Monthly Archives: February 2014

A Lesson in Saying Goodbye (Part One)

The first funeral that a child is allowed to attend is really an important event in understanding life.  It means that they are deemed old enough to face the cold hard facts about death at life’s end, something which none of us can avoid.  If properly prepared and taught to believe in the power of God’s love, however, they will also understand it to be the beginning of something much better, eternal life. 

Some families are able to hold a large and festive event of celebrating a life while others, due to limited resources, don’t have this capability.  So I thought we could take a look at both the funeral and final rites of someone with resources abundant as well as someone of limited means.  The reason is to show that a respectful and memorable event can be held to match either situation if proper funeral planning has been done and organizations like Shared Sorrows can help you make it happen in either case.

This week we will look at the more elaborate, the funeral of a physician of means. Next week we will visit a funeral for a man of lesser means, showing how big and elaborate final rites are not always necessary to show the love and respect that those left behind have for the deceased.  In both cases, they were good and honest men respected for the way they lived their life, and the stories will be presented from the viewpoint of a child.  Children always pick up on the things that we adults sometimes miss and they are also very honest and open.

I hope you get something of value to think about out of both messages.



The little boy was dressed up and ready to go.  He had never been to a funeral before but now, at age eight, his parents thought it was time for him to understand more about death and how it is a part of God’s plan for each of us.  After all, he attended church and Sunday school and knew about Jesus’ death, so they thought it would be appropriate as part of the explanation of eternal life about which he had asked questions recently.

“Come on, Johnny, let’s go.  They aren’t going to wait for us at the church”, said Susan Watkins, his mother.

“Here I come, Mom”, he replied, “I feel dumb in this suit and tie.”

As he came down the stairs Susan just smiled and told him how handsome he looked.  This was his first suit and she knew he would come to appreciate dress clothes as he grew.

Mom, Dad and Patrick Watkins, husband and father, hurried to the car and they were off to the Methodist Church in town.  They were on their way to the funeral for Patrick’s good friend and Johnny’s Godfather, Sam Swanson, who had died suddenly of a heart attack.  Patrick had taken his good friend’s death hard on the first day after he heard the news but he was composed now.  He was, however, a little bit worried about Johnny since he was close with his friend and didn’t totally understand all that was happening.

As they arrived at the pretty white clapboard church with the red brick addition and the tall bell tower, a crowd was streaming into the church.  Sam was the Town of Prosperity’s only general practice physician and everyone knew him and liked him, especially the children who called him Doctor Sam because he could make them laugh even when receiving a shot.  He just had the type of personality that people liked to be around.

The church was decked out in beautiful flowers including lilies, white roses, and gladiolas creating a wonderful scent in the air.  Each pew had a red ribbon attached to the end, a color that was Sam’s favorite.  Even the pastor was in his finest purple and gold ministerial robe, something he didn’t always wear.  Sam liked formality at church as a sign of reverence to God.

Johnny and his parents were escorted to the third row behind Sam’s family reserved for close friends. While Susan and Johnny took their seats, Patrick took a brief moment to walk up to the first pew and offer a quick hug and hand to Sam’s wife Ellen. She nodded through her black mourning veil and made a courageous attempt to smile.  The words thank you could be read on her lips.

The service was formal and quick with Pastor Heflin offering words of praise for Sam while speaking of the Glory of Heaven and the salvation that comes to believers upon earthly death.  He pointed out that Sam was a man of few words but many short jokes and he followed that lead in his remarks. Before closing he also told a childhood story about Sam’s youth which added a cheerful touch.  Even Johnny laughed when he learned that Dr. Sam wasn’t a perfect kid; he was actually quite mischievous.

From the church, most of the attendees joined the procession to Evening Shade Cemetery where Sam was being buried in one of the block of plots that had been in the Swanson family for years. The cemetery was over one hundred years old and the history of Prosperity was told in the names of the deceased on the tombstones who built the town from scratch.  Sam’s marked plot had room for one other person, his wife Ellen, when the time came for her to be called home.  Their children were grown and had moved far away.

The canopy covered seating was semi-circular around the beautiful cherry casket with brass fittings.  It was atop a stand with the sides and ground covered so that no sign of the actual soon-to-be occupied grave could be seen.

