Parents may be understandably reluctant to discuss the issue of death with children of any age; however, there are ways to bring up the topic by seizing opportunities that may arise where death can be seen as a part of life. For instance, parents can discuss the dying blooms on a rose bush as a means of teaching lessons about life and death. The changing seasons and the death of a pet also provide examples of death being part of life. In addition, visiting aging relatives and friends shows children that aging is a natural part of life. Each of these situations provides parents with the opportunity to discuss death with their children and teach them not to fear it.
QUOTE: "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”
- J. K. Rowling
DEATH AWAY FROM HOME
When a family member dies away from home on business or on vacation, there is understandably a strong desire to bring the body home as soon as possible. However, factors such as the cause and location of the death can necessitate procedures that delay the return. In addition, the body must likely be prepared and shipped in accordance with local laws. Faced with these complexities, family members are strongly encouraged to have a funeral home in their locality handle the arrangements. As the receiving funeral home that is responsible for the funeral and burial services and the one to which the remains are consigned, it is in the best position to personalize the services.
QUOTE: "Not pain or death is to be feared, but the fear of death and pain.”
EXPRESSING ANGER AT GOD
While it might seem blasphemous to be angry with God, this emotion is felt by most individuals who have experienced the loss of a loved one. Because anger is a normal part of the grieving process, when we feel anger in the face of death, we should confront our feelings. We should not feel guilty about the measure of passion that we feel toward our loved ones, ourselves, and God. As it has been said so often, love and hate are simply different sides of the same coin. As much as it may be difficult to deal with anger, we should give it voice, in prayer if necessary. We can then work through our anger and arrive at peaceful acceptance.
QUOTE: "I have not lost faith in God. I have moments of anger and protest. Sometimes I have been closer to him for that reason.”
- Elie Wiesel
WHO WILL SPEAK FOR YOU?
When it comes time to appoint a "health care proxy,” you will want someone who can make health care decisions for you if you are unable to speak for yourself. Whether you choose a family member or friend, it should be a person who has the strength to present your case in the face of opposing views. This is a huge responsibility to bestow upon someone because he or she must have the conviction to carry out your wishes under what may be great pressure to do otherwise. Thus, it is very important for you, as part of your "advance medical directive” strategy, to have a serious conversation with your potential health care proxy and make your end-of-life issues clear.
QUOTE: "Courage is being scared to death... and saddling up anyway.”
- John Wayne
A SUITABLE MEMORIAL
It is not always possible to coordinate a funeral with a burial or cremation, in which case surviving friends and family of the deceased may find it preferable to celebrate and remember in a different manner. A memorial service may be held instead of a funeral or in addition to one. That is, a funeral may be held in the town where the deceased lived and died, and a memorial service may be held later in the town where the deceased was born and grew up. Memorial services may be held any time that is convenient or deemed significant. Many people hold memorial services in the weeks following the death as well as on the first anniversary of the death.
QUOTE: "To live in hearts we leave behind is not to die.”
- Thomas Campbell
There are many studies that support the notion that people who have a deep religious or spiritual commitment live longer and healthier lives. While the sense of community that comes along with religious affiliation may account for some of this benefit, having an inner spiritual life may promote health by creating a sense of meaning and purpose that may otherwise be elusive. It should also be pointed out that prayer is a form of meditation that enhances health by relieving stress. While no causal evidence exists that a spiritual life directly affects health, it cannot be overlooked that a sense of purpose, optimism, and selflessness are prime ingredients for a healthy existence.
QUOTE: "All religions must be tolerated... for every man must get to heaven in his own way.”
Planning and prearranging your own funeral enables you to make thoughtful and informed decisions that spare your family from having to make important choices for you. Without previous arrangements in place, survivors must make decisions under the stresses of time limitations and strong emotions. In the small window of time between the death of a loved one and burial or cremation, surviving family members may be forced to decide where the body will be buried, entombed, or scattered, as well as purchase a burial plot or grave without the benefit of having visited them. It makes far better sense to preplan your own funeral after having given careful consideration to this important matter. Prearrangement is also the more thoughtful option.
QUOTE: "I can’t think of a more wonderful thanksgiving for the life I have had than that everyone should be jolly at my funeral.”
- Admiral Lord Mountbatten
When a loved one dies, survivors often experience feelings of guilt. They may ask themselves why they didn’t express their love more than they did, or they may dwell on hurtful words or actions that were once directed at the deceased. However, the thing to remember is that it is scarcely possible to love someone without experiencing hurt at one time or another. We may feel helpless with our guilt because a loved one may not be around to ask his or her forgiveness; yet, we may still ask for forgiveness. Most importantly, we must forgive ourselves. Bear this in mind if you have asked God for forgiveness countless times. Forgive yourself, love yourself, and let go of your guilt.
QUOTE: "We acquire the strength we have overcome.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
EULOGIZING THE DECEASED
Family members often prefer to eulogize the deceased themselves because they wish to share memories, emotions, and personal history with the assembled mourners. Doing so lends a degree of intimacy and authenticity that a member of the clergy simply cannot match. When writing a eulogy, try to recollect moments and incidents that exemplify the personality of the deceased. No moment is too small. In fact, it is sometimes the seemingly inconsequential moments in life that are best remembered and/or leave the biggest impressions. As with most writing assignments, try to distill your thoughts, and allow time for at least one revision. If time allows for more revisions, make them. Practice your delivery, and speak from the heart.
QUOTE: "Be ashamed to die until you have won some victory for humanity.”
- Horace Mann
Funeral prearrangement enables you to plan your own funeral and burial needs in advance. Perhaps more importantly, it spares your surviving family members the stress that they might otherwise have to endure if they had to make these decisions without you. From a financial standpoint, prearrangement makes sense because it helps dodge the effects of inflation. There are plans available that help to lock in prices and escape rising costs. By taking a calm and rational view of your future needs, you can help your family escape from the unnecessary confusion and financial difficulties that the passing of a loved one often presents. Both these factors help to promote peace of mind, in both the present and future.
QUOTE: "And, behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth.”
THE DEATH OF A CO-WORKER
Because it is a fact of modern life that some people spend more time at work than at home, it should come as no surprise that the death of a co-worker can be a shock. When such a death occurs, survivors at work can expect to experience all the elements of grief, including shock, denial, anger, guilt, recognition, and acceptance. It would be a mistake to attempt to overlook the loss and simply get on with the business at hand. Survivors can expect to find themselves giving inordinate thought to their relation to the deceased, their relation to work, and the seemingly whimsical nature of fate. It helps to attend a co-worker’s funeral as a means of addressing grief.
QUOTE: "Life is not lost by dying! Life is lost by minute, day by dragging day, in all the thousand, small, uncaring ways.”
