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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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COST CONSIDERATIONS

Funeral pre-arrangement plans that include pre-payment enable consumers to pay in advance for options such as the coffin, embalming, chapel, dressing/casketing, floral arrangements, stationery, staff services, and the basic service fee, as well as for cemetery expenses such as the grave, headstone, opening and closing, outer burial container, and other fees. A guaranteed plan locks in the price of such goods and services at the time they are purchased. While a non-guaranteed plan may not lock in prices, it will enable any accumulated funds to accrue interest, which will likely help mitigate final costs. In either case, pre-payment funds are held by a third party, either in a trust or in a life insurance policy. 

QUOTE: “What the caterpillar perceives is the end, to the butterfly is just the beginning.”

Buddhist saying

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FAREWELL POEM TO LIFE

One of the most eloquent examples of final words left behind by dying individuals can be found in the Japanese tradition of the “death poem,” which is written as death approaches. While these “farewell poems to life” are occasionally written in the three-line, 17-syllable haiku form, the most common type of death poem, a “jisei,” consists of five lines totaling 31 syllables. Often written by Zen monks and other literate individuals, these poems are characterized as graceful, natural, and neutral in emotion that adhere to religious teachings. Instead of mentioning death directly, the poetry uses metaphoric suggestions such as sunsets and falling cherry blossoms. Neither a will nor a eulogy, a death poem is intended as a reflective farewell gesture.

QUOTE: “At last I am leaving: in rainless skies a full moon… pure is my heart.”

Senseki

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CHOOSING A PLOT

While some individuals prefer to be buried in the place where they grew up, others seek to select a burial plot in the place where they have come to live as adults. Many people also take the location of immediate family members into careful consideration, because they are the ones most likely to make regular visits to the grave. Regardless of the factors involved, the choice of a plot is best made as part of a pre-planning approach. Leaving the choice to the deceased’s survivors can place a heavy burden on those involved. Burial in a veterans’ cemetery includes a plot, opening and closing of the grave, perpetual care, a headstone, and military honors, all without charge.

QUOTE: “Heaven lent you a soul, Earth will lend a grave.

Christian Nestell Bovee

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NO DELAYING THE INEVITABLE

It is no more sensible to delay making funeral pre-arrangements than it is to deny the inevitability of death. By addressing in advance the practical matters surrounding death, you can spare your family unnecessary hardship. For this reason alone, everyone should discuss such matters ahead of time. Having an honest conversation with immediate family about death and funeral preparations need not be difficult. In fact, many experience a feeling of relief after this important topic is discussed. Death is a part of life, and funeral arrangements are as important and necessary as planning for other life-altering events. Pre-arranging your funeral makes it possible to take the necessary steps to ensure that your loved ones are spared needless concern. 

QUOTE: “Death never takes the wise man by surprise, he is always ready to go.”

Jean de La Fontaine

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DELIVERING UNWELCOME NEWS

No one is more aware of the shock and grief that comes with hearing of the death of a loved one than those who must deliver the news. The person on whom this responsibility falls may want to create a list and divide it with someone else of equal standing in the family. In any case, it may be a good idea to have someone else present when making the calls. Consideration should also be given to the fact that, as difficult as it is to disseminate such news, it may be more traumatic to receive it. With this in mind, it may be preferable to deliver the news in person when circumstances allow. The funeral director can offer guidance.

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

Emily Dickinson

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NEVER FORGET

Families of eligible U.S. military veterans can request funeral honors through their funeral director, who will contact the appropriate military service to arrange for the honors detail. Free of charge, the rendering of military funeral honors for an eligible veteran is mandated by law. An honor guard detail for the burial of an eligible veteran consists of not less than two members of the Armed Forces. Eligibility is available to military members on active duty or in the selected reserve, former military members who served on active duty and departed under honorable conditions, and former military members who completed at least one term of enlistment or period of initial obligated service in the reserves and departed under honorable conditions.