Beautiful lilies adorned the area, offering a wonderful contrast with their dark green stems.   Three little doves were contained in a gold container beside the casket, cooing as if saying their last goodbyes to Sam, who had raised them.

After the final remarks, many passed by the casket saying their last goodbyes.  Little Johnny was given a single white rose which he lovingly placed on the casket, at long last crying as he realized the finality of his favorite man in the world next to his dad.  As they walked toward the car, Johnny looked back and said a little prayer for his good friend, Dr. Sam.

Johnny’s eyes brightened when he saw his friend, Will Spencer, who had been seated several rows back with his parents.  Will and his dad were having a mild argument as Will didn’t want to go to the reception saying it made him sad.

John Spencer looked at Johnny and his dad and said, “Johnny, do you want to go to the Doc’s house or would you rather come with Will.  His big sister is home and you could both stay with her while we adults go to the reception.”

Johnny looked at his parents, received a nod in response, and smiled broadly saying, “You don’t think Mrs. Swanson will mind, do you, Dad?  I certainly don’t want to upset her but I don’t want to be sad anymore.”

“Oh, I think she’ll understand and approve”, was the reply.

That settled it.  Johnny was off with Will.  The Spencer’s would drop the boys off and then go to the reception.

Back at Will’s house, the boys talked about the funeral since it was their first.  They realized that it was a sign that their parents thought they were old enough to handle one of the toughest things in life by being allowed to attend.  But they also knew that young boys had a long life ahead and they weren’t ready to be adults anytime soon.

While enjoying a movie in the den, the doorbell suddenly rang.  A truck from Hometown Caterers was there and they jumped up immediately and followed Will’s sister to the door.  A big man with a bigger smile was waiting patiently.  He had a huge delivery bag in his hand.

As the door opened he said, “Hi, kids, I’m Hank from Hometown Caterers. We are handling the food for the reception at Dr. Swanson’s home, may he rest in peace.   Mrs. Swanson thought you guys might enjoy some of the food.  It’s really good”.

All three thanked him, bid him goodbye, and took the bag to the kitchen table where they eagerly opened it.  In it were fancy party sandwiches, meatballs and cocktail sausages, cheese and crackers, small individual cakes and packets of fresh fruit and baked goods.  What a feast and they stuffed themselves.

Later, when the adults returned and Johnny said his goodbyes and headed home with his parents, Patrick asked him, “Son, did you learn anything from your experience today?  Is there something you would like to share with us?”

Johnny pondered for a moment and said, “Well, Mom and Dad, I learned that Mrs. Swanson and a lot of other people loved Doc Swanson.  They gave him quite a goodbye today.  And I think all of that was because they knew he would be going home to God.  And they sure did give him a good goodbye part. Don’t you think so, Dad?”

Patrick and Susan both smiled, knowing that they had made the right decision in including him in attendance at the funeral and responded, “Absolutely, Son, absolutely.”

A young boy learns something important about life and all who attended the good Doctor’s funeral will remember it clearly as a sign of love and respect.  What a fitting way to end a good man’s life.  Don’t you want to be remembered fondly yourself when your days or done?  As we’ll learn more next week, it’s not the size or the exquisite nature of the funeral that counts; it’s the love and devotion that accomplishes the desired result.

Have a great week and remember Him who brought you here and God bless America.

James Dick

Hawthorne, Florida


Book page:

Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark: Selected as a Best Read for 2014 by American Pet Magazine


Special Blog Item: Funeral Scam

Beware of a funeral scam!

The Federal Trade Commission is reporting a new scam that is being used regarding funeral announcements.  Criminals are posting phony announcements as representations of funeral organizations announcing a death via email.  Recipients receiving such postings have a tendency to open them if it’s about someone they know.  By doing so, they allow the sender entry to the computer to install viruses and malware which allow hacking and theft of personal information from the infected email account.  It is particularly effective against older Americans who are more accustomed to looking for and receiving notices concerning friends and family who are elderly.

Unfortunately, there is absolutely nothing that is totally hacker proof, but there are several steps that can be taken which will seriously limit the likelihood and, in conjunction with a good identity theft program, can ease your mind.

