dying

Reflections of What Will Come

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reflect

The earth below, above is sky

Soon it will be my turn to die

Life’s road was traveled way too fast

Never possible to go back to the past


Fleeting memories in my mind

But even more I cannot find

Of what good the years of life

If I live them full of strife


The sky is warm, the earth so cold

A life well-spent worth more than gold

Hear my words, young ones of earth

Too quick you’ll leave after your birth


Spend wise the time entrusted you

Knowing eternity is soon in view

Death creeps, but I am not afraid

To cross the shadows of the glade


I look up, my hope is sure

My heart’s love will long endure

Long may tears from family fall

When I must answer heaven’s call


Life was hard, but I am strong

For time with God is what I long

A resting place with no more pain

A hell to shun and heaven to gain.

A Way to Pay Bills

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couple

At first, it was — just a job. A way to pay the bills.

I do not know you, and you do not know me.

Our paths have crossed before, but only I remember.

You were a different generation, someone older and set in your ways.

 

I was a different generation, someone younger and set in my ways.

Watching each other, yet without seeing.

The years passed by, ever quicker like the setting sun.

You were my mom pushing a stroller, I the babe in awe of life.

 

You were my dad with a career, I the child wanting your time.

You were my teacher helping me, I the student learning to study.

You were my boss expecting much, I the employee learning character.

I was the shopper barely accepting your greeting at the store.

 

I was the driver, who got upset as you drove home — slowly.

Impatient and always in a hurry, you wished for me a slower life.

Steady and strong, I had no fear that I would ever be like you.

This new job is not where I expected to be, but neither did you.

 

The years have not been kind as you have begun to fade away.

Irritated that you repeat yourself, but you cannot remember what you said.

Self-respect long gone, you hate that you need my help to change or eat.

Life’s circle begins to close, for I now help you as you did for me.

 

Years sped by, your beauty faded away, while I grew into my prime.

Each day for you looks the same, while I can come and go.

Confined to the walls of this place, you long to be free.

Life was not meant to be ended alone, but no one visits you.

 

The only family you had long forgot that you were here.

Slowly, the pain and your body can take no more.

The future is bleak, for you will soon be gone.

The future is clear, for I will soon be here.

 

For you, the coldness of death will soon claim what remains.

For me, my world has changed. I see me in you.

A promise I make not to leave my loved ones alone.

A wish you make not to take your last breath alone.

 

A sigh and one last breath, I am your world, as you fade away.

I helped you one last time and wept as I realized you were gone.

I waited for your children to come and say last goodbyes.

But, I waited in vain in a job that was no longer just a job.

 

This place takes a toll on those who care for others.

We watch, we help, we wait, we cry — alone.

In the night, I watched you sleep. In the day, I was your friend.

Lack of respect for those who loved us is a sad way to end.

 

Yet, one day, we will have to learn, but it will be too late.

Go to sleep. Leave your pain filled shell, my aged friend,

I will hold your hand to the very end.


 

** A CNA is a Certified Nursing Aide. It requires certification and licensing. They generally are the lowest and hardest working employees at hospitals and nursing facilities. Their job involves the total care of each patient including feeding, clothing, bathing, and yes, saying goodbye at the very end. It is not a job for those who do not care.

Sticker Shock at Funeral Homes

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casketOn the worst day of your life, the last thing you or your family should have to deal with is sticker shock.

A quick perusal of this link will show a wide variety of prices that have to be considered.

The average price of a funeral in the USA is currently between $7–10,000. Do you know WHY it is so high? Do you know what you are required to purchase and what is just an option? Do you know that many funeral homes love when you walk in with an insurance policy and no idea what you should be spending? Why is this?

The normal scenario for most families looks like this:

A sudden death, prolonged illness, hospice care, or car accident results in either the deceased being transported to a local hospital or the local law enforcement will be authorized to contact the funeral home that is on duty.

Most funeral homes in a town or county are on a rotation. This simply means that when an accident occurs, the coroner will contact the on-call funeral home to come and collect the deceased. The family is given no notice of which funeral home has your loved one in their preparation area. There is also no guarantee that a pre-planned and pre-paid funeral policy will be in force.

The next morning, the closest or next-of-kin will receive a phone call from the on-duty funeral director where the body is located. The shock of the death has not normally settled in and now a call comes extending a professional courtesy of condolences and informing the living that they need to come same day or the next morning to the funeral home to make arrangements.

