Monthly Archives: March 2014

Rejoice in the Glory of Springtime

For those of us of the Christian faith, we are always searching for signs of that prove the existence of Our Lord and Savior in our lives and nature clearly provides us with many examples clearing indicating that His power and glory are present.  None is more representative of this than the existence of the four seasons of the year, for each represents a visual representation of the different stages of life and, as we will later discuss, we can also find compelling support for never ending life as well. 

Making probate and estate plans we well as formal funeral plans including developing funeral checklists, determining funeral needs and funeral costs, even selecting appropriate funeral flowers are all things that are important to our family to ease their transition to life without us.  But life with all its beauty should be lived honorably while we enjoy it to its fullest with God in our heart as we prepare ourselves for the glory of Heaven which is in our sights if we choose to accept His promise.  So let’s take a short break from the mechanics and stories of the funeral planning task and look instead today at the bigger picture of our existence.

We Americans have all been through an unusual winter.  In a large portion of the country snow has been extremely heavy while in parts of the West a major drought continues.  Here in Florida our winter was not very cold, yet with all of the heavy rains and dampness the humidity of a forty-five degree night sometimes makes it seem worse than freezing.

Even when the weather is not extremely cold, excepting the truly tropical parts of our country, things look a little less promising in winter. Annual plants die, most trees drop their leaves and even where grass continues to grow it is not as green and lush as in warmer times.  The sky is hazier and the sun is out for shorter periods, limiting its brightness and warmth to our face.  Winter, despite its glory to cold weather lovers, is a season which arguably represents death of the old as the plant life dies or goes dormant waiting for the new warmth of the longer days ahead.

And, as if on nature’s curtain call, springtime suddenly is upon us.  The sun rises earlier and sets later, allowing more warming of the atmosphere and with it the birth of new life.  Grass, flowers, and fresh growth and leaves on trees all combine in a symphony of color and beauty which is amazing to behold.  The birds start singing their happy songs of welcome for the change and even the farm animals show more life.  It’s a glorious presentation that shows us the wonders of new life and all its wonders.

Spring truly represents Our Lord’s grace in two important ways.  We can see the evidence of birth and growth through annual plants which live and then die as well as the continuing and ongoing life of perennials which replenish themselves repeatedly.  To me, they can be used to explain both life itself and Eternal life where life is everlasting.

In the case of the annual plants, it is “born” from a seed and as the warmth of the sun sinks into the damp seedbed, the plant grows through the dirt and bursts through into the air, its growth flourishing even more from the direct of sunlight.  Notice that it needs two things to survive, the light and the water, just as do all living things.  But when the cold weather approaches later in the year, the annual plant withers and dies just like the man or woman who dies at the end of their earthly life cycle without finding the salvation of the Lord.

In the case of the perennial, it offers an example of the glory of being “born again’.  Its roots stay alive but dormant and after a long winter it again sprouts forth with renewed growth with continuing seasons frequently offering  and even stronger plant than before.  Compare that to the mortal man who, finding his Lord and salvation, continues growing stronger and firmer in his faith.  And the ongoing seasons can be looked at as Eternity, for many perennials if they are cared for properly will show themselves each spring for as long as we live. I have personally witnessed this for years with our beautiful bright red hibiscus.  This beautiful plant takes a beating when we get the occasional freeze and appears dead until early spring when they bounce back stronger than ever.

So rejoice in the spring and what is represents.  Look for the underlying meaning of all phases of life and you will see that God’s ultimate plan is intricate, connected and it leads to one ultimate and beautiful conclusion if we live for Him.

For behold, the winter is past.  The rain is over and gone.  The flowers appear on the earth, the time of singing has come, and the voice of the turtledove is heard in our land.  Song of Solomon 2:11-12 (ESV).

James Dick

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

Author page: www.outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark

 

 

“Rocket and Me”

INTRODUCTORY NOTE:  Death can bring many surprises about people.  Sometimes those who know the decedent best are as much in the dark as everyone about what was really special in their heart.  All of the necessary tasks associated with last minute funeral plans and execution including determining actual funeral costs and sources of payment (burial insurance and funeral insurance, etc.) are made even more difficult with this uncertainty.  A well organized decedent who was prepared in advance makes it much more manageable. 

In the case of a popular man who lived alone, the tasks of initially organizing the home for visitation and planning funeral meals and death notice and eulogy writing require immediate attention and can be stressful, but when something is learned that is unexpected yet positively displays the content of the man’s heart, things become much more a pleasure than a chore.  This story is about one of those situations.

