As I sat looking out at my son’s Winter Band Concert, I felt overwhelmed by the magnitude of the multiple lives all gathered together to celebrate the beauty of the music our children worked so hard to learn. We were gathered there, connected to at least one child we each loved. I thought of how unique we each were, and how each of us was a particular combination of genes, experience and desire. I thought how each of us live just a certain amount of time, and then our lives pass on. How brief our lives exist in the great scope of time, yet how brightly we can each shine in this life of ours. Maybe we do not shine all the time, but we can and do shine from time to time – especially when we act with love and desire. When we shine, we make the lives around us richer and better. May we all strive to shine particularly in this season where many of us celebrate light.
The truth of the matter is that when you die, the next of kin has the power to make decisions about your funeral and burial. You might have a plan paid for, but the family can still make changes when the time comes to actually enact the plan. Finances come into play often when families make a change. I have sat with families who have made changes to the plan when one small detail was not paid for beforehand. The price was too much for the family. The plan needed to change. I think we all have specific ideas about our own funerals. Sometimes the ideas are just too much for the family to deal with, and so the plan changes. We have in our minds what we want for our family, but for one reason or another, they just cannot be done. Some plans we hold in our minds sound to us like a wonderful idea, but in reality become a burden to those we love.
On the other hand, some families have made drastic changes to a person’s plans. I know of a person who died belonging to a specific faith community, but the person’s child was clergy in another community. Needless to say, the person got the funeral the child wanted. Why would someone do this? I cannot be sure. Sometimes we act in grief in ways we would not otherwise do in life. It could be that this person felt out of control and this was the way he or she could deal with the death. It could also be that the relationship was broken in some way, and this was the way it manifested the brokenness. I could not tell you. I do not know. What I do know is that maintaining a good and open relationship in life will help at the time of death when things need to get taken care of in a short period of time.
What can we do to make a plan and make sure it is something our loved ones can handle? We must talk about our death and our death plans with those closest to us. You do not have to have an iron-clad plan to begin talking with your family about death. In reality, you might need to have more than one conversation about death. Talking about death is not always fun for most people. Even I do not like to talk about my death or those I love. When you do talk about your plans, make sure that they are financially appropriate to your situation. That way your family will not feel compelled to do things they just cannot do or feel guilty about not doing part of your plan. The other thing we need to do is to care for our relationships in life. Make sure you keep open communication and mend fences with those who will be in charge of your body in death. Do this not so that you get your way for your funeral, but so that your life will be more joyful, and beautiful. Having a funeral that goes according to plan should just be the byproduct of a good life.
We gather tomorrow. We gather as family. We gather as friends. We gather to give thanks for the last year. We gather to watch fantastic floats move down New York streets. We gather to make family recipes and share stories. We gather from far points. We gather to remember who we are. We gather to recall who we have been and where we want to go. We gather around tables, TV sets, in soup kitchens, and places of worship. We gather as a nation. We gather to heal the wounds of the past year. We gather to remind ourselves that together in gratitude we can accomplish wonders. May your gathering be filled with joy, health and gladness. May the coming season of holidays be one of brightness. May we all have a happy Thanksgiving.
Tomorrow is not promised to us. Sometimes our lives change dramatically, overnight and with little warning. We live now – we love now, and hope for tomorrow. We live much of our lives on a razor’s edge. We dare not stop too often to look lest we become too afraid. Perhaps this is the most wondrous aspect of human life. We live our lives with courage and hope, creating a life for ourselves with little more than will and creative energy. When life becomes rough, we notice acutely the precarious nature of our lives. I have lived through some rather challenging times, as I am sure many have. Through these times, I learned to look forward to the goal and pay little attention to those things that were making my life particularly difficult. That is not to say, I lived in denial. No, I acknowledged the difficulty, but I did not live in it. I lived in the hope that what I was seeking would come to pass. Through hard times, I learned to be thankful for the small things in life I had overlooked. Sometimes difficult times can teach us things we would not otherwise know. Sometimes the difficult times teach us what is essential in life. Difficult times have a way of focusing us in ways the good times just do not. While most of us are thankful for the good things, sometimes we can be thankful for the tough times. Let us look more closely at the many different aspects of life that we can be thankful for. Tomorrow is not promised to us. Let us be thankful now.
