Category Archives: Traditions and Customs

Selecting Funeral Clergy or Eulogist

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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.

 

Memorial Day 2014: Remember the Fallen

At the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month of the year of Our Lord 1918, the guns fell silent in France.  A truce signifying the end of the “War to End All Wars” brought with it an uneasy, yet peaceful serenity to the thousands of soldiers, Allied Forces and Germans, who hadn’t had quiet in their lives in years.  Tragically, life for the 116,000 dead Americans was ended in their early prime.

While it took a considerable period of time for the Articles of Peace to be formulated, the end result was good for soldiers but ultimately tragic for the world.  The proud German people were basically held responsible for all aspects of the war and treated accordingly.  And with the upcoming economic disaster known as the Great Depression, the world created the very seed for a much more expanded and even more bitter contest to unfold in a mere twenty years.

With the exception of the Civil War, where Americans fought against their own brothers and cousins, World War II by far had the highest death total, over 400,000.  And this number does not include those who were lost and never found in the swamps of Guadalcanal or in the snows of Bastogne.  Almost every family in America was touched by the tragedy of this war on two fronts and it was one that all hoped would never be repeated.

Sadly, since that time America has been involved in many conflicts, the most noteworthy being Vietnam (over 58,000 deaths), Korea (over 36,000), Iraq (4800) and Afghanistan (almost 3400 and still growing) plus a large number of smaller conflicts which also resulted in death.  Despite all of the death, and the heretofore unmentioned large number of maimed and wounded who survived and suffered through these conflicts, we today once again find the world filled with hatred and animosity and the prospect of further conflict ever present in our minds.

So I would urge every American to honor those who gave the ultimate sacrifice for each of us and our fellow countrymen, for as long as man lives on this earth there will be conflicts for which we must maintain a standing force of brave men and women ready and willing to answer the call of duty.

What can you do to honor our dead?  Visit a military cemetery, participate in a Memorial Day service or event, fly your flag proudly, and thank those who have sacrificed for us.  Each of us has a neighbor or friend who has sacrificed their time and in many cases their physical well- being for our freedom and they deserve our sincere gratitude and respect. Don’t forget to tell them.

And there is one other thing we need to do.  We need to pray to our Lord for the care of those who have suffered, for their families and for the souls of those departed. Won’t you join me in prayer?

Dear Lord:  We thank you for always being available to talk with you and seek your guidance through prayer and we beseech you to help us find a way to end the pain and suffering that so many of our fine young men and women face due to never ending war.  Hatred, anger and bitterness, all of which are a waste of good energy and contrary to what you would have us do, is so prevalent today and we each must reach into our inner selves and, with the help of the Holy Spirit, find forgiveness and peace.

We know that you love those who died in support of their country and that war is not of your doing but just another of the sins that we mere mortals have created with the free will granted to us. But help us to be strong in searching within our conscience and ridding ourselves of the very traits that, on a societal level, allow for war to take place.

And please remember those living veterans who are suffering from war wounds, both physical and mental, and help our government officials to provide the care that they have been promised, not instead using their positions to further their own careers and fortune. Help them see the light and turn to you for the strength they need to listen to you and follow you in all that they do.

Finally, help our enemies to also find peace and tranquility and a willingness to come to solutions short of warfare, but help us to always be vigilant against those who do not seek peace honestly but instead use temporary periods of peace to plan for more and greater bloodshed.  Let us always stand strong and resolute against such action.

Lord keep all of our military safe, be with them in their good and bad times and enter their hearts and souls to guide them in the difficult tasks that they are called upon to do.  Be with them forever and with the rest of us as well.  We pray in your Holy name, Amen.

Never forget what our heroes have done for us and honor them always. Enjoy this special holiday with picnics and relaxation time with family and friends but always put those who did so much for us first in our hearts and minds on this day.  Happy Memorial Day 2014 to everyone and may Old Glory ever fly free as a symbol of what America truly means.

James Dick

Hawthorne, Florida

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

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

www.outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark

Author: Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark

 

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

 

A Tribute to Mothers Everywhere

This Sunday we will celebrate Mother’s Day, a day which we set aside to honor those women who raised us, played a key role in establishing our moral values, and kept us safe and secure in the formative years so that we could develop into adults capable of supporting ourselves and continuing the ever changing cycle of creation of new life.  And while fathers are certainly also important traditionally as the leader of the household, it was our mother who was the one who usually filled the role of principal caretaker and day-to-day life support coach.

For many of us, today is a day when a big family gathering is scheduled where all grown children and their families gather together for a family meal after church.  For others, from less close knit families, it might be taking Mom out to dinner at a nice restaurant.  And for even others, those who no longer have Mom with us, it might be a visit to the cemetery with flowers of remembrance.  But whatever the activity might be, it is important for us to never forget the sacrifice that our mothers made for us so that we grew up happy and well-balanced.

