Monthly Archives: November 2013

Funeral Meals: A Grieving Family Needs Lots of Support

We have spent a lot of time weekly talking about funeral planning and its many associated facets including estate planning, funeral costs and funeral expenses. One area we haven’t discussed is the funeral meal, one of the most memorable events following a funeral and one which requires the efforts of many to insure that it is handled well.

While I was pondering this subject I came across an old column from the New York Times internet edition which was right on the mark. While I am not a big fan of the Times, I do enjoy many of the specialized articles like this one which was found in the August 10, 2005 issue of the dining and wine section. Written by Abe Opincor, it reminded me of some of the old stories my mother passed along about funerals she had attended and the preparation involved.

Opincor talks about a lady named Vertamae Grosvenor, a cultural correspondent for National Public Radio, who grew up in South Carolina. Ms. Grosvenor wondered why people tended to eat so much at funeral meals and she provided her theory, and it was a simple one: “We ate so much because that way we knew we were alive.” Opincor further goes on to discuss variations in funeral meals and traditions by sections of the country and social grouping.

Being a Southerner by birth, I found that some of his comments about my region closely paralleled some of those things told to me by my mother. I also had some personal experiences which support his points.

Mom used to say that women in the South, particularly in small towns and rural areas, always had a casserole in the freezer just in case it was needed for a funeral. This paralleled directly with the Opincor piece which also brought back memories of fried chicken and rich desserts. We just weren’t as conscious of health issues or maybe it’s just that we decided comfort foods were needed at a time of great stress. I guess at times like that we really didn’t worry about what the doctor advised. This is probably true in many cases today as well.

But there was something even more dramatic in the way of cultural differences that I had to affirm as having witnessed myself. If you have never attended an African-American funeral in the South you have missed the feast of a lifetime. The church social hall, which is where family and friends gather after the service, features a smorgasbord of foods salty and sweet, hot and cold, with many different aromas and textures but all delicious.

My first personal experience with such a funeral was during my final active duty Army assignment and I was assigned to a post near my hometown in Tidewater Virginia. It was then that I learned the part that food really played in the celebration of a Christian death by the black community. One of my top civilian employees lost her father and she asked me to come to his funeral; she told me that I would never forget it. And what a celebration it was. Not only was the service joyous and uplifting with forward looking eulogies and wonderful spiritual music, the array of food served was something I never before had seen.

Being a weight watcher, I tried to graciously limit my intake and give my condolences when a giant of a man with a warm smile grabbed my shoulder and told me I couldn’t go home hungry and he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. Snapping his fingers, two young ladies went to the serving line and prepared a plate for me that I couldn’t finish in a week. It had fried chicken, baked ham, sliced pork, sweet potatoes, green beans, okra and so much more.

Looking at the table I could see that they had brought me what they thought I would like. They had left many wonderful concoctions that obviously were enjoyed by their community, traditional soul food, but they were uncertain if I would like it. Before the day was over I had sampled some and while it requires the development of a taste for it, it was surprisingly good.

Well, things were delicious and I ate until I thought my waistband would snap and I just had to stop. The Elder came by and smiled and told me that he knew I could do it. Then the same two young women came over with a tray full of rich desserts but I said I just couldn’t possibly eat another bite. They relented but did send me home with two desserts, a wonderful bread pudding and a huge homemade slice of pecan pie.

Never before had I been fed anywhere like that, let alone at a funeral. But as I said my goodbyes they all told me that maybe I should go back to my church and tell them how a real funeral meal is served. And I have never forgotten it.

The next morning I put in an extra fifteen minutes on my morning run and added some extra repetitions to my weight workout. If I ate like that again I think I would be attending my own funeral but, wow, was it good.

And I again remembered what my mother had told me as a boy about having a frozen casserole at the ready at all times. Those wonderful folks at that traditional African-American church certainly didn’t have any frozen casseroles on the table, that’s for sure. Everything was done from scratch after learning of the death of someone dear to them, and it was truly a labor of love. It was also a celebration of the end of life on this earth. They were celebrating the transition of this good man to his seat in Heaven with the Father and his Savior.

I tell you this story because I think it points out two very important things to be taken from it. First, if you are a Christian and the decedent is also a person of faith, the final tribute and that special meal should truly be a joyous occasion and, secondly, the family can’t do this alone. They need friends and family to step up to the plate so that they can properly attend to their own sorrow and closure. And nothing shows your love for them like helping to take care of the funeral meal. Remember this when you are called to help a family facing this situation.

God bless you all and have a wonderful week. And God bless America.

