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Life poses no more curious a riddle than its termination. This natural and inevitable event may arouse thoughts that can complicate life with fear and anxiety about the unknown. Yet, there remains the practical consideration of carrying out the earthly decisions surrounding life’s final chapter. With so much that we don’t know about death, most of us find it comforting to exert a degree of control about what we do know. In the weeks and months that follow, we will provide our readers with enough information to make end-of-life decisions that will enable them to meet death on their own terms. It is our earnest hope that the information and insights we offer will provide comfort to those most in need of it.

QUOTE: “Our birth made us mortal; our death will make us immortal.”

Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia



While most consumers like to compare prices and quality of goods and services, they are often reluctant to shop for funeral services, caskets, and other related products. This reluctance becomes all the more pronounced when these decisions have to be made at the time of a family member’s death. At this point,  if the many decisions surrounding the purchase of funeral services, caskets, and burial plots is left to the deceased’s surviving relatives, they are likely to overspend  in the belief that nothing is too good for their dearly departed. With all these potential consequences of consumer inaction in mind, it is highly recommended that individuals take matters into their own hands before their ultimate day of reckoning arrives. 

QUOTE: “Grief is the price we pay for love.” 

Queen Elizabeth II 



Many parents wait until they are confronted with death before they start thinking about how to talk to their children about it. That may not be the best time, especially if parents are also dealing with the loss. By taking a few moments to reflect on your beliefs about death and your experiences with it, there are endless occasions to talk with children about death  as a part of life. However, most parents bypass these chances, trying to protect their children from “unpleasantness.” Experts say that parents should instead  seize these opportunities. It may help them help their children understand the concept of death if they familiarize them with this reality  before they have to confront it directly.

 QUOTE: “Mothers hold their children’s hands for a short while, but their hearts forever.”




When a loved one has passed, it’s only natural to feel overwhelmed by feelings of sadness. During this time of intense sorrow, you may understandably feel emotionally drained. To complicate matters further, it can be overwhelming to learn that there is so much that must be done  in terms of planning the funeral and burial. If you were the person closest to the deceased, it may be incumbent upon you to arrange the funeral and inform the authorities; yet, all this responsibility may come at the precise moment when you feel completely exhausted by events. If you find that just coping with your grief is all you can handle, the funeral director can help you take care of the rest.

QUOTE: “That best portion of a good man’s life, his little nameless unremembered acts of kindness and of love.”

William Wordsworth



When death takes their husbands, many surviving widows are surprised that they can find the strength to carry on. In fact, many recently widowed women told researchers that they felt stronger and more confident after their losses. While they may have expected their lives to fall apart, they found themselves able to manage hurdles that they probably thought they could never have managed alone. Researchers found that widowed women, in general, were more likely than widowers to say that they found themselves more capable  after their spouses’ deaths, and that they were stronger as a result of their experiences. These inspiring accounts show that people do find the strength to move on  after the death of a spouse. 

QUOTE: “The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”

Marcus Tullius Cicero



Immediately following the death of a loved one, those in the deceased’s immediate family are likely to find themselves preoccupied with funeral and burial arrangements, financial concerns, and visits from friends and other family members. However, once this busy period subsides, grieving individuals are largely left alone with their grief  at a time when they most need support. At this point, it is very helpful for the grief-stricken to share their memories and talk about their loss. To help in this process, it may be advisable to join a grief support group or engage in grief counseling with a therapist. The grieving process is an individual path that need not be undertaken alone.

QUOTE: “Grief, no matter where it comes from, can only be resolved by connecting to other people.”

Thomas Horn



Even if you have preplanned your funeral and drawn up both a living will and a standard will, you still may want to create a “durable power of attorney for healthcare.” This document enables you to assign a person to make important medical decisions for you  if you are unable to do so for yourself. Also known as an “advanced healthcare directive,” this legal form necessitates that you appoint an agent  who shares your medical treatment philosophy and values. It may also be a good idea to appoint an alternate agent. Your preferences should be discussed with the person(s) whom you appoint  to ensure that he or she is comfortable making medical decisions on your behalf.