QUOTE: “Your silent tents of green/We deck with fragrant flowers;/Yours has the suffering been, /The memory shall be ours.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

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FILING THE DEATH CERTIFICATE 

A death certificate, which is a document that declares the deceased’s name, address, date, location, and cause of death, as well as other important information, must be signed by a medical practitioner  within a prescribed period of time. While processing this document is routine in a hospital, deaths that occur at home may require calls to the deceased’s personal physician or, if necessary, the county medical examiner or coroner. In the days immediately following death, the funeral director prepares the death certificate, which is filed with the county before the body can be buried or cremated. The funeral home usually files the certificate, certified copies of which will be needed later for insurance, probate, and other purposes.  

QUOTE: “For death is no more than a turning of us over from time to eternity.” 

William Penn

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SPEAKING FOR THEMSELVES

In order to help ensure that they will be remembered in the way they want, some individuals take on the task of writing their own obituaries. This written notice of a person’s death may be brief or long, depending on where it appears and how comprehensive it is meant to be. Aside from including the date of death and the time and place of the funeral or memorial service, the obituary may also make specific mention about wishes for where donations may be made in the deceased’s name. An obituary also includes biographical information such as details about family, education, employment and military service, awards and achievements, primary interests, and a photograph (if desired).

QUOTE: “Whatever you want to do, do it now. There are only so many tomorrows.”

Michael Landon 

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LASTING IMAGES

At a time when we can take a picture of anyone, anywhere, at any time, it’s interesting to note that our 19th-century forebears were just beginning to discover photography. The earliest form of photography was the “daguerreotype,” which required subjects to sit perfectly still for 60 to 90 seconds while their images formed on a highly polished silver surface. This process was time-consuming and also quite expensive. However, for families with a deceased member, it was the only way to capture a permanent image of their loved one. Post-mortem photography involved propping up the formally dressed deceased in a chair surrounded by his or her loving family. While the technology has changed, the sentiment has not. 

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

James M. Barrie

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FIRE AND EARTH

The National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) reports that, beginning in 2015, the rate of cremation in the United States surpassed that of burial. Although many families have chosen to move away from the traditional practice of burial, earth burial is still regarded as the most ancient means of disposing of the dead. Tracing burial practices back to the time of the Neanderthals reveals evidence of formalized burial procedures that involved burying bodies with tools and other artifacts that would help them in the world beyond. These bodies were also buried in an east-west orientation so that the head of the deceased always faced east. Then, as today, families select whichever method of body disposition provides the greatest assurance and comfort.

QUOTE: “Seashells remind us that every passing life leaves something beautiful behind.” 

unknown

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REGARDING DEATH

By learning how different cultures regard death, we can open ourselves up to new ways of approaching a subject that many people find difficult to talk about. One of the tenets of Hinduism is the belief in repeated incarnations of the soul that result from the moral law of cause and effect, or “karma.” To halt this never-ending cycle of reincarnation, Hindus must free themselves from attachments to material things, including their bodies. To attain this goal, they often meditate on disease and the aging of their bodies, and imagine their own deaths. Confronting mortality in this way helps them conquer the illusion of individual human existence. This approach may offer some insight into preparing oneself for death.             

QUOTE: “The Spirit is neither born nor does it die at any time. It does not come into being or cease to exist. It is unborn, eternal, permanent, and primeval.”

Krishna

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BURIAL VAULTS AND LINERS

Burial vaults, which are usually made of cement, are used to line a grave prior to the placement of the casket or coffin. While burial vaults are complete enclosures, burial liners do not have bottoms. With a burial liner, the coffin is lowered directly onto the earth and the burial liner is then lowered over the casket. In either case, the purpose of these sturdy structures is to prevent the ground from sinking above and around the casket. Because they prevent the formation of sink holes, many cemeteries require the installation of burial vaults and liners in graves throughout their premises. Vaults and liners do not prevent the decomposition of the body.

