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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

Irving Berlin

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LET’S PLAN TO TALK

According to the fifth National Funeral Directors Association’s annual Consumer Awareness and Preferences Study in a row, consumers acknowledge the importance of preplanning their own funeral, but fail to follow up on the notion. While 62.5 percent of consumers felt that it was very important to communicate their funeral plans and wishes to family members, prior to their own death, only 21.4 percent had done so. There were several factors that consumers cited as preventing them from planning, including: preplanning is not a priority; that they have not thought about it; or that prepaying is too costly. In order to overcome these self-imposed obstacles to preplanning and get accurate information, all are encouraged to engage us in a personal conversation. 

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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 WHO DECIDES?

If a person dies without having made their funeral and burial preferences legally known, the decision rests with the nearest relative. If the next-of-kin is unavailable or unable to make the decision, the next of kin hierarchy is followed, until someone is found. This line of individuals, who must be 18 years old or older, proceeds downward from spouse/domestic partner, to children, parents, siblings, authorized guardian, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, nieces and nephews, grand-nieces and nephews, grandparents, aunts and uncles, first cousins, great-grandchildren of grandparents, second cousins, and lastly, a fiduciary (a legally appointed trustee). Some states allow a close friend who is acquainted with the deceased’s wishes  to qualify as next of kin  if no one else is able or available.

QUOTE: “Do not seek death. Death will find you. But seek the road which makes death a fulfillment.”

Dag Hammarskjold

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 BEREAVEMENT

 There is more to the grieving process than a single moment or short time of pain or sadness in response to loss. Bereavement, which refers to the time when an individual experiences sadness after losing a loved one, can last a year. The first phase of mourning often begins with sensations of shock and numbness, which give way to the contradictory emotions of denial and preoccupation. Often, mourners oscillate between denial and disbelief and preoccupation with the lost loved one. The second stage of grief is frequently characterized by disorganization and depression. This most painful and protracted stage of the grieving process slowly leads the way to the third and final stages of reorganization and acceptance.

QUOTE: “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the o-er wrought heart and bids it break.”

William Shakespeare, Macbeth

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CASKETS DOWN THROUGH TIME

The caskets that many of us now use to bury the dead have a history that dates back to the ancient Egyptians and Mesopotamians, who constructed sarcophagus-style burial boxes with wood, cloth, and paper. In the United States, the Civil War transformed casket-making into a mass-production process. The thousands of coffins needed to transport dead soldiers were made by local furniture and cabinet makers, who doubled as undertakers. During the Second World War, the production of metal caskets was stopped in favor of cloth-covered cardboard caskets, to conserve metal and wood for the war effort. Today, caskets are available in a number of materials and styles to suit the needs and preferences of individuals with varying tastes and beliefs.

QUOTE: “If on thoughts of death we are fed, Thus, a coffin, became my bed.”

E.A. Bucchianeri

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LAYING HEADS TO REST

For many, it is comforting to know that their beloved deceased relatives’ heads rest on satin pillows. To meet these loving expectations, caskets are available with fabric linings and embroidered casket lid interiors that can be custom selected. Much in the way that a bed’s cushion, pillow, and coverings are chosen to furnish a sleeping area, an upholstered casket interior can be configured to match the personality and style of the individual that reposes within. To further personalize the casket, casket lid interiors can be adorned with embroidered commemorative panels that pay honor to the deceased. Caskets can be outfitted with internal lift hardware that tilts the inside of the casket upward, for better viewing and visitation. 

QUOTE: “Like the coffin was settling down for a long, long nap, for a forever nap.”

Sherman Alexie

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CLIFF BURIAL

Although the tradition is no longer practiced, it is interesting to note that “cliff burials” evoke a modern perspective. This ancient custom, most widely practiced by the Bo people of southern China, involves placing caskets carved from a single, whole piece of wood in small caves on a cliff face or on natural or man-made projections on the face of a mountain. Similar burials are also in evidence across Cambodia and even in some parts of North America, where native tribes believed that elevating the coffins allowed souls of the dead to linger and watch over the tribe. Comparisons may be drawn with present-day hanging urns, which allow the living to keep relics of the dead nearby.

QUOTE: “Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.”