QUOTE: “It is the secret of the world that all things subsist and do not die, but retire a little from sight and afterwards return again.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson



In the wake, or aftermath, of death, many cultures hold a “wake,” which is a vigil for the dead. Among the Irish, the wake is an intimate expression of national character. It is a curious blend of religious devotion, social support, and cultural cohesion. At the center of its importance remains the Celtic passion for sturdy vigil, as mourners wait out the darkness on the promise of something better yet to come. The Irish wake was woven from the twin threads of compassion and companionship, which are critical elements in the natural structure of the ancient tribe. Later, Christian elements were integrated to include expression of civility and the public celebration of grief, faith, sorrow, and trust.

QUOTE: “Lord, heap miseries upon us yet entwine our arts with laughters low.”

James Joyce, Finnegans Wake



Memorial services have become increasingly popular, especially among those whose loved ones have been cremated and whose remains have already been disposed of. A memorial service is an option  when all family members and friends of the deceased are not able to make it in time to attend the burial. In such cases, it is possible to have a timely funeral,  and a memorial service may be scheduled at a later date when more people are able to attend. A memorial service may be planned  when a large gathering of people is expected that would not fit into the confines of the burial site. In that case, a memorial service can be conducted in a restaurant, hall, or other event space.

QUOTE: “One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.” 

Antonio Porchia



One way to pay for a funeral is to prefund it with a “payable on death” account (or “Totten trust”) at a bank or credit union. With this account, the owner names a beneficiary,  who inherits the funds of the account  when the account owner dies. These popular accounts provide a way to effectively transfer money  upon death  without undergoing probate court proceedings. There are also “pre-need” plans offered by funeral homes that can be used to lock in some or all of the cost of a funeral at current prices. In some cases, the consumer must purchase an insurance policy with the funeral home named as beneficiary or the money must be held in a state-managed trust account.

QUOTE: “Perhaps they are not stars but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones shines down to let us know they are happy.”

Eskimo legend



As Americans continue to  choose cremation over burial, there has been an increased need for options in determining the final resting place of the “cremains.” One-third of people who receive cremains bury them, one third keep them, and the last third scatter them.  Those  who choose to keep the cremains often place them in a permanent container or cremation urn. These urns can then be placed in a columbarium niche at a cemetery or in a cremation garden,  or kept  at home. There are also keepsake urns, which are designed to hold only a portion of the cremated remains. These are useful  when more than one family member wants a portion of the deceased’s remains.

QUOTE: “The sole equality on earth is death.” 

Philip James Bailey




Today’s cemeteries owe a great deal to the “garden cemeteries” that were planned in the outlying suburbs of London  during the mid-19th century. These eternal resting places featured walled-off fields, catacombs, chapels, and planted trees. As exclusive resting places, they not only provided areas of interment for the dead, but  they were also  places of instruction for the living. They provoked a mood of quiet contemplation and respect. Within their walls, Victorians could wander and ponder the hereafter. These fashionable cemeteries soon blossomed around every major British city and were considered one of the great successes of their age. Parliament ordered the building of seven new “great gardens of sleep,” which are now referred to as the “Magnificent Seven.” 

QUOTE: “The cemetery is an open space among the ruins, covered in winter with violets and daisies. It might make one in love with death, to think that one should be buried in so sweet a place.”

Percy Bysshe Shelley



Judaism provides a structured period of mourning that enables mourners to gradually heal. “Sitting shiva” is the term used to describe the traditional ritual of the mourners  in the seven days  after the deceased has been buried. A “shiva call” is an important act of condolence by which callers arrive unannounced  at any time of the day to support the mourners  by offering them the opportunity to speak about the loss and by sharing memories. Shiva callers are not permitted to greet the mourner, but must  instead wait to be noticed and greeted. Conversation must be initiated by the mourner, and the caller doesn’t attempt to distract the mourner. This custom provides useful insight for visitors to any grieving household.