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John and Mary Walters had been friends with Ben Williams for nearly twenty years.  Ben was a good next door neighbor but since the death of his wife, Susan, three years ago he was a different man.  His jovial nature had become subdued and he just seemed lost without her. The Walters’ knew that Ben had some heart problems but they had no idea if the problems were critical or just of a cautionary nature and he never offered any information. They still stayed in daily contact with him but things were never quite the same since the “light of his life” had been taken from him.

Ben’s only daughter, Sheila, had died about two years before his wife, and after both of his loved ones were gone his devotion was to his little pet dog, Rocket, a lively Jack Russell terrier.  Ben bought the dog about fifteen years earlier as a puppy and after Susan died he was his constant companion, accompanying him wherever he went.  He even had a license plate on his car which read “Rocket and Me.”

As if it was the last straw for Ben, Rocket developed a tumor and died two years after Susan and Ben was devastated.  He took the little dog’s body to a taxidermist and had it stuffed and mounted on a wood block that he could keep.  After he brought the figure of the dog home, no one ever knew what happened to it.  Even Ben’s best friend John would not bring the subject up; he knew that Ben felt this third death in a short time put him at his limit.

One beautiful spring morning while out on their morning walk, John and Mary realized that things seemed unusual at Ben’s house.  He was usually an early riser and his biggest enjoyment left in life was his prize rose garden where he could usually be found in the cool of the morning.  The couple couldn’t remember a day in months when Ben wasn’t out there working on his flowers during their walk.  They usually stopped to chat with him, sometimes even joining him for a cup of coffee before continuing.  John made a mental note to check on Ben if he wasn’t seen moving about by lunch time.

After lunch and with still no sign of Ben, John and Mary walked over to their friend’s home. The garage door was open with the car parked; the hood was cool to the touch and it had not been driven.  Ben usually took a quick trip each morning to the hardware store he had owned for thirty years and sold just after Susan’s death. The new owner loved Ben and always was glad to have him around, even offering to let him work part-time if he desired.  The fact that he had not been out of the house all morning increased their apprehension greatly.

John called Ben’s name and knocked hard on the inside door which led to the kitchen; there was no answer.  Calling his name again, he tried the handle and found it open.  Walking into the kitchen, he found the portable counter TV turned on but no John in sight. 

Both now being fearful, they entered the living room where a full cup of cold coffee sat on the coffee table next to an unopened newspaper.  From there, they split up, Mary going one way and John the other.

As John turned into the hallway toward the master bedroom, Mary shrieked from the Florida room.  Rushing to her, he found her sobbing and kneeling beside Ben’s body, face down on the Arabian rug he loved so much.  There was nothing they could do as he had no pulse and his body was losing normal temperature.

After calling 911 and waiting for the body to be removed, John went to John’s business desk in the study.  Even though retired, John, an attorney by trade, had agreed to be his friend’s executor and he knew where to find his important papers.  There in the center drawer was an oversized clasp enveloped with Ben’s signature across the seal and annotated “to be opened by John Walters only”.

John carefully opened it and found a series of smaller business envelopes, each labeled separately.  One was his last will and testament which John had prepared for him, the second was labeled property and financial information and the third contained funeral instructions.  John started with the funeral plan envelope since it was the one thing that required initiation right away.

Opening the envelope, John first found a hand-written instruction sheet on two pages of a legal sized tablet detailing his funeral notice and wishes for a church service at his place of worship, First Methodist Church with burial in his family plot next to his wife in the church cemetery.  He even specified type of casket and pallbearers.  The listing also referenced an additional smaller envelope contained therein which held additional special instructions.

As he opened it he was totally surprised.  First were two pictures of his little dog, one in life and the other as a lifelike stuffed and mounted remembrance, complete with his smiling eyes.  A note attached told John to bury Rocket with him in his casket.  Also in the envelope was a passbook to the local savings and loan with rights of survivorship passing to John.  A note attached said it was to be used for his final expenses and looking at the balance it had more than enough deposited to handle a first class funeral.  That was just like Ben, a cash and carry guy.

John covered the house and found the mounted Rocket in the floor by Ben’s bed and made the necessary arrangements with the funeral home to initiate the final funeral plans and include Rocket with Ben in the casket.

Ben took care of all other immediate matters and at the funeral Rocket was ultimately posed beside Ben as if he were sitting at his master’s side in final repose.  He remained in this pose throughout the viewing and the funeral and, when all was over, he was placed with his head on Ben’s shoulder before it was lowered in the ground.  It was actually very touching to all and was certainly memorable and the large audience saw a new side to the spirit of the lonely man that they liked but didn’t always understand.