First, it is generally advisable to check out any email that could be questionable by other methods.  In the event that it lists a funeral home, find the phone listing for and call the funeral home to find out if it is valid.  If it involves a service like Shared Sorrows, contact the service directly, but not by direct response to the email in question.  The general rule of thumb is if you aren’t sure about the incoming address or sender, don’t open it.

Second, purchasing and maintaining a good identity theft program is a good idea.  There are many of them; in some cases your bank might have one.  These reputable businesses, with your approval, monitor your financial accounts, your email and even your address for indications of fraud and notify you immediately and assist you in shutting access down.  I personally use a program of this nature and have had several occasions where a scam attempt to steal my identity was quickly thwarted.  It’s much easier to maintain a good credit rating than it is to recover it, even in a case where you were not at fault.

So enjoy the computer but use it wisely.  Keep your guard up and realize there are many devious characters out there creating ways to steal your information.  If you have a quality identity theft monitor, once you contact them it should be taken care of.  If not and you suspect that an attempt has been made against you, notify your financial institution, other major credit accounts, and the local authorities.  The sooner you report it the quicker and less damaging the resolution will be.

God bless you and God have mercy on the souls of those who do such evil things. If they put their brilliant minds to work for legitimate functions they would be millionaires instead of criminals.  How sad.

James Dick

Hawthorne, Florida


Author page:


A Lack of Preparation

Ted Willis lived next door to a funeral home director, Bob Barrow.  They had been friends for many years and Ted always told Bob that when he was ready to make plans for his ultimate demise he would let Bob know.  Bob had even gone so far as to bring him a funeral planning kit, complete with a funeral checklist, information about probate and estate planning, analysis data on funeral costs and funeral expense plus a burial insurance brochure.  Ted thanked him, gave it a cursory look and then put it in his desk file for later reference.

Ted had been promising his wife, Susan that they would take a long overdue trip skiing as a second honeymoon. Ted worked hard as a Professional Engineer and he hadn’t done something special for just the two of them in a long time.  Besides, her parents, Mark and Emily Mears, lived in the same town and always wanted to keep their two girls so there was really no reason to delay any longer.

Ted kept the plans secret but he knew how much his wife enjoyed the mountains.  She had grown up in Fairbanks, Alaska and now living on the Gulf Coast she would love a change of scenery from seashore and flat land.  Some really cold weather would also be nice. He decided to take her to Colorado where they could enjoy the snow and do some skiing.  Both had been very good skiers when they were first married and they would just need to refresh their skills and limit their exercise to the moderate slopes.

Two weeks later, Ted and Susan said goodbye to their children Becky and Angela, thanked Susan’s parents for coming to stay, and headed for the airport.  The weatherman indicated good ski weather with some off and on snow and plenty of powder already on the ground.  They boarded their plane in Gulfport for the beginning of the flight to Denver via change of planes in Memphis. 

About six hours later they landed in Denver and caught the shuttle to the rental car pick-up point.  The driver asked where they were headed; he showed concern when they said Steamboat Springs.  He told them they might want to delay for a day since a surprise storm was brewing but they felt sure things would be okay.

About twenty minutes out of Denver it began lightly snowing.  By the time their exit point on I-70 to Highway 40 North toward Steamboat Springs the snow had become heavy, but there was no sign of road closure so they kept going, watching the storm further intensify.  Noticing that the traffic was almost non-existent, they began to become concerned but there was really nowhere to turn around due to the snow piling up everywhere along the curvy roadway.  Then suddenly, disaster struck.

The car hit an icy page and started spinning out of control.  It careened toward the shoulder and slipped over the side, dropping into a thirty foot ravine.  Flipping twice, it came to a stop at about a thirty degree angle on its side.  The seat belts had kept them safe but they were momentarily disoriented. 

He tried to get the door open but it was wedged into a snow bank which covered about two thirds of the front of the car.  There was no getting out and the vehicle was quickly becoming covered in near blizzard conditions. Their heavy cold weather gear was in the trunk with no way to get to it.

Ted hugged his wife close and tried to use his cell phone but there was no service.  He prayed that someone would find them in the cold because his engine wouldn’t start and it was now freezing inside the car.  As he slowly became numb he thought about his wife, his two precious girls and how difficult things would be for them if something miraculous didn’t happen.  And he wished that instead of this special trip he had taken Bob’s advice and used that funeral planning kit while he still could.  The last thing he did before falling unconscious was to scribble a note of love to his girls telling them to get help from their next door neighbor in what they would have to do.