- Stephen Vincent Benet
DEEP DISTRESS CAUSED BY LOSS
Grieving encompasses a range of strong emotions that grip survivors in the wake of the loss of a friend or family member. The process may be likened somewhat to being cast adrift on a storm-tossed sea. There is the feeling of isolation, as well as the suspicion that nature has unleashed forces that challenge our very existence. In time, however, the storm passes and the sea, again, becomes tranquil. With the worst behind us, we are free to quietly recount our remembrances. It is then that we may be gripped with sorrow. This quiet emotion is characterized more by acceptance than either anger or depression. It shows that the grief process is in its final throes.
QUOTE: "Good night, good night! Parting is such sweet sorrow, that I shall say good night till it be morrow.”
- William Shakespeare
CARVED IN STONE?
Everyone is certainly encouraged to preselect a burial plot as part of preplanning his or her funeral, but plans change. It may be that another method of body disposition is preferred, or that a change in circumstance leads a person to conclude that he or she no longer needs, nor wants, a previously purchased plot. In other cases, adult children may find that they do not intend to use plots that they have inherited. Whatever the reason for the change of mind or heart, the plot owners should consult with cemetery officials to see if they have the right to sell their plots. If so, and the plot was purchased with someone else, each owner must agree to the sale.
QUOTE: "I look at life as a gift of God. Now that he wants it back, I have no right to complain.”
- Joyce Cary
HELPING WITH GRIEF
It is generally accepted that mind-body practices such as yoga can help reduce symptoms of depression, anxiety, and negative mood. With this in mind, attention is now focused on whether such mind-body practices might help grieving individuals overcome the loss of a loved one. While grief used to be largely regarded as a psychological experience, there is emerging opinion that grief is more of a complex condition that involves interplay between the body and the mind. As such, it might respond to exercise that improves awareness, increases sleeping ability, improves appetite, and promotes relaxation. There is no single way to cope with grief, and mind-body exercise may be one of many ways to address and accept loss.
QUOTE: "Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.”
- Mohandas K. Gandhi
When a patient or family is expecting death, it is normal to experience mourning known as anticipatory grief. It shares many of the same symptoms with those experienced after a death has occurred—acute sadness, extreme concern for the dying person, preparing for the death, and adjusting to changes caused by the death. Anticipatory grief gives the family more time to slowly get used to the reality of the loss. People are able to complete "unfinished business” with the dying person, like saying "I forgive you.” Anticipatory grief does not mean that, before the death, a person feels the same kind of grief as after the death. There is no set amount of grief that a person will feel.
QUOTE: "God says to man: ‘With thy very wounds I will heal thee.’”
HOW CHILDREN MOURN
As difficult as it may be to imagine, children were once thought of as miniature adults and were expected to behave as such. Of course, we now understand that there are vast differences in the ways that children and adults behave and perceive the world. When it comes to mourning loss, bereaved children do not experience continual and intense emotional and behavioral grief reactions. Children may seem to show grief only occasionally and briefly, but, in reality, a child’s grief usually lasts longer than that of an adult. As the surviving child grows, he or she may think about the loss repeatedly, especially during important times in his or her life, instead of confronting grief more immediately.
QUOTE: "He wept, and it felt as if the tears were cleansing him, as if his body needed to empty itself.”
- Lois Lowry
If you were to die without making arrangements for your funeral and burial, your grieving family would be left with the task of sorting through the many decisions surrounding a funeral and interment. For this reason, increasing numbers of thoughtful individuals are planning their own funerals, designating their funeral preferences, and even paying for them in advance. They see funeral planning as an extension of will and estate planning. One important consideration when undertaking such planning involves where the remains will be buried, entombed, or scattered. During the short interval between death and the burial of a loved one, family members may find themselves hurriedly making decisions about cemetery plots or graves. Planning ahead relieves them of this burden.
QUOTE: "The cry of the human for a life beyond the grave comes from that which is noblest in the soul of man.”
- Henry van Dyke
DEALING WITH DEATH AWAY FROM HOME
The shock of having a loved one die unexpectedly is only compounded by having death occur away from home. Suddenly, not only does a surviving family member have to confront the emotions that accompany the death of a family member, but there is also the seemingly insurmountable logistical task of bringing the body back home. In these cases, it’s best to leave matters in the hands of the local funeral director. Not only do we have experience in addressing all the details associated with transferring the body, but we are also part of a capable network that ensures an expeditious execution of all related matters. When death occurs away from home, the first call should be to the funeral home.
QUOTE: "My father died in France, and my sisters and I went over with my mum to bring back his body.”
- Rachel Joyce
THE POWER OF FORGIVENESS
Failing to forgive someone who has hurt you only perpetuates the damage caused by the original wrongdoing. There is actually scientific proof of this notion that involves volunteers who were asked to think about someone who had hurt them. As a result of dwelling on their resentment, the wronged subjects showed signs of greater physiological and emotional stress, such as increased blood pressure and heart rate. Moreover, even after the subjects were asked to forget about the incident, the signs of physical stress continued. However, when wronged individuals forgave the people who hurt them, they felt happier and more in control. Forgiving does not involve excusing the wrongdoing, but focusing on the humanity of the wrongdoer.
QUOTE: "Life becomes easier when you learn to accept the apology you never got.”
- Robert Brault
IRREVOCABLE FUNERAL TRUST
While the widow(er) of anyone who qualified for Social Security benefits is entitled to a one-time lump "Death Benefit” of $255 to help pay for his or her spouse’s funeral or burial costs, Medicaid does not make an outright payment of this sort. Instead, Medicaid has rules that allow recipients to set aside money for their own funerals and burials without having that money count as part of the assets that Medicaid uses to determine eligibility for medical or long-term care. Aside from not being counted as an asset by Medicaid, an "irrevocable funeral trust” enables families to prepay for the cost in advance of an expensive item, which they or their family will have to pay for eventually.
MATTERS OF LIFE AND DEATH
While most people are not at all adverse to purchasing life insurance, relatively few have planned for death. If insurance companies called their product "death insurance,” they might have a more difficult time presenting its appeal to the public to buy it. The funeral industry may not be so fortunate; while funeral preplanning functions such as life insurance do protect the families of the deceased, they can hardly be called "life preplanning.” The funeral industry must simply rely on educated consumers to take the necessary and responsible steps needed to deal with financial and logistical end-of-life issues. Although religious or moral convictions often dictate final arrangements, funeral preplanning ensures that these preferences are effectively communicated to family members.
QUOTE: "Closed eyes, heart not beating, but a living love.”
- Avis Corea
As increasing numbers of individuals make their preferences known that their funerals should include music, festive dinners, and other upbeat activities, it may be time to take another look at New Orleans jazz funerals. These curious mixes of solemnity and exuberance traditionally begin at the church or funeral home. After the service, the procession of mourners proceeds slowly through the neighborhood in a generally somber mood. At the cemetery, after the interment ceremony, the band leads the procession from the gravesite without playing. After reaching a respectful distance from the site, the lead trumpeter sounds two preparatory notes to alert fellow musicians that drummers will begin to play the "second line beat.” Lively improvisational jazz then begins the celebration.