Each of us has special memories of Mom.  I will just relay a few about my mom who is no longer with us as an example of how much I loved her.  I hope and trust that these words might awaken memories from your own past about your own mother and what she means to you.

Mom was a country girl, born in a small fishing village in the coastal Southeast.  She had a normal childhood: doing farm chores after school, tending to her little brother (she was one of nine kids) and from all reports she was quite the tomboy.  In high school she was a pretty good guard on the girls’ basketball team and sometimes it was quite painful.  It seems in those days they practiced for all games on an outdoor court which used clam shells for boundary markers.  In later years she would laugh talking about coming home with bloody knees which her mom would tend to.

Never having been to a large city, she embarked right out of high school for nursing school in New York City, where she met my dad, an intern, and they eventually married before returning to his native Virginia to live after training was done.  America was gripped by the Great Depression in those days and she talked of the good fortune of being given gratis tickets to New York sporting events since nurses were considered sister saints by residents of a struggling city.  She even had the opportunity to meet Babe Ruth in person.

I was the last of three children born to Mom in Virginia and she chose not to continue in nursing and instead took on raising us three children as a full time duty.  She also doubled as the neighborhood nurse for all of our friends when any of us suffered the normal bumps and bruises associated with childhood games in the 1950s and early ‘60s.  After all, we didn’t have knee and elbow pads and helmets and the quick answer was always Bismuth Violet, the purple antiseptic that was a badge of courage among little boys back then.

Graduating from high school, I went on to college and then the Army.  I didn’t see Mom nearly as much, of course, but I did write to her weekly and visited whenever I could get leave or during school breaks.  She always kept me abreast of things and I can remember how she would pull out the scrapbook for memories’ sake whenever I came home.  She kept clippings, stories and anything else she thought I might like.

As I reached middle age, Mom started to falter.  By then she was in her mid-80’s and except for one operation that I can remember, she was never sick or in the hospital.  It must have been that good old country living and exercise, and she religiously took a brisk daily walk for good health.  Despite her best effort, however, Mom started to fail.  It wasn’t failure in her ambulatory skills but mental. 

Mom developed Alzheimer’s and eventually could no longer take care of herself.  I offered to move her to Florida but she wouldn’t hear of it, saying she would rather be in assisted living in Virginia than to leave the place she had called home since 1938.

I traveled home to visit her at least once a year and, in 2004, I was preparing for another trip to see her when my sister called and said she had passed.  I was sad but didn’t cry; I guess I kind of expected it at any time and since she no longer could remember me she was a shell of her former self.  I will say this, though; Mom remembered things from her childhood and New York in detail even if she no longer recognized me.

It was a chilly late October day when we went to view her body at the funeral home the day before she was laid to rest.  The funeral director had done a splendid job of making her lifelike, yet as active as she had been in life that couldn’t be replaced.

Seeing her like that, it broke the ice and I cried like a baby.  I remembered childhood at home, the family holidays and food, the skinned knees, the discipline when I needed it, but most of all the love and encouragement that she gave to me and my siblings.  Not only was she the staying force in my early years, she was the staying force for our entire neighborhood.  Any neighbor could stop in at all times of day for a cup of coffee and a chat, and a neighborhood child could find the door open if they needed a place to stay until their parents got home.  It was a different time and place and Mom was a different kind of lady.

As we left the funeral, we decided to honor her by stopping for a cup of coffee and a chat before scattering on our separate ways.  And we laughed joyously together knowing that she was in a better place.  We also knew that she was probably watching us from afar a nodding in our choice of places to say our goodbyes to each other.

It’s now ten years later and I think of her often.  And Mom, I hope you are proud of me and what I’ve done with my life.  Oh, I’ve made my strikes and errors, but at least know this: I love you and look forward to sometime in the future seeing you again and talking with you over some of that strong coffee of yours because I know you are still drinking it.

I hope my comments here have helped rekindle those memories that each of you have about your mothers and what they did to get you ready for life.  Happy Mother’s Day to mothers everywhere.

James Dick

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

Book site: www.outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark

Author of Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark, my story of life with animals in rural America

 

The Best Legacy Left Behind is the Way You Live Today

We’ve talked over the last year or so via this blog about the importance of getting your affairs in order including your personal funeral plan.  Determining funeral costs, funeral expenses, and general funeral needs are important and making sure that ensuring the presentation both by the funeral clergy and by the eulogy writer are also important in leaving the memory of you for your loved ones in a tasteful and memorable way.  Your loved ones will look back often at the memory of your last rights as they think back about what you mean to them.

