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FINAL CONSIDERATIONS

Life poses no more curious a riddle than its termination. This natural and inevitable event may arouse thoughts that can complicate life with fear and anxiety about the unknown. Yet, there remains the practical consideration of carrying out the earthly decisions surrounding life’s final chapter. With so much that we don’t know about death, most of us find it comforting to exert a degree of control about what we do know. In the weeks and months that follow, we will provide our readers with enough information to make end-of-life decisions that will enable them to meet death on their own terms. It is our earnest hope that the information and insights we offer will provide comfort to those most in need of it.

QUOTE: “Our birth made us mortal; our death will make us immortal.”

Thomas Fuller, Gnomologia

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IN THE FINAL HOURS

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

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

David Searls

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MAKING A FINAL SWEEP

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

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

Oscar Wilde

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BODY AND SOUL

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

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

unknown

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SOLEMN UNDERTAKING

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

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

Arthur Schopenhauer

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THE SOCIAL SECURITY DEATH BENEFIT

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

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

Voltaire

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 A FINAL SENDOFF

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

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

Mark Twain

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CAN WE CHOOSE A TIME TO DIE?

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

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

Shakespeare

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CHOOSING HOSPICE

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

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

Muhammad Ali

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THINKING OF OTHERS

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

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

Irving Berlin

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SETTING PRIORITIES

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

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

Adam Lindsay Gordon

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PERSONAL SERVICE FOR A UNIQUE INDIVIDUAL

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

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

William Wordsworth

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ADVANCE WARNING

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

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

Martin Luther King, Jr.

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SECULAR FUNERALS

While there is a long tradition of funerals being presided over by a member of the clergy, it should be noted that not all people have a religious devotion or affiliation. In fact, according to a recent Consumer Awareness and Preferences Study that was conducted by the National Funeral Directors Association, the percentage of respondents who felt that it was very important to have religion incorporated into a funeral service fell from 49.5 percent in 2012 to 39.5 percent (an all-time low) in 2017. At the same time, there is increasing interest in celebrant-led ceremonies that focus more on the wishes of the family and the deceased than following a particular religious practice.

QUOTE: “Yesterday is a memory, tomorrow is a mystery and today is a gift, which is why it is called the present.”

A.A. Milne

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A POSITION OF HONOR

Those selected to be pallbearers at a funeral should consider it an honor to be asked to accept responsibility for carrying a loved one to his or her final resting place. Depending on the size and weight of the casket, there are typically six to eight pallbearers who have both the distinction and duty of carrying the casket. When making this important decision, some may feel that it is not proper to ask a family member to make the commitment. With this in mind, if a family member is neither physically nor emotionally able to assume the task, it may be preferable to ask a friend, business associate, or other family member to accept the honor. 

QUOTE: “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Mahatma Gandhi

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OVERCOME WITH GRIEF

While it is quite normal to experience feelings of numbness and emptiness following the death of a loved one, many survivors have difficulty facing these emotions. Grieving is a necessary and normal response because it is a coping mechanism that helps us to confront and, finally, accept our losses. However, if the symptoms of bereavement become excessive, it may be a sign to seek support. We all engage in the grieving process at our own individual pace. In time, we come to accept our losses and move to resume our former activities; however, if grieving individuals find that they are having an inordinately difficult time dealing with their losses, they can choose not to face them alone.

QUOTE: “To weep is to make less the depth of grief.”

William Shakespeare

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THERE IS NO PLACE FOR GUILT

In psychological terms, “guilt” is an unhappy feeling that individuals may have when they feel that they have not done the right thing. This kind of emotion is particularly harmful when it is misplaced. With this in mind, one primary benefit of preplanning a funeral for one’s self is that it spares others from making important and expensive decisions based on the notion that “it’s what he or she would have wanted,” especially if it means that a guilt-ridden survivor of the deceased must go into debt and endure financial hardship. Instead of leaving it to others to guess what you would have wanted, it is far better to get what you know you really want by preplanning your own funeral. 

QUOTE: “Guilt is a feeling that you owe a debt that you are not paying.”

Stefan Molyneux

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CONVEYANCE OF CHOICE

Down through history, the “hearse” (also known as a “funeral coach”) has evolved from a simple carrying device known as a “bier” to 19th-century wooden hearses with intricately cut mahogany carvings and velvet draperies to the motorized vehicles that we know today. While hearses such as landaus, limousines, and vans still predominate the hearse landscape, many individuals are choosing other types of vehicles as their conveyance of choice. Some prefer vehicles that they had driven during their professional lives for their final journeys, while others favor their dream car, truck, or other vehicle. These alternatives to the traditional black hearse are meant to personalize the funeral procession in a way that most appropriately expresses the inner spirit of the deceased.

