Category Archives: PrePlanning

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!

 

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

 

Do You Remember Armed Forces Day?

So as the family’s funeral representative, you did what was required for your loved one who is now gone.  You carried out funeral plans, insured that the eulogy writer prepared a wonderful written memorial and appreciated the wonderful service by the funeral clergy which was delivered before a backdrop of beautiful funeral flowers just as requested in the decedent’s written funeral plan.  After all was done, you directed the payment of all funeral expenses and closed out all remaining requirements of your duty for the family.

Three months later, you decide to go and visit the gravesite now that the marker and headstone are finally in place.  Standing in front of the impressive granite headstone, you suddenly realize that his funeral plot is so bare.  There are no flowers or other indication that anyone has been to visit.  And you realize just how quickly the dead are forgotten as the living must go forward with their lives.  It’s not that they mean to, it’s just that with life’s requirements and things to be done, the best laid plans for remembrance often fade like the sunset.

This coming Saturday is Armed Forces Day, a day when America traditionally celebrated the American military for all that they do to protect us and keep us safe.  It is not just for the dead or the wounded or even those who fought in wars for their country.  No, this is a day designed to honor the composite force of men and women and the military institutions themselves for what they mean to us. In many respects, it has been forgotten in recent generations.

In years gone by, Armed Forces Day was a really big deal.  Communities around the country held parades, usually on Saturday morning, and townspeople planning on shopping downtown timed their trips to first attend the parade and then shop.  Military units were invited to participate, local bands showed up dressed to the hilt and even the police and fire departments entered marching units in dress uniforms.  The reviewing stand for judging performance was decked out in red, white and blue bunting rivaling a Fourth of July parade and many in the crowd wore red, white and blue while sporting American flags.  Patriotic pride clearly filled the air.

I had the good fortune as a boy to personally participate in this wonderful parade of support for our military.  The first time, as a Cub Scout, I remember making sure my mom did a special pressing of my uniform as I wanted it to be perfect.  I stood tall and proud as our group, normally mischievous and active, stood at silent attention waiting to step out.  I think it was right then when I knew I wanted to be a soldier when I grew up.

Later, in the first year of high school before I became active in sports, I marched as a member of the marching band.  In our blue and gold uniforms with gleaming instruments, we all felt a chill go down our back as we stepped out on the avenue at the beginning of the parade route and saw the huge throngs of people watching our every step.  When we broke into a John Philip Sousa march the crowd cheered and we played as well and as loud as we ever performed.  At the end of the long parade, we were hot and tired but happy and we felt extremely proud to be Americans and to have our military to keep us free.

Aside from some American Legion functions and events in heavily military family communities, most of us no longer even know that this day is on the calendar.  And it’s sad to note that since the anti-war movement became so outspoken during the Vietnam conflict, those who give dearly of themselves, even up to and including death for their American brothers and sisters, fail to be recognized on this occasion.  I’m afraid it’s just a sad sign of the times and as fewer and fewer young Americans experience the privilege of serving in uniform it becomes easy to forget the cause which many no longer fully understand or appreciate.

We’re going to have another chance soon to celebrate and honor our military, but this next opportunity is for those who have given the ultimate sacrifice, dying for their country and their countrymen.  Memorial Day is right around the corner and while it is positive that more tend to remember this day than any other military-related day, it is really sad that only after death do we as a nation seem to take real notice of all that our brave fighting men and women do.

So, on this Armed Forces Day I ask that each of you take a moment and say thanks to all of our fellow citizens for taking the time and sacrificing a portion of their lives so that we might remain free.  God bless them and God bless the United States of America. May her flag forever fly proudly over a land that remains free.

James Dick

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

Book page: www.amazon.com/author/jamesdick

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

 

So Your Final Plans Are Made, Now What?

You’ve been responsible all of your life and have lived within your means.  Moving into the retirement phase of life, you’ve drawn up your estate and probate plans and your funeral plan is in order.  Planning ahead with your devoted wife, you’ve determined who will be your obituary writer, even providing an outline to go by and you’ve set aside sufficient funeral funds to cover all funeral needs and funeral expenses.  Yes, indeed, your funeral plan is ready and written, locked away with your last will and testament for the day it is needed.

For the first time in your life you have time on your hands and can do the things that you’ve wanted to do but convinced yourself you didn’t have time for.  As a Christian, you’ve always been a church goer, offering time and money in support of His cause but you’ve never really taken the time to study what it’s really all about.  So many of us Christians find ourselves in this predicament, but the retirement phase of life offers the opportunity to continue to learn about our God and Savior through The Good Book and in prayer.  We’re never too old to learn more and in so doing get closer to Him.

Since you are a thinker, some call you a dreamer, you decide to sit down and really think what the goal is for a good Christian, what it means and what the ultimate glory provides.  Becoming a bit tired since you were up late the night before, you stretch out for a little early afternoon nap, something you never had the luxury to do in your prior busy life.  After all, you have the time and you want to recharge your physical batteries.  You drift off thinking about what things will be like after your time is up on this earth.