Emily Dickinson

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YOUR DYING DAY

Some people might believe that the death of a loved one is even more difficult to deal with when it occurs on a holiday or other special day. Theoretically, a day that was once celebrated with joy will forever be associated with sadness. The death need not even occur on a particular day to create a negative impact in some minds. Dying a week before or after a major holiday or anniversary causes many to associate the two events. However, there is another way to look at these circumstances. Research shows that many dying individuals hold on to life until they reach a favorite holiday or milestone. Doing so provides added significance to the day.

QUOTE: “And I believe that love is stronger than death.”

Robert Fulghum

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END-OF-LIFE CARE

Those nearing the end of their lives might want to consider “hospice care.” This is an option among patients with terminal illnesses who seek the support of a team of health care professionals with the goal of maximizing comfort; reducing pain; and addressing the patient’s physical, psychological, social, and spiritual needs. The goal of hospice care is not to cure the disease, but to provide the highest possible quality of support for whatever time remains. Typically an option for those with six or fewer months to live, hospice also provides support and comfort to the families of the dying. In this way, hospice helps relieve the fears and anxieties that might otherwise complicate the dying process.

QUOTE: “It is best as one grows older to strip oneself of possessions, to shed oneself downward like a tree, to be almost wholly earth before one dies.”

Sylvia Townsend Warner

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THE LANGUAGE OF FLOWERS

During the Victorian era, a “language of flowers” developed that was used to express the emotions of those giving floral gifts. Now, as then, it is widely recognized that flowers are a perfect replica of human life, in that they spring to life seemingly from nowhere, blossom, bloom, and die. Many flowers have also come to symbolize specific unspoken feelings. For example, lilies are a popular choice because they represent the restored innocence of the soul of the departed. Gladioli convey strength of character, moral integrity, and sincerity; white carnations convey pure love and innocence; red carnations represent admiration; and pink carnations stand for remembrance. White roses express reverence, innocence, and youthfulness. Red roses convey respect, love, and courage.

QUOTE: “In joy or sadness flowers are our constant friends.”

Okakura Kakuzo

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ADVANCE CARE PLANNING

As is the case with death, the occurrence of a medical emergency, disease, or accident is not limited to older individuals. The fact is that anyone, at any time, could become incapacitated and unable to make medical decision for him- or herself. With advance care planning, anyone can prepare for unforeseen circumstances by creating a legal document known as an “advance directive,” which goes into effect only if a person becomes incapacitated and unable to speak for him- or herself. At that point, the advance directive allows incapacitated individuals to express their values and desires related to end-of-life decisions. This provides a way for family, friends, and healthcare professionals to implement the non-communicative person’s wishes.

QUOTE: “Every moment was a precious thing, having in it the essence of finality.”

Daphne du Maurier

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THE FLIGHT OF THE DOVE

The “mourning dove” gets its fitting moniker by virtue of its distinctive, melancholic call. While the sounds emanating from this most common species of dove in North America may evoke remembrances of the loss of a loved one, the dove is also a symbol of hope, renewal, and peace. To Christians, the Holy Spirit is represented by a dove in the baptism of Jesus, signaling spiritual rebirth. In the Old Testament, when Noah released a dove after forty days and forty nights at sea, it returned to the Ark with an olive branch- symbolizing deliverance and new beginnings. And, while the white dove is a universal symbol of innocence and peace, the mourning dove also shares this imagery.

QUOTE: “The Dove, on silver pinions, winged her peaceful way.”

James Montgomery 

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PROVIDING CONSOLATION

In Talmudic and medieval times, the Jewish tradition of comforting mourners (known as “Nihum Avelim”) began after the burial. Those in attendance would form a line outside the cemetery and, as the mourners walked by the line, the community members would console them. This tradition is still practiced as a means of “walking in God’s ways” and performing a good deed (“mitzvah”). Generally, mourners are comforted out of concern for their well-being and to reinforce the notion that they are not alone. This support continues in the home of the bereaved with the seven-day mourning period of “shiv’ah,” during which prayer services are conducted and food is shared, ensuring that the grievers do not have to cook for themselves.       

