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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

Irving Berlin



This country’s earliest headstones were made of wood, slate, or marble, which gave way to today’s granite. Not only is granite renowned for its durability, but the stone takes well to engraving, which preserves the deceased’s name, age, year or death, as well as other preferred words and descriptions. More recently, the art of monument design has been taken to whole new levels of detail with laser etching. This technology allows for the possibility of having the deceased’s portrait etched on the face of the headstone. If a picture is worth a thousand words, a gravestone portrait speaks volumes about the deceased and brings visitors ever closer to feelings of being close to their loved one.

QUOTE: “I had a lover’s quarrel with the world.”

Robert Frost’s headstone epitaph



Robert Frost’s poem Home Burial depicts a husband, who is talking to his wife, as she sits and seems to gaze through a window at her child’s grave in the family graveyard. If you have ever seen graves within the confines of a family’s estate, you might have asked yourself whether this centuries-old tradition persists. The answer is that there are no laws against home burials in every state except California, Indiana, Washington, and the District of Columbia. Some states require the services of a Funeral Director be utilized, and it is important to check local zoning laws, before a home cemetery or burying on private land. Other restrictions may also apply, with respect to embalming, caskets, and other factors.

Quote: “The little graveyard where my people are.”

Robert Frost



In recent years, the percentage of people, who believe that it is very important to have religion incorporated into a funeral service, has fallen to 39.5 percent (according to the National Funeral Directors Association’s 2017 Consumer Awareness and Preferences Study). As the broader trend of people not identifying with religion continues, it is important to point out that funeral preplanning enables individuals to select non-clergy celebrants to conduct their funeral ceremonies. As with many matters surrounding funerals, it is best to make one’s preferences clearly known, in advance, so that the decision is not left to others. Without specific instructions in hand, relatives of the deceased are left to assume what is in their loved would have wanted. 

QUOTE: “My own funeral, I'd like to be laid out in a coffin in my own house. I would like my coffin to be put in the double parlor, and I would like all the flowers to be white.”

Anne Rice



If there is no denying love, there can be no denying the grief that comes with the agony of losing someone you have loved. The vulnerability required to truly love someone can be a double-edged sword. Not only does it deepen and broaden the scope of feeling, but it also bares the heart to loss. Grief is the inevitable reaction to painful loss. It helps to prepare the grieving you for the changes that will certainly follow. The recovery process can be protracted and difficult, but grief can open the door to acceptance. Although bitter, grief can also promote the healing. In the end, recovery from loss provides the opportunity to learn and grow.

QUOTE: “Grief is the price for love.”

Colin Murray Parkes



It is not uncommon to have people of various religious, ethnic, and cultural backgrounds represented at a funeral service. Known as an “adaptive” funeral, this type of funeral usually proceeds in accordance with the family members’ wishes. Careful planning is needed to determine which funeral rites will be observed in an all-inclusive manner. In order that all members of an inter-faith family are represented, services may be conducted in a chapel, where each religion can be included by having a representative speak on behalf of the deceased. Religious artifacts and other sacred symbols may be displayed at the service, with emphasis placed on items that religions share in common, such as candles, shrouds, and flowers.  

QUOTE: “I wonder if my first breath was as soul-stirring to my mother as her last breath was to me.”

Lisa Goich



As bereavement experts delve into the subject of childhood loss of a parent or sibling, they are finding that the impact of such loss lingers well into adulthood. Before reaching the age of 20, one in seven children or young adults loses a parent or sibling. According to the groundbreaking survey, more than half of these individuals (57%) said they would trade a year of their life for one more day with their parent. With this in mind, parents can try to ease the impact that their deaths will have on their children by preplanning their funerals. It may also be helpful to leave a hand-written personal note behind that details how much their children mean to them. 

QUOTE: “Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children.
Charles R. Swindoll



To ensure that the physical aspects of a gravesite will be properly maintained, many cemeteries offer “perpetual care” services.  Perpetual care is an assurance that the grave site will be taken care of  forever. Generally speaking, this means that the maintenance, repair, and future renewal of the headstones; landscape, including the lawn and shrubs; borders; drives; water and sewer systems; and enclosures and necessary buildings  will be taken care of  so that the dignity of the deceased is preserved. This service is usually financed by placing a portion of the cost of every grave in a fund. While its principal amount remains invested, funds drawn from the interest are used for the upkeep and maintenance of the cemetery.

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

David Searls



The emotion that accompanies the loss of a loved one is difficult enough to endure without being obligated to assume the responsibility of having to make important decisions regarding the funeral and final disposition of the body. To alleviate the stress that funeral planning and burial/cremation decisions can place on others, we should all have a plan in place that outlines our funeral wishes. Doing so allows our families to better focus on grieving and recovery. In funeral planning, it is best to start with the last step and work backwards. The choice of final resting place will influence how a body is prepared, what products or services are required, and how much final arrangements will cost. Ceremony planning follows.

