Till Death Do Us Part

Till Death Do Us Part

Fox News reported this week that 90 year-old Floyd Hartwig and his 89 year-old bride died hand-in-hand this month at their home in Easton, California. The couple had been married 67 years. Their daughter, Donna Scharton said that as the family sensed that death was imminent, they moved the hospice beds side by side so the couple could be arm-in-arm in their last hours. Violet stood loyally by her husband’s side during Floyd’s Navy service and then during his battle with bladder and colon cancer in his 60’s. In spite of his health problems, Floyd stood by his wife’s side as she began to experience the effects of dementia and a series of strokes in her later years.

With assistance from Hospice, the couple was able to remain together in their beloved home until the end. Floyd passed away first and Violet followed five hours later. The family made sure the caskets were placed at an angle with flowers between signifying their abiding love for each other.

 

Selecting Funeral Clergy or Eulogist

MicrophoneSmall

So you’ve basically completed your own funeral plan. You’ve taken out a funeral insurance policy to cover the funeral costs and funeral expenses that your estate is likely to incur, you’ve selected an obituary writer and drawn up an outline of what you want covered, and you’ve even addressed other funeral needs. But now you are faced with a problem. You are not sure about the funeral clergy requirement and what you want said.

Maybe you’ve had a bad experience at a particular church or maybe you even doubt the existence of a Higher Being. Perhaps you’ve been to a funeral where you thought the comments were not inclusive or they contradicted your point of view. Or maybe it means you have personal decisions about your faith and beliefs that need to be made. Whatever the reason, determining who will officiate at your funeral is important since it will determine how your life is presented to your loved ones and friends as a means of remembrance. Clearing the air, thinking through your thoughts and reaching an answer not only makes it easier for you to finalize your plans, it can also open your eyes and dramatically change your life.

Uncertainty is a common problem for many today. With the nuclear family and the constant relocation of household units during a life’s career, it is more difficult than ever before. Back in the old days, when many Americans grew up and lived their lives within a small geographic area, it was not uncommon for a family to attend the same church with a limited number of different ministers throughout their life. Today, the changes in life have also brought with them the likelihood of attendance at many different churches, often of different denomination or doctrine, and it can be difficult to decide what specific clergyman or woman matches up with you and your beliefs. And if you are not a church goer or are unsure of your beliefs, you need to think very carefully about what you want said at your final ceremony ending life. It can be very confusing and even troubling.

From my personal viewpoint it is sad that there are so many of us today who don’t have a strong basis for our own lives based upon faith in a loving God, a God who gives us hope for the future through His love and grace. But if we don’t, and since our decisions are based upon our free will, shouldn’t we at least ponder the possibility? It doesn’t cost anything and while for some of us it will make no difference, for others it could totally change the direction of your life. It’s never too late for that.

For those of you who are unsure and questioning about your beliefs, I am providing a series of questions about faith which I hope will be helpful to you in really knowing who you are. It will also help you decide whether or not you want a funeral clergyman or just an official with no religious significance. Even if you think you are set in your way, it can do no harm to consider these questions for, remember, the answers are entirely up to you and only you will know what you think about them unless you desire to share the information.

1. Do you believe in God as the Creator of all Life? If so is your belief Christian, Jewish, other? These questions are designed to determine what your actual religious beliefs entail from the perspective of a Creator. It should start you thinking about your place in the Creation.

2. Do you believe in the tenets of the Holy Bible or some other religious doctrinal foundation? Here we begin to explore the documentation with which your beliefs were developed and what they mean to you. This is your foundation for what you believe.

3. Do you believe in Heaven and Hell? If so, what do you see as the differentiation between the two and do you believe in Life after Death? The questions of the purpose of life enter here and the resultant consequences for the way you live your life. You have free will but you must understand that the decisions you make will impact you directly, be it good or bad.

4. If no to the above, do you have a different context of a religion or do you have no religious beliefs? Here those who have another concept of religion will have the opportunity to focus on what really provides meaning in their life. If the resultant finding is a void it will open them up to deep self- scrutiny. Sometimes we can find that we are truly searching for meaning and haven’t found it yet.