QUOTE: “Grief is like the ocean; it comes in waves, ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” 

Vicki Harrison 



While it may be difficult for most people to anticipate the possibility that they may become so ill that they may not be able to make decisions for themselves, it is important to face the prospect. By sharing their wishes in an “advance medical directive,” it is possible for individuals to spare their families the burden of making these critical decisions on their own. This document provides information on what types of care a person would want  if he or she could not speak for him- or herself. Beyond that, a “living will” is a type of advance directive that describes what type of life-sustaining support measures would be acceptable  in the event of imminent death due to terminal illness. 

QUOTE: “You only live twice. Once when you are born and once when you look death in the face.”

Ian Fleming



Traditionally, when people have uttered the phrase “it’s your funeral,” they have intended it as a warning that an irresponsible act could lead to dire consequences for the actor.  On the other hand, a funeral director can use the phrase to suggest that you might as well take full responsibility for an event at which you are going to be the center of attention. As such, your funeral should reflect your personal convictions, tastes, and budget. Funeral preplanning enables you to make important decisions involving religious affiliation and customs, as well as the use of pictures, music, and readings to celebrate your life. It will also give consideration to the needs of your surviving family members, both emotionally and financially.

QUOTE: “Let no one weep for me, or celebrate my funeral with mourning; for I still live, as I pass to and fro through the mouths of men.”

Quintus Ennius



Baby Boomers, in particular, often describe their lives as having been played out against a background of music that speaks of their time and experience. With this in mind, many are deciding to incorporate music that is important to them in their funeral plans. While funerals used to be solely associated with solemn organ music, funeral preplanners may decide that the tunes of James Taylor, Neil Young, or Joni Mitchell may be more appropriate to their experience. This is done with a complete understanding of music’s ability to affect mood and shape the way that people will remember them and their final day together. This is but one of the many ways that people can personalize their funerals.  

QUOTE: “Music is the universal language of mankind.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow 



It is vitally important that those suffering the deep sorrow that comes from the loss of a loved one be given ways to express their emotions. This universal need has given rise to mourning rituals such as funerals, visiting hours, and related customs of dress and behavior, which help the bereaved cope with their grief. These practices differ widely between countries and ethnic groups, encompassing everything from celebrations and feasts to periods of wailing. In this country, the observance of mourning customs has declined steadily over the years to the point where many bereaved individuals may feel deprived of due recognition of their grief. Proper funeral preplanning can introduce a process by which sorrow can be fully expressed.

QUOTE: “My feet will want to walk to where you are sleepingbut I shall go on living.”

Pablo Neruda



Funerals are for the living in that they provide family members and friends of the deceased with an avenue of expression and a coping mechanism for their grief and bereavement. The ceremonial ritual may not relieve the pain of grief nor the feelings of loss, emptiness, loneliness, and despair, but it does provide a framework of social support that is life-affirming. Funerals create a structure that shows the bereaved a way of bringing the past relationship with the deceased to a close and beginning a transition to the future. Ideally, it is hoped that funerals provide comfort and strong psychological support to those left behind by sanctifying the life and relationships of the person who has passed on.

QUOTE: “The grave itself is but a covered bridge, leading from light to light, through a brief darkness!”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow



The words inscribed upon headstones and grave markers do more than identify and provide information about the person buried below. An epitaph can also relay a message to the living that will live on in perpetuity. These words carry power, not only because they are literally carved in stone, but because they reflect the deceased’s essence and everlasting intentions. It would, therefore, be worthwhile to take the time to reflect on how you would like to be remembered. Whether the words are in verse or in prose, borrowed or original, they will serve to define your life and being to all who stop to pay their respects. An epitaph starts the conversation that the living have with the dead.    

QUOTE: “The best is yet to come.”

Frank Sinatra



Among the many factors that funeral preplanning addresses is the issue of where the deceased’s remains will be buried, entombed, or scattered. In the short interval between the death and burial of a loved one, many family members find themselves rushing to purchase a cemetery plot or grave, often without careful thought or a visit to the site. For this reason alone, it is in the family’s best interest to purchase cemetery plots before they are needed. When doing so, consider the location of the cemetery and what type of monuments or memorials are allowed. Remember that all veterans are entitled to free burial in a national cemetery and a grave marker, as are their spouses and dependent children.