QUOTE: "Music expresses that which cannot be put into words and that which cannot remain silent.”
- Victor Hugo
HELP FOR THE GRIEF-STRICKEN
While most grief-stricken individuals experience many of the same emotions, grief is a deeply personal matter that affects people in different ways. In most cases, people work through their grief, which runs the gamut from shock through acceptance, over a period of weeks. However, some individuals have been known to become stuck for months or years in an otherwise normal grief cycle and are unable to move on with their lives. "Prolonged grief disorder” is a condition that is both recognized and treated by health professionals. Symptoms include suffering caused by yearning for the deceased, emotional numbness, and at least five to nine other symptoms that impair a person’s ability to function. Help is available.
QUOTE: "Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.”
- Robert Ingersoll
OUT OF RESPECT
In the Jewish tradition, during the first seven days after burial (Shivah), immediate relatives of the deceased are not expected to carry on business or perform daily tasks. As they mourn, other family and friends prepare meals and offer comfort. During Shivah, the mirrors in the house of grief are covered, freeing mourners to reflect on the meaning of life and death rather than themselves. A lit candle signifying the soul burns for seven days. Mourners may rend their clothing or wear symbolic ribbons as tokens of their grief. The Mourners’ Kaddish, a prayer that praises God and affirms life, is recited daily during Shivah. After a year has passed, relatives and friends gather at the gravesite to dedicate the headstone.
QUOTE: God says to man: "With thy very wounds I will heal thee.”
THE FIRST MENTION OF DEATH
Parents can help their children understand the concept of death if they familiarize them with this reality before they have to face it directly. Many parents wait until they themselves are confronted with death before they start thinking about how to talk about it with children. That may not be the best time, especially if parents are also dealing with the loss. Better to take a few moments and reflect on your beliefs about death and your experiences with it. Then, there are endless opportunities to talk with children about death as a part of life. However, most parents ignore these chances, trying to protect their children from "unpleasantness.”Experts say that parents should, instead, seize these opportunities.
QUOTE: "You cannot prevent the birds of sorrow from flying over your head, but you can prevent them from building a nest in your hair.”
- Chinese proverb
DEATH OF A FAITHFUL COMPANION
Children are often first confronted with the death of a beloved member of the family when a pet dies. While their parents’ first instinct may be to shelter them from this harsh fact of life, a pet’s death may serve as an invaluable learning experience that helps children understand their feelings as well as express them. Youngsters are almost surely going to want to know the meaning of death. Because very young children may not perceive death as permanent, parents may want to allow their cultural and spiritual beliefs to guide them when providing reassuring answers about their pet’s well-being. The death of a pet usually provides children with a blueprint for dealing with future losses.
QUOTE: "Each day of our lives we make deposits in the memory banks of our children.”
- Charles R. Swindoll
The obelisk, which many of us associate with ancient Egyptian architecture, is one of the most enduring of all the revival forms of cemetery art. Obelisks are the tall, tapered, four-sided monuments commonly found standing in silent tribute in cemeteries, particularly in older burial grounds. In fact, there is scarcely a mid-19th-century cemetery that does not have some form of Egyptian influence in its monuments, tomb art, or gates. During that time, the resurgence of interest in ancient Egyptian culture was prompted by the discoveries at the tombs of the pharaohs. Then, as today, obelisks are appreciated as tasteful gravestones, with their pure uplifting lines, association with ancient greatness, and patriotic influence.
QUOTE: "The day which we fear as our last is but the birthday of eternity.”
- Lucius Annaeus Seneca
DEATH TAKES NO HOLIDAYS
One common and unfortunate miscalculation that people make with regard to funeral preplanning is that they are either too young or too healthy to begin thinking about making advance arrangements. It is a fact of life that death does not necessarily observe a timetable and can occur at any time. When it does, all individuals should have clearly defined plans in place that make their desires known. Otherwise, the burden falls on their family members to discern their intentions without them. Decisions such as these are best not made during the emotionally charged period immediately following the death of a loved one. Nor is it enough to mention funeral decisions in a will, which is usually read after the funeral.
QUOTE: "Delay is the deadliest form of denial.”
- C. Northcote Parkinson
BREAKING NEW GROUND
It may seem that adhering to the principles of the "green burial” approach to body deposition might be at odds with advanced technology. Green burial cares for the dead in a manner that allows the body to decompose naturally and exerts minimal impact on the environment. In many cases, the body is covered in a cotton shroud and interred with no headstone to mark the burial spot. As eco-friendly as this natural approach to burial may be, it can make it difficult for visitors to subsequently locate the burial site of a loved one. To solve this problem, Bunurong Memorial Park in Australia buries the dead with GPS trackers that enable families to locate loved ones buried in the woodlands.
FINDING THE STRENGTH TO GO ON
Many recently widowed women report that they feel stronger and more confident after their losses. Many of the women who expected their lives to fall apart after the deaths of their spouses indicate that they found themselves able to manage hurdles that they once thought they probably could never manage alone. In general, widowed women were more likely than widowers to say they found themselves more capable after their spouses’ deaths and that they were stronger as a result of the experience. Most felt that they were better able to manage tasks and responsibilities and that they had grown in self-confidence. These inspiring accounts show that people do find the strength to move on after the death of a spouse.
QUOTE: "So long as one does not despair, so long as one doesn’t look upon life bitterly, things work out fairly well in the end.”
- George Moore
LOVE’S FINAL ACT
While many of us feel uncomfortable discussing basic end-of-life issues with our families, doing so is completely consistent with the love we have shown them all of our lives. Because love means putting other people’s interests ahead of our own, we often try to shield those whom we love from harsh realities. Doing so frequently means that we take it upon ourselves to do things that we might find difficult or burdensome; yet, we still take on these tasks because we know that it means sparing loved ones from unnecessary difficulty and anguish. In light of these unselfish demonstrations of love, does it not stand to reason that your final act of love would be to preplan your own funeral?
QUOTE: "Life is real! Life is earnest! And the grave is not its goal; Dust thou art, to dust returnest, was not spoken of the soul.”
A FINAL GOODBYE
As uncomfortable and as awkward as a visitor might feel when making a final visit to a dying loved one, the benefit derived from such heartfelt meetings quickly outweighs any uneasiness. Visitors should make it a point to sit at eye level, within touching reach, while taking their conversation cues from the dying person. Silence is fine, since the mere presence of a caring visitor is sometimes all that is needed. At the same time, visitors should not contradict the patient, who says that he or she is dying. Visitors should accept any emotion that may accompany the statement by empathizing and listening. Talking about unfinished business should be seen as opportunities to express love or say goodbye.