QUOTE: “May you be comforted from Heaven.”

traditional consolation at conclusion of shiv’ah visit

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CHERISHED MEMENTOS

Family and close friends of the deceased may choose to wear or display certain items of their beloved’s personal belongings that remind them of significant memories and precious relationships. Perhaps the most famous examples of these symbolic objects, known as “mementos,” can be traced back to Queen Victoria, who ordered custom designed jewelry made from jet (a black gemstone) to memorialize her late husband Prince Albert. The “mourning ring,” which she wore to publicly display her grief, was on her finger until the day she died. Today, people display photographs, wear jewelry, and hold onto personal objects of their departed beloveds to remind them of the people who hold a special place in their hearts.

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

Antonio Porchia

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MOURNING COLORS

In Western cultures, it would be unusual for a person to wear any color other than black to symbolize mourning. The fact that black is actually the absence of visible color clearly demonstrates the feeling of loss and emptiness that most people feel when they have lost a loved one. On the other hand, in Eastern cultures, people wear white mourning clothes as symbols of purity and rebirth. White contains all the wavelengths of visible light, making this color a fitting symbol among Buddhists as a sign of hope that the deceased will be reborn. While red is strictly forbidden at funerals in China because it represents happiness, South African mourners wear red as a sign of shed blood.

QUOTE: “I have said that black has it all. White too. Their beauty is absolute.”

Coco Chanel

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NEW APPRECIATION OF DEATH

Despite the fact that many people are fearful of dying, there are those who take a different stance with regard to illness and death.  For instance, patients facing terminal illness often talk about seeing life in a new way. Faced with the physical finality of existence, individuals may report a heightening of their senses and a new appreciation of life. They may say that they see things in a different way than they did before their terminal diagnoses and that they are more focused. Impending death has brought the events of life into sharp focus. These individuals have gained a greater appreciation of family and friends, leading to fresh interactions and revelations. Life has become richer.  

QUOTE: “It is not the length of life, but the depth of life.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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 SPIRIT ART

One of the primary advantages of cremation over burial is that cremated remains are easy to transport. In addition, cremation reduces the body to a form (cremains) that can be easily contained or incorporated into other materials and forms. With this in mind, some artists are able to capture the essence of the departed by integrating the cremains into beautiful glass art. These lovely works of art capture color and light, much like a droplet of rain reflects the image of surrounding leaves. Memorial art of this sort can take the form of birds or other animals, sun catchers, paperweights, and other meaningful objects. Whatever form it takes, memorial glass art has the ability to lift the heart.

QUOTE: “because a song can take you back instantly to a moment, or a place, or even a person. No matter what else has changed in you or the world, that one song stays the same, just like that moment.”

Sarah Dessen

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NOURISHING THE SOUL

Along with flowers and words of sympathy, food is a gift that is universally associated with mourning. Food provides a way to say “sorry for your loss” that is common to nearly all cultures and religions. The tradition of funeral feasts among humans goes back 12,000 years. While comfort foods such as fried chicken and macaroni and cheese have traditionally been favored in the American South, the Midwest is famous for hot dishes and casseroles. In New Orleans, funeral food comes in the form of jambalaya, a Cajun rice dish with shrimp, chicken, and vegetables. In Utah and Idaho, the signature dish is “funeral potatoes,” while the Amish favor a raisin-filled funeral pie. Food helps humans make a connection.

QUOTE: “If more of us valued food and cheer and song above hoarded gold, it would be a merrier world.”

J.R.R. Tolkien

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IN-DEPTH EXPLANATION

If you’ve ever wondered why bodies have traditionally been buried six feet deep, you need only look to the Great Plague of London in 1665. During this time, one-fifth of the city’s population succumbed to the bubonic plague, with the death rate reaching over 8,000 dying per week. Believing that shallow graves were contributing to the spread of the disease, the Lord Mayor of London ordered that bodies be interred “six feet under.” While the law was overturned in England and its colonies soon thereafter, it was reinstituted in the nineteenth century to deter criminals from stealing corpses for use as medical school cadavers. Modern American burial laws now vary from state to state. 

QUOTE: “Death is not extinguishing the light. It is putting out the lamp because the dawn has come.”

Rabindranath Tagore

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 SOCIAL SECURITY DEATH BENEFITS

When a person with Social Security benefits dies and leaves behind a surviving spouse or child, the Social Security Administration may pay out death benefits in either a special lump-sum death benefit of $255 and/or an ongoing monthly death benefit called a “survivor benefit.” For a spouse who was part of the deceased’s household, there is a one-time, lump-sum benefit of $255. A child of the deceased beneficiary who is under 18, under 19 and attending a full-time elementary or high school, or over 18 and disabled before the age of 22, may be eligible for ongoing monthly benefits. Dependent parents of deceased beneficiaries and spouses caring for the deceased worker’s children may also receive benefits.

