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FINAL CONSIDERATIONS

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

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BELIEF IN THE SOUL

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.”

Plato

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ARRANGING FOR YOURSELF

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.”

Anonymous

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HELPING CHILDREN UNDERSTAND DEATH

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

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SURVIVAL TACTICS

“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

 

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TAKING RESPONSIBILITY

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

 

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YOUR FINAL RESTING PLACE

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

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MAKING THE ULTIMATE CONNECTION

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

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A FINAL ARRANGEMENTS DOCUMENT

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

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SYMPATHY FLOWERS

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

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DIGNIFIED PRESENTATION

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

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THAT WHICH REMAINS

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

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DOWN TO THE LAST DETAIL

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

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ETCHED IN STONE

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

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ACTING ON YOUR OWN BEHALF

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!”

Unknown

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COMING TO TERMS

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.”

 Anonymous

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A REASON TO LIVE

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.”

Seneca

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ENDURING THOUGHTS

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.”             

Unknown

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LIFE CELEBRATIONS

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

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REFLECTING VALUES

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

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A FINAL SUMMATION

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

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FACTS OF LIFE

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

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CONSIDERING OPTIONS

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.”

Epicurus

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ASSISTING WITH DEATH

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

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LIVING RELATIONSHIPS

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

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ACKNOWLEDGING YOUR FEELINGS

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

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ADVANCE DIRECTIVES

Many older adults do not have a legal document known as an “advance directive,” which tells healthcare providers what their preferences would be if they became incapacitated and needed end-of-life care. According to a review of studies involving nearly 800,000 participants, fewer than half of those age 65 and older had completed a living will, health care power of attorney, or both; slightly more than a third of adults of any age had completed one. If you are among those who have neglected to draw up an advance directive, bear in mind that it is critical for preventing treatments and/or life-saving measures that you don’t want. Having an advance directive can spare your relatives from making difficult medical decisions.

QUOTE: “By acknowledging my impermanence, I can consider if there is anything I can do now to help my loved ones who will be left behind to cope with losing me and to facilitate healing.”                    

Lisa J. Shultz

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HONORING VETERANS

To honor the memory of their service to their country, the casket of deceased veterans is draped with a U.S. burial casket flag. This custom, which began during the Napoleonic Wars, was accorded to the dead, who were carried from the battlefield on a caisson. When the U.S. flag covers a casket, it is placed so that the union blue field is at the head and over the left shoulder. It is not placed in the grave, nor is it ever allowed to touch the ground. The flag is presented to the next of kin at the end of the funeral, usually by the military chaplain. The flag may be presented to the veteran’s close friend or associate if requested.

QUOTE: “Better than honor and glory, and History’s iron pen, was the thought of duty done and the love of his fellow-men.”

Richard Watson Gilder

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COFFINS AND CASKETS

While the terms “caskets” and “coffins” are often used interchangeably, they are not the same. The term “coffin,” derived from the Old French word “coffin,” describes a narrow, hexagonal (six-sided) container that largely conforms to the shape of the body. With their narrow headspace, wide shoulder design, and tapering shape down to the feet, coffins are less popular in North America than in the rest of the world. The word “casket” was adopted in the late 19th century by the North American funeral industry as a synonym for the word coffin. It has four sides, a rectangular shape, and a split lid. Both caskets and coffins can be customized in a variety of ways.

QUOTE: “Whoever is not in his coffin and the dark grave, let him know he has enough.”

Walt Whitman

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A MATTER OF PRESERVATION

The practice of embalming became widespread in this country during the Civil War for the purpose of transporting the dead long distances to their homes for burial. Elsewhere, motives for preserving human corpses vary according to time and place. In ancient Egypt, citizens were mummified with the goal of gaining eternal life. In the Andes, the bodies of Incan emperors were preserved so they could continue to play key roles in society. In Japan and Tibet, holy men were mummified and revered ancestors were preserved for eternity so they could be consulted on important community matters. Mummies of prehistoric Britain were mummified out of respect for their protective powers and ability to intervene with the gods.

QUOTE: “To the well-organized mind, death is but the next great adventure.”

J.K. Rowling

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BURNT OFFERINGS

A Chinese funeral rite that dates back hundreds of years calls for the family of the deceased to burn joss paper (also known as “ghost” or “spirit” money), which takes the form of paper replicas of items that the deceased will need  in the afterlife. These paper offerings may include money and facsimiles of such things as cars. This notion of preparing the dead with material possessions they will need in the afterlife is nothing new, as ancient Egyptian custom attests. If nothing else, providing the dearly departed with significant gifts and offerings provides survivors with a measure of comfort that they are able, at least symbolically, to demonstrate their care and love for the deceased.

QUOTE: “Each time we embrace a memory, we meet again with those we love...”