QUOTE: "The timing of death, like the ending of a story, gives a changed meaning to what preceded it.”
- Mary Catherine Bateson
THE SENSE OF OCCASION
When making funeral arrangements, it is important to fully understand how a funeral helps the living face their grief, acknowledge death, and honor the deceased. Much of this potential for gaining acceptance of death’s finality rests with the assembling of family and friends of the deceased in a central gathering place, where they can feel free to express their emotions and support one another. In this setting, the sorrows of one are the sorrows of all, leaving no one feeling that he or she must face the harsh reality of death alone. As the grieving process begins, progress is made toward a sense of closure, which enables survivors to go on with their lives and to keep fond memories alive.
QUOTE: "Grief is the price we pay for love.”
- Queen Elizabeth II
When the families of the deceased learn that arrangements for the funeral and burial have been made in advance, their reactions are nearly universally ones of relief. Just knowing that everything has been taken care of helps surviving family members adjust to new realities without the added burden of having to deal with the many details involved in funeral preparations. By planning ahead, responsible individuals can take their time in making sure that their final wishes are followed. A comprehensive list of instructions made in conjunction with the funeral director includes where the service will be held, the number of days of visitation, the type of service and reception, the flowers, and other details that one should decide for oneself.
QUOTE: "Seeing death as the end of life is like seeing the horizon as the end of the ocean.”
Much like weary travelers are offered the hospitality of a place of shelter and rest, "hospice” provides specialized care to the terminally ill. This compassionate service is offered in the belief that death is the final stage of life, during which dying individuals should be able to maintain their dignity and happiness. Hospice endeavors to enable the terminally ill to remain alert and pain-free by managing their symptoms in a loving home environment. Instead of treating the disease, hospice focuses on treating the patient to the highest possible quality of life, as he or she is surrounded by loved ones. Hospice care is appropriate when curative treatment is no longer beneficial and life expectancy is about six months.
QUOTE: "…all that live must die, passing through nature to eternity.”
At the dawn of the 20th century, the local carpenter or cabinetmaker was usually called upon to build coffins, while conveyance of the deceased was performed by a livery man. Beyond that, there was no one left to manage the planning and oversight of a funeral other than the family of the deceased. In time, however, there emerged individuals who took on the responsibility for providing goods and services needed by those planning funerals. This group of professionals came to be known as "undertakers” for their ability to undertake the task of managing funeral details and providing the necessary merchandise. While the term has long since been supplanted by the title "funeral director,” the responsibilities largely remain the same.
QUOTE:"Let us endeavor so to live so that when we come to die even the undertaker will be sorry.”
- Mark Twain
THE MEMORIAL SERVICE
It isn’t always possible (or preferable) for the body to be present at a funeral and burial. It could be that a soldier was killed in combat, a body was donated to science, or the deceased died far from family and friends. In these cases and others, a memorial service may be planned for people to share their thoughts and remembrances. Although usually conducted within one week of the deceased’s death, memorial services can be arranged for any time. If mourners have great distances to travel, or circumstances prohibit immediate scheduling, the service can be planned for a more convenient time. Memorial services tend to be less formal than funerals and serve as a useful means of sharing recollections.
QUOTE: "One lives in the hope of becoming a memory.”
- Antonio Porchia
It is an unfortunate fact of life that divorce, estrangement, and family rifts often stand in the way of dealing with death. Either an ex-spouse asks that her former partner not attend the funeral of a blood relative, or a sibling demands that a brother or sister not attend the funeral of a parent. These are harsh realities that one would hope could be resolved in the best interests of the living and with respect for the dead. A funeral presents a unique opportunity to exercise forgiveness and compassion that leads to the healing of fractured relationships. It is hoped that the stark reality of death will serve as a reminder that life and love are precious commodities.
QUOTE: "There’s nothing that makes you more insane than family. Or more happy. Or more exasperated. Or more . . . secure.”
- Jim Butcher
Research shows that religion can help seniors cope better and stay healthier when faced with the loss of a loved one. Bereavement places individuals at risk for numerous physical maladies and mental health disorders, and subsequently increases the likelihood that they will need to use health services. Consequently, bereaved individuals are likely to find themselves going to the doctor more often, probably as a type of coping strategy. However, research reveals that bereaved individuals who rely more heavily on religion to cope with their losses do not experience a significant increase in health problems. This seems to confirm the widely held belief that using spiritual guidance for support helps many people through their most difficult trials.
QUOTE: "The best and most beautiful things in the world cannot be seen, or even touched. They must be felt in the heart.”
- Helen Keller
TRADITIONAL "CLEAN BURIALS”
As interest in eco-friendly "green” burials grows, it becomes ever more apparent that this new approach to interment is as linked to the past as it is to the present. A prime example of this perception is a group of Native Hawaiians who want to bring back a centuries-old island burial practice, which they claim is more environmentally friendly than some modern methods. These traditional "clean burials” involve cleansing the deceased by fire in a pit and compressing the skeletal remains, which are then wrapped in a cloth woven from trees and buried in a basket. This practice places emphasis on reverence for the deceased’s bones, which are regarded as the last repository of his or her spirit.
QUOTE: "All places are alike, and every earth is fit for burial.”
- Christopher Marlowe
While most people would never dream of handing over the responsibility of planning a wedding, christening, graduation, or other life-changing event to someone else, funeral prearrangement is often avoided. While no one wants to think about his or her death any sooner than necessary, funeral prearrangement offers so many advantages that it should be taken as seriously and responsibly as planning for any other milestone celebration or observation. Funeral preplanning eliminates the guesswork for family and enables responsible individuals to personalize their service in terms of the details they find most important. Preplanning is also a very deliberate process that avoids emotional overspending, making it a smart consumer choice. In the end, one should take responsibility for one’s own life.
QUOTE: "Let life be beautiful like summer flowers and death like autumn leaves.”
DEATH AND TRANSFORMATION
In her groundbreaking book On Death and Dying, Dr. Elisabeth Kübler-Ross outlines the five distinct stages of grief as denial and isolation, anger, bargaining, depression, and finally acceptance. Although each grieving individual may pass through these stages in different sequences and spend different amounts of time in each stage, most grieving individuals react similarly. There is the initial sense of shock and denial, followed by a longer stage of psychic pain. After the initial shock has worn off and emotions have diminished, the bereaved enters an adjustment phase, in which the absence of the deceased compels a change in routine and action. Eventually, death may come to represent a beginning more than an ending.
QUOTE: "There is no end. There is no beginning. There is only the passion of life.”