QUOTE: “When a life has been lived completely honestly, completely successfully, or just completely, the correct response to death’s perfect punctuation mark is a smile.”

Julie Burchill



Delivering a eulogy at a funeral enables family members to share personal memories of the deceased with the assembled mourners. Taking full advantage of this opportunity gives the grief stricken a chance to inject a degree of unmatched intimacy and authenticity into the proceedings. Eulogizers should try to recollect moments and incidents that amplify the personality of the deceased. No moment is too small. In fact, it is sometimes the seemingly inconsequential moments in life that are best remembered and/or leave the biggest impressions. As with most writing assignments, it is important for eulogizers to distill their thoughts, practice their delivery, and speak from the heart. Their words are sure to be closely followed.

QUOTE: “Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones. A legacy is etched into the minds of others and the stories they share about you.”

Shannon L. Alder



In ancient times, it was generally believed that the body and soul were inseparable. However, archeologists have uncovered the first written evidence that the people in the region now known as Turkey held to the religious concept of the soul apart from the body. It was in an Iron Age city called Sam’al that archeologists found a three-foot-tall, eight-hundred-pound slab of stone, dating back to about the eighth century B.C., on which was inscribed an image of a deceased man. Although he was probably cremated, the words inscribed on the stone explained how the man’s soul was thought to live on in the slab. This belief in an eternal soul persists to this day.   

QUOTE: “Thinking: the talking of the soul with itself.”




Funeral pre-arrangement enables consumers to decide what type of funeral service, casket, and burial vault they want. In addition, anyone anticipating future needs can choose aspects of a funeral such as clergy, place of burial or other method of disposition, flowers, information for an obituary notice, and other details they may wish to include. Funeral pre-arrangement allows individuals to exert control over the last important event of their life. More importantly, from an emotional standpoint, it eases the burden for those who would otherwise have to make the tough decisions about a loved one’s funeral under very trying circumstances. It is far better to plan your own funeral and not shift the responsibility to those you love most.

QUOTE: “Yesterday is a memory, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift, which is why it is called the present.”




When a loved one passes, parents are often faced with the decision of whether their children should attend the funeral or memorial service. Other than the child’s age, important factors to consider include the circumstances surrounding the death, the child’s temperament, the family’s attitude, and the wishes of the child. Generally speaking, funerals provide children with the same opportunity that they allow grownups—the ability to say goodbye to the deceased. Children also benefit from knowing that their daily routines will not be disrupted, that they can openly discuss their feelings, and that they can cry or feel sad. Including children in the grieving process provides them with the opportunity to become familiar with something that may otherwise be incomprehensible.

QUOTE: “A person has learned much who has learned how to die.” 

German saying



“Grief work” refers to the process that a mourner undergoes before he or she can come to grips with the death of a loved one. It includes separating from the person who died, readjusting to the world without that person, and forming new relationships. To separate from the person who died, a mourner must find another way to redirect the emotional energy previously given to the loved one. This does not mean the person was not loved or should be forgotten, but that the mourner needs to turn to others for emotional satisfaction. The mourner’s roles, identity, and skills may require adjustment to living in a world without an essential relationship and reinvesting emotional energy once reserved for the deceased.

QUOTE: “Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.”

Anne Roiphe




The motivation to preplan a funeral often comes out of consideration and love for the immediate family members who will survive you. Funeral preplanning spares your survivors the stress of making difficult decisions under pressure while enabling you to choose the specific services you want. When preplanning, put your preferences in writing and give copies to family members and your attorney. Also be sure to keep a copy in a readily accessible place. Avoid putting the only copy of your preferences in a safety deposit box, which precludes making arrangements on a weekend or holiday. Do not designate your preferences in your will, which is often not found or read until after the funeral.

QUOTE: “Our fear of death is like our fear that summer will be short, but when we have had our swing of pleasure, our fill of fruit, and our swelter of heat, we say we have had our day.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson




When choosing a cemetery, bear in mind that it will not only be your final resting place, but it will also be the locale where family and friends come to visit and remember. With this in mind, it is important to decide whether the place you choose will be close to your home and family or in a place that has sentimental meaning for you. Deciding on the type of burial you want can help narrow down the choices. While many cemeteries offer both traditional and “green,” eco-friendly burials, some may only offer one or the other. If cremation is preferred, it may be best to consider a small mausoleum that can serve future generations as well.

