Let 2015 be a good and prosperous year for all of us.
The time has come for people to make their New Year’s Resolution, choosing ways to make the coming year better. Let this year be the year we let go of the fear of death. The fear of death can lead us down strange alleyways as we try to avoid the finality death. All logic tell us that one day we will die, and our family and friends will have to create a memorial for us. Those of us who have gone through the process of taking care of the many things after a loved one has died, know how unpleasant that can be. Let this year be the year that we gently allow ourselves the gift of looking at death and deciding what kind of death and memorial we want. I promise that once you have a written plan in place, not necessarily a prepaid plan, but a plan nonetheless, you will feel calmer and maybe peaceful. You might even feel the freedom to live the life you have always wanted to live. Be gentle as you go. Death is a big topic and often overwhelms us. Take small steps; think about who you are and what kind of final word you wish to leave for your family and friends. Think about what is most important to you and if you want to leave a smaller impact on the earth in death, what steps you need to take. Remember, a memorial is your final word on the earth. Take the steps that will allow you to express that word. Read some of the books on our reading list, and download our planning form as a place to start.
Let 2015 be a good and prosperous year for all of us.
Do Not Enter
I took this last summer out photographing the Serbian cemetery. How could I have resisted?! Enjoy the picture and I hope it brings you a little laugh.
When I was a young family service counselor at the cemetery, I found myself out in the cemetery in late December. It was quite cold so very few people were out visiting graves. I entered the outside mausoleum and I noticed the Christmas gifts left by families: wreaths, crosses made of evergreen boughs, and personal gifts. As I looked down a row, I saw something blue and wondered what it could be. I approached. Outside a crypt I found a small tree with a baby blue hat that read, “Babies First Christmas.” Working so close to people in grief is hard sometimes, and I wept for the family who was going to be without their new baby that Christmas. That year we had a few families who would loose their newest addition through the holidays. I realized in a new way that death can happen to anyone, even on Christmas.
As we move through the many holidays this, please take the time to consider that someone you know might be grieving a loss of a small one, and it might be very painful for them. Don’t be afraid of their pain. Sometime we are afraid of others' pain because we know it is so great, or because we might not know what to do. If you have such a friend, be open to letting them talk about whatever they need to say or do to help them remember and grieve. Most of all be kind and aware of others' grief this season, making that a gift of love.
The holidays are upon us. Do not be persuaded otherwise. For those of us who have put things off, I am here to say we can wait no longer. For many of us, holidays remind us of all the people who are not here to celebrate with us. Our sadness over missing people at the celebrations might be a contributing factor in our not engaging earlier in preparations. I know I am guilty of this. In an effort to bring my grief along with me as I prepare, I do little things to help me remember the love I have for them and celebrate their love for me in my life. For example, I like to set the table with some reminders of those I miss. It makes me feel that they are still participating in our gathering. I also like to incorporate recipes in my menus that remind me of people I love, but have died. In our Thanksgiving celebration, my family makes a creamed onion recipe that has been served at family Thanksgivings for at least four generations. It comes down through the female line and I think every woman has put her own spin on it. I like these traditions because they tie the generations through love and joy. If we find ourselves without family plates or recipes, we always have story. Stories bind family together, teaching the younger generation family history and values. We might use a dish as a jumping off point, but the stories we share allows us to remember we are part of a larger whole that struggled, loved and lived. By story telling we unite the past and the present through our memories of those who no longer grace our tables. May we find peace in the memories of those who have gone before us this holiday season.
How many coffins have I stood by, looking at the body of a person I have known and loved? I don’t know. What I do know is that I have never seen what could be described as beautiful “memory picture”. The death care industry used this term “memory picture” to sell embalming to families. “Memory pictures” are supposed to make grieving easier for the family if the loved one looks as if they are at peace. For me, the “memory picture” embalmers speak of has been a total fail for me. Why do we have to pretend that they are asleep or at rest as if this “memory picture” is the best way to accept the reality of death? For some, perhaps these “memory pictures” gives them peace. I have not met any of them.
In my research of the embalming process, I know that the mouth always looks weird because the jaw has been wired shut. To me, this makes their mouths look like a puppet’s mouth, and I have never found this to give me peace. I am not here to bash all embalmers. In fact, I know that most embalmers want to truly help the family in grief. Their education as funeral director teaches them that families need a “memory picture” for them to move through grief peacefully. When my mother-in-law died, the embalmer was able to fix her hair so that no one could tell she had had surgery. I know that looking good was very important to her and was pleased with the work they did for her. What I take issue with is Funeral Directors using the term as a way to justify embalming, or their professionalism in the private mourning of a family. Memory pictures do not belong to the death care industry, memory pictures belong to those who love the person who has died. Do not be manipulated into thinking you need to have an embalmed body made-up and placed in a coffin to have closure. Our bodies are generally not disgusting and embalming is not a requirement for burial. Funeral homes make a requirement for viewings and for their “memory pictures”. The industry, in doing this, has insinuated themselves into the family’s private grieving process, and appointed themselves as professionals in this process. Only the family knows what is best for their own family.
Memory pictures are those memories we hold dear of our loved one. They are the many memories we have of our loved ones who have died that bring us joy and make us remember just how wonderful they were, or maybe they are the memories of things that drove us most crazy about them when they were alive. No industry can direct the memoires of our loved ones. I think if we all took the time to talk about death, and what we need to do at the time of death, our loved ones would be at the mercy of the “professionals” that present choices that fit their belief system but not ours. In this season, let us make memories of those we love, and take the time to express to those around us what we want as our final wishes.