- Federico Fellini
A COMFORTING END
Hospice care is often the choice of terminally ill patients with fewer than six months to live who want to make their remaining time as comfortable and meaningful as possible. Hospice services, which can be provided in the patient’s home, range from pain management to emotional support. This care enables patients to maintain a good quality of life in their last days and to die with dignity. By managing symptoms, hospice workers help the dying to be as alert and calm as possible while living out the remainder of their lives in familiar surroundings. Hospice care is an appropriate choice for those wishing to avoid hospitals’ extraordinary lifesaving measures and want to die as peacefully and naturally as they lived.
QUOTE: "Death is only passing through God’s other door.”
- Edgar Cayce
ALL THAT WE HOLD SACRED
As evidence continues to mount linking the mind and body, it is becoming increasingly apparent to all that a person’s spiritual bearing plays a big role in determining many life and death issues. Spirituality is an awareness of the sacred core that underlies everyday life, which helps many people deal with hardship. One example of this coping mechanism is a study in which death rates were found to be lower than expected before important religious holidays. This finding suggests that faith might help those facing death to postpone the inevitable until they have passed an important milestone in their lives or the lives of others. If so, death may be more compliant than we might have imagined.
QUOTE: "From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity.”
- Thomas Moore
A MATTER OF RESPECT
While it might seem to be unnecessary to remind people of the appropriate ways for funeral attendees to conduct themselves, ever relaxing standards of dress and behavior sometimes make it necessary to do so. The guiding principle behind any matter of funeral etiquette is that all in attendance are there to remember and honor the deceased. In accordance with the behavior that should be demonstrated at this once-in-a-lifetime event, every effort should be made to be well groomed and appropriately dressed. It also must be mentioned that a funeral is neither the time nor the place for disruptive words, noise, or behavior. If anything, silence is preferred, especially with regard to cell phones, which should be left outside.
QUOTE: "The measure of a man’s real character is what he would do if he knew he never would be found out.”
- Thomas Babington Macaulay
ADVANCE CARE PLANNING
As the American population ages and medical technology and medications enable more people to live longer with life-threatening illnesses, there is increasing interest among patients in being able to discuss end-of-life options with their doctors. With this in mind, Medicare plans to introduce "advance care planning,” which provides reimbursement to physicians who discuss treatment options with their patients. This is a significant step in that approximately three-quarters of the people who die each year are age 65 and older. This makes Medicare the largest insurer of those facing end-of-life decisions. Those availing themselves of this voluntary program would give themselves more control over their own lives while freeing their families from having to make some very difficult decisions.
QUOTE: "Death is the dropping of the flower, that the fruit may swell.”
- Henry Ward Beecher
LATE FOR YOUR OWN FUNERAL?
When individuals are habitually tardy, others may jokingly remark they "will be late for their own funerals.” Not that this bit of sarcasm needs to be explained, but the humor behind it acknowledges the inevitability of death and the clear certainty that we will all be there when it happens. Now, having said all that, isn’t it equally absurd to think that death will arrive and the ensuing funeral will automatically take place without previous arrangements? Whether we like it or not, life is finite. Those who fully recognize this fact of life and take the necessary steps to preplan their funerals according to their own wishes will be best prepared to honor themselves and their families.
QUOTE: "I’m not afraid of death; I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”
- Woody Allen
SHOULD YOU ATTEND?
The news that someone with whom you are acquainted has died usually elicits a mix of shock and sadness. After that, the decision to attend the funeral of the deceased is likely to be based on your feelings for the departed individual and your relationship with him or her. However, in many cases, the decision to attend a funeral is not entirely clear cut. While the deceased may have been a family member, relations may have been strained or the departed individual may have been estranged due to a divorce in the family. In these latter instances and others, it’s important to remember that death reminds people that past grudges and grievances take a back seat to life-altering events. Death heals differences.
QUOTE: "The emotion that can break your heart is sometimes the very one that heals it...”
- Nicholas Sparks
A PRIVATE MATTER
While the family of the deceased may view the funeral as a deeply private matter, it should also be taken into account that death affects distant family members, friends, and the immediate community as well. Thus, families who might not see the value in a service or desire "private” services are urged to consider the needs of others to express their own grief. While the immediate family may or may not wish to view the body, they might want to make a reasonable accommodation for others. This might include leaving the casket closed at times when those who do not wish to view are present, as well as arranging a period of viewing for others.
QUOTE: "Acceptance of what has happened is the first step to overcoming the consequences of any misfortune.”
- William James
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.
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.
When one first learns about the death of someone close, it is a natural reaction to experience shock. In many ways, the shock and denial felt in the wake of this emotional trauma is very similar to the reaction to physical trauma. As the news washes over the grief-stricken, it is understandable how they might deny that it is happening. This coping mechanism may remain in place for minutes, days, or even weeks, as people grapple with grief. They may even find themselves waiting for the deceased to return. Denial provides a buffer from the reality of what has happened. In time, bewilderment and numbness eventually give way to other stages of grief that pave the way for acceptance.
QUOTE: "Grief is in two parts. The first is loss. The second is the remaking of life.”
- Ann Roiphe
EXPLAINING DEATH TO YOUNGSTERS
Children who experience loss need the help of adults to provide them with accurate explanations to their questions and to listen to their feelings and fears. Because grief in children is compounded by a lack of understanding, parents are urged to avoid euphemisms in their explanations and speak directly and frankly. This will help children, who think in very concrete terms, to come to understand and accept death. As far as attending the funeral is concerned, children should be given the option to do so as long as they are told exactly what to expect beforehand. While children may seem fine initially, their grief can be long-lasting, with the experience of sadness and anger lasting weeks, months, or years.
QUOTE: "The powers of the soul are commensurate with its needs.”
- Ralph Waldo Emerson
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
Forgiving means letting go of anger and resentment and choosing not to allow past grievances to compromise the future by clogging our thoughts and emotions. It does not mean denying harm, or necessarily letting the person or people whom you forgive back into your life, or even forgiving them directly. This is particularly important when facing death. The end of life is a time when people have an opportunity to say what they need to say, to repair relationships, to say they are sorry, and to let go of things that they have said or done. There can be forgiveness on many levels, making things easier for the person passing and the people who are to be left behind.
QUOTE: "God prepares the cure before the hurt.”
THE GRAVESIDE SERVICE
A graveside service is an option that provides many of the features of a traditional funeral, but simplifies the ceremony. A public or private graveside service may involve an interment (committing the casket to the grave) or an inurnment (placing cremated remains in a columbarium, burial plot, or garden niche). Whether the service is formal or informal, a spirit of dignity must prevail. There is no more solemn occasion in life than the one in which a body is committed to the earth for eternity. Generally, the service is kept short, and one eulogy is delivered in lieu of many. This pared down service focuses the attention of those in attendance on the elemental truth of the circumstance.
QUOTE: "Tears are a river that take you somewhere…Tears lift your boat off the rocks, off dry ground, carrying it downriver to someplace better.”