QUOTE: “The cemetery is my sense of comfort, my sanctuary in a world of darkness, the one piece of light that I have in my life.”

Jessica Sorensen



Although spirituality may contain some elements of religion, it is generally a broader concept. Religion may set forth a set of standards and beliefs accompanied by religious practices, while spirituality seeks to answer questions about our existence and our relationship to living things. Spirituality is often a primary component of religion, but it can also exist in the absence of religious beliefs. If so, it may be music, art, reading, praying, meditating, or some other impulse that helps the dying get in touch with their spiritual sides. With this in mind, family and friends should talk to the dying about how they can help address their spiritual concerns and ease them through the transition to death.

QUOTE: “Happiness cannot be traveled to, owned, earned, worn or consumed. Happiness is the spiritual experience of living every minute with love, grace, and gratitude.”                                                  

Denis Waitley



A will isn’t a good place to express your death and funeral preferences because it is not likely to be read until several weeks after you die, when important decisions have already been made. Without a document that outlines your final decisions, your surviving relatives will be left on their own to make the difficult decisions surrounding your funeral and burial. In that case, grief-stricken family members may well choose the most expensive goods and services out of feelings of obligation. By making your own final arrangements in advance, you can relieve your family of this unnecessary stress and direct them to follow your wishes. A final arrangements document sets forth the necessary details in an accessible and appropriate manner.  

QUOTE: “It is the secret of the world that all things subsist and do not die, but retire a little from sight and afterwards return again.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson



When words fail, flowers can speak volumes about the way we feel and where our sympathies lie. Flowers, which are traditionally displayed during the viewing and the service, are symbolic of the beauty and continuity of life. Friends and family of the bereaved can expand upon these themes by sending flowers to the homes of mourners in a display of care and support. Although the initial outpouring of sympathy is a great comfort to a family who has lost a loved one, many people experiencing such a loss appreciate being thought of in the weeks and months after the funeral. With this in mind, consider sending flowers or a plant with a personal note to the home of the bereaved.

QUOTE: “Flowers grow out of dark moments.”

Corita Kent



Not all cultures subscribe to embalming, nor is it necessarily prescribed by law. However, it may be a requirement if a body must travel across state lines or certain distances. Aside from postponing the inevitable decomposition of the body, embalming also restores the body to a more pleasing appearance. This is a distinct advantage for those families who wish to view the body prior to burial. Embalming dates back to at least ancient Egypt, where the body-preservation technique was undertaken to help the dead enter the afterlife. In 1867, the modern age of embalming began when it became necessary to preserve the bodies of Civil War casualties for delivery back to their homes and families.

QUOTE: “All men think that all men are mortal but themselves.”

Edward Young



Those deciding to be cremated may embrace a romantic notion of having their remains scattered across a favorite location. If so, they may want to give some consideration to their surviving family members, who may prefer to retain some tangible remembrance of those who have passed. For instance, having a container of remains in a place in the home or columbarium enables friends and family to come to a physical place to visit and remember. With this in mind, it is advisable to discuss your plans with your family. A discussion of this type should be honest enough that family members feel comfortable to explore and share their feelings. They may even have suggestions or wishes that you may have not anticipated.

QUOTE: “After your death you will be what you were before your birth.”

Arthur Schopenhauer



When it comes to planning a funeral, one might think the whole matter can be distilled down to a few decisions that can be left to surviving family members. In actuality, however, there is more to planning a funeral than deciding between cremation and burial and selecting the type of service. For instance, if cremation is preferred, should the cremains be scattered, buried, stored in an urn, or distributed among loved ones? If burial is the choice, which casket and cemetery are preferred? Other details include plot selection, choosing an officiant for the ceremony, selecting invited guests and pallbearers, and many other important decisions. Funeral pre-planning places these matters in the hands of the person most capable of making them.

QUOTE: “While we’re mourning the loss of our friend, others are rejoicing to meet him behind the veil.”

