Monthly Archives: January 2014

Our Legacy is the Way We Live

As we get older and begin to face our mortality, we naturally think much about our families and how we want life to be for them after we are gone. Certainly funeral planning, with all of the associated actions such as probate and estate planning, funeral needs and associated funeral costs, and the possible need to select an obituary writer come to mind. I think, however, that most important is the legacy that we leave behind, a legacy which is honorable, tells our life story and which makes our remaining loved ones proud. If we are successful in doing so by the way we live our life, one issue that often requires professional help, grief care, can often be negated. Let me explain why.

If we live in an upstanding manner, earning the love and respect of our loved ones, our light will shine brightly for them and in them after we are long gone. The pride that they feel having been part of our life will help them avoid grief care, for they will rest easy knowing that we have gone to a better place and a long needed rest. Oh, they will still miss us and have some moments in solitude of sadness, but the joy of their memories and the strength that our example has given them will negate the need for special help. They will be able to provide their own independent grief care with the positive light that we have left behind of ourselves.

Now having said that, what do I mean by living in an upstanding manner? After all, that is a broad term and all I can do is explain it in the manner that my heart directs me. If you don’t agree, establish your own criteria to live by but this works for me. It means trying to live the remainder of my life with the following foremost in everything I do, and I place the important things in order: God, family, and country.

God is placed first for me because He is truly my Father. Everything about me and all that I have been blessed to have comes from Him. With Him I am everything, but without Him I am nothing. And by following His Son, Jesus Christ, I am offered the opportunity to live forever with Him after this life is done.

Family is placed second and it follows after God because if I love Him and do my best to live my life as He demands my family will be cared for. And if I love Him, I will bring His love and caring to bear on them and they will ultimately reach the same conclusion from His light. In my life I have been blessed that my wife and children have accompanied my growth into becoming strong and loving Christians. They have had their ups and downs as we all have but when all is said and done they know that God is with them and that His Son, Jesus Christ, died for our sins and has offered his grace through faith.
My love of my country comes next. I was blessed to serve her in uniform and I am grateful that I was born in the greatest country on earth. I must say that I am sometimes troubled these days with some of the things that are happening but I know that if I rest my cares with God He will do His will. If that means times have to be tough for mankind to understand His truth then so be it. And when I pray to Him he will direct my energies to do what is right and just for the land that I love.

So when I die I want to be remembered for my strong belief in these three things, the second and third of which are always dependent on the first. And I know that if I live my life in this fashion and my family understands where I am coming from and has accepted a similar viewpoint about life, they will thrive after I have gone.

They may suffer some hardships and sorrow, but they will be focused on what is really important in this world. It is living your life as He would have us do and in so doing, with the love of Christ and the forgiveness He has given, they will be secure and safe whatever the future might bring.

In the end, the strength that He provides us through the gift of free leads us to true freedom. And this freedom is infectious if we display it by the way we live with love. For God expects us to live our lives with love in our heart both for Him and for mankind, even those who don’t love us. If we love in this manner we cannot fail because He loves us and He rewards those who praise Him and His Son. And that reward is the ultimate security blanket, more precious than property, gold and power. It is the gift of eternal life.

So put God in the form of the Holy Trinity, family and country in your heart in that very order. He knows that America was given a special gift of freedom like no other country has ever seen and he wants to see it strengthened and returned in full force. He also wants us to enjoy life on earth while we have it, but that enjoyment puts many worthwhile responsibilities on our shoulders. Meeting that requirement will secure both your family and your country and, for playing your part in doing so, you will leave wonderful memories for your loved ones and both you and they will be truly blessed.

God bless you all and have a great week.