I love hearing from those who read my blog. I love getting a notification that someone has responded to what I have to say with a comment. Sometimes however, I get some odd comments and then I know that either a robot is trying to make contact or that someone in the industry does not like what I have to say. Either way, I enjoy reading these comments and contacts from my readers. I know that my topic is not a topic that many people rush off to read. There are those of us that do love reading about this topic. I remember when I first started down this path and I was reading Final Rites: Reclaiming the American Way of Death. I would read it on my phone at work when I should have been making sales calls or late into the night when I should have been sleeping. My husband asked me what was I reading with such intensity. When I told him, he did not know what to make of it all. I think he still might not understand my fascination. Suffice it to say, not everyone finds this topic so fascinating that she would write about it for four and a half years. Today, I thank everyone who walks with me on this journey for however long you desire to travel this path with me. I thank those who leave little notes behind on my posts. These comments let me know that I have made a person stop and think at least a little bit about death and the industry. I thank those of you who if they spot an error in my text contact me to fix the mistake. I live with dyslexia and I love to write, so there is always the hazard of making some slight mistake in spelling or word use. Thank you very much. Thank you to those who share my posts. This helps me reach those who I might not have had the chance to reach. We are about to enter into the big holidays. Things get rough for so many of us. Today, I wanted to take the time before the rush to thank you all for the little ways that you help buoy me along this wild road. Thank you.
I advocate for a simple and natural burial, but that does not always fit with people’s lives and views on death. I did not always think I wanted a natural or green burial. I came to that conclusion through research and a lifelong discussion I had had with family members. Growing up my family thought cremation was the way to go. After I became an Orthodox Christian, I realized that cremation was no longer an option, so I thought for years I would be embalmed. One day at the beginning of my research into the death care industry I read about the process of embalming. I remember the shock I had. After I read about it I knew embalming was not for me. I realize that not everyone will come to the same conclusion using the same set of data. That is fine. Each of us has a unique idea of what they might want to have done at the time of death. I encourage everyone to do the research and make the decision for the type of disposition of your body in death that fits with how you live. Waiting too long means that the decision made at the time of death might not fit the needs of your family. Very often a family who has no plan to follow chooses to do things that seem like the easiest thing to do. The easiest thing might not fit the needs of your family. There really is not a wrong way to plan a funeral unless you do not take the time to plan beforehand. One of the kindest acts we do for our families is to plan our funeral. That way our family members are not left having to wonder what to do at the time of your death.
The death care industry makes me a bit crazy. I know that some who work in the industry do care for families and do good work. What gets to me quite frankly is that the industry conveys the sense that THEY are the experts in the situation. No one else can know about death care more than the death care workers. Who can blame them? The death care industry saw a need and capitalized on it. As a result our society has lost the basic knowledge of death care. Most of us do not understand what it takes to care for the dead. Most of us have come to rely on the industry to tell us what needs to be done at the time of death. Most of us think we need embalming or cremation and to suggest otherwise makes us appear uncivilized or perhaps a bit crazy. Most of us do not know our basic rights we have facing the death care industry. Most of us do not want to know the truth about what happens to our bodies after death. Who can blame anyone for this? It’s not pretty.