John Taylor



From the earliest years, tombstone symbolism has reflected the prevailing beliefs of the time. The recurrent theme of the skull and crossbones among the Puritans was based upon their contempt for mortal existence. Over time, with increasing hope of a desirable immortality and faith in the Romantic notion of perfectibility, there came a shift to a portrayal of winged cherubs on gravestones. As grief became the primary emotion, tombstone art shifted toward willow trees, ornate urns, and grieving angels. Now, technology and changing perceptions are giving shape to new notions about the symbols and artwork we see carved in stone. Today, heightened interest in Internet imagery has led many people to display realistic laser-etched portraits on headstones.

QUOTE: “Perhaps they are not stars but rather openings in Heaven where the love of our lost ones shines down to let us know they are happy.”

Eskimo legend



Few decisions in life are more important than the ones that must be made concerning death. In the final analysis, the decisions revolving around a funeral and burial are among the most important to be made in life. At some point, you must ask if you want to make the decisions regarding your funeral and burial yourself or have someone else make them. Aside from these considerations is the matter of whether you want to burden your family with the emotional and financial responsibility of attending to your final needs. Much as you prepared for milestones in life such as births, graduations, weddings, and retirement, doesn’t it reasonably follow that you would also prepare for death?

QUOTE: “O Death! Thou comest when I had thee least in mind!”




While it is widely recognized that there are five stages of grieving (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), each person spends a different amount of time working through each step, and not necessarily in a particular order. The circumstances surrounding death also greatly influence the course of bereavement. Those exposed to sudden, unexpected death are likely to find grieving more severe and difficult to manage. Grief may be less intense after a prolonged illness because there is time for all concerned to reconcile themselves to the impending death and to say their farewells. Family and friends of grieving individuals should take the circumstances and factors surrounding the death of a loved one into account when planning a service and funeral.

QUOTE: “Mourning is love with no place to go.”




Individuals with religious affiliations are more likely to have moral objections to suicide that prevent them from acting on suicidal thoughts. According to a survey of people suffering from severe depression, those who professed to have religious beliefs were both less likely to have suicidal thoughts than their non-religious peers and also less likely to give in to these thoughts if they did have them. There is also research that shows that religious countries tend to have lower rates of suicide than secular nations, while other research indicates that a higher degree of religious commitment is associated with less suicidal behavior. Clearly, subsisting within a religious context gives people more reason to live.

QUOTE: “Sometimes even to live is an act of courage.”




Funerals are ceremonies that have the singular ability to help us come to terms with the death of loved ones. The ceremony confirms the reality of death and helps us express our feelings of loss. It gives the living the opportunity to remember the person who died and to say good-bye. With all these important expectations in mind, a funeral should be as unique as the life it remembers. It is the funeral director’s job to do everything possible to incorporate any ideas into the service and burial that will most fully evoke the spirit of the departed. This includes the use of video and audio presentations or any element that serves to personalize the funeral or memorial service.

QUOTE: “I have seen death too often to believe in death. It is not an ending, but a withdrawal.”             




The Baby Boom generation is known for challenging conventional wisdom, including that surrounding death and funeral traditions. At the same time, recent waves of immigrants have also made people feel more comfortable with diverse funeral customs. As a result, the funeral industry, which has long been regarded as quite staid, is undergoing a transformation. As people increasingly leave behind the traditional ceremonies of their parents and grandparents, they are coming to view funerals more as a means of celebrating a life than mourning a death. In response, funeral directors are taking on more of the responsibilities of event planners, whose role it is to conduct a joyful observance of a life well lived.

QUOTE: “Let no one weep for me or celebrate my funeral with mourning, for I still live as I pass to and fro through the mouths of men.”

Quintus Ennius



Among Jews, it is traditional to cover up all the mirrors in a house of mourning. This conspicuous custom, which dates back to the Middle Ages, is steeped in spiritual values. To begin with, the use of a mirror is shunned during mourning because it is used for personal grooming and cosmetic purposes, which should have lost their importance to the mourner. Those who are stricken with grief do not want the comfort that the use of a mirror can bring. In addition, during “shiva” (the mourning period), it is customary to hold daily services in the house of the mourner, who is prohibited from praying in front of a physical image, even one’s own face reflected in a mirror.

