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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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CHANNELING POSITIVE ENERGY

As the medical community has increasingly come to accept that there is a spiritual dimension to healing, it has become quite common for physicians to refer patients for religious counseling, particularly to help them cope with grief and terminal illness. This is done in the belief that treating the whole person can bring about better outcomes than those produced by focusing specifically on one area. Research shows that expressions of faith help produce a stronger immune system and cut the severity of depression. Clearly, if the mind rules the body, it would seem to be of great benefit to suffuse the mind with faith. A positive attitude fostered by a belief in something greater than ourselves is empowering.

QUOTE: “All healing is first a healing of the heart.”

Carl Townsend

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CARVED IN STONE

As you walk through older cemeteries in particular, you will likely notice that the headstones are largely a mix of marble and granite. Because marble lends itself to elegant carvings and design that often mimic classical sculpture, it was the material of choice for gravestones throughout much of the 19th century. However, because it is composed of dense crystalline or granular metamorphic limestone, marble is a relatively soft stone that is prone to erosion. Because of this, there was a widespread switch to granite during the following century and up to today. This igneous rock composed primarily of quartz, feldspar, and some mica forms as magma cools, making it more likely to endure the test of time in the cemetery.     

QUOTE: “Memory, in widow’s weeds, with naked feet stands on a tombstone.

Aubrey de Vere

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MAKE YOUR WISHES KNOWN

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.”

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IMMEDIATE CONCERNS

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.”

Montaigne

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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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DEATH AWAY FROM HOME

Death can seem even more overwhelming when it happens away from home. Once the local authorities have been notified, those traveling with the deceased are urged to stay with the body  in order to help the local police department and medical examiner’s office. It is also extremely helpful to place a call to the funeral director at home, who can coordinate with a funeral director in the travelers’ locale to arrange to cremate or embalm and transport the body back home. If a person has died without family or a traveling companion present, survivors should not fly out to the place of death. Instead, the hometown funeral director should be designated as point person, who can make the necessary identification. 

QUOTE: “Death often weights heavier on us by its weight on others and pains us by their pain almost as much by our own, and sometimes even more.

Montaigne

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MATTERS OF RESPECT

For those uninitiated in the ways of the Japanese, a Japanese wake offers powerful insight into a culture that combines Shinto and Buddhist traditions. The wake begins with arriving guests bearing monetary gifts that are sealed in special envelopes and tied up with black and white string. As the priest kneels before the coffin to recite a “sutra” (wise saying), the immediate family comes forward, one by one, to offer respect to the deceased. Typically, each mourner will remove granular incense from a bowl, hold it to his or her forehead, and drop the incense onto a burner. After that, each mourner will pray and bow to the portrait of the deceased, as well as bow to the immediate family.

QUOTE: “No one is actually dead until the ripples they cause in the world die away.”

Terry Pratchett

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MEANS TO AN END

Before meeting with the funeral director to preplan a funeral, it is best to have a budget in mind. As with planning other life events, it is very important to have a good idea of how you want to allocate your funds. Funeral preplanning helps you prioritize your needs and desires. That way, you have a better idea of what you really want, and you can avoid making purchases that you don’t really need or want. Preplanning allows you the time to make considered choices.  By carefully reviewing the costs associated with the most expensive items (such as caskets, grave markers, and urns) ahead of time, you can avail yourself of beautiful items that are reasonably priced.

QUOTE: “Funeral pomp is more for the vanity of the living than for the honor of the dead.”

Francois de La Rochefoucauld

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HOLIDAY REMEMBRANCES

The holiday season can be quite challenging for older individuals, who may dwell on recollections of departed spouses and relatives. While it is natural to think about departed loved ones  during holidays, it is important not to be overwhelmed by sadness. There are a few things people can do to adjust their attitudes and bring some cheer to their hearts. To begin with, an attempt can be made to try and focus on the future  instead of the past. Interacting with young children and young adults in the circle of family and friends nearly always brings benefits. When children ask about departed relatives, it is healthy to pass along anecdotes and remembrances that help children define themselves  and the future.