When Emily Mears had no word from her daughter of safe arrival by the next day, she called the inn in Steamboat Springs.  She was informed that the couple never checked in but they may have spent the night en route because of the bad weather.  The innkeeper said that if they weren’t there by nightfall he would notify the Highway Patrol.  At six p.m. sharp he did so.

The Highway Patrol was busy that night, there were a large number of cars stranded or missing and they were searching the roadway from Steamboat Springs all the way back to I-70, a long and grueling stretch of road with the conditions very poor.  They pulled out a number of stuck cars with many motorists suffering from frostbite and they even found a couple of cars that had left the roadway with occupants deceased, but no one found Ted and Susan Willis in the ravine under a snowbank.

Four days later, after a quick thaw and bright sunshine, the car was spotted and the unlucky couple was found dead, frozen to death while huddled together. They also found the note Ted had written still clutched in his stone cold hand.

When the phone rang after four days, the Mears’ knew the news wasn’t good. They were informed of the death and also told about the note.  Since they knew the neighbor, Bob Barrow, they called him immediately and told him of their sadness and about the note.  He had been very comforting to them in the past few days and they knew how fond he and his wife were of Ted and Susan.

Bob immediately came over and took the information very hard.  He asked if they would give permission for him to start looking into funeral arrangements since, as difficult as that was, it had to be done quickly. He told them that since he knew Ted never used his funeral planning kit he would need their help, but first he would have to talk with the Ted’s trust officer, who handled the trust for the children which was the guiding force for the will. They immediately concurred and he quickly got to work.

About a week later the bodies of Ted and Susan Willis were received at Barrow’s Funeral Home.  The arrangements were taken care of, the beautiful memorial service and burial were carried out masterfully and, with the help of their grandparents who were given custody of the two girls, life would go on.  The parents would certainly be missed, but they would be remembered forever and the family was able to attain closure.

But what if Ted and Susan didn’t have a good friend like Bob Barrow and grandparents nearby who loved, and were dearly loved by, the girls?  What would a grieving family do to face loss of both parents at once while also having to plan and carry out final arrangements quickly?  That is the reason for presenting this sad but realistic situation, many similar events happening all too often these days.  Life can throw some strange curve balls and it is certainly easier to handle them if we are prepared.  Be ready for all possibilities for we never know when it is our time to be called home. Act accordingly.

God bless you all and have a great week.  And keep the Holy Spirit in your soul and the love of your country in your heart always. God bless America.

James Dick

Hawthorne, Florida

Author of Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark, a Best Read Selection for 2014 by American Pet Magazine


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The Mind Needs Exercise, Too (Part 2 of 2)

This week we’ll stay on the subject of maintaining personal health by focusing on the mind.  Along with physical exercise, mental exercise is critical to keeping our overall health excellent so that we can live a longer and higher quality life.  This doesn’t mean that funeral planning and all of its factors, from probate and estate planning, to determining funeral costs, evaluating the value of burial insurance or funeral insurance, and even learning how to deal with grief and depression are not important. Rather, it means that good health will make us stronger and much more able to deal effectively with these and other tasks and challenges that life brings our way.  Each of them are important when the time comes, and whatever we can do physically and mentally to be better fit for them will be of great benefit.

Doing what we can to maintain mental fitness is every bit as important as the physical side.  One without the other leads to a partial existence, yet when combined together our capacity for accomplishment increases many fold.  Maintaining full functionality and alertness of mind is a never ending workout.  Mental exercise is a major force for a positive attitude and the provision of a long and meaningful life. It also makes a person better able to cope with problems and thereby avoid issues such as serious bouts with grief and depression in those times when your life might be in turmoil.  Additionally, it helps to ward off the incursion of negative thoughts.

My dear departed mother had a little saying that she used on me constantly when I was a boy.  It was simply this, “An idle mind is the Devil’s workshop”.  Some of you who are older like me may have heard it and it pretty well expressed her expectations that my daily life should be busy.