QUOTES: “Life is eternal, and love is immortal, and death is only a horizon; and a horizon is nothing save the limit of our sight.”

Rossiter Worthington Raymond

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OF A SPIRITUAL NATURE

While many adults, younger ones in particular, claim no specific religious affiliation, that does not necessarily mean that they do not govern themselves in accordance with spiritual beliefs. “Spirituality” concerns itself with exploring a person’s soul and transcendent relationship with their Creator, God, Higher Power, or whatever he or she calls holy. On the other hand, “religion” is a set of institutionalized texts, practices, and transcendent beliefs about a relationship with a god or gods that is shared by a community. In both cases, spiritual and religious individuals live in accordance with beliefs that connect them to a metaphysical (above the physical plane of existence) reality and to a greater community of like-minded individuals.

QUOTE: “The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery.”

Anais Nin

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ENDING ON A HIGH NOTE

Music is able to elicit our emotions in ways that perhaps no other art form can. Nearly everyone has a list of songs that evoke memories of childhood, adolescence, young adulthood, relationships, important life events, and dreamy recollections. Couples often have one song that they call “our song,” while many of us get goosebumps when we hear certain songs that stir our souls. With this in mind, many individuals stipulate that the songs that have inspired them in life be played at their funerals or memorial services. In the minds of many, it is most appropriate and meaningful to use the songs of their lives to evoke remembrance among those who knew them. 

QUOTE: “Music gives a soul to the universe, wings to the mind, flight to the imagination and life to everything.”

Plato

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GUIDING PRINCIPLES

Funeral services conducted by Native Americans are guided by the principles that drive their spirituality. While other religions recognize such dualities as heaven and hell or supernatural and earthly, Native Americans believe that all creation is sacred. Yet, it is also recognized that in our complex world, other religions’ explanations and beliefs are to be respected. Nature, as well, is as sacred as the Creator. Additionally, Native American spiritual principles hold that all life is equal, with human beings on the same level as insects or animals, and that it is important to find one’s place in the world. Unseen powers and mysteries are also accepted, including the belief that death is a journey to another world. 

QUOTE: “There is no death, only a change of worlds.”

Chief Seattle

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NICHES OF THEIR OWN

Similar to the way that the free-standing cemetery building known as a “mausoleum” contains the grave, tomb, or burial chamber of the deceased, a “columbarium” is a structure that has walls with many rows and columns of recesses, called “niches,” into which cremation urns are placed. These niches, or alcoves, may be open to the air, glass-fronted, or have doors that close and seal. On their fronts or along an edge, there is typically a place for a plaque with room for a person’s name to be engraved. Columbaria are often found in large urban cemeteries or high-density areas. In fact, the Arlington National Cemetery includes a Columbarium Court with stately granite columns, marble niche covers, and stone walkways.

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. To have no yesterday, and no to-morrow.”

Oscar Wilde

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CREATIVE CREMATION

Although over 50 percent of Americans are choosing cremation over burial for their deceased loved ones, not everyone wishes to keep those cremains on the mantel. For those looking for alternatives, there are a surprising number of options, ranging from plain and simple to unusual and complex. Scattering the ashes is the most common choice, but for something with a wow factor, it is possible to have cremains combined with fireworks for a memorial light show. Was the deceased an ocean lover? Cremains can be added to cement structures being used to rebuild coral reefs. If you would like to keep the remains close to you, they can be mixed into paint for a portrait or even turned into a diamond.

QUOTE: “More than a hygienic method of disposing of the dead, cremation enabled lovers and comrades to be mingled together for eternity.”

 Catherine Arnold

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CREATIVE CREMATION PLANNING AS A FAMILY

It’s a difficult fact to face, but death is not reserved for the elderly and the ill. If having a say concerning what happens to your body and how you are memorialized are important to you, it is best to address these decisions sooner rather than later. Doing so can not only ease your mind, but also the minds of your family and friends, since making decisions about after-life care can be emotionally difficult when dealing with a loved one’s passing. This is why it is a good idea to keep in mind that funerals and memorials are about the living as much as the deceased, so be sure to discuss with  your family what they want when making plans.