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

Thomas Campbell

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A SENSE OF FOREBODING

There is much anecdotal evidence concerning individuals  who have purported to sense the imminence of death. Perhaps the most famous example of this foreboding revolves around Abraham Lincoln, whom it is said told his wife and close friends of a dream that he had  in the days leading to his death. In the dream, he walked into the White House East Room to find a covered corpse guarded by soldiers and surrounded by mourners. When he asked a nearby soldier who had died, the response was that it was the President, who had been assassinated. Whether this account is true or not, many much less-famous individuals have had premonitions of death, which might be owed to a heightened sensibility.

QUOTE: “Pay attention to the feelings, hunches, and intuitions that flood your life each day. If you do, you will see that premonitions are not rare, but a natural part of our lives.”

Larry Dossey

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TAKING MATTERS PERSONALLY

The National Funeral Directors Association’s own research shows that families are looking for new ways to celebrate and honor the lives of their loved ones when it comes to choosing end-of-life services. However, despite this more customized approach toward funeral planning, many remain reluctant to visit with funeral directors  to ask about services and compare costs. As the way that families decide to honor and celebrate their loved ones continues to evolve, it is important for consumers to use their good intentions and curiosity to motivate them to overcome any reluctance they might have about discussing the delicate subject of funeral preplanning. As with most matters, addressing matters straightforwardly helps dispel misconceptions and form educated opinions.

QUOTE: “If you carefully consider what you want to be said of you in the funeral experience, you will find your definition of success.”

Stephen Covey

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FACING FORWARD 

In pagan times, people were buried facing an eastward direction to look toward the rising sun. This approach to body burial orientation was continued in Judeo-Christian societies, owing to biblical history and societal tradition. The Bible shows that, when people entered sacred places, they did so from the east (facing west). Upon leaving, they exited from the west, toward the east. Jews and Christians were not the first to bury their dead facing west, and although modern cemeteries may have graves facing in other directions, east-facing tombstones are still found in many traditional Christian and Jewish cemeteries. Modern cemeteries may also vary their layouts in favor of easier access, and to accommodate people of all spiritual and religious beliefs.

QUOTE: “The richest person in the cemetery is the one who left the most happy memories.”

Matshona Dhliwayo

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GRAVE STONES

The term “gravestone” is derived from the Jewish custom of visitors placing stones at the head of the grave  as a means of honoring the deceased. This tradition of placing pebbles on a grave dates back thousands of years. Yet, the exact origin of the practice remains unclear. One explanation is based on the belief that Jewish priests, at the time of the Temple in Jerusalem, became ritually  impure if they came within four feet of a corpse. To guard against this possibility, graves were marked with piles of rocks  to warn the passing priests to keep their distance. Today, the tradition is largely followed so that cemetery visitors can show that the grave has been visited and tribute paid.

QUOTE: “Tombstones covered the dale, the smooth marble surfaces bright. She had spent days here as a teenager, though not out of any awareness of mortality. Like every adolescent, she intended to live forever.”

Thomm Quackenbush

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SPOUSAL LOSS

While the loss of a spouse can greatly impact the surviving partner, losing a lifetime companion can be devastating. Aside from overwhelming grief, surviving spouses’ lives may be complicated by their own ill health. With all this in mind, researchers have observed a “widowhood effect,”  which refers to an increase in the chance of dying for the elderly after a spouses’ death  in the first three months following the loss. At this point, it is crucial for family and friends to show their love and support in very practical ways, by offering to cook meals, buy groceries, clean, and provide transportation to doctor’s appointments. There is also a great deal to be said for simply spending time with grieving individuals.

QUOTE: “The song is ended but the melody lingers on…”

Irving Berlin

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RELATED MATTERS

Many people are confused about the differences between “pre-need” and “funeral preplanning.” Pre-need involves payment for funeral services and goods  well in advance. By entering into a legal agreement to fund the arrangements, an individual commits to a particular funeral provider and makes regular payments to a third party (such as a funeral insurance company)  over a set period of time. With preplanning, a person makes decisions about the type of funeral or burial, the type of ceremony, and the products he or she wants. The planning can be simple or detailed. The instructions are left for loved ones who will  take care of the details  when the time comes. No payment is required to preplan.

QUOTE: “You can't choreograph death, but you can choreograph your funeral.”