James Dick
Hawthorne, Florida
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Depression and Grief: The Aftermath

WRITER’S NOTE: When a family suffers the loss of a loved one, the worst of grief and depression is temporarily averted because family and friends rush to their side and important decisions must be made quickly. The days leading up to the memorial service and internment are tied up with family and friends and funeral planning, encompassing such items as determining funeral costs, funeral expenses and the availability of any funeral insurance or burial insurance which might cover some of them. Only after services are completed and the home is empty of friends and relatives does the family face its new normal. This often brings cold, hard reality and often intensive grief and depression. It is at these times that the family will need support from family and friends more so than ever.
Suzy McIntire and her family were alone and she was now face to face with her sorrow and that of her children. After three days of non-stop visitors, meeting with lawyers, accountants, the funeral director, her minister and many well intended extended family and friends, her husband of twenty-five years, Jake, was finally put to rest at a heavily attended ceremony. Now on a Thursday night, only five days after his death, she and her three children were trying to put the pieces of their changed life together with the realization that Jake would not be back.

Suzy had been brave or at least she thought so. She did not shed a tear and maintained her composure throughout the grueling days and all that had to be done. Suzy was raised in a strict family where emotions were frowned on and she thought breaking down in tears in front of her children would not be a good example.

Suzy’s children, Jake, Jr., Melissa and Amanda, followed her lead. They were somber and stone faced throughout, but they looked miserable as if they just didn’t care what happened next. Sitting down with them in the den, the room that their father loved so much, she suddenly broke down into big sobs. The three children looked at her in amazement but then little Jake rushed up and put his arms around her.

“Mom, it’s okay, you can cry”, he whispered. I talked to Pastor John last night and he said tears are good when someone dies. It helps you stop being so sad.”

Suzy showed a tiny smile and responded, “But Jakie, I’ve always taught you children that tears are a sign of weakness and we can’t show weakness at a time like this.”

By now, the two girls had come close to their mom and little brother and were paying attention closely. Little Jake pondered things for a moment and then looked closely into his mother’s eyes, showing much maturity for a ten year old.

“Cry, Mom, I want to cry, too,” was all that he said and he began to cry openly.

When he hugged his mom tight with tears streaming, the two girls also entered the family huddle and joined in a group hug as well. All four members of the family, mother, two daughters and young son all broke into sobbing tears. The release of the pent up feelings and sorrow was free flowing, relieving some of the grief and depression which was building and, without relief, could have long term consequences.

The next day, the sun dawned a little brighter and more cheerful, the kids were off to school and Suzy called her supervisor saying she would be back at work on Monday. A little later, Pastor John Simpson, their family minister, came by to check on Suzy. She told him what had happened the evening before and how little Jake had passed on his advice.

Pastor John nodded and said, “I thought he would tell you. I knew it needed to come from him and not me, but it was important for you to open up and let your feelings out.” He added, “Things will get better for you now that you are facing the issue. And don’t forget, Jesus is here to help in any way he can as am I.”

At the end of the visit she thanked him profusely and decided it was time to get busy. She headed out to the store to buy some special fixings for the family. She would make one of their favorite suppers and get the family back on track to a reasonable life. They were going to live life actively and enjoy what God had given them. And she knew that her loving Jake was watching approvingly from his Glory above.

The story just told is a situation that is faced by many of us and often no one outside of the immediate family has any understanding of the degree of sadness faced. Why did I decide to use it? Well, it’s important for us to realize that no matter how strong and tough people appear, in times of mental anguish, of which death is one of the most difficult to deal with, appearances of those impacted can be most deceiving. We must remember this when dealing with family and friends suffering from loss. Follow up with them, spend time with them, afford them the opportunity to release their anguish and just be there for them. It is important, they will always remember the kindness and concern provided and it’s what God expects from us. Kindness, caring and compassion go a long way to alleviate human emptiness.

James Dick
Hawthorne, Florida
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A National Remembrance: Veterans Day

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and eighteen, the guns fell silent in France. After a long and arduous struggle with the advantage shifting back and forth and months in the trenches, soldiers were notified that a truce had been reached and that the fighting was over. While the details of Germany’s surrender would be ironed out by the Treaty of Versailles, exhausted warriors on both sides of the battle were finally able to escape the constant noise, horror and fear and experience calm and peace.

The following year, President Woodrow Wilson declared Armistice Day, a celebration for all Americans who took up arms against the forces of the Kaiser. It was not until 1954 that the name was changed to Veterans Day by a law signed by President Eisenhower. From that date forward, the day would honor all American fighting men and women who had served their country in uniform. The impetus for this change was, of course, World War II and the multitude of young citizens who fought, with many injured and killed, against a resurgent Germany under Adolph Hitler and eventually his ally the Empire of Japan.