QUOTE: “Say not in grief ‘he is no more’ but live in thankfulness that he was.”

Hebrew proverb



A eulogy is among the most significant of personal statements in that it gives summation to a life by making mention of loving relationships and accomplishments. In an effort to imbue the eulogy with the most meaning possible, family members may wish to write eulogies as their contributions to the memorial service. As difficult as this challenge may be, writing a eulogy is also very rewarding. It provides a means of proclaiming love and sharing in the laughter, joys, tears, and sorrows that marked a life that has passed. By committing these remembrances to paper and uttering them before assembled mourners, survivors give a gift both to others and themselves that they can cherish in their time of grief.

QUOTE: “His life was gentle; and the elements so mixed in him, that Nature might stand up and say to all the world THIS WAS A MAN!”

William Shakespeare, Julius Caesar



While most funeral homes and newspapers will write an obituary, some family members take it upon themselves to write the death notice, including a personalized account of a loved one’s life. If so, mention should be made of the deceased’s full name (and nickname), dates and locations of birth/marriage/death, the names of pre-deceased and surviving loved ones, schools attended, military service, places of employment and positions held, and memberships in organizations. Mention should also be made of the time and location of a funeral, visitation, and burial, as well as preferred charities for donations. Further detailing of the deceased’s hobbies, favorite passions, most oft-heard quotes, and preferred pursuits help make an obituary more meaningful and memorable.

QUOTE: “To himself everyone is immortal; he may know that he is going to die, but he can never know that he is dead.”

Samuel Butler



Amid changing expectations, it is more desirable than ever for families to have frank discussions about body disposition and funerals. As more Americans (50.2%) have, for the first time, chosen cremation over burial, those making choices for themselves must inform other family members of their wishes. With so many options available (such as body donation and “green burial”), there is no longer a single script to follow when it comes to deciding how the body will be disposed of and how the deceased will be remembered and celebrated. As funeral norms change, there is more room for creativity. In the end, it’s important to impress upon family members what the people planning their own funerals want and the reasons behind these wishes.

QUOTE: “It is possible to provide security against other ills, but as far as death is concerned, we men live in a city without walls.”




Just as a “birth doula” provides physical and emotional assistance during pregnancy and childbirth, a “death doula” provides support to the dying and their families during all the stages of death. A doula, which is the Greek word for “woman who serves,” may discuss a dying person’s wishes and concerns, organize vigils, coach relatives on the signs of dying, organize paperwork, run errands, create memory books, and even help plan funerals. Doulas are fast gaining popularity as efforts grow to improve end-of-life experiences for terminal patients and their families. Doulas provide a way to bridge the gap in time and resources that busy hospices cannot always provide, particularly when death is not sufficiently close to qualify for hospice care.

QUOTE: “Life and death are one thread, the same line viewed from different sides.”

Lao Tzu



It is important to remember that death ends a life, not a relationship. With this in mind, the goal should never be to “move on” or “get over” the death of a loved one. If the deceased mattered to you in life, he or she will continue to matter to you after death. Not only does the grieving process build to a stage of acceptance, but it also invites the living to amplify their relationships with the dead. Our feelings toward the dead should not fade, but they should expand as we grow emotionally. At this point, we can use our memories to propel us ahead in life, always mindful of the encouragement, love, and support that we received. 

QUOTE: “What we have once enjoyed deeply we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”

Helen Keller



There is no doubt that the death of a loved one will prompt those left behind to experience a variety of feelings ranging from disbelief to yearning and resentment. These emotions are a natural response to loss, which helps us cope and make sense of death. At the same time, we may feel so threatened and vulnerable that we try to bottle up our feelings in an effort to go forward. As we experience this conflict between deep sorrow and self-preservation, it is important that our emotions be given full expression. Crying is not only an appropriate expression of grief, but it is soothing and necessary for relieving stress. Allowing oneself to feel vulnerable is an act of strength.

QUOTE: “We need never be ashamed of our tears.”

Charles Dickens