                                                                        ***

Suddenly you are awakened in a soft, yet warm light.  Your body seems suspended in air yet it is racing down a corridor toward a golden beam in the distance.  You pass out of the corridor into the lightness and find yourself in a meadow with beautiful blue sky and puffy white clouds drifting by.  Even though you are on the floor of the meadow, your new unlimited senses allow you to see the earth below and you begin to realize that you are no longer earth borne.

While looking at your former home planet, you think about your life and family below and suddenly your mind is able to focus on the exact place from which you just departed.  You can actually see your lifeless body lying on a bed at the hospital where you died with your family crying and comforting one another in their final visitation before your body is removed.  You try to speak out to them but cannot and your consciousness just as suddenly returns to the meadow and you realize that you are either in Heaven or a place nearby.

An angel appears.  No, he does not have wings but he is dressed in a perfectly pressed linen suit and he has an aura of peace and light surrounding him.  He smiles and motions you to follow him but he does not speak.  As you walk through the meadow you see a wide assortment of animals and even shepherds and farmers tending to them.  They smile and nod as you pass.

Finally the angel leads you to a golden gate which has a bright sign on it which says “Welcome to the Gateway to Heaven.”  The angel motions you to a large cushioned bench on the porch of a beautiful little cottage just outside the entrance which looks like something out of a fairy tale.  You both sit down and he turns toward you and speaks for the first time.

“John, I am your guiding angel Harold”, he says with a smile. “And, yes, you are at the Gateway to Heaven.  You will still have to meet with the Father and discuss your successes and failures in life and receive His instructions for the future but you will be staying with us forever.  Your life was lived well for a mortal and you did a good job with your family.

“Your immediate task is to decide what it is you expect out of Heaven.  Time and space are no obstacles, and only good and favorable things are included, but God will want to know how you see yourself as a Member of the Eternal Flock.  For the next three days you will stay here in the Welcome Cottage and pray for the answers to what your place in Heaven should be.  The Father knows that each person is different and He wants each of His family members to have the Heavenly Experience that they seek.  Think about it, pray on it and when I come back I will take you through the gates to meet him. 

“Oh, and this is also a good time for you to plan what you will say when you meet with your Maker.  He knows what is in your heart and soul and He wants to make sure that you know both the good and bad of your life past.  Going forward, you won’t have those problems as you are now in the direct company of the Lord Jesus who you will also see in person soon.”

With that, Angel Harold stands, turns toward the roadway and walks through the Gates of Heaven and disappears into a fog.

As you sit and ponder what you were told and look at the beauty of the small taste of what is to become the beautiful Eternal Life you are entering, you begin the initial steps of formulating the answers to your assignment.  You pray that you are up to the task and that God will be pleased.

                                                                         ***

Suddenly you hear the door close and realize that you were sleeping.  Your wife walks into the room and smiles asking, “I’m glad you got some rest.  You have quite a magical look on your face.  Were you dreaming?”

You look at her with a radiance to your face and tell her, “Oh, yes, but I’ve got to think about it before I tell you about it.  It was wonderful; actually it was Heavenly.”

And with that the reason for the dream becomes clear.  God has spoken to you and told you what to expect and with the wonders you have seen you want to work hard to live up to His trust.  You now know that you must devote the remainder of your life to furthering His love and grace so that others will use their lives to fulfill his Heavenly wishes for them as well.

Who can say what is going in the hearts of others?  No one knows except God who knows all.  Who knows what Heaven will be like if we attain that lofty eternity?  No one until they experience it.  But I can tell you this much.  We do have some hints.  Here are just a couple of them from the Bible:

He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.

                                                                        Revelations 21:4 (ESV)

But as it is written, “What no eye has seen, nor ear heard, nor the heart of men imagined, what God has prepared for those who love him.”

                                                                        1 Corinthians 2:9

It sounds pretty magnificent doesn’t it?  So while we’ve got our funeral plans done and our life aiming in the right direction, let’s devote the remainder to He who is responsible for it all. Let’s live the rest of our lives with the Love of God in our hearts and souls and act accordingly.

Oh, and I hope you will seriously consider the exercise of thinking about what you would expect out of your Heavenly Life in the hereafter.  I think it might be fun and next week my blog will be my personal desire in this matter drawn from my individual perspective of my life experiences and loves.  Maybe we can even compare notes.  Until then, have a wonderful week with God in your heart.

James Dick

Website:  www.northfloridawriter.com

Author page: www.outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark or

                        www.amazon.com/author/jamesdick

Author of Honey We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark, a Best Read Selection (2014) of 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

 

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

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

Book page: www.outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark

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

 

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

www.northfloridawriter.com

www.outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark

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