QUOTE: “If tears could build a stairway and memories a lane, I’d walk right up to heaven and bring you home again.”




If there is a tree that has come to symbolize death and mourning more than any other, it is the Italian Cypress. Known as the “mournful tree” by both the ancient Greeks and Romans, the Mediterranean Cypress (Cupressus sempervirens) remains the most commonly planted tree in European and Muslim cemeteries. Some of this tree’s popularity may be attributed to its longevity. Cypress trees are known to have survived for 2,000 years and longer. In addition, the cypress tree’s tall, slender bearing makes it seem to point heavenward  as it stands guard over the departed buried below. As one of the most classical mourning symbols in both Western and Eastern cultures, cypress branches are considered to be very suitable for mourning wreaths.

QUOTE: “Though a tree grows so high, the falling leaves return to the root.”

Malay proverb



While many people shy away from contemplating the inevitability of death, increasing numbers of individuals and groups are discussing dying well. This topic is most likely to be directly addressed in hospice and palliative care settings, when dying individuals and their families are confronted with end-of-life decisions. It is also a common topic among those who want to ensure that the quality of life in their last days will be consistent with their wishes. Accordingly, a team of researchers has identified core elements that should be considered when contemplating a “good death.” They are: preference for a specific dying process, a religious/spiritual element, emotional well-being, life completion, dignity, family, quality of life, and a relationship with a health provider.

QUOTE: “God pours life into death and death into life without a drop being spilled.”  

Unknown author



Many people who have had “God encounter experiences” report that they have been changed as a result. According to a survey involving more than 4,000 individuals (with an average age of 38 years) most participants who had God encounter experiences reported positive effects on their mental health. About three-quarters of the respondents said the experience was “among the most personally meaningful and spiritually significant lifetime experiences, with moderate to strong persisting positive changes” to their mental health. About two-thirds of participants indicated they had a decreased fear of death as a result of the experiences. When people say they are “spiritual, but not religious,” it means they have simply chosen to take a personal journey to finding life’s answers.  

QUOTE: “True prayer is neither a mere mental exercise nor a vocal performance. It is far deeper than that—it is spiritual transaction with the Creator of Heaven and Earth.”

Charles Spurgeon



Just as destination weddings and gender reveal parties have changed the way people are choosing to celebrate marriage and birth, the rituals surrounding death are also changing. Particularly in cases where cremation is chosen over body burial, memorial services (where the body is not present) are increasingly replacing funerals (where the body is present). These celebratory events tend to be more life-centered than mournful, and often revolve around the deceased’s personality and interests. It seems people are finding it more important than ever to plan a funeral or memorial ceremony that is most appropriate to the deceased’s and well-wishers’ desires. The final ritual surrounding one’s demise should be as unique and personal as the person it honors.

QUOTE: “I believe there are two sides to the phenomenon known as death, this side where we live, and the other side where we shall continue to live. Eternity does not start with death. We are in eternity now.”

Norman Vincent Peale



When attending a funeral that features an open casket, visitors should prepare to view the body of the deceased. While there is no obligation to approach the casket, many find that viewing the body provides a chance to say a prayer or a final good-bye to the deceased. Understandably, some people become emotional when viewing the body. For anyone who wants to view the body but is afraid of becoming overwhelmed, it may be best to approach the casket with another person. Otherwise, those who are initially reluctant to view the body  may find themselves growing more comfortable with the idea in an atmosphere where others so readily accept the practice as a means of gaining closure.


QUOTE: “When you are sorrowful look again in your heart,
and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight.”

Kahlil Gibran



Preplanning your funeral entitles you to make the final decisions about the type of funeral and burial you want. Doing so spares your surviving relatives the emotional stress of making difficult decisions related to your funeral, burial, or cremation. It is important to make your preferences known after giving these matters careful consideration. Otherwise, those you leave behind will be burdened with the monumental decisions regarding how you would like your body disposed of, where you might wish to be buried, and other vital details   affecting your relatives’ own lives for years to come. While we may not know what life has in store, we can anticipate and prepare for its finality.

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

Emily Dickenson



In 2018, more than half of Americans chose cremation, and the forecast is that the national cremation rate will reach 80 percent by 2035.  Despite the rising popularity of this method of body disposal, many individuals are unclear about it. For instance, there is a common misconception that choosing cremation means there cannot be a funeral. The fact is that cremation allows for more memorialization options than less. There could be a funeral with or without a viewing, followed by cremation at a later time. A memorial service could be held at a traditional funeral home, after which there would be an interment of the ashes. There are many more options, underscoring the need to preplan and consider the possibilities.