James Dick
Hawthorne, Florida
Northfloridawriter.com
Author of Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark, recognized as one of the
Best Reads of 2014 by American Pet Magazine
outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark

 

The Power of a Beautiful Flower

Since I began writing articles for the Shared Sorrows blog we have discussed lots of different topics. We’ve talked about funeral planning, grief care and grief and depression in general, benefits of having a eulogy writer, estate planning and many more important and timely topics. One of the things we haven’t discussed is funeral flowers, something we just take for granted but which adds beauty and positive memories of the deceased. I thought about what approach would be best to show the power of a beautiful flower and its impact and decided to tell a little story. I hope it clearly shows just how much value some of nature’s beauty provides us in life and as a sign of respect in death.

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Cynthia Rogers was the owner of the only bakery in town. A small city with residents of discriminate taste, other bakers of special treats had tried to compete but Cynthia’s business sense and high quality of customer service just made the competition look second-rate. Cynthia was dedicated to her trade and developed a large clientele for such a small town and worked hard to maintain it. She was likable, spent time with her customers, and demanded the best from her employees and rewarded them well.

But Cynthia deep inside was lonely and missing something. She never married and now, as she was growing older, realized that the time for family was past. So she just decided to throw herself into her work and make her customers the substitute for the family she lacked. Other than her Sunday church activities and a small bridge group that she met with weekly, her life was her work.

One Friday morning as she arrived to open her shop she found a single beautiful long stem peach colored rose in a clear vase sitting by the door. She picked it up, saw there was nothing to identify the sender, took a deep whiff of the wonderful aroma and entered the store, placing it on the counter beneath which here delectable sweet concoctions were displayed. She decided this was the perfect place and just looking at the delicate but perfect symmetry of the flower she marveled at the power of God for making such a beautiful living thing.

She wished she could find out who had brought this beautiful flower to her which brightened her day. She asked all of her customers and even put a note in the window asking for the identity of the flower bearer. Alas, no one came forward and she was left to wonder who had delivered the flower and why.

The following Thursday evening, Cynthia was thinking about the flower which was still in place on the counter but starting to wilt. As she lifted he small vase to remove the flower, one of her Thursday regulars, Sarah Summers, entered just before closing to pick up her weekly order. Sarah always bought a large strawberry Danish which she said was a special treat on Fridays and Saturdays for her son’s breakfast. Little Johnny Summers had been suffering from cancer for several years now and was in remission.

Cynthia greeted her, “Hi, Sarah, how’s Johnny? I haven’t seen him for a while. How’s he doing?”

Sarah looked worn out and replied, “I have an appointment for him with his oncologist tomorrow. He hasn’t been feeling real well but it could be anything.”

“Well, Sarah”, offered Cynthia. “You tell him hi for me and I’ll be praying for him daily. Please take this to him. It’s a little something special.”

Cynthia handed Sarah an additional box with the Danish which brought a big smile to her face. It was a scrumptious looking box of cinnamon pecan sweet rolls.

And then Cynthia asked Sarah this, “Do you have any idea who could have left this beautiful rose for me? I found it in this little vase at the front door last Friday and have pondered the mystery ever since.”

Sarah smiled, saying “I have no idea, Cynthia, but why don’t you leave it out front when you go home tonight and see what happens. And thanks for the sweet rolls, Johnny will love them.”

Since Sarah was her last expected customer and it was closing time, Cynthia put things away and got the shop ready for the morning when she would start her morning baking early. As she started to walk out, she remembered what Sarah suggested and decided to follow her advice, taking the now empty vase out the door and leaving it right by the entrance. She was actually excited about the prospect of another flower in it in the morning.

The next morning came and Cynthia arrived to get the baking underway. There beside the door was another beautiful peach colored rose waiting for her. It brought a smile to her eyes and warmed her heart. Somebody out there thought enough of her to do this.

The scenario repeated itself every day for the next six months. And Cynthia had the little vase and flower a permanent counter top fixture on her bakery display. Many customers commented on how beautiful and perfect the rose was and its mystery became a subject of conversation. Some teased Cynthia about her secret admirer but all saw it as a genuine token by someone in appreciation for her fine store.