John and Mary made arrangements for the reception after the funeral to be held in Ben’s side garden where the roses were in full bloom in the glorious sunshine.  They brought in two canopied tents for the caterers for serving lines and all enjoyed the beauty of nature as they chatted about Ben and his life.  Even his only known remaining direct relative, his nephew Freddie, came to the funeral.  John had trouble locating him and surprisingly found him living only fifty miles away in Wilmington.

Freddie was a retired soldier who had been disabled in Afghanistan.  He and his wife and little girl lived in an apartment in the nearby town where they were struggling to make do on his pension.  His wife, Sally, held a teacher’s certificate and was trying to get full time placement but thus far had only been able to secure substitute assignments.  A real surprise was about to be given to them, courtesy of Ben’s will and John’s astute work.

All of Ben’s estate, which was considerable, was given to charity with the exception of his home.  The house was granted to Freddie in Ben’s will and John was going to advise Freddie at the end of the reception.  What’s more, using a few contacts and some good luck, John had secured a teaching assignment in the local schools.  A teacher had to drop out two months before the end of the year and Sally was being offered the temporary assignment subject to being hired in permanent status if she handled the end of the school year well.

As the last of the guests were departing and John gave the catering crew the okay to close it down and clean up, he walked over to talk with the young Williams couple with Mary.  At first, they seemed dazed, then they smiled broadly and finally both Freddie and his wife hugged John and Mary.  It was a dream come true and they couldn’t believe their good fortune from an uncle that Freddie remembered and respected but didn’t know real well.  John told him it was from an appreciative uncle in honor of his service and sacrifice.

John told them to go back and get things finalized back at their apartment and he would start getting the house cleaned and in order.  The belongings left by Ben would be theirs if they desired, otherwise he would have things donated to charity.

That night after the long day, Mary hugged her husband tightly and said, “I’m proud of you, John, and I know that Ben is smiling in gratitude from his new home”.

“I don’t know about that, Mary”, he replied, “but I know there is one thing I did that will get his attention.  I donated what was left over from his funeral account to the new dog only park that the city is supporting and there will be a memorial picture at the gate dedicated to Ben and Rocket.  And the auto tag everyone in town recognizes will be included.”

As they relaxed and talked about the day, John was right. Ben, who now was looking down with Susan and with Rocket at his side, was grinning from ear to ear.  His funeral plans had been administered to perfection and with the added touches made possible by John, dog lovers all over town would learn and cherish the story of “Rocket and Me” for generations to come.

James Dick

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

Author page: www.outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark

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

 

Is Funeral Preplanning A Good Idea?

None of us like to think about our demise.  It’s a natural condition of the human spirit to want to avoid unpleasant things.   But as we’ve alluded to in some previous discussions, thinking about your ultimate end on this earth need not be unpleasant.  After all, if you are a believer and you have given yourself to Christ, the hereafter will be so magnificent when we enter the “Pearly Gates” that we’ll wonder why we were even concerned.

From our earth born experience, however, none of us wants to say goodbye to loved ones, even if it is just a temporary situation while we await them joining us, so our avoidance of the subject is understood.  But do we want to leave them in a situation where they are faced with uncertainty and unneeded stress in having to plan our final services and disposition.  The answer is clearly “No” and herein is some information which should help anyone dealing with the funeral planning issue.  It is provided courtesy of the National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA) website, nfda.org, which you might refer to for additional details.

Preplanning funeral arrangements has sometimes received a bum rap, but the term preplanning doesn’t necessarily mean prepaying.  Some like to pay upfront for services they know they will one day need while others want to make formal arrangements now while having them paid for from their estate proceeds at the time of need or using an existing funeral insurance and/or burial insurance policy to meet funeral costs. .  Both prepay and pay on delivery options are available and it’s really up to the consumer to decide the best approach for loved ones after they are gone..

Prior to the 1980s, rules governing what information must be made available and when it should be provided to consumers seeking services was largely left up to the individual funeral services provider. While nearly all providers were totally trustworthy and honest, a few bad apples used the lack of regulatory requirements to take advantage of grief and depression prone family members who were vulnerable.  Sadly, there are always a few such examples in any large industry. 

Due to publicity arising from a few nightmare scenarios, the Federal Trade Commission established the Funeral Rule in 1984, a requirement necessitating the provision of clear information and pricing of services and goods to consumers before any commitment is made.   The result has been a much more consumer friendly process which has eliminated one source of stress at a time of great uncertainty for families.