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

unknown

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PROPER ENGLISH

While the British have a reputation for valuing tradition and respecting institutions, a recent survey indicates that their attitudes may be shifting. According to a recent survey conducted by national funeral provider Co-op Funeralcare, 92 percent of UK adults have indicated they no longer want a traditional funeral. In addition, 88 percent revealed they want to plan their unique send-off themselves. When asked what was most important when arranging a final goodbye, over 84 percent of respondents would rather have laughter than tears at their send-off. A further 27 percent wanted their family and friends to arrive wearing color. If nothing else, the survey underscores the importance of discussing and arranging funeral plans beforehand.

QUOTE: “What you leave behind is not what is engraved in stone monuments, but what is woven into the lives of others.”

Thucydides

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CASKET SELECTION

Because caskets are available in diverse styles, materials, and customizable features, many consider choosing one to be the most difficult part of the funeral-planning process. There are many factors to consider that can help expedite the selection process. Because cremation caskets are going to be ultimately reduced to ashes, they can be limited to inexpensive wood, cardboard, or other highly combustible material. Caskets that are intended for burial can be simple or highly elaborate and customized, while those selected for “green” burials should be composed of a biodegradable material. Wooden caskets are designed to evoke the look of luxurious hardwood furniture, and metal caskets can be painted with images that reflect the spirit of the person resting within.

QUOTE: “A coffin may have a body inside of it, but the spirit has long since departed.”

Anthony T. Hincks

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HAVING THE FINAL SAY

Divorce and remarriage can produce circumstances  in which second spouses and the children of the deceased may be at odds. Matters to do with disposition of a loved one’s body are difficult enough, and when they involve opposing views, the high emotion and time constraints surrounding a funeral can add to the tension. One way to diffuse the stress caused by such a potentially volatile situation calls for the person at the center of it all to pre-empt any argument  by making funeral prearrangements.  We all have it in our power to make our wishes known to others  before the time comes to carry them out. Doing so can bring harmony when and where it is sorely needed.

QUOTE: “How strange this fear of death is! We are never frightened at a sunset.”

George MacDonald

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THE MEANING OF THE FOLDED FLAG

At a military funeral, the flag that drapes the casket of the deceased veteran is positioned with the union field at the head and over the left shoulder of the deceased. After taps is played, the flag is folded into the symbolic tri-cornered shape and presented to the veteran’s family. The thirteen folds of the flag represent the thirteen original colonies, while the triangular shape represents the patriots’ tri-cornered hat. In addition, each fold represents a different belief, honor, tribute, or recognition, with the first fold symbolizing life, the second the belief in eternal life, and the third honoring the departed veteran who gave a portion of his or her life for the defense of our country.

QUOTE: “I don’t want to die without any scars.”

Charles Palahniuk

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HEARTFELT GRIEF

Death is a stressful event with the potential to place a great deal of strain on the hearts of those whom the deceased has left behind. This stress can be so great that it leads to a rare condition that mimics the symptoms of a heart attack. “Broken heart syndrome” (or “stress-induced cardiomyopathy”) produces symptoms such as sudden, intense chest pain  and shortness of breath. These symptoms are not caused by blocked arteries. Instead, they arise as a result of an enlarged heart that does not pump correctly  due to the release of stress hormones that are produced in response to the emotions of grief and anger. Grief counseling helps deal with the stress surrounding death.   

QUOTE: “Grief is itself a medicine.” 

William Cowper

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PREPARING FOR A VISITATION

Funerals often involve visitations, viewing, or wakes, which are usually attended by those who were close to the deceased or family members of the person who has passed. Held during the posted visiting hours, a visitation provides a chance for family, friends, and associates to express their sympathy. The family of the deceased may also choose to make a visitation open only to family and close friends in order to keep the proceeding more intimate. This is an occasion for restraint, soft voices, and respect. If there is a viewing, before or during the visitation, those in attendance have their opportunity to take one last look at the deceased and say their goodbyes prior to the burial.  