Then one Friday when she came to work the vase was empty. And while she continued to put it back out every Thursday night for several weeks it remained empty. This impacted Cynthia, for she knew it meant someone was either missing or hurt. After all, her quality of products and her customer service were always impeccable and beyond reproach. She thought about this often but really couldn’t figure it out.

One night as she lay awake in bed having difficulty falling asleep it suddenly came to her. Sarah Summers hasn’t been in the store in a while. Something must be wrong with Johnny. She sat up and wrote a note on her reminder pad to check on Sarah and Johnny the next day. They lived in the nearby neighborhood and she would place a call. If Sarah was at work she could at least leave a message and follow-up later.

Calling to check on things the next day, she was surprised that Sarah answered. She seemed tired and depressed.

“Hi, Sarah, this is Cynthia from the bakery”, she began. “I’m sorry to bother you but I was concerned since we haven’t seen you for quite some time. I hope Johnny is okay.”

Sarah was forthright and honest, responding, “Thanks for calling, Cynthia. I’ve missed your goodies but I’ve been really tied up with Johnny. His cancer is out of remission and we just don’t know what’s going to happen next”.

Cynthia asked if it would be all right to visit and bring something sweet for Johnny. Sarah said that would be wonderful and they set up a time.

Several days later as she drove up to the house, she was stunned to see the beautiful rose bushes growing in the side yard, all large, perfectly symmetrical and peach colored. She couldn’t resist and made a quick detour on the way to the front door. These were beautiful, the aroma was fantastic, and she was sure they were the source of her weekly rose supply. Johnny and his mother were the suppliers and she had nary a clue until now.

As she approached the front door Sarah stepped out with a sheepish look on her face, saying, “Well, Cynthia, I guess the mystery of the peach rose is over”. She continued. “I’m sorry I didn’t tell you the truth when you inquired about them but Johnny made me keep the secret.”

Cynthia showed surprise and asked, “Why would he do that, Sarah?”

“It’s because he loved all of the goodies that we got from your shop and he wanted to thank you”, she responded. “The weekly flower was his idea and he usually was the one who placed it there.”

Cynthia’s eyes began to tear and she hugged Sarah close. Then the two women went inside to see Johnny with two boxes brought by Cynthia, the usual Danish and those yummy sweet rolls. The young man didn’t look well and was weak, but he broke out into a big smile and dug right into one of those special treats that he loved so well.

When Johnny died and his funeral was held a few months later, funeral flowers were in abundance at both the church and the cemetery. But a very special funeral flowers arrangement was noteworthy at the graveside. It was completely composed of beautiful peach colored roses, delicate and aromatic with a message at the base which read “To a sweet young boy. May God always provide the sweet life to him in his Heavenly Home.”

As the attendees paid final respects passing by the casket, Cynthia provided a basket of individual peach roses for the children in attendance to place on the casket. And Cynthia, with a tear in her eye placed one on the casket as well. She would always remember the kindness and loving heart of this little boy with a big love for her bakery sweets.

So when you wonder about the value and the importance of flowers at a funeral or burial ceremony, remember this little story and the special memories it made for those left behind. The beauty of flowers adds so much at a time like this, for they truly represent the beauty and precision of the things that our Lord has made. He truly is alive and with us always, Hallelujah.

James Dick
Northfloridawriter.com
Author of Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark,
Available on line from Outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark.com or
amazon.com/author/jamesdick
Selected as a Best Read of 2014 by American Pet Magazine

 

When Death Occurs Overseas

One thing that no one ever thinks about in advance is the possibility of death occurring while overseas. Today, however, Americans travel routinely to many nations throughout the world both for business and pleasure. Of this group, a large number of elderly Americans with higher retirement income are a significant portion of the international traveling public, yet most have no knowledge of the complex issues associated with a severe illness or death occurring while overseas.

While death always creates stress and anxiety with the need for funeral planning, determining if finances are in order to handle funeral costs and funeral expenses, identifying any funeral insurance or burial insurance availability and natural grief and depression issues among others, they are just the tip of the iceberg when death occurs out of country. International rules, customs and procedures are largely not understood yet must be grasped quickly. The family wants to return the body home and they don’t understand anything about the protocol and the laws that apply when death happens elsewhere. Unique questions must be answered and time is of the essence.