QUOTE: “I never saw a U-Haul behind a hearse.”

Billy Graham

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UPON REFLECTION

Because an epitaph leaves an indelible impression of the person it is meant to reflect, many people choose to compose their own. While some might think that, in this age of cryptic social media messaging, it is easy to sum up one’s life and attitude in a few choice words, it is not necessarily so. Whether one elects to be solemn, philosophical, witty, folksy, ironic, vengeful, sweet, loving, dear, spiritual, casual, formal, self-righteous, dignified, or hilarious, it is no simple task to distill one’s being into a few words. With this in mind, one woman named “Kay” chose to have her fudge recipe carved into her granite gravestone, followed by the words “where ever she goes, there’s laughter.” 

QUOTE: One descriptive epitaph inscription reads “Inclined to mischief.”

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ART IMITATES LIFE

Because it preserves the body and presents the deceased in a way that he or she was like when alive, embalming is both an art and a science. Those who want to remember the deceased just the way he or she had lived might choose to take embalming a few steps further than usual. “Extreme embalming,” which is popular in some places such as New Orleans and Puerto Rico, honors the dead by showing them engaging in an activity that they loved while they were alive, flanked by familiar objects or a memorable setting. By positioning the deceased in an accustomed pose in suitable attire in a familiar setting, the goal is to create a “memory photo” of the deceased.

QUOTE: “How can the dead be truly dead when they still live in the souls of those who are left behind?”

Carson McCullers

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THE IRISH FUNERAL CRY

The Irish tradition of “keening” involves women who would gather together to wail in grief at a funeral. Derived from the Irish word “caoineadh” (meaning to cry or lament), keening had an otherworldly sound that was intended to provide an energetic pathway for the deceased to follow. This lament, which created a portal into the spirit world, was partly tuneful and often composed beforehand in order to be sure to make mention of family and ancestors who had gone before and could provide a spirit ladder for the departing soul to climb back home. While keening died out in Ireland after the Famine, it is still practiced in the Middle East, parts of Africa, and East and Southeast Asia.

QUOTE: “Every parting gives a foretaste of death, every reunion a hint of the resurrection.”
                                              

 Arthur Schopenhauer

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LEAVING NO ROOM FOR ARGUMENT

Aside from the many financial advantages that funeral preplanning provides, there are other benefits on which you cannot put a price. Perhaps the most important of these is the ability to make decisions that lessen the likelihood of future family conflict. As anyone who has ever planned a family event knows, disagreements arise out of decisions great and small. When the emotion surrounding death is allowed to cloud the issue, the risk of strong disagreement can rapidly increase. With this in mind, perhaps the best way to keep emotions in check and ensure a peaceful and respectful observance of a life well-lived is to make funeral arrangements in advance. That is, the way you want them to be.   

QUOTE: “O Death, thou comest when I had thee least in mind!”

Unknown

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THE GRAVESIDE SERVICE

After the funeral, the “committal” (or graveside) service is conducted as the coffin is lowered into the ground. This short ritual is usually attended by the immediate family members, other relatives, and closest friends in order to have the opportunity to say their final good-byes. It also often includes the shoveling of dirt and the placing of flowers onto the coffin. Regardless of the type of funeral that proceeds it, the importance of the committal service rests with its chance to give the living a chance to eulogize the deceased. Beginning with a short prayer reflecting the religious and cultural affiliations of the deceased, the committal service continues with spoken testimonials that commemorate the deceased’s life in an intimate setting. 

QUOTE: “In the end, it’s not the years in your life that count. It’s the life in your years.”

Abraham Lincoln

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DEEPER UNDERSTANDING

If you have ever wondered where the term “six feet under” came from, its origination can be traced to the Great Plague of London in 1665, when 20 percent of the city’s population succumbed to the Bubonic plague. In the belief that burying the dead a safe distance underground could help stop the spread of disease, The Lord Mayor of London mandated that all graves be dug a minimum of six feet deep. However, because dead bodies were never found to spread the plague to the living, the law was eventually overturned in England and its colonies. It was later reinstated in order to discourage grave robbing. Burial laws now vary from state to state. 

QUOTE: “The idea is not to live forever but to create something that will.”

Andy Warhol

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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