Sadly, the disposition of the deceased waits for no individual.

One of the hardest aspects of my job as a manager or funeral director was watching the faces of families entering the front door of the funeral home or cemetery office for what could be the first time in their life.

A good funeral director or cemetery manager will work hard to put the family at ease, as much as humanly possible. A compassionate funeral director or cemetery manager will try to make the process smooth by guiding the family through every decision.

Yet, it is at the moment that the family walks in that a huge problem exists. As in every industry, some truly care about a career, especially in those jobs that involve customer service. However, there are also those who only see what they do every day as a job.

Photo by Madison Kaminski on Unsplash

Whether you know it or not, a funeral director or cemetery manager is also required to be a salesperson.

The level of expertise and compassion can and will determine how smoothly everything moves forward from the collecting of the earthly remains of the deceased to the burial or cremation process, but it normally comes at a price.

More and more funeral homes and cemeteries are being purchased by large corporations. With each purchase, compassion goes out the window for the sake of profits and exorbitant cost markups. The compassion that should be shown to a grieving family is regularly being replaced by price-gouging and sales pitches designed to make you feel guilty. This guilt could be about the level of service you provide for your loved one down to the casket selection.

As the family signs the paperwork, the hardest part of the process has not yet arrived. Insurance and payment is covered and then the funeral director will stand. Informing the family that they need to follow him or her into the casket selection room, you will NEVER be prepared for the shock that is coming.

Many families I assisted and cared for managed to keep it together through the paperwork process. There might be a few tears, but standing to walk into the casket room was almost always a shock that brought tears and massive expressions of grief including wailing, shrieks, or screams of agony.

There is something about the entrance into that specific room that generates a great sense that this is very real. “I have to choose a final bed for my husband, wife, brother, sister, grandparent, baby, or child to sleep in.”

I cannot recall the number of times I was asked if I could make a selection for them just so the family would not have to enter THAT casket room.

Funeral homes and cemetery offices have largely become marketing machines. Caskets are aligned with the most expensive brands being softly lit. Lids are open revealing plush pillows and satin or velvet finishes. Soft music may be playing while the funeral director/salesperson is expected to direct you to these selections.

Many funeral homes, especially those owned by corporations do NOT put out the cheapest caskets available, and some directors will go so far as to lie to the family telling you that there is nothing cheaper.

The casket room has a wide selection from high glossy wood caskets to different gauge metal caskets. Some have keepsake drawers, while others are labeled as sealed and “waterproof.”

There are NO waterproof caskets.

The FCC and funeral laws are slowly changing to correct the myths still being perpetrated by funeral homes and cemeteries about waterproof caskets or vaults. Concrete is porous. Metal rusts and loses its integrity quickly depending on the soil composition and local water tables. Caskets with a rubber gasket also decay and provide no guarantee that water will not enter the final resting place of your loved one. Vaults are the same way and do not offer guarantees.

But many spend thousands thinking that the body of their loved one will remain dry and safe.

Back to the casket room, the director is taught to watch you closely for buying signs. He or she will point you in the direction of certain caskets and may even include softly spoken words such as: “Your loved one deserves the best you can afford.” Or, “This casket provides peace of mind that your loved one will ____________.”

No, no, NO, ABSOLUTELY NO!

With sympathy and empathy, your loved one does NOT care about what kind of casket. You will NOT see that casket or vault for more than a few minutes. When your eyes are red from weeping long into the sleepless nights, you will NOT give one thought or have peace of mind about whether you bought the right casket or not.

The reality is that funerals are for the living, not the deceased.

On average, families that enter a funeral home for the first time after the loss of a loved one will spend approximately 35–60% MORE than they would if they had been prepared. The funeral and cemetery staff knows this and many are trained to capitalize on your grief.

Bonuses, monthly contests, and corporate pressure are heaped on funeral and cemetery staff to keep the average profits high. A funeral director with a conscience and who helps too many families keep their costs low will soon find him or herself out of a job.

The ivory towers that hold executives of the large funeral corporations do NOT care about your family. They do NOT care about the deceased. They ONLY care about profits.

My purpose in writing these articles is with the hope that people will read something that will help them face the inevitable on the worst day of their lives. I still have close friends in the industry, but far too many that I worked with only cared about profits and large paychecks.

In a coming article, I plan to address the markup levels of everything from services to caskets to vaults to the candles available to purchase at the funeral home.