The NFDA realizes that funeral costs can change dramatically, that levels of cost vary greatly by individual desire and need and that individuals in today’s economy have to be very careful with their money today.  For this reason and in the spirit of the Funeral Rule, the organization established a Bill of Rights for Funeral Preplanning which fully explains the process and the needs of both the funeral organization and the consumer in preplanning funeral arrangements.  It takes away guesswork and makes costs of both services and products crystal clear. This means that misunderstandings are avoided and the consumer can make an intelligent decision within their means instead of one solely based primarily on emotion.  It further results in a win-win situation where the provider makes a fair profit for a needed service and the customer is provided value and quality with dignity and respect.  Win-win situations should always be the goal.

Going beyond this improvement and continuing to lead the way on behalf of its members and their customers, the NFDA established in 2000 the Model Consumer Protection Guidelines for State Preneed Funeral Statutes.  This document, which has been modified on several occasions to improve it since its inception, has been successfully used by state legislatures to set guidelines into law, thereby providing an enforcement mechanism where needed.  Having a sound means of resolving preplanning funeral arrangements efficiently and effectively is always a good thing.

So, in a nutshell, preplanning when looked at honestly is a very good thing.  And even if you are reluctant there is still something you can do.  Should you choose not to set up a formal plan with a funeral organization in the short term, you can still set up a plan on paper yourself for formal implementation later that will meet your personal wishes.  Call it your personal funeral planning guide if you wish.  Whatever the name, it will greatly reduce the headaches and stress faced by your loved ones when your ultimate fate arrives for it will give them a guide to follow.

Whatever you do, feel free to use the NFDA site for information and guidance; that’s why it’s available.  And by all means take your cue for action from a popular advertising slogan that everyone knows: Just Do It!  You will never regret it and your family will thank you for your thoughtfulness.

Have a great week and God bless you and our great nation.

James Dick

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

Book page: www.outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark

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

 

 

 

A Lesson in Saying Goodbye (Part Two)

After looking at an expensive funeral for a man of means last week, we now turn to a more modest example which shows how final rites can be done tastefully and with great respect and honor for a decedent without large expense.  As we will see the key is in a well thought out funeral plan, involvement of those who are close to the decedent in providing assistance and input as well as active involvement of the decedent while he is still of sound mind in finalizing the funeral plan .

 

Robert Hendricks was pondering the bad news he received.  A hard working pipefitter with the nearby renowned shipbuilding company, he just learned the cause of his cold and hacking cough that wouldn’t go away; he had terminal lung cancer.  The doctor informed him that it was advanced and that the odds for successful treatment weren’t high but that he had the option of aggressive treatment if he desired.

Robert thought about it and decided not to bankrupt his family in a losing fight for his life.  His resources were limited but his family would be able to survive on the savings that he had accrued as a thrifty man.  After all, his home was nearly paid off and he didn’t want his family to possibly lose their home to false hope.  He would leave things in the hands of the Lord. 

That night after dinner and with the teens asleep, he sat down and told his wife, Judy the bad news.  She asked him to set up an appointment for the two of them with the doctor.  She wanted to hear the details herself since she wasn’t convinced that giving up hope was the best option.  She just wasn’t ready to give up her husband.

Robert said he would honor her wishes, but he remained firm that he wouldn’t go through the treatment if it was likely futile.  While not happy, Judy said she would support him in his decision if it was the best option for the family and with that, she began to softly cry and while she hugged him tightly.

The meeting was held a few days later and, as Robert had told his wife, surviving for the long term would require a miracle.  The doctor said he probably would have two or three months of reasonably good health before his condition deteriorated rapidly.  Life expectancy was estimated at six months, maybe more.  Unfortunately, aggressive treatment would only delay the inevitable by no more than six months.  Even Judy’s desire for him to fight the cancer had to undergo a reality check after hearing this.

Robert’s employer processed his retirement quickly and allowed him the option of maintaining his health and life insurance under the most favorable options allowable.  He also immediately paid him for unpaid vacation and sick time and granted early disposition of his annual performance bonus which would have been distributed normally about three months later.  This gave the family a nice cushion to go with the savings that Robert could draw from while allowing Judy and the teens to handle the future.  Her job along with his savings and the pension benefits would make things doable.

Robert and Judy asked the teens, Billy and Suzy, to come in the den the next night for a family pow-wow.  The kids knew something was wrong but they both broke down when their dad told them why he was retiring early.  He hugged them both and told them that he loved them and that God makes the decision when it’s time to come home to Him.

“Think of it this way, kids”, he told them. “I’ve had a good life and I’ve watched both of you grow from babies into wonderful young adults.  You both have part of me in you and that will never change and my spirit will be with you always, just like God.”