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

Ralph Waldo Emerson



Those familiar with grief know that guilt can be part of the grieving process.  For instance, guilt is often felt by those who are relieved that a loved one has died. This feeling stems from the belief that death may come as a blessing to those who have endured prolonged suffering and pain due to terminal illness. These feelings and the guilt they engender are most commonly experienced by caregivers, who have first-hand knowledge of the pain that terminal patients go through. These individuals, in particular, should understand that their guilt is misplaced.  Caregivers may also find themselves in a different stage of grief than most, as they often may grieve before death arrives.

QUOTE: “Life hurts a lot more than death.”

Jim Morrison 



Those chosen for the honored position of pallbearer usually include close family or friends, although colleagues of the deceased or anyone else may serve. Corresponding to the six handles on a casket (three on each side), there are six pallbearers, although handles on the front and back sides of the casket allow for two additional people to carry the casket. In addition to considering the person’s relationship to the deceased, physical ability must also be taken into account. If a person is deemed unable to physically participate in the pallbearer’s role, he or she can be designated an “honorary pallbearer.” There is no limit to honorary pallbearers, who can walk in front of, beside, or behind the casket.

QUOTE: “Everyone can master a grief but he that has it.”




One traditional way of funding a funeral involves the purchase of “funeral insurance.” This type of policy is designed to pay for the funeral, burial, and other “final expenses.” Otherwise known as “burial insurance,” “final expense insurance,” or “pre-need insurance,” these policies require that the policyholder calculate how much will be needed to cover final expenses. This insurance helps avoid complications and delays stemming from circumstances in which there is not enough money in the deceased’s estate to cover these expenses. Even if there is enough money left behind to cover final expenses, many individuals do not want their estates to become depleted by their final expenses. If so, funeral insurance is a good option.  

QUOTE: “All presidents… get a knock at the door…a man there saying, 'Let's talk about your funeral.' …I thought, God, that's a terrible thing. Later, I thought it was pretty wise.”

Nancy Reagan



Families who have strong links with one another, who are faithful to the traditions of their kinfolk, and who live in relatively close proximity may want to consider providing a “mausoleum” for their descendants. These buildings, which house the remains of one or more deceased persons, have their precedence in the architecturally stunning Taj Mahal and Egypt’s Great Pyramids. Naturally, the size and style of this type of above-ground entombment varies in accordance with personal preferences. One advantage of a mausoleum is that it reduces the amount of land that is used for a burial, making it more ecologically friendly than an underground burial. In addition, because a mausoleum is a building, it can shelter visitors from inclement weather.

QUOTE: “Ancient Egyptians believed that…two questions and their answers would determine whether they could continue their journey in the afterlife. “Did you bring joy?” “Did you find joy?” Leo Buscaglia



Cremation may reduce a body to ashes, but the place where those ashes are stored need not be any less physically enduring that a gravesite with a tombstone. While some people may assume that “cremains” are scattered to the wind or deposited in an urn for safekeeping at home, they may treated in the same ways that a body can. Not only can cremains be buried in a cemetery, but they can also be committed to a “cremation niche.” Whether it is located outdoors or as part of an indoor mausoleum, a “columbarium” has small spaces, called “niches,” for placing cremated remains in urns or other approved containers. Most cremation niches are made of marble or premium granite. 

QUOTE: “Death doesn’t exist. You only reach a new level of vision, a new realm of consciousness, a new unknown world.”

Henry Miller



Many individuals think that “advance directives” are a good idea, but are not urgently needed, and their family or physician will somehow know their wishes. Unfortunately, this line of thinking often leads to unnecessary stress and complications.   The directive known as a “living will” clearly points out the kind of life-sustaining medical treatment(s) that a person would or would not want if he or she could not speak for him- or herself. Documents of this type should be on file with an attorney or trusted family member or friend. Another directive, known as a “medical power of attorney,” allows a select person to be an agent of the non-responsive person and make decisions about his or her care. 

QUOTE: “Every new beginning comes from another beginning’s end.”



In the immediate aftermath of a death, the event must be reported to the proper authorities in order that the death certification process can begin. This procedure is completed by a physician or coroner and funeral director. Several copies of the death certificate will be needed in order to dispose of the body, settle the estate, and satisfy the requirements of bank accounts, insurance policies, etc. The death certification process can be expedited if the deceased is in a hospital, nursing home, or hospice due to the fact that trained people can help cover all the necessary steps. If the police are called, as a last resort, it should be noted that a funeral director will be needed to claim the body for burial or cremation.

QUOTE: “If you don’t know how to die, don’t worry; Nature will tell you what to do on the spot, fully and adequately.”




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



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



 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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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 



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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



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.”




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