and let a family member know the location of those paper documents.

Here are seven factors to consider when doing your end-of-life planning:

Legal documents. Most people need a will and some would benefit from a trust. You probably also want to designate a health care surrogate and leave an advance health care directive. Exactly which documents you need may vary by state and situation, so consulting with an estate planning lawyer is advisable.

Digital legacy. What do you want to happen with your online accounts when you pass on, and how will your heirs find all the passwords? If you own intellectual property such as e-books, photos or other copyrighted material, you may want to consult an attorney.

Business future. If you own a business, what will happen to it when you die or are unable to run it? Would someone be able to find everything they need to run your business temporarily if you were in an accident? Once you die, does someone inherit the business or will it be shut down?

End-of-life wishes. A health care surrogate and an advance directive will cover your legal bases, but you may want to give your family, especially the person who will make decisions for you, more details about when you would like heroic measures taken and when you would prefer no interventions. Do you have specific ideas on who you would prefer to be with you and what you want the atmosphere to be when you’re dying?

Funeral plans. Do you want burial or cremation? Are there specific readings or songs you want at your service or people you would like to have speak? What do you want included in your obituary? How will your family know whom to contact with the information that you have passed?

Assets. If you died tomorrow, would your heirs be able to find all your assets? Is all your beneficiary information current on your retirement accounts and life insurance? Do you need to leave passwords to access accounts?

Day-to-day details. Will you heirs know how to pay the water bill, the mortgage and other home chores? If you rent, will they know how to contact your landlord? These items will need to be handled while your home is waiting to be sold or occupied by another family member.

Complete Article HERE!

7 MORE Women Funeral Professionals You Should Know About

By Rochelle Rietow

We have to say… the ladies of the funeral profession have been killin’ it this year. (No pun intended.) From the amazing women who led the educational conferences at NFDA 2015 to some seriously exciting career advancements that will make an overall positive impact on the industry… we have never been more proud of the talented women that we work alongside.

Earlier this year, we wrote a blog post highlighting 8 Women Funeral Professionals You Should Know About, and we were blown away by the positive feedback we received. Women and men from all across the profession logged on to give these ladies a much-deserved congratulations, and to nominate many other hard-working women in the funeral profession who deserve to have their passion showcased to the world.

So… we’re back with round two! Here are seven more women in the funeral profession who have been working hard to educate, celebrate and bring passion to this industry. Thank you for all that you do!

1. Jana Haldenwang

Jana L. HaldenwangEarlier this year when we asked our readers to share some of the most notable women in this profession, Jana was one of the first names mentioned… and with good reason! Not only is Jana a licensed funeral director, she is also a certified bereavement facilitator from the American Academy of Bereavement and the president of the Tri-County Funeral Directors Association.

“[She’s] a huge figure in Central NY. Has guided many an apprentice, and has contributed so many hours to volunteer organizations like Rotary, as well as to the NYSFDA,” wrote her nominator. “I believe she has made a huge difference through teaching compassion, generosity, tolerance and creativity to all she has taken under her guidance.”

2. Kristan McNames

Kristan McNamesIt’s no secret that we here at funeralOne are a big fan of Kristan McNames – we publish her super educational and informative guest posts whenever we get the chance! But, when Kristan isn’t sharing her expertise on the funeralOne blog, she is finding time to be a funeral director, a business owner, a wife and a mom.

After tiring of the corporate funeral world, Kristan opened Grace Funeral and Cremation Services in 2009 with her husband Bob, who is also a funeral director. Their goal was to throw out the corporate sales targets that had infiltrated their world, and instead, put the focus back on making services memorable for families. “A funeral can either bring peace and comfort to a family, or it can add to their burden.  It’s our job to make it meaningful and special for the families that choose us,” she writes. They have been doing just that ever since.

3. Elleanor Davis Starks

Elleanor Davis StarksAnother phenomenal nominee that we received after publishing our last Women In The Funeral Profession blog was Elleanor Davis Starks. In 1993, Elleanor founded 100 Black Women of Funeral Service, Inc. ﹘ a network for black women and minorities in the professional funeral service industry. This hallmark organization has since grown to include scholarships, awards and powerful luncheons where women can gather together to discuss important topics in the profession and help one another find success.

“It is very important that women stand out in this profession,” Elleanor writes. “We come in all shapes, sizes, colors, and backgrounds. We should be proud of each other’s successes. Women are some of the best embalmers and funeral directors, and we keep the families coming back.  I am proud of my sisters. If you don’t have a woman in your firm you are missing something really special.”

4. Caroline McGill

Caroline McGillAs a blogger, I am constantly looking for educational and interesting takes on the funeral profession – both to inspire me and to share with our own readers. One of my favorite people to turn to when I am looking to be inspired is Caroline McGill. In addition to being a licensed funeral director and embalmer in Charleston, Caroline also runs a personal blog where she writes about her experiences in the profession.