QUOTE: “Death leaves a heartache no one can heal; Love leaves a memory no one can steal.”

Irish saying

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CEMETERY SYMBOLISM

A cemetery is somewhat like an art museum in that many of the headstones it contains are artfully presented as pieces of granite sculpture. One of the most interesting elements of headstone design are the meaningful images carved into the stone. Among the most common of these symbols is an angel, which guards the tomb and represents a messenger between man and God. The dove, seen in both Jewish and Christian cemeteries, symbolizes resurrection, innocence, and peace. Its ascension denotes the transport of the departed’s soul to heaven. A dove lying dead symbolizes a life prematurely cut short. If the dove is holding an olive branch, it symbolizes that the soul has reached divine peace in heaven.  

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

James Montgomery

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LEAVING A LASTING IMPRESSION

The words “She did it the hard way” are inscribed on Bette Davis’ tombstone. She wished to be remembered by this phrase, which reflects the Hollywood actress’ hard fight for success. One need not be famous to leave famous last words behind, as exemplified by Lester Moore, who was buried at Boot Hill Cemetery in Tombstone, Arizona. His grave carries the immortal words “Here lies Lester Moore, four slugs from a .44, no Les no more.” Whether an epitaph is sober, reflective, humorous, or inspirational, it leaves all who view it with a lasting impression. For those wishing to write their own history, an epitaph carved in stone provides the last word.  

QUOTE: “I told you I was ill.”

epitaph of comedian Spike Milligan

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CREMAINING THOUGHTS

If you or a loved one decides to be cremated, choosing what to do with the cremains comes next. For those wanting to have their cremains committed to a special place that can be visited, ashes can be buried in a “sacred place” (like a cemetery) or they can be kept in a columbarium (essentially, a mausoleum for cremation urns). Others may elect to store cremains in a beautiful urn that remains in a loved one’s home or is rotated between family members. Some individuals entertain the notion of having their cremains dispersed at sea, in a special place on land, or simply cast to the wind. In such cases, it is very important not to disperse cremains without permission.

QUOTE: “In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”

Genesis 3:19

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THE LUXURY OF TIME

It is nearly always more difficult to make a purchasing decision that requires immediate attention than one that allows time for planning and careful consideration. Those who plan their funerals ahead of time have the opportunity to view their interment more as a commodity than a crisis. Because surviving relatives are likely to view the funeral of a loved one more like the latter than the former, it behooves us all to make our own decisions surrounding our funerals. Individuals who preplan their funerals have the luxury of being able to comparison shop for products and services in a way that no one else can. This can lead to great savings, in terms of both spent emotions and finances.

QUOTE: “As a well-spent day brings happy sleep, so a life well spent brings happy death.” 

Leonardo da Vinci

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PERSONAL HISTORY

Each of us is a valuable repository of personal history that can inspire, inform, and enlighten members of our family. Unless this personal narration is preserved, it will be lost. Because few of us have the time or talent to write an autobiography, it is to our advantage to interview our grandparents and other elders of our families in front of a video camera. Doing so preserves remembrances and anecdotes that might not be uttered or remembered again the same way. Far from benefitting only the listeners, recording family history also profits the tellers, who have a chance to reveal themselves in a new light. Photographs and videos also give added substance to the funerals of those who have passed.

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

Antonio Porchia

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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

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GOD ENCOUNTER EXPERIENCES

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

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MEMORIAL CELEBRATIONS

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

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FINAL DECISIONS

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

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CONSIDER THE POSSIBILITIES

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

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GUILT AND GRIEVING

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

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HONORED ROLES

 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.”

Shakespeare

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FUNERAL FUNDING

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

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MONUMENTALLY ENDURING

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

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A SENSE OF PERMANENCE

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

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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