Marina Abramovic

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END-OF-LIFE EXPECTATIONS

“End-of-life” is defined as that time period when health care providers expect death to occurred  within about six months. During this time, it is well documented that older patients with terminal illness generally prefer their lives to end in a “good death” that avoids burdensome pain and heroic life-saving technology. At the same time, they fear that their pain, symptoms, anxiety, emotional suffering, and family concerns will be ignored and that their advance directives will be disregarded. To avoid such unnecessary worry that they will face death alone and in misery, it is critical that the immediate family take it upon themselves to advocate for their dying family member. A frank discussion is both expected and needed.

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

Daphne du Maurier

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THE PERFECT SETTING

As those planning funerals continue to look for ways to make their funerals and burials more consistent with their own values and preferences, there has been a shift toward selecting more personal settings. Instead of choosing to conduct a funeral in the funeral home, nearly half of those responding to a National Funeral Directors Association survey indicate that they have attended a funeral at a non-traditional location. These include outdoor settings, homes, and other locations to which the deceased enjoyed a particularly emotional or physical attachment. With this and other important matters in mind, the funeral director is prepared to incorporate any and all of a funeral planner’s wishes into a comprehensive plan that best commemorates an individual’s life.

QUOTE: “If any of you cry at my funeral, I'll never speak to you again!”

Stan Laurel

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DECIDING FACTORS

Americans are increasingly becoming more interested in all things natural, including burials. With this in mind, more are choosing “green burials” as an eco-friendly means of reducing their carbon footprint. According to a recent survey by the National Funeral Directors Association, nearly 54 percent of Americans are considering a green burial, while 72 percent of cemeteries are reporting an increased demand for such. The extent to which a burial goes green depends on individual preference. The Green Burial Council recommends minimizing negative environmental effects by forgoing embalming, skipping concrete vaults, rethinking burial containers, and maintaining and protecting natural habitat. Working with an experienced funeral director helps carry out planners’ wishes in accordance with local regulations.

QUOTE: “I would request that my body in death be buried not cremated, so that the energy content contained within it gets returned to the earth…” 

Neil deGrasse Tyson

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PAYING CONDOLENCES

Upon meeting with grieving individuals, those paying condolences may search their minds for words that adequately express their feelings and provide comfort. The fact is, however, that words may not be needed at all. Those who have just experienced great loss  would tell you that they find the mere presence of well-wishing people provides them with a great deal of support. While a lot of expressions might come to mind, a heartfelt embrace may speak volumes about what a person attending a funeral has to say. Beyond that, any mention of the deceased or inquiry as to the health of mourner is sure to be appreciated. Making declarations of one’s willingness to help can come later.

QUOTE: “The purpose of human life is to serve, and to show compassion and the will to help others.”

Albert Schweitzer

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PREVAILING TRENDS

Whether you find the notion edifying or distressing, many young people have never handwritten and mailed a letter of correspondence. Instead, they simply type out a text and expect an immediate response. The fact is that, as a culture, we are becoming less traditional. With this in mind, Baby Boomers and their progeny are ever more interested in cremation and less concerned with conventional funeral rituals. Many people find cremation to be very practical, in terms of its simplicity, portability, versatility, and reduced expense. The idea of being able to schedule the events surrounding the death of a loved in accordance with the ability of the greatest number of people to attend a memorial service is also appealing.

QUOTE: “Man alone chimes the hour. And, because of this, man alone suffers a paralyzing fear that no other creature endures. A fear of time running out.”

Mitch Albom

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GARDEN CEMETERIES

As Londoners continued to run out of space to bury their dead by the mid-nineteenth century, town planners and architects turned toward more rural areas for additional space.  In these new spaces, the concept of “garden cemeteries” was born, which combined sweeping roads for carriages, smaller paths for strolling, and carefully planned landscaping to create a private, landscaped park with a central chapel. Thirty years later, a more practical approach to cemetery layout utilized a more efficient grid-like layout, which further promoted the idea of a cemetery as an educational, contemplative and dignified environment that met the Victorian standards of the age. After World War I, the ravages of war forced the English to switch to more understated design.

QUOTE: “Graveyards are for the living, not the dead.”