5. Do you want a religious ceremony? If not, do you want a secular ceremony with a memorial presentation of your life? Eulogies by family and/or friends? This will clearly separate those who want the religious connotations foremost in their final rites or not. The impact of the family is considered here because the funeral actually benefits the living that are in attendance and, because of this, it may change the way you look at your presentation to others. Example, your wife is very religious yet you aren’t. What kind of conflict does this create and do you accept that or you may even want to change things.

6. Do you have an idea of who you want to officiate or, if not, do you know if qualified persons are available near your location? You may want an officiant, or religious official or clergy, which requires specific religious qualifications or someone instead to officiate which can be anyone you desire.

7. If you are a non-believer, what kind of official do you want and what kind of background do you want presented? This question, after the buildup in prior questions, begs the cold, hard option of non-belief. You may very well find that by this point in the questionnaire your feelings of non-belief have disappeared and you find yourself to be a believer, just uncertain of your specific beliefs. Introspection frequently does this.

8. What part does your family play in this decision? Again, as alluded to earlier, most people want their family to be proud of them and if your non-religious option causes heartache and sadness from those you love, you may want to look inward and address the cause.

9. Are you still considering where you really stand on your beliefs and do you need help and guidance in addressing your needs? If you are now in turmoil because of the earlier questions, that is a healthy sign that you really aren’t sure where you stand. As long as you are alive it is never too late to open your heart and soul to love. As for help; there are many good people available who will help you find yourself and your place.

10. Finally, what kind of image of yourself do you want to project to be remembered by? Bingo, the image you want to reflect, once you fully realize what it is, is what you truly want to be. And that’s the purpose of the questionnaire, to help you identify the truth about yourself.

I hope that those of you who took time to address the questions have learned something about yourself. I used it myself long ago and it really got me thinking about what I want to leave behind as my personal legacy to those I love. The questions forced me to look at myself openly and honestly in evaluating my beliefs and, in my case, they made me a better Christian. While I thought I knew the answers before I began, I found that my desire for having a funeral clergy of my Christian faith, one in tune with my individual views of many differing alternatives became clearly important. Whatever your particular faith, I hope it might have a similar result for you and, for those who either don’t acknowledge a God of love and grace or have doubts about Him, I hope this might open your heart. There’s a wonderful life ahead for all of us and it need not be limited to our life on earth.

Have a wonderful week and God bless you all.

James Dick

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

Book page: www.outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark

Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark portrays my family life with animals living with and near me at my farm in North Florida. Animals are truly a gift from a most gracious Father above.

 

Baby Boomers Look for Individuality in Final Rites Of Passage

BeDifferent

Recently while surfing the net I read an article by Martha White, a writer for NBCNews.com, in which she discusses how baby boomers are looking for ingenuous ways to present their personality through their final arrangements. Even in death, they want to show who they were and what they enjoyed after they are gone.

Being a boomer myself, it made me sit back and think about my own life experiences as well. I’ve been blessed to have a full life with lots of great memories. Even though I expect to have many good years left ahead, it made me ask myself the question: How do I want to be remembered and what would best represent me? After all, when I’m called from this world to be with my Savior, the most important things I will leave behind are the memories of my life for my loved ones. Material things are just earthly “stuff”, meaningless in God’s big picture of things, but the memories of how we lived our lives is our real legacy,

Some boomers want to create special effects to help leave that lasting mark. As an example, take the sports enthusiast. For the football fan, an urn with the colors and logo of their favorite team might be the ticket while the NASCAR fan could have an elaborate car model urn with the number of a favorite driver. In the case of a traditional burial, perhaps a special engraving on the casket or favorite colors for the casket liner could be used. Depending on local requirements, a special etching on the tombstone might be another possibility, thereby leaving a lasting impression to be seen by anyone visiting the grave site. Using imagination, anything is possible.
Whatever the choice, those left behind are the ones who will experience the ceremony. The addition of special touches planned by the decedent while still alive will certainly add a personal touch. Its memory will grow even more significant with time, when special and unique images stay vivid long after others have faded away.
In my life’s circumstance, with the love of horses that I acquired from my wife, I want things to be very simple and efficient but also unique. I have decided to be cremated with my ashes placed in a special urn. It will be emblazoned with a dark stallion on one side and the American flag with Infantry crossed rifles beneath it on the other. It will proudly recognize both my love of horses and my love of country and the Army which I proudly served as an active duty officer.