In the funeral business, the patriotism and dedication of our fighting forces and the reverence we Americans display toward them is probably seen as prominently as anywhere. Funeral planning for military personnel, both active and retired, is a standard feature involving many important responsibilities such as determining and assisting with arrangements to handle funeral costs and funeral expenses, working with appropriate funeral clergy and in some cases funeral chaplains to insure smooth delivery of services, and often supporting active military funerals.

The effort provided on behalf of our World War I veterans has now ended as the last of our survivors are gone. Funeral planning for World War II vets is also beginning to wind down as that generation is reaching the end of its lifespan. Funeral planning and support, however, will continue for Korean War and Vietnam veterans and, of course, the Iraqi and Afghanistan support requirements are ongoing. These same support requirements will continue as long as conflict remains with mankind and, unfortunately, it is likely that this will be ongoing as long as we continue to inhabit the earth.

To provide support for veteran families in their time of need is a distinct honor. And for all of us in this great country, Veterans Day should be a special occasion for each of us to celebrate these brave men and women, these veterans, and what they have done for us. Whether they served in combat or not, each of them was willing to serve their country wherever they might be called and in whatever capacity their duty required. These veterans also subjected themselves to separation for extended periods from family and requirements for hardship and sacrifice that most Americans can’t even imagine. Yet they have done so, generation after generation and war after war, unflinchingly and with resolve.

I believe America always has and always will respond positively with a warm thank you to our veterans. Oh, there will always be those few who scorn them and call them vulgar names, but there are always a few bad apples in any barrel. But just this past week if you happened to see the You Tube video of the reception a group of Marines received at the Chicago airport while passing through, it is obvious that Americans have high regard for their military and by this I am including those currently and past in service. The outrage recently displayed over the government’s unwise decision to close the World War II memorial during the federal partial shutdown is another example of this.

And there is the other side of this coin as well. Those Americans who are veterans are extremely grateful to all of their American brothers and sisters who have supported them in times both good and bad. You see, they remember those times when they were away from home and often lonely and fearful, but they also remember the pride they felt knowing that those on the home front supported them, prayed for their wellbeing and honored them. And they have been honored by the privilege of serving their country and the many back home kept safe and secure by their service. It is something they will always remember and always cherish. It has been a distinct honor and privilege to help maintain The Land of the Free.

So whether it was in the hedgerows or on the Normandy beaches of France, dodging intense fire on the black sand beaches of Iwo Jima or in the freezing cold at the Chosen Reservoir, or on patrol in the jungles of Vietnam, operating in the stark environments of Iraq and Afghanistan, even working stateside in a motor pool, America salutes all of her veterans who served anywhere. And these veterans remain ready even today, after their term of military duty is over, to stand with their country and their God in whatever endeavor duty calls. That is the foundation of the American veteran and their belief in America.

As a grateful nation made up of citizens with loving hearts, let’s take a moment to pray together a prayer for all of our veterans who have answered their nation’s call:

Dear Father Above:

We thank you for the willingness of so many who have served the needs of their country and the cause of freedom which she represents. To all who have served this great land, we ask for Thy love and benevolence in caring for them and helping them with the many issues they have faced after service. Many live with debilitating physical injuries, others suffer from psychological disorders caused by the stress of war, even more suffer after returning from war to find difficulty in finding gainful employment and economic prosperity. Be with them and give them strength to deal with their issues and overcome them.

We also beseech Thee, Oh Lord, to give each of us the compassion and goodness of heart to help our veterans in any way we can so that they might return to a normal and loving lifestyle without the internal demons so many face. And give our government leaders the wisdom and good sense to honor all commitments and promises made and to always look for ways to find alternative solutions to international problems other than war, for it is the young, the strong, and the courageous who receive the call to make the personal sacrifices that war brings.

Finally, Lord, be with America. Keep her strong, keep her people brave, and keep all of us in Thy love and grace. And help each of us to understand the importance of maintaining our personal relationship with Thee, for when this is multiplied by millions Thy power becomes a force that will weather any crisis and any storm.

We ask this prayer in His Holy Name, Amen.

To all of you out there who served proudly, Happy Veterans Day. And to those of you who have not served but appreciate the service they have given, find a veteran on this special day and thank them for their service. God bless America and may she ever be free.

James Dick
Hawthorne, Florida


God Cried With Us

Why would the sun
Wait in the wings,
Instead of appearing
For one as loved as you
This day as you
Were laid to rest?

It must be that God
Decided to cry with us
Gentle warm tears
Fell from the white sky
And sprinkled us
As we made our way
Under the tent
Over your grave.

The season’s first
Green blades peeked
Above the earth
In the midst of brown.
The soldier stood between
Two somber gray gravestones
In the distance
Each note of Taps lingered
Before floating away.