Heather Brewer

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EARTHLY MATTERS

One of the most important matters surrounding funerals is cost. As consumers, most individuals want to get the best possible price for the goods and services they intend to purchase. However, funerals become  somewhat different, when it comes to a surviving relative making decisions in the absence of a funeral plan left by the deceased. Without funeral preplanning, loving relatives often want to show their love and respect  by giving their loved one a “proper sendoff,”  This well-intentioned gesture often entails selecting the most expensive casket, floral displays, and other funeral accoutrements. If a thoughtful individual wants to avert unnecessary expense  with regard to his or her funeral, funeral preplanning provides an effective means of controlling costs.   

QUOTE: “I grew up in a secular suburban Jewish household where we only observed the religion on very specific times like a funeral or a Bar Mitzvah.”

Jesse Eisenberg

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LINER NOTES

Depending on cemetery regulations and/or personal preference, a burial liner, lawn crypt, or burial vault may be purchased to house a casket. The preferred “burial liner” is a solid box, which is more durable than the more portable sectional liner. A “lawn crypt”  is essentially a premade tomb or vault of concrete and steel that is installed underground in an excavated area and covered with soil and grass. As in a mausoleum, the crypts may be placed side by side (“companion crypts”) or atop one another. A “burial vault” is made of reinforced concrete with a tar-coated cover that, along with the inclusion of a plastic or copper liner, ensures a water-proof seal. 

QUOTE: “The most important thing to arrive on your deathbed satisfied and grateful is to first live your life fully.”

Maxime Lagacé

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COMPLICATED GRIEF

In literature, there is mention of grief so severe that people died of a “broken heart,” which is a term that has great romantic appeal. Today, this expression is considered passé. Instead, psychologists speak of “complicated grief” (or “traumatic grief”), which goes beyond the grief that people normally feel. It may involve intense yearning for the lost person and periods of weeping. It may last many months. Though it often resembles depressive illness, it does not usually respond to anti-depressive medication. It can have devastating effects on health. In some people, particularly those  who have lost a spouse or loved one to war and violence, grief may even progress to post-traumatic stress syndrome. This disorder requires professional treatment. 

QUOTE: “God gave us memory so that we might have roses in December.”

J.M. Barrie

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EXPLAINING DEATH

While the death of a loved one can be overwhelming for adults, it can be even more so for children. Nevertheless, parents should try not to allow their thoughts and emotions stand in the way  when explaining death to their children. As adults find ways to make sense of what has happened, to give expression to their feelings, and to work towards acceptance, they should strive to tell children the truth about what happened, right away. While it may be uncomfortable to use such words as “death” and “died,”  research shows that using realistic words to describe death helps the grieving process. After that, parents should share details in small doses and be prepared for a variety of emotional responses.

QUOTE: “You’ll stay with me?’ Until the very end,’ said James.”

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter, and the Deathly Hallows

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SIMPLE AND NATURAL

There is nothing particularly new about the natural, simple, and environmentally-friendly approach to earth burial. In fact, most burials before the mid-19th century were conducted in much the same manner as today’s “green burials.” This simplified approach calls for bodies to be neither cremated nor embalmed, but placed in an unadorned coffin or shroud and interred without a concrete burial vault. This approach more readily and completely ensures complete decomposition of the body and its natural return to the soil in a way that most closely adheres to the “ashes to ashes, dust to dust” ethos. Resting amidst the flora and fauna of a natural landscape, the dead are free to return to new beginnings.

QUOTE: “From the stars we came, and to the stars we return.”

Jack Campbell

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INVOLVING EXPERIENCE

As funerals are becoming more personalized, it is many individuals’ last wish to be remembered in ways that enable mourners to express and demonstrate respect for the uniqueness of their relationship with the deceased. With this in mind, surviving family members and friends of the deceased may want and need to be involved, active participants in the funeral ceremony. Many traditional rites have been modified to include singing of songs, poetry readings, and the telling of special stories and experiences that were shared with the deceased. This greater personalization and participation creates a more meaningful experience for all involved and helps to lay mourners’ emotions to rest with the person they loved.

QUOTE: “There is only one happiness in this life, to love and be loved.”