One of my favorite excerpts: “There aren’t many things about death that are beautiful, but it is my job as a funeral professional to make more of them come into being. Preparing the body, washing hair, buttoning shirts, tying ties, painting nails, positioning in the casket…. All of it to be sure the good memories are talked about, laughed about, and held onto for just a little while longer … As you open your hymnal to “How Great Thou Art,” we stand in the back and sing along because we know it by heart. And it is beautiful.”

Needless to say, Caroline’s blog is worth the read.

5. Stephanie Longmuir

Stephanie LongmuirAs we mentioned earlier, one of the areas in which women have especially excelled this year is through leadership in continuing education sessions. One of my favorite events at NFDA 2015 last month was Stephanie Longmuir’s session on the important role that funeral celebrants play in a funeral service.

Hailing from Melbourne, Australia, Stephanie has lead hundreds of funeral services over the years, from four people to four hundred, from simple graveside committals to extravagant all day memorials, from a motorcade of 100 motorcycles to a moment of silent tribute in a park, and more. As a celebrant, her focus is on providing a funeral service that reflects the wishes, beliefs, values and cultural background of the family and their loved one, so they may find some comfort in the process. She is truly a ceremony specialist with a thorough background in the history of ritual, ceremony and funeral traditions, and the education that she is providing other funeral directors who are looking to become celebrants is invaluable.

(Ps. Be on the lookout for an exclusive post from Stephanie on the topic of funeral celebrants – coming soon to the funeralOne blog!)

6. Amy Fulton

amy_fultonThere are few people in this profession who are doing more powerful or impactful work than the people who are teaching the funeral directors of the future. Amy Fulton is one of those people. Currently an embalmer at Service Corporation International (SCI), as well as an educator at AAS Dallas Institute of Funeral Service, Amy’s personal mission is to restore the value of the embalming and presentation of the deceased to all families, including those wishing cremation.

According to the student who nominated Amy in our last post, “Amy Fulton, who is currently our practical embalming teacher at Dallas Institute of Funeral Service … is great and we learn so much from her. She is a great role model and is teaching many females to be the best embalmers we can be.”

7. Jessica Fowler

Jessica FowlerAnother woman funeral blogger that we can’t be inspired enough by is Jessica Fowler. Jessica is the Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer at ASD – Answering Service for Directors. In the span of 10+ years, she has answered the calls of funeral homes nationwide, fielding more than 350,000 calls and 16,000 first calls. She’s also been featured in several trade publications, sharing her expertise on funeral trends, technology, communication and business planning.

With this impressive experience under her belt, it’s safe to say that Jessica has a strong pulse on what’s happening in the profession – both from a funeral professional’s perspective, and from their families.

How to get what we need at the end of life

By Diane E. Meier

MY PATIENT – I’ll call her Mrs. Stein — had been crystal clear for the 12 years I took care of her. “I never want to end up in a nursing home — make sure you help me stay in my own home. I want to die in my own bed!”what we need at the end of life

A few years later, she had a stroke and her only option was a nursing home. She didn’t have enough money to pay out of pocket for 24-hour personal care at home, and neither Medicare nor Medicaid would cover it. Angry and depressed, she left for a neighborhood nursing home, where she lived another five years. I knew her wishes, but our society provided no means of honoring them.

In order to know what our patients prize most, we need to ask them, and then we must be able to act on what we learn. This requires three key elements.

First, we have to help clinicians and their patients get off the 10-minute office visit treadmill, by compensating providers for conducting meaningful conversations with patients about their priorities and treatment options. Recent government effort to provide payments to clinicians for having conversations about what matters most to our patients if they can no longer decide or care for themselves (referred to as advance care planning) is an important step in wrestling our health care system back to one that places patient needs and priorities first.

Second, these are not easy conversations to have. Clinicians are not born knowing how to have them, and just like our patients, we avoid discussions about uncomfortable topics. Meanwhile, talking about future medical priorities is not taught in medical schools. Until this kind of training is routine and universal, it does not matter whether or how much we pay for these conversations; clinicians will continue to avoid them. The good news is that a bill in Congress, the Palliative Care and Hospice Education and Training Act, addresses these issues.

But third, it is not enough to know what patients want. We must also be able to act on those wishes by covering the care and support people need in order to remain as independent as possible in their own homes. While the Care Choices Act represents some progress, as it allows people to get hospice care at home focused on comfort and quality of life at the same time as continued disease treatment, it does not cover the personal care and support. But there is hope here, too — the Affordable Care Act creates new incentives for our health systems to help us avoid unnecessary, risky, and costly hospitalization, incentives that will drive greater willingness on the part of both public and private insurers to meet people’s needs in their own homes. That’s a lot cheaper than having people end up in hospitals and nursing homes. It is also what most of us — including Mrs. Stein — would want.


Dr. Diane E. Meier is a palliative medicine physician and director of the Center To Advance Palliative Care at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai in New York City.

Complete Article HERE!