Flavia

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MOVING THROUGH GRIEF

The grief process is likely to begin with shock and move through various phases toward the final stage of acceptance. People know when they reach this final stage, when they are able to recall memories of their deceased loved ones fondly and pleasantly instead of painfully. Once acceptance has been reached, planning for the future becomes more realistic, and a new and wiser individual will have emerged. The rate of acceptance often depends on the grief-stricken person’s ability to feel and express his or her grief openly. Doing so requires making oneself vulnerable and surrounding oneself with people with whom one feels comfortable. It is important for grieving individuals to reveal how they feel and what they need from others. 

QUOTE: “The darker the night, the brighter the stars, the deeper the grief, the closer is God!”

Fyodor Dostoyevsky

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BEGINNING AND ENDING WITH YOU

While the first chapter in your book of life may have begun with you as a completely innocent participant in your own affairs, the final pages will likely have your fingerprints all over them. With birth comes the inevitability of death. It certainly behooves us all to recognize and respect this fact of life, along with all of the implications it has for those who will survive us. With this in mind, it is better to plot the script for the final chapter than to leave the end for someone else to write. Funeral prearrangement enables you to choose the specific terms of your funeral and burial or cremation. Because these decisions are deeply personal, only you should make them.

QUOTE: “I love those who can smile in trouble, who can gather strength in distress, and grow brave by reflection.”

Leonardo da Vinci

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YOUNG CHILDREN’S RESPONSE TO DEATH

When attempting to gauge a very young child’s response to the death of a close family member, it is important to know that children between the ages of 3 and 5 years have little understanding of the irreversibility of death. Even when very young children are told about impending death ahead of time, they are still likely to ask when the deceased will return, weeks or months later. Once young children receive a concrete explanation of death, they are likely to display signs of grieving. Young children are also easily overwhelmed by the intense emotional reactions of those around them. With this in mind, we should remain very attentive to the emotional needs of very young children who are grieving.

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

Author unknown

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IN THE FINAL HOURS

Those of us who choose to stay by the sides of those who are dying should be alert for signs that death is approaching. In the weeks and days leading up to death, terminally ill patients are likely to sleep more, eat less, lose strength, become less social, become more confused, experience more pain, and exhibit dropping body temperature and other changes in their vital signs. During the final hours, it will become increasingly more evident that their heart rate will decrease, as their heart and other organs begin to shut down. At this time, it is important that the dying be made to feel as comfortable as possible. Conversation should be kept up until the last possible moment.

QUOTE: “Seeing death as the end of life is like seeing the horizon as the end of the ocean.”

David Searls

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MAKING A FINAL SWEEP

In addition to drawing up our wills and making funeral prearrangements, Swedish artist and author Margareta Magnusson believes that we should help smooth the transition surrounding our eventual demise by taking at least one more important step. In her book, “The Gentle Art of Swedish Death Cleaning,” Ms. Magnusson advocates that people declutter their homes and get rid of unnecessary possessions before they die so that their children will not be burdened with the task of sorting through a lifetime of things. By performing this late-in-life task, parents help their children avoid the perplexing task of trying to decide what their parents would have wanted them to save and where to store these items.

QUOTE: “Death must be so beautiful. To lie in the soft brown earth, with the grasses waving above one’s head, and listen to silence.”

Oscar Wilde

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BODY AND SOUL

The art and science of preserving the bodies of the dead was originally practiced by the ancient Egyptians, who were the first people to believe in the immortality of the soul. They undertook the elaborate process of mummification in the belief that the soul would never foresake the body as long as the body remained intact. Embalming preserved the body so the soul could return to it after the completion of the “circle of necessity,” a 3,000-year journey that the soul was required to make before it could return to the body and live with the gods forever. Modern embalmers continue the important process of body preservation so that the bodies of deceased individuals can be displayed and accorded respect.

QUOTE: “To fear death is to misunderstand life.”

unknown

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SOLEMN UNDERTAKING

In order that the dead reach the land of eternity, the ancient Greeks believed that the deceased must make a journey across the river Styx. A coin was placed in the mouth of the deceased to pay for the passage, and a honey cake was placed next to the body to appease the dog Cerberus, who guarded the entrance to Hades. As for the ancient Romans, they would wash the deceased’s body with hot water and oil daily for seven days. A group of slaves, called pollinctores, performed this function. Funeral processions were held at night to avoid defilement of the living. The procession was managed by a Designator, who functioned in much the same capacity of modern funeral directors.

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

Arthur Schopenhauer

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THE SOCIAL SECURITY DEATH BENEFIT

Upon the death of his or her husband or wife, the surviving spouse who is living in the same household may be entitled to receive a one-time lump sum benefit of $255. If there is no spouse, a dependent child (generally age 18 or under) may then be eligible for this one-time death benefit. In order to qualify, the deceased worker must have been considered to be “currently insured,” which means he or she had at least six quarters of earnings covered by Social Security withholding during the full 13-quarter period prior to his or her death. It is recommended that a death be immediately reported to the Social Security Administration in order to get the needed paperwork.   