Mom was a very old fashioned girl and in those days children were expected to be busy.  School, chores, play and homework were all part of the daily routine, something which sadly is missing today with many young people.  The components of the day kept me well rounded and fit and by the end of each day I was tired and ready for bed.  Television was not part of the weekly schedule unless it was a special treat and it was at an early hour.

Mom spent most of her life being very active and this included her constant efforts to maintain her mental alertness even as she aged.  She maintained hand and eye coordination knitting quilts and making doll clothes for the local medical auxiliary charity drives.  Her work was always a hit and sold out quickly.  It’s too bad that we children didn’t appreciate her delicate handiwork as they would be collector’s items today.

She also loved crossword puzzles and I can remember her earnestly checking with her handy dictionary as she worked on them.  Her acuity was also seen when we had play a family game of Scrabble and her talent was formidable.  She just giggled as she won hands down.

Only when her physical pain from debilitating arthritis finally limited her physical mobility in her last years of life did her mental skills start to diminish.  By that time she wasn’t reading and working with words as much and watched more television.  The passivity of television in place of the active interface with the visual word took its toll and was markedly noted with the onset of dementia.   She died about two years later at the age of ninety-one.

I mention my mother’s situation to show just how important keeping the mind active is to good mental health and vitality.  Reading, writing, playing mind games and other such exercises are truly good for maintaining sound capacity.  And these things are also enjoyable and allow us to continue a useful life even when we become frail physically.  I even knew of an elderly blind man who despite his handicap continued writing actively in braille. He even kept copious notes from radio programs as a means of practice.

We can’t stop the process of aging entirely, but we certainly can impede it and thereby allow for a longer span of active life than we might experience otherwise.  So the next time your find yourself in a situation facing grief and depression, get busy.  Write that letter that you’ve been putting off, read a good book or write that book that you’ve always wanted to do.  It will enhance you and make the world look so much better.  And it will certainly fill that void where the idle mind opens you to negative factors.  Stay positive, use your mind productively and you will be richly rewarded by your results.

Until next time, have a wonderful week, God bless you and God bless America.

James Dick

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Book pages:



Aging Well: Step Lively for Longer Life (Part 1 of 2)

Since I began blogging for Shared Sorrows, we’ve talked in some detail about funeral planning and some of the questions we have about what is included in a good plan. Will the estate need a probate attorney and if so, does this mean probate and estate planning must be done early to protect the estate? Should a funeral fund or funeral insurance program be established? What about the need for grief care in the event grief and depression become extremely difficult for our loved ones? These are just some of the things that should be considered, but what about the remainder of our own lives? What steps can we take now to help us maintain better health for a longer life?

I think back to when I was in my 30s and my mom was in her late 60s. She’d tell me when I visited her, “Son, if you want to live a long life, get off the couch and get active.”

Mom always enjoyed a brisk daily walk. Living near a large wooded park, she loved to traverse the walkways with friends, enjoying the beautiful trees and the abundant small wildlife that resided there. And even though she had some arthritis that sometimes slowed her down, unless she was having a bad spell she always took her daily walk. A former nurse, she was convinced that keeping the blood flowing was the best medicine for good health. And few things you can do are better at warding off the feelings frustration or thoughts of grief and depression that many of us face in uncertain times.

Now that I’m in my 60s myself, I have to admit that she was certainly right. Oh, I always stayed in good physical shape as a younger man, but as we age and we develop those nagging little aches and pains it is always easy to make an excuse for not being active. But remembering what Mom said I have always tried to keep a good exercise routine in place.

Let’s talk about a few easy things we can do to help us meet that goal of a long and healthy life. They take a little time, but in retirement years, when maintaining fitness is so critical to remaining active, we generally have plenty of free time available. And these steps don’t need to be expensive; it’s all in the specific program you want. There are two aspects that I want to include: aerobics (for cardio maintenance) and weight training (to maintain good muscle tone). We’ll look at them separately.