Thinking about this and recognizing its potential for major financial impact, I decided to do some research. A good place to start is the Department of State which has as part of its mission helping American citizens overseas and their families. State has an excellent website: Travel. State.Gov which has a subsection entitled Return of Remains of Deceased under its International Travel menu item. The Bureau of Consular Affairs within this Cabinet agency has responsibility in this area. It is the section which takes care of notifying next of kin when death occurs overseas and it also provides as much assistance as possible to insure that repatriation of remains is accomplished as the family wishes. I would recommend that anyone planning to travel overseas review the site and familiarize family members with its content so that everyone is ready in the event the worst happens.

When an American dies overseas, some things need to happen quickly and it’s important that someone be involved who understands the procedures and practices found in the host country. That someone is the Consular Officer, a Bureau of Consular Affairs official stationed at embassies and consulates around the world to help America families. The guidance they provide is based upon U.S. and host nation law, treaties and international practice. The Consular Officer is well versed in these areas and can help cut through the red tape and actively assist in finalizing necessary actions overseas so that the body may be returned home.

In the event that death occurs and the traveler is unaccompanied by family, immediate contact with the State Department in Washington will get things underway for the family stateside. If it happens when a family member is with the decedent, contact with the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy will be helpful in handling things in a manner that is satisfactory to the family. It will get the wheels of action underway in a manner which will comply with all appropriate national and international laws and health regulations, treaties and other international protocols.

There are several documents that must be prepared before a body can be released through customs for travel back home. These include:
A consular mortuary certificate. This document, prepared by the Consular Office, shows that the receiving nation (United States) is aware of the death, that the remains are of the person identified and may be received for final disposition within the United States.
Foreign death certificate. Frequently the death certificate is prepared by the receiving funeral home in country pending release, however, it is not always the case. In instances where this is not the case the State Department can issue a death certificate which is under the seal of the State Department and is legal proof of death.
Affidavit from the funeral director. Prepared by the funeral director who received and processed the body for shipment, usually including embalming or possibly cremation, this affidavit is necessary for any shipment of the body to leave the country. It must be accompanied by the consular mortuary certificate.
Transit permit. This document is issued by the foreign port of embarkation under the auspices of that country’s health department. It certifies that all identification is correct and that no quarantine or communicable disease issues are involved. If there is no death certificate available from the foreign nation, embalming is normally used to satisfy this requirement. If not, the receiving official in the United States with Customs and the Public Health Service is notified before shipment so that they can make any necessary arrangements needed stateside.
Bill of lading. If the body is traveling unaccompanied, a bill of lading is required to be in place with the shipment for review at any intermediary and final stops. It must match all information exactly with the mortuary certificate.

Sound confusing? Well, maybe a little, but if the family works from the beginning with and provides the information needed by the Bureau of Consular Affairs, many heartbreaks and problems can be readily resolved. Remember, their purpose in being stationed overseas is to help traveling Americans. They are quite knowledgeable in funeral planning, particularly as applied to this unusual circumstance and they also realize that Americans have little familiarity with international requirements in this emotional area. They can arrange the best situation possible under difficult conditions.

I would be remiss, however, if I didn’t mention one other aspect unrelated to State Department issues related to overseas death. Such a death can cause an enormous financial strain, with the added costs of those things that must be accomplished on behalf of the decedent as well as the heavy transportation costs. Perhaps as part of funeral planning it would be good to make sure that a travel insurance policy is in place to help defray the costs. Most quality insurers have program components which cover such unexpected costs as injury, hospitalization and death. And since many American health insurance policies have no coverage for out of country issues, the out of pocket costs can be astronomical. Do yourself a favor and check it out, particularly if you are a frequent international traveler.

I hope and pray that none of you are ever faced with this situation, but we never know what tomorrow might bring. Take a look at the issue, weigh and measure the odds, and make an educated decision on what if anything you need to do. Then do it.