QUOTE: “To the living we owe respect, but to the dead we owe only the truth.”

Voltaire

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 A FINAL SENDOFF

Many people do not envision their funerals as being the somber occasions that most of us have come to expect and accept. Instead, they foresee the rites surrounding their burial or cremation to be more like celebratory events similar to weddings, graduations, or other milestones. The only difference is that the person whose life is being celebrated is present only in spirit. Against this backdrop, friends, family, coworkers, and acquaintances gather to eat, drink, dance, and sing in accordance with the deceased’s final wishes. Everyone is invited to share memories about past experiences in a way that elevates the memory of the deceased to heights that might not otherwise have been reached.  

QUOTE: “Let us endeavor so to live that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.”

Mark Twain

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CAN WE CHOOSE A TIME TO DIE?

Many wonder whether a person could either consciously or subconsciously choose a particular time to die. According to anecdotal reports, some individuals have declared they only intended to live long enough to be alive for a certain event (such as the marriage of a child) before dying, and they did just that. One documented case in a respected medical journal told of a 40-year-old woman with chest pains, who told her nurses and clergyman that she intended to die exactly one week later, on the second anniversary of her mother’s death. She did. And one study showed that elderly Chinese-American women postpone death until after the Harvest Moon Festival. Perhaps we have more control over our deaths than we might think. 

QUOTE: “Life is a journey from cradle to coffin.”

Shakespeare

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CHOOSING HOSPICE

Those who receive a terminal diagnosis may want to turn their attention to hospice services, which are designed to support patients and families in the final stages of terminal illness. Eligibility for hospice coverage is available to those who have Medicare as well as the assessment of two physicians who deem it unlikely that the patient will live for more than six months. Hospice is covered by Medicare for 90 days at first; after that, it can be renewed without limits. However, only about 30 percent of Medicare beneficiaries receive hospice for seven days or less, which means they are not taking full advantage of a service that enables them to spend valuable time at home with family and friends.

QUOTE: “Don’t count the days. Make the days count.”

Muhammad Ali

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THINKING OF OTHERS

While the deceased may be the focus of any funeral, the primary purpose of this important ceremony is to help the assembled survivors better come to grips with their bereavement. In essence, a funeral brings the living face to face with the reality of death and helps them accept its finality. At the same time, a funeral provides a climate of mourning that enables grief-stricken individuals to gather with others and express their sorrows in an accepting and supportive environment. With all this in mind, families who might not see the value of a service or who desire a private service might want to consider the needs of others to express their own grief and sense of loss.

QUOTE: “The song is ended, but the memory lingers on.”

Irving Berlin

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SETTING PRIORITIES

Despite the fact that nearly two-thirds (62.5 percent) of Americans acknowledge that it is important to pre-plan their own funerals, less than a quarter (21.4 percent) of them actually follow up these thoughts with action. In fact, for the fifth consecutive year, the National Funeral Directors Association’s annual Consumer Awareness and Preferences Study reveals that, although consumers know that they should make funeral arrangements prior to need, many do not. Among the reasons cited for not doing so include preplanning is not a priority; they have not thought about it; or that prepaying is too costly. It is important to address these and other concerns with family and a funeral director, who helps allay fears and outline a workable plan.

QUOTE: “Life is mostly froth and bubble, two things stand like stone, kindness in another’s trouble, courage in your own.”

Adam Lindsay Gordon

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PERSONAL SERVICE FOR A UNIQUE INDIVIDUAL

As people are increasingly seeking to bring a more personal touch to end-of-life services, they are looking for unique ways to honor and celebrate the lives of loved ones who have passed. With this in mind, they are encouraged not only to compare the costs and goods offered by our funeral home, but also to inquire about how they can best represent the deceased. According to the National Funeral Directors Association 2017 Consumer Awareness and Preferences Study, nearly half of respondents report having attended a funeral at a non-traditional location, such as an outdoor setting or place that had some meaning in the life of the deceased. Making such arrangements can contribute significantly to the remembrance of a unique life.

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

William Wordsworth

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ADVANCE WARNING

If an illness or injury were to render you comatose, would your family know what directions to give the attending doctors about your care? According to a recent review of 150 studies, researchers found that just one person in three had any type of “advance directive,” a legal document that allows individuals to make known their decisions about the kind of end-of-life care they wish to receive in the event that they were unable to communicate them for themselves. While the 2017 study found that people aged 65 years and older were more likely to have an advance directive than younger adults, their completion rate was still under 50 percent. Have you made your wishes known?

QUOTE: “Death is not a period that ends the great sentence of life, but a comma that punctuates it to more lofty significance.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.