- Clarissa Pinkola Estes
THE FLEXIBLE ARRANGEMENT
A memorial service not only ensures a unique experience that both celebrates the life of the deceased and recognizes his or her death, but it also allows for flexibility in timing and planning. The service can be planned to take place days, weeks, or even months after death because the body of the deceased is usually not present. This important difference allows family and friends the luxury of tailoring the ceremony to a form and venue most in keeping with their wishes and ideas. With this in mind, services are often held at locations that are most meaningful and appropriate to the deceased and his or her family and friends, with music, readings, eulogies, and photo collages.
QUOTE: "What we have once enjoyed, we can never lose. All that we love deeply becomes part of us.”
- Helen Keller
It is quite common for those attending a funeral to imagine themselves in the place of the mourning family or even the deceased. They may ask themselves how they will respond to the stark reality of death and whether they prepared sufficiently. In this moment of contemplation, it is important to take stock of your own funeral plans. If you have deferred these important decisions, imagine your family being left with the responsibility of carrying the added burden of planning your funeral without your guidance at a time when they are most emotionally vulnerable. If you’ve already made your final arrangements, you can feel comforted by the fact that your family has been spared the difficulty of deciding for you.
QUOTE: "I can’t think of a more wonderful thanksgiving for the life I have had than that everyone should be jolly at my funeral.”
- Admiral (Lord) Louis Mountbatten
A POINT OF DEPARTURE
Many people are reluctant to broach the subject of wills and funeral arrangements with their families. While everyone realizes that death is inevitable and estates must be settled, few want to have conversations about such stark realities. After all, how does one bring up such matters in conversation? Please allow us to suggest a way. Just as a lawyer can outline all the aspects that need to be addressed when drawing up a will, a funeral director can provide a preplanning guide that can serve as a starting point for end-of-life discussions. Using this as a guide, families can at least get a handle on the important matters that death introduces. These issues are best discussed sooner rather than later.
QUOTE: "The life of the dead is placed in the memory of the living.”
- Marcus Tulius Cicero
EXPRESSING OUR HUMANITY
When attending a funeral, one cannot help but be struck by how the ceremony gives full expression to our humanity. The funeral tradition provides full recognition of a life completed and simultaneously creates a memorial that ensures remembrance. Ancient funeral customs began out of fear of the dead, as well as fear that the deceased’s spirit may return if the body were not disposed of in a respectful manner. Our ancestors were also fearful that neglecting to bury the dead according to established custom would fail to appease the higher power that oversaw their daily lives. As much of the fear associated with burial has been replaced with awe and respect, the tradition has been transformed and continues to change.
QUOTE: "Where there is sorrow there is holy ground.”
- Oscar Wilde
COLORING OUR PERCEPTION
In Western cultures, black is generally accepted as the color of death and mourning. No one better exemplified this tradition than Queen Victoria, who mourned the death of her husband, Prince Albert, by wearing black mourning clothes for the remaining 40 years of her life. It may also serve to further influence our perception of death to know that some Eastern cultures and religions associate white with death and mourning. To these cultures, the color white represents new beginnings and a completion in the circle of life. White speaks of the end of one life and the beginning of another. Interestingly, green and blue are the colors representative of death in other areas of the world.
QUOTE: "When a great man dies, for years the light he leaves behind him, lies on the paths of men.”
- Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
DYING ON ONE’S OWN TERMS
Prior to the mid-20th century, it was quite common for people to die at home surrounded by family and friends. Not only did the custom of dying at home provide comfort to the dying, but it also provided closure to surviving family members and friends. However, these many years later, the vast majority of Americans die in hospitals and long-term-care facilities; yet, most dying individuals, when stating their preferences, would tell you that they would prefer to die in more familiar surroundings. To avoid having these individuals die without having their wishes met, it is preferable to draw up a legal document called an "advance directive,” which clearly sets forth a person’s wishes as a guide for others to follow.
QUOTE: "You may delay, but time will not.”
- Benjamin Franklin
THE BENEFITS OF STRONG RELATIONSHIPS
Whether we talk regularly on the phone, get together for holidays, or e-mail one another, strong ties with family and friends improve the quality, and increase the longevity, of our lives. Offering warm greeting and hugs, exchanging ideas, and lending a supportive ear or shoulder are every bit as important to our long-term health as adequate sleep, a good diet, and proper exercise. Dozens of studies show that people who enjoy satisfying relationships with family, friends, and their community are happier, have fewer health problems, and live longer. With this in mind, make every effort to increase the social support in your life. These relationships go a long way to strengthening the human fabric.
QUOTE: "Little minds are tamed and subdued by misfortune, but great minds rise above it.”
- Washington Irving
ARE YOU WILLING?
The unwillingness of many Americans to responsibly confront their own mortality is reflected in the fact that only 56% of parents have a will or living trust. A survey conducted by the American Funeral Directors Association reveals an even wider disconnect between what is perceived as being good and necessary and actually taking steps to do what is needed. According to the survey, two-thirds of adult respondents indicated they would choose to plan their own funerals, but only one-quarter of those surveyed said that they had done so. The survey went on to point out that funeral pre-planners are primarily motivated by the assurance that their survivors would not have to pay for their funerals or worry about doing so.
QUOTE: "Perhaps they are not the stars, but rather openings in heaven where the love of our lost ones pours through and shines down upon us to let us know they are happy.”
- Eskimo legend
A GLIMPSE OF HEAVEN?
The closest anyone has ever come to knowing what happens after death is a "near-death experience.” As accounts have emerged from the many individuals, young and old, who have stood (actually hovered) on the precipice of death, a similar vision has emerged. Most "experiencers” report that they float up and view their disembodied selves from the vantage point of a beautiful, unworldly realm, which is often described as "more real than real life.” There is an overwhelming feeling of love that is so transcendent that nearly all are reluctant to leave and return to the world that they have known. When they do return, all are transformed by the experience, often to the point where they change their life paths.
QUOTE: "People living deeply have no fear of death.”
- Anaïs Nin
While no one looks forward to attending a funeral, this ceremony provides an opportunity for family members and friends to gather and express emotion over a loss that they all share. Although the service and burial may not totally erase the pain or necessarily relieve the sense of loss, emptiness, loneliness, and despair, they do provide a life-affirming framework from which all can begin to move on. Funerals pave the way for the grief-stricken to bring past relationships with the deceased to a close and begin a transition to the future. Ideally, funerals can provide comfort and strong psychological support to those left behind by sanctifying the life and relationships of the person who has passed on.
QUOTE: "The hour of departure has arrived and we go our ways; I to die, and you to live. Which is better? Only God knows.”
Many terminally ill patients have decided they want, in effect, to attend their own funerals. This desire to share their last days with friends and relatives has led many to conduct end-of-life celebrations known as "living funerals.” There are no particular rules governing these celebrations. Some are quiet and rather serious occasions that involve prayers and last rites from clergy. Others are more like parties in which the honoree wears a tuxedo or gown and presides over a celebratory meal. Regardless of the tone of the celebration, people get to share stories, memories, photos, music, videos, and the company of others in the living presence of the person who will soon pass. Living funerals provide an opportunity to show appreciation.