God bless you and God bless the United States of America. May her flag ever fly as the symbol of our freedom and liberty.

James Dick
Northfloridawriter.com
Outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark
Amazon.com/author/jamesdick

 

Final Disposition of Remains: Part II – Traditional Burial

After discussing the benefits of cremation services last week, we now turn to look at the most widely accepted method of disposition of remains, traditional burial. For those who prefer this timeless action, nothing describes it better than first-hand experience. Following are some of the things I personally experienced as a boy that have always made a traditional funeral and burial most appealing.

My first personal experience with a funeral and burial came upon the death of my father. I knew what a funeral was, of course, but I had never been required to attend one before. Things were chaotic in those first days after his death with my mother torn between trying to handle the grief and depression upwelling in both her children and within herself while also having to attend to last minute funeral planning issues, filing for her funeral insurance claim, insuring that funeral costs were met and accomplishing all other funeral needs. Thankfully, a close neighbor friend stepped in for Mom and took care of all of the activities of the household.

Being only nine, Mom kept me away from much of the action, including the viewing of my father’s body and the visitation at the funeral home. She felt it would be too traumatic for me and, looking back on things, I think she was right although I was upset at the time. I spent most of the two days prior to the funeral trying to reach an understanding of why I was facing the death of my father who I loved so much. Why me and not someone else?

The actual funeral, while somber, was very touching and moving. My dad didn’t want a church funeral; he wanted the sole memorial to be held at the gravesite and I remember being bundled up on a cold December in the pale afternoon sunlight and stiff breeze to sit on the first row under the canopy where the body would be soon be placed.

Suddenly, the hearse carrying his body pulled up, and a group of his close friends, now acting as pallbearers slowly and very deliberately removed the gleaming dark wood with silver rail casket from the vehicle and carried it with dignity to its place on the stand over the freshly opened grave. I will always remember that moment. Here was the body of my now deceased father at center stage, with a large entourage now entering or surrounding the canopy area as our family minister in his finest church robe stood in front of the coffin almost at attention with the Holy Bible in his hands. The momentary peace and solitude and the quiet reverence of the audience, all looking directly at the casket was so dignified and honorable that I didn’t even think of crying at the moment. My heart welled with pride instead knowing that so many people thought so highly of my dad..

I don’t remember a lot of the rest of the funeral except the moment when I joined my two siblings to individually place a single flower on the casket before our departure. I remember vividly looking at that container and thinking that my father would be placed below ground in this solid and dignified casket which showed our love and respect for him.

The several snapshot moments, while short, have been everlasting in my heart and mind since that day. It is one of the reasons why I understand the importance to so many of the traditional funeral. And later, when I had the opportunity to experience the viewing at the funeral home of another dear relative prior to burial, I realized why so many demand an actual viewing of the body for one last time. It is truly marvelous what cosmetics and chemicals can do to make this possible. Clearly when you see the body of someone you care very much about, looking close to normal but without the smiling eyes and joyous facial expressions remembered, the closure needed to get on with your life cannot be escaped.

So I guess it all boils down to this. If your primary concern is the dignity and honor of the ceremony, with the pomp and circumstance of the casket’s carriage and presence and what it adds to the memory, then you will probably opt for the traditional funeral and burial. If, however, cost is a major concern and the funds to be expended require tight constraints, then you can certainly see where cremation services might be more appropriate. But, in the final analysis, whether it is a traditional funeral or the use of cremation services, the choice is yours or that of your remaining loved ones. Make it wisely and plan ahead and you can rest knowing that your family will not be faced with the uncertainty of trying to guess what you wanted. That is one of the best memories you can leave behind showing your care and love for them.

God bless you all and remember, next week we will have a Christmas surprise for you and particularly your children. I hope you will enjoy it. See you then.

James Dick
Hawthorne, Florida
Author of Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark, now available at my book website
www.outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark
website: www.northfloridawriter.com