While this will eliminate the hurry to conduct a funeral, it will allow those in my family to gather and remember my life after the initial impact is over. The event should be a celebration, not a sad and grief-stricken moment. I would like it to take place in the comfort of my home and I hope there is laughter and good cheer. I see the end of this life as the beginning of a joyous eternal one.

On that day, my ashes will be spread across the pasture where our horses spend most of their time. Once completed, a special bronze plaque will be affixed to the barn near the entry flagpole which is lighted and proudly displays Old Glory 24/7. Now here’s the kicker, the plaque will contain the following statement: “James Dick’s ashes are in the pasture. May the horses run with him in death as they did while alive. RIP.” The words might change, but you get the idea and I think it will make people smile and laugh. Laughter is a great remedy for sorrow.
Why did I offer this personal example? I use it to clearly point out that each of us boomers is an individual with unique life experiences worthy of being shared. We want to be able to vividly express them, and creativity at the end of life is a wonderful way to do so.

What does this mean to the funeral services industry going forward? It means that professionals in the field must be forward looking and able to think out of the box. No longer will their customers just accept the standard offerings of services and continue to pay top dollar for them. This new trend is still in its infancy, but it will certainly grow. We boomers usually get what we want and are rather demanding about it.
The boomer market is a financial force to be reckoned with as well. This category of Americans, born between 1946 and 1964, began reaching retirement age in 2011 and the numbers will significantly ramp up quickly. It makes up over one quarter of the population and as its age progresses, the need for final memorial products and services meeting their demands will also increase. With nearly two and one half million Americans dying each year and related spending approaching twenty billion dollars, it is easy to see their importance.

Meeting the demands of this trend is where an organization like SharedSorrows.com can really be of assistance. This fine online professional group is not a funeral home trying to sell you a pre-packaged program based upon what provides the best profit margin and within their limited operational parameters. Quite the contrary, Shared Sorrows assists you with tools to develop and implement your own plan and provide you with cost effective and efficient ways and vendors to do so. In this way, you can make the plan you want and have it ready to go when it is needed. You can keep your money earning and compounding while knowing that when your days are done, those left behind will know exactly what to do.

God bless all of you and enjoy the rest of your life, boomers. God expects us to enjoy this precious gift He has given us. Live it to the fullest.

Written by: James Dick, Hawthorne, Florida

 

Secure Your Valuables!

As if mourning was not enough!

Police in Suitland, Maryland—a Washington DC suburb—have reported that thieves have broken into cars at Washington National Cemetery. These merciless thieves prey on those who arrive at the cemetery to attend burial services for a loved one. While the incident appears to be isolated, it serves as a reminder that security cannot be ignored even at a time of grief. Here are a few tips to insure callous thieves won’t make the worst of a very troubling time:

• Secure the home of the decedent during visitation, funeral services and burial as well as other gatherings that take place away from the home.

• Ask the funeral director to instruct everyone attending a burial to lock their cars at the funeral home and the cemetery.

• Do not leave anything of value at the gravesite. Thieves across the country have stolen everything from flowers (which they resell) and copper flower urns atop graves since copper prices have skyrocketed.

• Purses and other valuables should be guarded during visitations and other gatherings.

SharedSorrows.com offers additional tips on our Time-Of-Need Checklist as well as our Post-Funeral Checklist.

 

Beware these Insurance Policies!

It is quite common for family members to feel the need to purchase insurance after the death of a family member or close friend. Often, they are motivated to protect other family members from the financial stresses that occurred after the recent loss. While the motive is noble, there is still reason to proceed with caution. Jay McDonald recently posted an article entitled “14 Useless Insurance Policies.” Included in that list are:
- Accidental death insurance
- Cancer/dreaded disease insurance
- Optional group life insurance.