The industry has taken advantage of our discomfort. Funeral directors would like nothing more than to make the market place where they would not face competition from other care givers, and in ten states they have succeeded. We have lost so much to this industry, but we have allowed this. Those in the death care industry suppress knowledge, and in many cases give out wrong or misleading information. I have sat with many funeral directors who have told me things I know to be false. I have had people tell me stories of a funeral director and how they were pressured into paying for something or changing their plans because the directors who told them they needed to so something when in fact they did not. The funeral directors were just trying to make a better sale for themselves - not serve their client’s needs. When I look around and see evidence that we are beginning to turn away from the conventional industry and seeking other ways of caring for our beloved dead, I am pleased. I know we have far to go, and the work of restoring family rights is a difficult one. What industry who has guaranteed clients would want to give them back? We can change the nature of market place, little by little. We can if we look at our fears honestly, start speaking about death and doing our own research. We can change the market place if we remember who we are and have the desire to change.
October is miscarriage and infant loss month. Today let us take time to remember the women and men who have lost little ones – sometimes before they got a chance to meet them. The grief of those who have lost so very young ones often takes place silently and sometimes behind closed doors. Those of us who have lost very young ones know that we remember them when those around us either do not know of the loss we carry or have forgotten the loss. Today, pause and remember that we live closely with those who have lost pregnancies and very young children not long born. If we allow ourselves a moment to feel what it might be like to anticipate, carry a child only to lose the child before or soon after birth, maybe then perhaps we can begin feel with them – even a little bit- how devastating it might feel. If we can do this, perhaps we can in a small way understand why it might take time to even begin to heal from the loss.
In 2016 82% of people walked into only one funeral home before they chose who would perform the final care of their loved one’s body. A year later the statistic lowers to 74%. While the numbers look better, the number of people who do not bother checking local death care resources one boggles the mind. Funeral planning for someone who we love can be uncomfortable and sometimes painful, so we can understand why people do not want to shop around for their end of life needs. When we take into consideration the amount of money at stake, we really should take more care and check out a few local funeral homes before we sit down, make a plan and hand over our hard earned money. Funeral directors know that if you walk through their door you are most likely going to purchase goods and services from them, and not research the local market. For those in the industry, the game is getting people in door in the first place. They need to establish and maintain relationships of their customers because they know that those customers will refer their family and friends to them, and thus their business grows.
Through my training and funeral shopping, I have come across the attitude time and time again that if the service provider would show the consumer the value in the services or goods, then price will not matter to clients. They really believe this. They believe that if they can tell a good story about how lovely the funeral will be you will hire them. They believe that making a sale is all in the way they frame the experience they hope you will buy into. What they do not know is that price does matter to those who have done their research. Researching provides us with the best defense against the sales techniques the death care industry uses, and the public’s tendency to not shop around. We can decide what kind of end of life rite we each want. We can frame our own idea of the funeral we want for ourselves, and find a provider who will work with our idea, and not a worn out idea of the past. To achieve this, we must look into the local market and shop around. We must take a different approach if we intend to achieve a different outcome.
With the hard work of those in the alternative death care industry the numbers of those who do not research local funeral providers have dropped. Our culture is shifting when it comes to death care. People are now more open about the topic of death and are more willing to learn what they can. We are beginning to take back the death rituals from the funeral homes. Sometimes we can follow our tradition. Sometimes we can make up our own. Sometimes we can to do both. Once we start to change the way we do business with the death care industry, they will have to change the way they deal with the consumer. We can do it. We have already begun.
Nine minutes of shooting continued after they received the first 911 call in Las Vegas Sunday night. This does not take into consideration the length of time before the calls were made. It could have been as long as ten minutes. Ten minutes is a long time. Ten minutes of people screaming and running for their lives – trapped in the open – being shot like fish in a barrel. If you doubt that sit in silence for ten minutes. Feel the magnitude. How have we come to such a place where someone like him lives in our society and no one thinks anything is wrong until he begins to calculate and bring to fruition an act of such brutality and destruction? People say gun control. Perhaps, but gun control does not change the heart of a human. It only hinders the manner in which he or she can destroy another human being. We have created a society in which this can happen. If each of us cannot look at ourselves individually and say how can I change the world in which I live, we will continue to see loss of lives on a similar scale. Until we value human life, deaths like this will happen. Until we teach our children that we are all the same, and that we are all valuable, we will wake up to another morning of weeping and terror.