The last few wisps
Of cold snow melted.

You are no longer searching for,
Or running from,
Love as we humans do,
But rather, radiating
In that golden glow that
I imagine may be like
That soft early evening
Sunlight of summer
That warms us evenly,
And you feel like you
Could stand in it forever.

We can’t see you, dear friend
Because we are separated
By a window fogged
Like the softened ice
On the pond today.

If we could, I am assured
We would see you blissfully
Strolling a gold-paved road.

In memory of John Porier. By S.T. Haggerty. March 12, 2013.
Copyright 2013 by S.T. Haggerty


Grief and Depression: Half Empty or Half Full?

The funeral business is full of stories about grieving families suffering through the loss of a loved one. Their grief and depression can be totally a result of the immediacy of loss or, in other cases, the grievant might be pre-disposed to grief and depression which is exacerbated by death of a loved one. In the latter case it is even more difficult to focus on the many funeral planning issues they suddenly face, such as funeral expenses, funeral costs and funeral needs. Sometimes these added stresses can last long after a reasonable period of mourning is over. In such cases, it is of paramount importance to find a permanent answer to the problem or their life can be effectively put on hold.

I thought about this while I was planning this week’s column and I remembered a dear friend of mine who had a personality that was always in “down” mode, never upbeat and always looking for the worst likely outcome. He was a good man and a loyal friend, but he always fought these feelings and when faced with the sudden death of his wife of over twenty years he just sank to a new low. It was very difficult to bring him out of it and I don’t think he ever fully recovered.

So what can we do to avoid a gloom and doom outlook and instead find the brighter side of things? I bring this up because all of us will come in close contact with such a situation in our life, either directly or indirectly, and knowing how to deal with it is something that will be of critical importance. In some cases professional psychological or even psychiatric help might be necessary, but in many other cases outlook can be changed by a positive attitude. Often we can train ourselves to find the best in things just by the way we spend our time and focus our thoughts and thereby put that smile back on our face. It involves creating a point of view that always sees the half empty glass as half full instead. If we focus on filling the glass instead of how empty it is, we change the entire perspective.

I’ve personally had periods when I was gloomy, suffering from limited bouts of grief and depression, but I’ve always found that by getting away from what’s troubling me and taking a fresh look from a new perspective, things turn out to be not nearly as difficult as I surmised. A couple of things I do that might be of help are simple and they don’t cost anything, but they can bring about a change for the good if practiced regularly.

First, I find a pleasant and peaceful space where I can be alone with my thoughts yet surrounded by evidence of beauty and wonder. I am fortunate to live in a rural setting where the glory of nature and energetic life is always abounding. I try to take at least an hour a day to just admire my surroundings and ponder my life and the gift that it truly is. It is fragile, yet wondrous, and should never be taken for granted. Our Maker wants us to enjoy it, relish it and live it in a way that is pleasing to Him.

And this brings me directly to the second point. I try to begin and end each day with prayer to Him. It is my way to thank Him for what I have and it requires me to communicate with Him often and regularly. My prayer or “talking time” with God keeps the lines of communication between us open and affords me a way to “clean the cobwebs’ out of my soul, open my heart to Him and turn my problems over to His Divine Majesty. This frees me up to focus better, live better, and appreciate the things we have much more. It makes Him an active part of my routine life and gives me peace, and peace is the key to reducing grief and depression and many other problems.

When we accept God into our lives, we notice a change in the way we feel and the way we act. Oh, we still make mistakes and use poor judgment since we are, after all, mere humans. But when we open our hearts to Him we receive inner peace and we experience joy in our lives, a joy which relieves those things that burden us. He brings us hope, love and the opportunity for eternal life. And once we accept this and are born again into Him, our eternity starts. It offers us permanent protection under His watchful eye.

If we are skeptical about this that is normal, but it’s important to reach into our inner selves and give faith a chance to come forward because our salvation is based upon faith. It’s why He gave us free will and the right to choose for ourselves. Otherwise we wouldn’t appreciate it; we would be mere robots.

And think about this. God’s grace and his love for us will meet every need we could possibly have with a wonder and majesty we can’t even imagine. The result is a permanent solution to our problems that will leave us never really wanting. And then, when the time comes that we have to face the death of a loved one, or even our own mortality, His comfort and strength will carry us through and give us the willpower and guidance to face whatever our future holds now or forever more. Could anything be more wonderful than that? It cannot be found.

So what kind of glass do you see in your future, half empty or half full? Have a great day and week ahead with the Lord in your heart as He yearns to fill your glass with his love and spirit. Hallelujah!

James Dick
Hawthorne, Florida