QUOTE: “We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give.”

Winston Churchill

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HOSPICE CARE AT HOME

If you ask many individuals where they’d prefer to die, most would probably say at home in their own beds. Although that desire to spend their last moments surrounded by the things and people they love is understandable, it can also be extremely difficult to manage. For starters, even with visiting hospice care, much of the physical work is left to emotionally exhausted family members who might not be up to the tasks. Hospice workers usually serve more of an advisory role, explaining the care required rather than providing it. For those who can afford it, hiring additional help like a visiting nurse  or home health aide to assist with the more difficult responsibilities can be a huge relief.

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 Alder

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A GREEN SOLUTION

When planning a funeral and burial, one of the first decisions to make is choosing a casket. This can be a challenge with many factors to bear in mind, from the wishes of the deceased to the available budget to the environmental impact of the casket (considering that it will be buried in the ground). Although cardboard caskets may seem like something one would purchase based solely on finances, they have a lot more going for them than simply being inexpensive. Re-enforced cardboard caskets are biodegradable, so they will have very little environmental effect. They can also be custom printed with features like floral themes or naturescapes to reflect the personality and passions of the deceased.

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. To have no yesterday, and no tomorrow. To forget time, to forgive life, to be at peace.”

Oscar Wilde

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HELPING THEM COPE

When planning your own funeral, it is wise to remember that while you may be the guest of honor, the ceremony isn’t exactly for you. In fact, when asked, many people say they’d rather not have a memorial after their death because they see no need for the expense. However, funerals and memorial services are important for helping loved ones begin the mourning process. Being surrounded by others who cared for the deceased and spending time remembering him or her can lessen the weight of loss for many people. While you should have a say in certain matters, you should also take some time to discuss with your family what they feel they will need after your passing. 

QUOTE: “I think being in love with life is a key to eternal youth.”

Doug Hutchison

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CELEBRATING LIFE

When it comes to planning their own funeral, people seem to be leaning more toward celebrations of life as opposed to the somber occasions that usually come to mind when thinking about death and mourning. Elements that celebrate the life of the deceased, such as photo displays, slide shows, and home movies, are now included regularly during wakes, funerals, and memorial services. Friends and family are frequently asked to share humorous and delightful stories of their deceased loved one, and musicians are often invited to play favorite songs after the ceremony. More and more, the sorrow of loss is taking a backseat to the joys of remembrances shared by family and friends.  

QUOTE: “That it will never come again is what makes life so sweet.”

Emily Dickinson

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CHOOSING THE RIGHT FUNERAL DATE

Planning a funeral can be a complicated task even when setting aside the emotional aspects of the process. Ideally, you will want to choose a date and time when the largest number of friends and family can attend, but there are many other things to consider as well. Even if you do not have specific religious or cultural reasons for having the service as soon as possible, there are advantages to doing so. It helps to start the grieving process while surrounded by people you love and it can help bring a feeling of closure more quickly. But waiting may be the right choice if the family is spread out geographically, since making travel plans can take time.  

Quote: “Death never comes at the right time, despite what mortals believe. Death always comes like a thief.”

Christopher Pike

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HELPING CHILDREN COPE WITH DEATH

One topic most parents dread talking to their children about is death. With very young children the entire concept may be difficult for them to understand, while older children may not know what to do with their grief. When explaining, keep things simple at first. Give children the chance to ask questions and give them time to absorb the answers. While you should not hide your emotions, do your best to keep calm. Let them know what to expect over the next few days in regard to the funeral and family traditions. Keep an eye out for behaviors that indicate they are feeling overwhelmed, and have distractions such as books and games available for them.

Quote: “It is as natural to die as it is to be born.”

Francis Bacon

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PLANNING FOR YOUR END

Even when death comes peacefully, it is never easy on those left behind. While there is usually a much-needed distraction in funeral and memorial planning, it can be overwhelming for some. This is why planning for your own death is so important. It is not just about ensuring your requests are met, but also about easing the burden on loved ones. Planning your death event can be as complex as creating a legal document with your lawyer and setting up funding with your accountant, to filling out a simple death journal explaining “I’m dead…now what” to make sure your family knows exactly what you want. This unselfish act relieves them of the pressure to figure it out by themselves.