10 Things to Know About Funerals

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funeral

While every state is different, I wish these were some things that EVERY adult knew about funerals. Having previously been in the cemetery/funeral industry for almost 8 years, I can speak to the practices of private firms as well as cemeteries and funeral homes that are owned by large companies. My experience includes working for three of the largest firms in the world.

There is a great amount of money to be made, but it is normally made at the expense of the living on what could arguably be the worst day of their lives.

Not all companies, cemeteries, or funeral homes are corrupt. This also applies to funeral directors or cemetery managers. Some of the nicest folks I have ever met and considered to be friends have worked in the cemetery/funeral industry.

1. A Last Will and Testament means nothing at a funeral home. This document is for the disposition of your property and has nothing to do with your earthly remains. In common law, the deceased is considered to be the quasi-property of the next-of-kin. Basically, this means that the next-of-kin is responsible for providing the necessary and legal means of disposition.

2. Legal disposition is restrictive to the laws of your particular city/county/state. I am not aware of any state that permits the digging of a big hole on your property and burying your family member. Some states may put severe restrictions on such actions. For example, I worked in several states that required a minimum amount of land had to be fenced and set aside by the landowner in perpetuity for the burial of human remains.

3. Some think that they can just save money by donating their body to science. In their minds, this avoids the expense of a casket, embalming, and then burial or cremation. This is a myth. Many states have placed restrictions on companies that used to provide this kind of service. Some companies are so overloaded with bodies that unless you have some form of disease that a science center wants to research, then your family will be required to provide disposition. In addition, once the science center has finished with all of their research, many do charge the family for cremation and an urn to send the cremains back to the family.

4. Cremation is simply a form of disposition of human remains. Wikipedia gives a very good description of cremation’s history, modern techniques used, as well as some religious aspects as it pertains to various religions. On average, cremation tends to be the least expensive means to dispose of human remains. In some parts of the USA, cremation only accounts for about .5–1% of all dispositions. This is particularly true in the southern states. However, in some places like New England or the upper West coast, cremation can account for 95%+ of all dispositions.

5. Embalming is NOT required except in certain circumstances. This is a common charge that is included on itemized funeral home charges. It is pushed by funeral companies onto the consumer because it is an easy way to make a larger profit margin. If you have any questions about the use of embalming, then check the laws in your state.

For those who want the bottom line, embalming does NOT preserve the body forever. Factors in the length of time it takes for a body to fully decay depends on the embalming process, soil composition, and burial vs. entombment in a mausoleum.

Embalming simply helps preserve the body from more rapid decomposition and is generally for the purpose of being able to have a funeral where viewing is going to be present. Embalming does not and cannot provide any guarantees about the state of your loved one’s body.

As a general rule, embalming may be required by a funeral home if there will be a public viewing. However, family members are generally permitted to say their final goodbyes without an embalming process of their loved ones.

6. Prepaid funerals do NOT cover all costs involved in a funeral. For example, the overwhelming majority of large funeral firms have “add-on charges.” Most of these are almost 100% profit making items that are not necessary and certainly NOT required.

7. Cemeteries are generally not a part of a pre-paid funeral plan. A funeral plan is provided by a funeral home but the charges from a cemetery are normally separate. This often includes cemeteries owned by the same company that owns the local funeral home.

Charges at a cemetery can amount to several thousands of dollars that a family was not expecting. As with funerals, laws vary as to what is required. Some may require some type of vault to surround the casket, where others will still permit the burial of a casket without an outer covering. Vaults were designed as a means to more evenly distribute the ground and provide a nice uniform look to the cemetery. We will talk more about various products in a later article.

8. Funerals are for the living and not for the deceased. One area that still brings up resentment is the guilt that the living is made to feel for the deceased. A smooth talking funeral director can easily talk a grieving family member into spending a great deal of money. Many of the large firms train their funeral directors or cemetery workers to play on the emotions of the family in order to drastically inflate the amount of money the family pays for a final disposition.

9. Preplanning is different from prepaying. Preplanning is the preparation that a person or a couple makes in the anticipation that death is coming. Planning booklets are normally provided or available free or little cost. These booklets allow you to put down your final wishes so that your family is not struggling to deal with their grief as well as having to make decisions about which is the best casket for dad or mom.