QUOTE: Where there is sorrow there is holy ground.”
- Oscar Wilde
"Dignity therapy” is a brief psychological intervention that was developed by Dr. Harvey Max Chochinov in recognition of dying individuals’ need to feel that life has meaning. Lasting no more than about an hour, the therapy session consists of the therapist asking the terminally ill person to talk about what matters most to him or her. The ensuing conversation is recorded, transcribed, edited, and returned to the individual, who may decide to share the document with family and friends. This short intervention not only helps conserve the dying person’s dignity in the face of existential stress, but it also ensures that his or her thoughts will be passed on to future generations of his or her family.
QUOTE: "My life will end someday, but it will end at my convenience.”
- Michael Bassey Johnson
Jewish mourning rituals place as much emphasis, if not more, on the living as on the deceased. Custom calls for the body to be buried within twenty-four hours, without embalming, in a plain wooden coffin. For observant Jews, mourning proceeds in stages and centers around sitting "shiva” (the seven-day period of mourning that Jews observe after a funeral) in the home. Shiva begins after a ritual healing meal. Survivors cut their clothing to symbolize the tear that death has produced in life. The entire family receives visitors while sitting in low chairs to symbolize the mourners’ awareness that life has changed and the desire to be close to the earth in which the loved one was buried.
QUOTE: "Never a tear bedims the eye that time and patience will not dry.”
- Bret Harte
WHOSE FUNERAL IS IT?
When considering funeral preplanning, people are likely to think solely in terms of what they themselves want. This is only natural, of course, because the deceased is the center of any funeral. However, funerals are primarily conducted for the benefit of surviving family and friends, who need to commiserate with one another and offer each other support. So while it may be perfectly valid for a person to say "I want my funeral to be conducted as inexpensively and with as little fanfare as possible,” family and friends may have other ideas. Many may want to honor the deceased far more ceremoniously than the object of their love and great respect may want. Their wishes should also be respected.
QUOTE: "Funerals seem less about comforting the souls of these dearly departed than about comforting the people they leave behind.”
- Rin Chupeco
Parents are often reluctant to discuss the topic of death with their children. If they are looking for ways to broach the subject, however, there are many opportunities to talk about death as a part of life. For instance, parents can discuss the dying blooms on a rose bush as a means of teaching lessons about life and death. The changing seasons and the death of a pet also provide examples of death being part of life. In addition, visiting aging relatives and friends shows children that aging is a natural part of life, if not always pleasant. Each of these situations provides children with the opportunity to discuss death with their parents and learn not to fear it.
QUOTE: "I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me… When the fear is gone, there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”
- Frank Herbert
While "dying of a broken heart” may seem to be more of a romantic notion described by poets than an actual possibility, heart ache is a real pain that may be indicative of a life-threatening condition. Scientists describe "broken heart syndrome” (known medically as "stress-induced cardiomyopathy”) as a temporary heart condition that is caused by stressful situations, such as the death of a loved one. As a result of the disruption to the heart’s normal pumping action, those experiencing broken heart syndrome may feel chest pain and shortness of breath that mimic symptoms of a heart attack. While rarely fatal, this condition warrants immediate medical treatment, as well as longer term grief counseling.
QUOTE: "Pain makes you stronger, tears make you braver, and heartbreak makes you wiser. So thank the past for a better future.”
In order to ensure that their families will not be burdened with the expense of a funeral and burial, many individuals choose to purchase funeral insurance. This form of insurance policy, which is similar to life insurance, can be paid in installments that can be spread up to ten years. If a family member is named the beneficiary, the proceeds can be used to pay for final expenses, which may include nursing home costs, debts, and other expenses. If the funeral director is named beneficiary, all (or part) of the funeral expenses are paid for depending on the size of the policy. As with any type of insurance, these policies are designed to provide funds in time of need.
QUOTE: "Man dies of cold, not of darkness.”
- Miguel de Unamuno
THE LAST IN A LINE OF LIFE EVENTS
There are many milestones that we approach in life with a great deal of anticipation and preparation. There are weddings, births, graduations, anniversaries, holiday gatherings, and other sorts of occasions that get our undivided attention. For example, many couples take an average of a year to plan and save for their wedding celebrations. During this time, every detail from dresses to food to flowers to invitations is discussed and finalized. Except in the possible case of an elopement, no one would consider planning a wedding in two days. Yet, as much as death, funerals, and burial mark the final milestone of life, most people wait until the very end to plan their funerals. This important day should not be overlooked.
QUOTE: "Love and death are the two great hinges on which all human sympathies turn.”
- B. R. Hayden
Following a death, it is important to identify the person who will be the primary decision-maker with regard to the final disposition. This responsibility will fall upon the person named the agent of the Power of Attorney for Health Care. In the event that there is no document indicating an agent of Power of Attorney for Health Care, either the surviving spouse or the legal next of kin will be charged with making decisions. Generally speaking, the order of precedence starts with the spouse and then proceeds along to the eldest child of legal age, parents, siblings, and grandparents. Needless to say, the more information that the person in charge has in hand, the smoother the final disposition will proceed.
QUOTE: "Hung be the heavens with black, yield day to night!”
ACCORDING TO PLAN
Planning your funeral prior to need affords the obvious financial benefit of sparing your family the expense of putting your body and soul to rest. There is also the more important benefit of sparing your family the anguish of making important decisions, in a very short period of time, after your death. Unlike you, they will not have the luxury of contemplating the many details associated with funeral planning at their leisure. Moreover, they may be driven by emotion in their decision-making processes. This may not result in the funeral you visualized for yourself. One way to get what you want is to plan it yourself. This enables your family to concentrate on the difficult task of saying good-bye.
QUOTE: "For Death is no more than a Turning us over from Time to Eternity.”
- William Penn
A FUNERAL’S PURPOSE
The primary purpose of a funeral is to help mourners confirm the reality and finality of death. It does so in a climate of grief that allows the sorrows of one to become the sorrows of all. As such, a funeral is an occasion in which love is given, without any expectation of anything in return. It is an occasion of generosity, in which the community can pay its respects, and that allows people to remember and honor their loved one in a special way. As a central gathering place, the funeral encourages mourners to face the pain of their loss and express their thoughts and feelings. Amidst this supportive atmosphere, mourners can begin the grief process and move forward.
QUOTE: "He oft finds medicine who his grief imparts.”