Quote: “Whenever I prepare for a journey I prepare as though for death. Should I never return, all is in order.”

 Katherine Mansfield

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 SPEAKING TO THE BEREAVED

Knowing what to say to a grieving friend or family member can be exceptionally difficult. Worrying that a cliché remark will sound hollow can leave you tongue-tied and nervous that you will say the wrong thing. It is not insincere to prepare ahead of time what you want to say. Do not be afraid to speak about the deceased directly, perhaps including a brief story of how they touched your life if you have one. Avoid asking how they are…they are not good. Also, it is probably not a good idea to tell a story of your own loss. This time is about them, not you. Listening is more important than speaking. 

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

Helen Keller

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WHY CHOOSE A MEMORIAL SERVICE?

There are many benefits to having a memorial service for deceased loved ones either in lieu of a funeral or in addition to one. Memorial services can be held at any point after a death. Since the body is buried or cremated prior to a memorial service, there are no time constraints for the event, making them easier to plan and to attend, especially for families that are geographically distant. Memorial services can also be an excellent way to commemorate the anniversary of a loved one’s death, and because they can be held anywhere, can allow for larger attendance. Memorial services are frequently chosen by those who would rather not include a religious aspect to their passing.

Quote: “To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”

Thomas Campbell

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DECLUTTER THE END OF YOUR LIFE

The Swedish call it “dostadning.” Roughly translated it means “death cleaning,” and it may be advantageous to consider. People tend to accumulate a lot of stuff over the course of their lives and when they pass, family members might spend hours, days, or longer sorting through it and distributing it. Gifting items you can easily live without can make your final years neater and more enjoyable. Seeing the pleasure others feel when you pass along something meaningful or even just practical can be life-affirming. And donating items to charity can even offer excellent tax deductions to accompany that feeling. Finally, clearing up some space is a good idea if you are expecting to eventually do in-home hospice care. 

Quote: “If you can remember me, I will be with you always.”

Isabel Allende, Eva Luna

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MEMORIALIZING CREMAINS

Cremation is becoming a popular choice for many people, but for those holding back on the idea, one oft-mentioned issue is the lack of a physical memorial, like a headstone, once the remains have been scattered. Fortunately, there are a multitude of options for memorials that can be visited and acknowledged by all who knew and loved the deceased. Park benches with memorial plaques are an excellent choice, especially if the ashes can be scattered nearby. Many cemeteries are now offering “scattering gardens” so that visitors will always have a place to sit and remember. In some cases,  a biodegradable urn can be purchased to be buried at the roots of a tree or with a sapling. 

Quote: “The living owe it to those who no longer can speak to tell their story for them.” 

Czesław Miłosz

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FLORAL MEANINGS

For many people, flowers are just beautiful plants, but for those in the know, they can have very specific meanings tied to them. Therefore, it might be helpful to be aware of which flowers are suitable for funerals before sending them. White lilies represent hope and the beauty of the soul. White carnations signify purity while pink ones are symbols of remembrance. You may not think of roses as funeral flowers, but their variety of color and meaning are more widely known than most flowers.  They are probably best reserved for the funerals of close loved ones. It isn’t necessary to limit tributes to flowers. Many potted plants, including hydrangeas and peace lilies, can provide lasting comfort to the bereaved.

Quote: “Flowers… are a proud assertion that a ray of beauty out values all the utilities in the world.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

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WHEN A PARENT IS LEFT BEHIND

Losing a parent is a heartbreaking experience, and it is only increased by witnessing the sorrow of the spouse left behind and not knowing how to help. There are things, however,  you can do for your grieving parent to make things a bit more bearable. Give him or her as much time as needed to process the loss, but encourage friends and other family members to visit. After some time has passed, if it seems appropriate, suggest a support group to foster discussion with others who are going through the same experience. If help is needed with daily chores or home maintenance, consider hiring help if you are unable to do it yourself.

Quote:  “Death or life will take him from your minds. I know, whispered Despair, in her distant, empty voice. But I shall remember him.”