Prepaying involves a payment plan. This can be insurance based or an endowment where money is paid by a family or individual to cover (prepay) for final expenses. However, many unscrupulous firms do not stress that these plans do not freeze prices for the future. So, for example, if a pre-paid plan was paid for over 5 years back in the 1980’s or 1990’s, that funeral or cemetery policy may actually only cover a small fraction of today’s costs.

10. Nobody should feel required to pay for an expensive funeral. Again, while we will look at cost breakdowns in another article, the average funeral costs in America are between $7,000 to $10,000! These costs can quickly escalate if you or your family are NOT prepared to handle what you will face as you walk through the doors of a funeral home on the worst day of your life.

Stay tuned for more helpful information on the costs associated with funerals and cemeteries.

Sympathy or Empathy?

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empathy

Death

Endless grief

Years too few

Tears fall down unbidden

When will the sadness leave

Bodies tired from sorrow

Days too many

Hearts ache

Pain

Definition of sympathy — “Feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune.”

Definition of empathy — “The ability to understand and share the feelings of another.

Until November 1995, I thought of empathy and sympathy as being synonymous words. Earlier that year, I had started a career in the cemetery/funeral industry.

Often I prided myself that I felt and expressed pity and sorrow for those who lost a loved one in death. Through the almost eight years in the industry, culminating my career as a funeral director, I realized that most of my colleagues showed sympathy.

Yet, many of those colleagues had an edge or bluntness to their mannerisms that did not evoke a good rapport with the families who came in to see us on what was probably the worst day of their lives. Very quickly after starting this career, I realized many things.

Three points, in particular, stand out.

1) Many who enter the business of caring for the deceased do so because they have learned that it can be a lucrative business.

2) It is impossible to understand and express empathy to others when you have never experienced what they have.

3) Not everyone handles grief the same way.

At a later date, I intend on writing on points one and three, but this post is about point number 2.

November 1995 changed my perspective. For the first time in my life, I experienced the loss of a loved one — a close loved one. In fact, the person that I lost was my brother, John. He was 4 ½ years younger than me, but we were best friends.

Before November 1995, I had no problem expressing sympathy for those I helped to bury a family member or a friend. This was true whether it was a funeral for a baby, a child, a teenager, or an adult of any age.

However, when the winter of death approached the door of our family, it was like a switch turned on inside of me.

I was able to not only sympathize, but I could empathize. In other words, I not only had feelings of pity and sorrow for someone else’s misfortune, but I also now had “the ability to understand AND SHARE the feelings of another.”

Do not misunderstand what I am saying here. My words are not meant to imply that unless a person has experienced a loss that they are not able to show true feelings of sorrow or grief at a funeral. Everybody expresses grief in different manners.

Mypost is meant to share where I was at in my life. I was almost 30 years old and had to learn the hard way what it meant for me to show empathy, not just sympathy.

This really resonated with me, when I was called to serve a military family. Their eight-year-old child had gone with a friend to a nearby lake and had accidentally drowned when their little canoe overturned. When the family arrived at the funeral, I sympathized with them over their loss.

However, one of the family members resonated with my heart. It was the older brother, who was 17 and getting ready to leave for Basic Military Training. After the funeral, the family stood at the cemetery and I felt impressed to walk up to the young man. Asking permission to speak freely, they granted it and I briefly in just a few short sentences shared what I had just gone through no more than about 2 or 3 months earlier.

The older brother kept nodding his head as I shared. When I finished, he stood up and walked over to me.

Giving me a hug, this tall, young man thanked me profusely for being willing to share. He told me that he had never experienced a death in his family and that my account helped him to realize that there were others who shared in similar feelings.

When all was concluded at the cemetery and the family left, I spent time walking through between the cold gravestones and wept again for the loss of my brother and because of what I was feeling for this family I had just finished serving.

On the worst day of a person’s life, they need to know that there are others who are there for them. Some need to be made aware that the shoulder they can cry on is one that has been bowed low under the weight of a loss as well.

The average family experiences a loss of a close loved one about once every 7 years. My family was not average before November 1995, and after that date, we have had several pass away with sad regularity.

One truth I seek to share is the difference between sympathy and empathy. When I express grief or sorrow with another individual, it is because I have also been there. I know what it is like to lose a 22-year-old brother to a massive heart attack, several family members to different types of cancer, the loss of a miscarried baby, and the loss of a grandbaby.

This does not make my family or I special. Death is part of life.

However, these sessions of pain, grief, and sorrow allow me to better express care for those who are in need today because of what I experienced yesterday, and because of what we all experience tomorrow.