Gail Hillebrand, senior attorney for Consumers Union says, “All of the single-purpose insurances turn out to be a bad deal.” MacDonald adds, “…on more than a dozen policies—especially narrowly focused single-purpose coverage on things like accidental death, cancer, credit card fraud and mortgages—we simply fall victim to fear and salesmanship…”

At SharedSorrows.com, we receive calls weekly from grieving families who are struggling to find a way to pay for the funeral services of a loved one. Rather than purchasing a pre-paid funeral plan, funeral insurance or accidental death insurance, we strongly recommend purchasing a term-life insurance policy from a reputable insurance company. Single-purpose policies (such as funeral insurance) restrict the ways in which insurance proceeds may be used. Thus, if you can only afford a $15,000 policy, is it more important to you to have an elaborate funeral—or to have a reasonable funeral, and have remaining funds that will allow a family member to travel to the services or funds to allow your spouse to pay off the mortgage? Make sure the policy will protect you and your loved ones—not enrich unethical funeral service providers!

 

Burial Liners or Vaults: What are they & Do I Have to Buy one?

The Funeral Director has just told you how much the funeral will cost, then there is the cost of the casket and the cemetery plot—but now you find out that the cemetery requires the purchase of a liner or vault.

Really?

What’s The Difference? A liner can best be described as a concrete box with no bottom. Its purpose is to distribute the weight of the dirt that will fill the plot after the casket is in place. It also prevents the plot from caving in over time as the casket deteriorates. A vault is a fully enclosed concrete “box” that has been treated to keep moisture out. It is significantly more expensive.

Do I Really Have to Buy One? The simple answer is “yes” cemeteries generally require the purchase of a liner.

What about the costs? The Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule allows you to buy these items from a third-party vendor. If the cemetery is not owned by the funeral home, then ask the funeral director if the funeral home has liners for sale. We recently saved a family $100 with just this one suggestion! Online ordering is generally cost-prohibitive because of the shipping costs though you may want to check what is available in your area.

 

Selecting a Cemetery

Not all cemeteries are created equal—so investigate before you buy. Today let’s talk about selecting the right cemetery and then next week we can talk about selecting the right plot.

First of all, though I will refer only to “cemeteries” here, I’m including similar properties as well. You may wonder, “what’s the difference between a cemetery, a memorial park and a memorial garden? It’s really pretty simple: a cemetery will generally allow upright markers whereas the park or garden generally require flat markers. Flat marker requirements were adopted because they reduce the incidence of vandalism and grounds maintenance is much easier.

The most important thing I want to know about a cemetery or memorial park is the status of their perpetual fund—that is, the fund that will pay for the care and maintenance of the grounds. Do they have one? Who holds and controls the funds? How much of that fund is being used each year? A number of cemeteries across the USA have largely depleted their funds—and their cemeteries shows it! One final note here—generally the perpetual fund will not pay for maintenance to your plot, this remains your responsibility.

Next, “it’s all about location.” A family I know lived most of their lives in one city in the southeast. In later years, everyone moved away—leaving one daughter to fret about “moving away from mom” who had been buried there years earlier. Ultimately, they had the body exhumed and moved to another city! Here are a few questions to ask:
How often will we realistically visit the cemetery?
Is this a location that will remain central for those who plan to make regular visits?
Is the section of the cemetery where plots are available pleasant and well-maintained?
Is it far away from streets where it might be more subject to vandalism?
Is there room for other family members in this area if they wish to be buried here?
Is the plot in an area where regular foot traffic will be walking directly on or near it?
Will you charge me extra fees if I purchase a marker from a third-party provider?

Finally, I recommend you inquire about fees and requirements. Do not assume that once you have purchased a plot your obligations are over. Most require a crypt or liner which you can generally purchase from the cemetery, the funeral home or a third-party provider. Checking out your options can save you a lot of money!

 

Consternation at the Cemetery: Lesson Two

Last week we discussed the plight of a family when they got the “Oh by the way you owe an additional $1250” story from the cemetery where their elderly relative had pre-purchased her plot.