He told them that their mother would need them to be strong and helpful and that they shouldn’t be sad because he knew that he was right with his Lord.  Besides, he was going to live each day like it was his last.  He was going to exercise regularly and eat well; he would do everything in his personal power to stay active and alive as long as he could.  He also knew that his good nature and upbeat personality would help.

A few days later when the emotional pain was not so acute and the entire family was beginning to accept reality, Robert asked Judy to help him draw up a funeral plan and his wishes for inclusion in his final rites.  He said he wanted it to be inexpensive yet respectful, something that would show the love of a simple man for his family and his God.

With a pad of paper and a pen they wrote up a plan for the employment of cremation services, a ceremony at their church and the spreading of ashes in the pretty little creek that ran through the woods at the rear of their rural homestead.  It would be simple yet tasteful and they would ask their close friends and neighbors to be a part of the ceremony by providing home grown seasonal funeral flowers for the service at the church.  It was indeed a closely knit neighborhood.  After the ceremony he wanted a country style funeral meal held outdoors in their beautiful meadow adjacent to the creek.  Arrangements were drawn up for a large canopied tent sufficient to hold a good crowd.

Robert actually had nearly six wonderful months after the plan was established before his health deteriorated.  He used the time to spend having fun and enjoying life with his family and friends.  He was relaxed, at peace with the world and he found it to be the happiest time of his life. 

Three months later on a Wednesday night at home with family and friends, he passed away peacefully.  Knowing that his time had come, he pulled an envelope out of the adjacent bedside table drawer and handed it to his beloved Judy.  It contained a handwritten copy of the plan they had devised and a significant sum of money.  He whispered to her that the money was to cover the cost of things; she wouldn’t even have to use the funeral insurance policy proceeds that he took out years ago.  Judy could use that money for other needs.

On the following Saturday in the early afternoon, a large crowd gathered at the Congregational Church.  Everyone in the small community knew Robert.  He was known as an honest man with a big smile and a strong belief in his God, a fine worker and loving husband and father.  Even the President of the Shipyard, a company with several thousand employees personally attended.  He said he had something he wanted to present as part of the ceremony.

The flowers throughout the church were home grown.  Many were native wildflowers from the meadows and they presented a rainbow of color and aromatic aromas that lifted spirits and filled the air.  The minister was decked out in his black robe with red trim and the choir was magnificent in their bright red robes accentuated with a silver accent.

After the short memorial message, scripture and prayer and a few heartfelt comments from Robert’s two children remembering the good times with their dad, Hank Spangler from the shipyard came forward with a rectangular object covered in cloth.  Taking the lectern, he unveiled an engraved plaque with a picture of Robert and a short description of his devotion to the quality and timeliness of his work, a level of performance which was rewarded by Robert being selected as a member of the company’s Wall of Fame, an honor not held by many as Spangler demanded perfection for recognition.  The plaque would be conspicuously placed on the honor wall in the company’s main entrance hallway. 

Throughout the service, the urn containing Robert’s ashes was prominently displayed on a table by the lectern; it had been carried in by Robert’s two children. Made of white porcelain, it was painted with a seagoing ship on one side and a simple gold Cross on the other.  It simply contained his name, year of birth and death, and the statement “I’ve gone home to my God.”

After the ceremony, most of the attendees followed the family with police escort to the Hendricks’ home where they assembled for the trek with family to the stream with the children again carrying the urn, accompanied by their mother and Reverend Jones.  Upon arrival, Judy Hendricks kissed the urn, said a few private words to her departed husband and removed the lid to the urn, sprinkling Robert’s remains in the fast moving clear water.  A backdrop of the sound of rushing water under a deep blue sky and the shadows from the surrounding woods accompanied the crowd’s unrehearsed “God bless you, Robert”, as his remains washed away.

Neighbors did most of the work for the funeral reception and it was truly a feast, a feast of celebration for a good Christian man.  There were portable folding tables provided by the church and a local school covered with checkerboard tablecloths and loaded with ham, turkey, fried chicken, assorted vegetables, baked goods and coffee and tea.  There was enough to feed the Army and all in attendance found the beauty and simplicity of this day honoring a simple but very good man to be exceptional and something they would never forget. 

And all who knew Robert were of the same opinion; they knew that from somewhere in Heaven above he was looking down and smiling, knowing that his loved ones and friends had honored his memory just the way he wanted.

Who says final goodbyes at the end of life have to be expensive and stuffy?

Have a wonderful week ahead and always remember to Praise His Holy name.  See you next week.

James Dick

Hawthorne, Florida

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

Book site: www.outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark

Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark, a Best Read for 2014