Aerobics. The idea of a good aerobics exercise program is to give the heart a workout which will keep that organ, a pulsing, life giving machine, toned and fit. An increased heart rate through a good exercise program helps maintain good blood flow and proper blood pressure. It also plays a major role in keeping cholesterol under control as it improves the “good” cholesterol (HDL) to counteract the “bad” (LDL). If you’ve been sedentary, it is important to talk with your doctor first; he can advise you on what type of exercise is appropriate to start with and how you can enhance it as your fitness level improves. Frequently a stress test is performed to make sure that the body is fit enough to start and to establish a bench mark.

a. Jogging. If you have been active to this point and your jogging has created no health issues impacting your workout, you can continue this exercise in later years. There are some marathon runners in their eighties, people who have lived in the fashion of Jack LaLanne, the ageless fitness guru who ran into his early nineties. This, however, is the exception rather than the rule. But if it fits your lifestyle and your health level checks out, go for it. Even in the case of knee problems, use of a treadmill can be feasible for many and some of the equipment today simulates a real running environment as well.
b. Walking. This is probably the best and most appropriate for people getting older. You can start off slow and over time increase both your speed and distance. Remember, the better level of shape maintained, the more you can challenge yourself if you desire. Make sure you have good walking shoes and a safe course that you can follow. It can be on the sidewalk around your neighborhood or in a park or on a hiking trail, and the goal is to work up to a level where you can manage a minimum of thirty minute session at least three, preferably more times per week work while working up a sweat and increasing your pulse rate and breathing. Remember, however, if you feel pain or can’t catch your breath you need to slow down. The walk routine should be something enjoyed not something damaging.
c. Organized or individual aerobics. Some of us have trouble doing independent exercise on a regular basis. We can get bored or maybe it’s because there is no one to push us onward. Aerobics programs such as Aerobicize were designed for this purpose. Such activities are simply a paced workout (the pace being set is according to the capabilities of the audience) set to music with an assigned leader to direct the actions to be performed. It offers relief from boredom, a basis for competitiveness and should be exhilarating. Going through the various motions to the beat of the music is always helpful to make the time go by in an enjoyable fashion. The leader is also there to encourage, direct and gently push the participants to completion. In the event that you don’t want to do it in group format, there are many aerobics videos that can be purchased for home use. All you need is a DVD player and enough room in front of the screen to perform the exercises and you are set. The music and a leader plus a workout group are usually featured in the video and you can simulate doing your exercise routine in their company.

Weight training. Here I am not talking about bench pressing to see how much weight you can handle, rather, I am talking about muscle toning. As we get older we unfortunately have a tendency to get flabby. In the case of men it is particularly common in the upper torso where our pectoral muscles can start to resemble a bowl full of Jell-O. The upper arm area is also prone to this; women particularly are susceptible to this. And the law of gravity seems to always work against us with the buttocks, hips and stomach growing with variances by gender. An active aerobics program along with muscle toning is the best defense against these problems, especially if teamed with a sensible diet.

I recommend that if you are not in good shape and you haven’t used weights before, perform the exercise motions for a week without the weights and then add light hand weights, starting with one or two pounds. If you are already reasonably toned, you can begin at higher levels. For most of us getting older who aren’t interested in becoming an aging Charles Atlas, hand weights of about five pounds are sufficient although the more ambitious might use eight pounders. You might also want to add ankle weights for added resistance, but be careful not to overdo. It’s entirely up to you but, again, make sure to consult with your doctor first if this routine is complete new to you. If after a period you feel fine and want even more resistance, there is no rule that says you can’t do more. Each of us has different strength levels and limitations. You can research toning programs by just searching on line, at the library or at a book or video store and, of course, through your doctor. Try out a few different programs until you find the one you like best and remember, it’s something that you want to use regularly and you want it to be enjoyable, not something you dread.

Each type of exercise program, including jogging, walking, aerobics and muscle toning will grow on you the more you do it. Your body will actually tell you when it misses the exercise and will practically make you feel guilty if you cheat on your schedule. And the results will be better health and you will both feel and look better. Plus if you are prone to “down days” with bouts of sadness or grief and depression, you will find that a regular exercise program will brighten your spirits immensely. So let’s go ahead. Let’s put a little spring back in our step.

When we meet again next week we’ll talk about the other half of staying on top of our game. We’ll talk about staying alert and sharp mentally. God bless you all and have a good week. And God bless America.

James Dick
Author of Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark,
Available on line from or
Selected as a Best Read of 2014 by American Pet Magazine