Neil Gaiman

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CELEBRATING LIFE

Although most funerals remain understandably somber events, some families are opting for more celebratory services. Strict eulogies are being replaced with a more story-telling approach. Modern music is often chosen in place of hymns, and coffins are being decorated with art, photos,  and signatures. Often people are asked in advance to write letters to the deceased, which will be read at the service. If there are a number of children in attendance, families have set up “memory hunts” in which they search for small items that contain facts and memories about the deceased. When the service is for an animal lover, pets have even been known to attend when the venue allows.

Quote: “And it’s okay to be sad, but you can’t love someone only with tears. There’s got to be laughter too.” 

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FUNERAL TRADITIONS AROUND THE WORLD

Most Americans have some awareness of the traditions involved in a New Orleans Jazz funeral, with its somber dirges and slow, shuffling parade followed by upbeat, celebratory tunes accompanied by dancing and laughter. There are many other lesser known but equally unique traditions around the world. The people of the Philippines have many different death traditions, including dressing the deceased in their best clothing and seating them in a chair for visitation, sometimes holding a drink or cigarette, or burying them in hollowed out tree trunks often chosen by the deceased before their death. In Ghana, people choose personalized coffins designed to represent something they loved in life such as a classic car or a musical instrument.  

Quote: “Remembrance is a personal, therefore a subjective, process. It matters all the more to nurture it collectively.”

Erik Varden

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 PROFESSIONAL SERVICE AT HOME

Having a loved one’s funeral at home can be a comforting way to say goodbye. However, since planning a funeral can be complicated, working with a funeral director, a trained professional who knows the steps and laws involved, can make the process much less stressful. Funeral directors can deal with many details, such as transporting the body of the deceased and preparing it for viewing. They can organize burial with the cemetery or cremation and take care of required paperwork. Funeral directors can recommend catering services, florists, and limo companies and coordinate with them on your behalf. They can also assist with notifications to friends and family and be at your home to coordinate on the day of the funeral.

Quote: “Let life be like music. And death a note unsaid.”

Langston Hughes

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MILITARY FUNERALS

Veterans and their families make many sacrifices in service to our country and, in return, there are certain benefits provided for them while they serve and after. Every veteran has a right to a military funeral. They have the option of being buried in Arlington National Cemetery, a National Park Service cemetery, or a state veterans cemetery whether they die during service or after discharge. If one of these options is chosen, the government will pay for most of the expenses. If the veteran is buried in a private cemetery, military accommodations can still be made including an honor guard and a burial flag. In these circumstances, the family can request reimbursement for expenses.

Quote: “The brave die never, though they sleep in dust: Their courage nerves a thousand living men.”

 Minot J. Savage

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SCATTERING CREMATED REMAINS

The scattering of cremated ashes is a very meaningful way to bring a sense of closure after the death of a loved one.  It is personal and unique to the individual and a returning of that person to nature. However, there are laws and regulations regarding the scattering of ashes, particularly  if you wish to do so in a National Park. Permission should be granted by the park ranger and a permit is usually required. The cremains should only be spread in less populated areas and away from trails and other development. Keep in mind that the Forest Service is a separate entity from the Park Service, and they prohibit the scattering of ashes in U.S. National Forests.

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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BURIAL AT SEA

A burial at sea is a very personal and special way to honor a deceased loved one, particularly if that person had a strong connection to the sea. By definition, a burial at sea normally occurs from a ship or boat and is conducted at least three miles offshore. It can include cremated and non-cremated remains. In addition to simply scattering the remains on the water, a variety of receptacles may be used, such as a casket, an urn, or  sewn in sailcloth. Many different religions and countries allow for a burial at sea. In the United States, the EPA has issued a general permit under the Marine Protection, Research and Sanctuaries Act to authorize the burial of human remains at sea.

Quote:  “All places are alike, and every earth is fit for burial.”

 Christopher Marlowe

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LIVING WILL

Also known as an advanced directive, a living will is a legally binding document that specifies the type of medical care that an individual does or does not want in the event it is impossible  to communicate his or her wishes. Well under 40 percent of U.S. adults currently have a living will, but all adults need to have one. In the absence of a living will, decisions about care become the responsibility of the spouse, family member(s), or another third party. These people might be unaware of the patient’s desires, or do not wish to follow the patient’s unwritten, verbal directives. Keep in mind that doctors do not consult living wills for routine medical care or non-life-threatening situations.

Quote: “There are no goodbyes for us. Wherever you are, you will always be in my heart.”

Mahatma Gandhi