Unfortunately, there is a second tale of woe from their experience. One internet savvy family member found an online source for discounted grave headstones. When the family notified the cemetery that they would not purchase a marker supplied by the cemetery, they were informed that the cemetery was happy to accept markers from outside vendors—but they would charge the family an additional fee for the installation of this marker. The fee would be calculated based on that marker’s size—per square inch! The fee of course would be waived if the family purchased the headstone from their provider!

No doubt some of you have experienced similar strong-arm tactics. We would like to hear about your experience—and how you dealt with it.

 

Consternation at the Cemetery: Lesson One

We recently helped a family following the loss of their 91 year-old relative. Shortly after the death of her parents in the 1970’s, this lady, who had never married, took the initiative to buy her own cemetery plot. Having purchased the plot, she felt she had eliminated further worries and expense for her family. Rather than buying what the funeral industry calls a “pre-need plan,” she wrote out specific funeral arrangements for her family and left money to pay for those arrangements. Time proved this to be a better approach than the pre-purchase of the plot.

At the time of her passing, we assisted the family with funeral arrangements and the purchase of a casket, so they were able to stay within her prescribed budget. The cemetery plot, however, was another matter. A staff person at the cemetery informed our client of the $1250 “opening and closing” fee. The family really had no choice since she had already paid for this plot. Thus, a cemetery that had used her money interest-free for over 40 years now was able to extract an additional $1250 more from the distraught family.

So what are the morals to this tragic story?
1. If you have an elderly relative who already owns their plot, locate the contract and read the fine print about additional expenses so that you have time to consider your options.

2. If you cannot find the contract, contact the cemetery and request a copy. It is important to know your rights and obligations before the time of need.

3. If you are considering your own preplan, we strongly recommend that you purchase a standard life insurance policy that will pay for your funeral expenses rather than purchasing a “pre-plan” or other cause-specific policy. These policies often have big loopholes for the provider and plenty of restrictions on the buyer. Some insurance companies (State Farm for example) allow the beneficiary an early withdrawal of up to 60% of the policy proceeds once the insured has been medically deemed “terminal.” This provides the family with advance funding to make and pay for the necessary arrangements. Best of all, the beneficiary can make the arrangements without being hostage to any service provider.

This family learned another hard lesson when they asked about purchasing a headstone from a third-party. We will save that sad story for our next post!

 

It’s Never Too Late to Plan

This week we will look at a couple who have had fun, enjoyed life and yet they have not prepared for the future.  A turn of events in life brings them to the realization that their life style needs adjusting and they must think ahead.  Meet the Andersons, Samantha and Bill.

_____________________________________________________________________________

Samantha and Bill truly loved life and everything in it.  They worked hard and played hard and just never concerned themselves with tomorrow.  The most popular couple in their upper middle class neighborhood, they were the life of every party and were always at the top of the invitation list. And they also liked to throw parties, inviting guests to evening cookouts and swimming at their tropically themed home in Central Florida.  Their happy go lucky nature was infectious and Bill could make a crowd laugh for hours.

Unfortunately, things at home weren’t nearly so much fun as they seemed to others.  Oh, they loved and were devoted to each other but they had never planned for life and were “living on borrowed time” as far as their finances were concerned.  Bill and Sam both worked and had good jobs; Bill was a construction superintendent and Sam was a successful real estate broker, yet they never saved money or planned for a rainy day.

As if this wasn’t bad enough, they had not completed an estate plan, had no will and they had not saved sufficiently for the future.  Funeral planning was out of the question and no evaluation of funeral costs and funeral expenses had been performed, nor had any funeral plans even been contemplated.   The two of them were a disaster waiting to happen should fate rear its ugly head.

Sam was a shopaholic, always picking up unneeded things while Bill was always planning short, yet expensive vacations that they could ill afford.  And, of course, their entertainment expenses were high.  But while Bill acted unconcerned outwardly, he had deep seated fears inside about what the future for his family might be.  His two children were grown and reasonably self-sufficient and Bill also worried that they had developed the same lifestyle habits that they learned from him when they lived at home.