George Sand

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HEADSTONES AND MARKERS

There are many styles of headstones  from which to choose. Flush, flat, or lawn-level markers, which come in a variety of textures, finishes, shapes, and designs, are set either flush to the ground or raised a few inches above it. Vertical upright headstones consist of a vertical tablet that sits atop a base, while a slant marker features a wide base that angles up to a tapered top. A bevel marker is a raised headstone that is flat on the bottom and cut on a gentle angle (like a wedge). A ledger marker is a thick slab of stone that covers the entire grave. Lastly, upright monument headstones can feature intricate angled tops, dome shapes, and even sculptures.  

QUOTE: “Who chose burial monuments? Were the wishes of the deceased taken into consideration? It was a subject I'd never considered before.”

Susan Hubbard

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FOR ETERNITY

One aspect of cremation that many find appealing is the versatility of having one’s remains reduced to ashes. Many people find that having easily portable cremains in a urn kept at home gives them a feeling of closeness with the deceased. For those  who want to keep their loved ones even closer, there is an ingenious way of taking the portability factor one step further. “Cremation diamonds” are produced by subjecting cremains to massive heat to isolate carbon, which is then turned into graphite. After mixing the graphite with a metal catalyst and a diamond seed crystal, it is placed in a diamond press, under high heat and pressure, until a rough diamond forms, which is then cut and faceted. 

QUOTE: “… the river sliding along its banks, darker now than the sky descending a last time to scatter its diamonds into these black waters that contain the day that passed, the night to come.”

Philip Levine

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BLAZING STAR

Few, if any, methods of body disposition are more poetic or dramatic than having your cremains shot into space. One such plan, described as a “memorial spaceflight,” involves sending cremated ashes into earth orbit. After about two years of orbiting the earth, under the direction of ex-NASA personnel and funeral experts, the company will plan for “the spacecraft (to) harmlessly re-enter the Earth’s atmosphere, blazing as a shooting star.” While plans are still being formulated, current strategy calls for family and friends to follow the progress of their loved one’s flight on a cell phone application. If anyone doubts the speed  at which funeral observances are changing, one need only look to the heavens.

QUOTE: “Dwell on the beauty of life. Watch the stars, and see yourself running with them.”

Marcus Aurelius

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POINTS OF REFERENCE

According to the Population Reference Bureau (PRB), a non-profit organization that collects and supplies statistics necessary for research and academic applications, more than 108 billion humans have ever been born. With the current population of the world standing close to 8 billion people, it is easy to see that the number of humans lying buried beneath the earth in cemeteries and other sites vastly outnumbers the number of people walking the earth, and will continue to do so. With this in mind, we can realize that the pursuit of adequate cemetery space is a concern that far predates the current “green burial” movement’s current concerns. Over the centuries, Parisians, Londoners, and Romans have faced cemetery relocation and expansion issues.

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

Percy Bysshe Shelley

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RESURRECTION

The Christian holiday Easter celebrates Christ’s resurrection from the dead, which provided irrefutable proof that He was really the Son of God and that He had conquered death once and for all. While some may believe in the resurrection as a matter of faith, others may not be so sure. With this in mind, it should be pointed out that science recognizes the “Lazarus phenomenon,”  in which, patients who are pronounced dead after cardiac arrest  experience a spontaneous return of cardiac activity. Since 1982, when the Lazarus phenomenon was first described in medical literature, there have been at least 38 reported cases. While there are a few possible explanations for the phenomenon, science has no clear answer.

QUOTE: “Here is the amazing thing about Easter; the Resurrection Sunday for Christians is this, that Christ in the dying moments on the cross gives us the greatest illustration of forgiveness possible.”

T.D. Jakes

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HEADSTONE PORTRAITURE

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

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HOME BURIAL

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

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RELIGIOUS AFFILIATION

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

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PAYING THE PRICE OF LOVE

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

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ADAPTIVE FUNERALS

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

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 THE ECHOES OF EARLY LOSS

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

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 IN PERPETUITY

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

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MAKING PLANS FOR OURSELVES

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.”

Unknown

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THE GRAVEYARD CYPRESS

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

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THE “GOOD DEATH”

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