- Herbert Spencer
NAVIGATING ROUGH WATERS
Grieving individuals may initially decline the offer of friends to talk about their grief. Eventually, however, talking about their emotions with a friend helps them cope with their new reality. At this point, offering a sympathetic ear can be invaluable to the bereaved. Good friends are accepting of the emotions and mood swings that may come into play soon after the death of a loved one. When special anniversaries and holidays arise, good friends make sure that grieving individuals do not have to observe these occasions alone. These special days can stir memories and thoughts that can be difficult to bring to mind. With the help and support of friends, the grieving process can be somewhat easier to navigate.
QUOTE: "Sorrow is the mere rust of the soul. Activity will cleanse and brighten it.”
- Samuel Johnson
Life is in the details, and so it is with death. When it comes to your funeral service and burial, the funeral director assumes responsibility for seeing to it that all the details are handled precisely in accordance with your wishes, with the utmost sensitivity and professionalism. With this in mind, you may want to ask about a satisfaction guarantee. A funeral home with an established reputation possesses the experience necessary to attend to all your needs. Ask about personalizing your service with memory tables, tribute videos, symbols that honor military service, and other ways that contribute to lasting memory. Since a funeral is one of life’s major events, it should be handled by people whom you can trust.
QUOTE: "For every end no matter how tragic, there will be a new beginning.”
GRIEF AND AGING
The loss of a loved one is a stressful event for people of all ages, but it may be particularly so for the elderly. One’s final years are filled with losses involving work, friends, and physical independence. Thus, the end of a purposeful career and the onset of physical limitations may only accentuate the feeling of grief that accompanies the death of a loved one. The phases of grief are common to people of all ages—shock, disbelief, emptiness, confusion, numbness, and free-floating anxiety. Therefore, older men and women can benefit every bit as much as their younger counterparts from grief counseling that helps them cope with their loss and avert depression.
QUOTE: "The only cure for grief is action.”
- Johann W. von Goethe
Grief is a normal and natural process by which we deal with the loss of those who were a vital part of our lives. In the face of an uncertain future, grieving individuals struggle to redefine their lives and themselves. While there are five stages of grief (denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance), they may not follow a specific order; nor does the grieving process take any particular amount of time. However, it’s important to point out that struggling in the acute stages of grief for six months to a year is a sign of "complicated grief.” With early intervention, individuals suffering from complicated grief (an estimated 7%-10% of grievers) can be guided back on the healthy grieving track.
QUOTE: "Can I see another’s woe, and not be in sorrow too? Can I see another’s grief, and not seek for kind relief?”
- William Blake
PREPARING IN ADVANCE
"Advance directives” are documents that anticipate future incapacity by allowing people to make their wishes known in the event that they are no longer able to express themselves. One document, known as a "living will” or "health care directive,” sets forth a person’s desires with respect to future medical care. There is also the "health care proxy” (or "durable power of attorney for health care”), which allows a person to designate an agent who will make future decisions on behalf of the person who may later become incapacitated. Finally, the "power of attorney” is an advance directive for use in financial planning. Individuals are encouraged to discuss all end-of-life issues with loved ones before the need to face them arises.
QUOTE: "All things are ready, if our mind be so.”
- William Shakespeare, Henry V
OUT OF SIGHT, OUT OF MIND?
It used to be common practice for people to die at home and receive care from family. Today, unlike our ancestors, we are not sure of what to expect when we die, or how to prepare for it. We lack direct experience with death because it so often occurs out of sight, in hospitals and nursing homes, rather than at home. Displays of mourning are also more private and less prolonged. For these reasons, and others, we tend to avoid thoughts of death and dying. If, however, you wish to address your fears and give serious thought to your own demise, consult with a funeral director, who can help you make arrangements that will put you at ease.
QUOTE: "The fear of death is worse than death.”
- Robert Burton
THE GRIEVING CHILD
When children experience the loss of a parent, it may be particularly difficult in that it may undermine their sense of security. As children try to make some sense of the acute changes taking place, they may become confused. This confusion becomes further complicated if well-intentioned adults try to shield them from the truth or from their surviving parent’s displays of grief. As for the child, he or she may display unexpected behaviors that stem from the inability to fully understand the situation or express feelings adequately. Because the surviving parent may be fully enveloped in grief him- or herself, it is helpful if a relative or family friend takes extra time to talk with the grieving child.
QUOTE: "Grief knits two hearts in closer bonds than happiness ever can.”
- Alphonse de Lamartine
HEAVEN CAN’T WAIT
If we know anything about death, it is that it can come swiftly and without notice. This sobering fact of life may be difficult to deal with, so the best we can do is prepare ourselves and those around us for this final eventuality in our lives. Funeral preplanning enables us to take a clear-eyed approach to this event without the grief and emotion that can complicate the decision-making process in the immediate aftermath of death. When we have taken steps to ensure that the ends of our lives will be celebrated in the manner we feel to be most appropriate, much of the discomfort and confusion surrounding death is removed. Our family is then freed to celebrate our memory.
QUOTE: "Closed eyes, heart not beating, but a living love.”
- Avis Corea
THE PASSAGE OF TIME
Despite the fact that family and friends may become deeply distressed over the death of a loved one, they will be able to recollect the event in a more positive light with the passage of time. In fact, research shows that healthy individuals tend to recollect life-altering events with more positive emotions later. When the people studied were asked to think about past events that helped to define their lives, they tended to discount fear, anger, and other negative emotions in favor of more positive feelings. This showed that, as much as people are prone to experience strong emotional reactions in extreme situations, they eventually come to terms with these events and tend to view them more positively in retrospect.
QUOTE: "Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, love leaves a memory no one can steal.”
- Irish headstone
COMING TO TERMS
Such clichés as "time heals all wounds” have very little immediate relevance to you when you find yourself immersed in grief. In the moment of loss, it may seem that no one can understand the depth of your despair. It may seem that you have only yourself. During such trying times, it helps to look outward for empathetic and loving people. If you find yourself consumed with guilt after the death of a loved one, try to remember that you are simply a human being who has tried your best to deal with what life has had to offer. Do not take yourself to task for not being able to cry. Everyone’s initial response to grief is different.
QUOTE: "Character cannot be developed in ease and quiet. Only through experiences of trial and suffering can the soul be strengthened, vision cleared, ambition inspired and success achieved.”
- Helen Keller
Funeral planning is a considerate gesture that eliminates much of the turmoil and indecision from the lives of the loved ones who will survive you. Begin by creating a list of the people whom you would want notified of your death. Next, record the location of such important documents as insurance policies, pension plans, investments, and trusts. Then, note the location of the keys to safe deposit boxes or other important places. Include the names of your lawyer, broker, and accountant/financial planner, as well as relevant account numbers. Finally, record any specific funeral and burial instructions, and hand the information to your spouse, other family member, or attorney. Otherwise, important documents and instructions may not be discovered until after the funeral.
QUOTE: "There is but one freedom, to put oneself right with death. After that everything is possible.”
- Albert Camus