Despite his nagging concerns, life went on in its usual fashion until tragedy struck in Bill’s family.  His older brother, Jack, a good and wise man was killed in a serious car accident.  Upon notification, Bill and Sam hurriedly got ready and were off on the eight hour drive to the old homestead.

Jack bought his parent’s home from their estate when they died and the extended family gathered there for most holidays.  Special birthdays, Christmas, and usually at least one long weekend in the summer brought these two brothers together with their families for fun and frolic, but Bill was always a little bit jealous of his big brother for having the finances to buy the place.  He always loved returning to the family homestead, however, and he was glad it had stayed in the family yet he knew it would never be the same again with Jack gone.

Arriving late in the afternoon, the house was ablaze with lights and a number of cars were parked out front indicating that friends were giving their condolences.  As they walked to the door, nephew Paul came and greeted them with a hug although there were tears in his eyes. He and his dad were extremely close.

Sister-in-law Jean excused herself from her visitors and came to the door, hugging them both.  She was holding up well and she dearly loved Bill and Sam.

“You know the drill, Bill,” she said. “Put your things in your guest room, wash up if you want and then come down and meet some of our friends. We can talk privately when everyone is gone.”

After freshening up, Bill and Sam came down to visit.  They knew some of the visitors and all reminisced about Jack and what a good man he was.  When the visitors left and the extended family was together, Jean asked them to come in the den. She had something she wanted to show them.

“Jack told me many times that he wanted you at my side in carrying out his wishes, Bill”, she offered.  “Here is his funeral plan and I’d like you to review it with me.  Sam, you’re welcome to participate if you wish.”

Sam just sat nearby listening while Jean went over things with Bill.  He was absolutely amazed at the detail of the plan.  Jack had prepared in advance a complete funeral plan, starting with the estimate of likely funeral costs and funeral expenses and the source of the funds to pay for his final rites.  The body already was on hold at the cremation services facility and would be cremated after Bill had the opportunity for a viewing.  The funeral would be in two days and Paul had served as the obituary writer since he was a literary agent.

“I’m really lucky, Bill”, Jean said.  “Jack had his estate plan in order with his attorney and probate will be easy.  I am fortunate that I will be able to live comfortably although it won’t be the same without him”.

Bill hugged her as tears began to flow, and Sam also patted her on the back.  Then, after she sighed, she told Bill that Jack had left a special envelope for him. She went to get it.

Returning with an impressive box and an envelope, he knew what it was.  The box contained his father’s coin collection and a gold ring he had received from his father when he was a little boy. Jean said that Jack wanted him to have it as he knew in his heart that Jack wished he had the family house.

Jack sobbed and didn’t know what to say.  After all, Jack didn’t have to show such generosity.  It was a very valuable assortment and the ring was also appraised at great value, but the sentimental value was priceless.  Jack had received it as was customary in families where the father was born in the Old Country, in this case Scotland.

The funeral went well and after a four day visit, Bill and Sam headed home.  While driving, Bill poured out his heart about how they needed to change their lifestyle.

“Sam, we have to learn from Jack and Jean,” he said.  “We’re in our late forties and we have to start saving money and stop living above our means.  I don’t want something to happen to me and leave you with a mess.”

“You’re right, Honey,” Sam replied. “I want to live a long time with you and I don’t want us to end up in our old age in poverty.  Let’s talk to John next door; he’s a great financial planner. Let’s make a plan and stick to it.”

When they got home, they went to work to solve their problem.  John helped them analyze their situation and offered suggestions for how to change their lifestyle and make up for lost time.  It was difficult at first, but once they got into the groove, they were surprised at how easy it was.  And for the first time in months, Bill’s nagging concerns were gone. He felt better than he had in years.

And every night when they turned in for bed, he said his prayers and he thanked God for using the tragedy of his big brother’s death to wake him up.  He promised to stay on course for the rest of his life.

“And Lord”, he asked. “Please take care of my big brother until I see him again.  And tell him I love him.”  Then he smiled as he drifted off to sleep.

James Dick

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

Book page: www.honeyweshouldaboughttheark.com

Author of Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark, a 2014 best read selection of American Pet Magazine