But there is one other aspect of the memories that you leave behind that are so much more important than the presentation that represented you.  It’s the reality of how you lived your life before you died, because those precious memories of the “real” you, witnessed by family and friends in the flesh, that really drive your legacy for the living.  For this reason, it is very important that you evaluate yourself honestly and use what you learn from this exercise to guide the remainder of your life.  It is never too late to change the way you are for the better, after all, as Jesus taught us we are all sinners no matter how hard we try for perfection.

So how do you go about this self-evaluation?  Well, there are many ways, but might I suggest a few questions as a starting point.  These are questions that we can apply to ourselves under any circumstances and they will open you up to many more questions.  Believe me, there is probably no limit to the number of questions that this first set of questions opens, and that is one of the most important features of self-evaluation.  It should be ongoing and regularly used as a refresher course to insure you are sticking with it throughout your life.  As mentioned earlier, it is never too late to change our course for the better.

Here are some questions and a little guidance to get you started:

1.      Are you at peace with yourself and do you have love in your heart?  Now since I am a Christian, I think you probably know where I am headed with this but, even if you aren’t, peace and love are two wonderful terms to describe how we should focus our lives.  If we are caught up in envy or hate we spend our time wasting our energy while also accomplishing nothing positive in life.  For life to be meaningful you need peace and love, and by love I mean love of all of mankind, those who are friend and foe alike.  This is truly critical if we are going to serve as an example to others of good living and what is expected of all of us.  If you don’t feel this way, take a good inward look and determine what it will take to get rid of the hate, jealousy or whatever else keeps you from being happy.

 

2.      If married, do you and your wife (or husband) consider yourself to be as one?  While those of you who have never married might not understand the point here, it is a simple one.  When you make a commitment to a spouse through Holy Matrimony, you are saying that you are each a part of the other.  You are a team in life and you work in tandem, not keeping secrets from one another and enjoying the time, the joy and the counsel that you receive from one another.  If you don’t look at your marriage this way, you are missing something precious and wonderful.  And even if you are not married, I think the idea of this commitment is indicative of how you should approach your life as well.

 

3.      What about your children?  So what do your children really think about you?  Do you spend time with them and encourage their schoolwork and their extra interests or are you overly demanding and hard hearted?  Children need nurture and encouragement to do their best, but they also need rules to live by and consequences for their actions.  And since there is no text book to follow, it is a work in progress.  If you are too rough on them, they don’t like but if you are too soft, you are not helping them to learn about how life operates.  Take time to clearly think about these things and how you respond.

 

4.      When you make commitments to others, do you honor them and follow through?  Many of the same type of thought processes as discussed above also apply here but in a different context.   Be a person of your word and honor your commitments.  Just like promising a child a baseball game, if cancelled, is a huge disappointment, the impact here can be losing your good name as an honest and reliable person.  You can lose your reputation in mere moments but rebuilding it can take a lifetime.  Don’t take this lightly.

 

5.      Do you feel that the successes you have had in life have come honestly?  Deep down inside you know what you had to do to get where you are.  Was it based on good moral values and principles or did you allow things to slide?  Did you justify your shortfall as being a means to the end and nothing more?  This one can lead into a very insightful but also painful process or recollection, but if it does it means it is needed.

 

6.      Are there things in your life that you feel ashamed of and have you tried to mend the errors of your ways?  Here you are looking for those things that you consciously know you have done in the past that were wrong and that continue to bother you.  Probably first and foremost as a result should be coming clean with your God on this one.  He will forgive you and allow you to forgive yourself and, where possible, try to make amends with the person you hurt.  It’s tough, I know, but you’ll be surprised at how accepting people are when they know you are sincere.

 

7.      What do you expect to be your future when this life is done?  Here’s where you look at your future and whether or not you believe in salvation and continued life in another place.  If you believe, as I do, that God awaits those who love Him, it is easy to identify with what you generally expect.  If you don’t believe this, ponder it for a while.  I mean, really, what was the purpose of your life on earth, with all of its trials and tribulation as well as its joys if there is a vast nothingness when it ends.  I just have problems grasping with that possibility.

As suggested, these are just a few questions to get your thinking going.  They merely serve to open the door to your heart and your soul.  But they do hopefully make you focus on your life and how it has impacted others and what that means for your legacy when your time is over. The entire point is to sit down, candidly look at yourself privately and by yourself, and come to an honest assessment of your life so far. You can use it to make any changes necessary to help you take your human self in the direction it needs to go.

Open your heart and your soul and really take the time to look inside yourself.  The reality of the real you as you have been and as you would like to be will surface if you give it a chance.  Won’t it be nice to continue your personal growth into being and living that person you want to be.  Trust me, it will be good for you and it will make your family love you even more.

God bless you and have another wonderful week.  Spring is here in its full glory and it offers us a wonderful sign of the New Life that we all have available to us.  Let’s take advantage of it.

James Dick

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

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

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

 

 

Selecting Appropriate Funeral Clergy or Eulogist

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He Lives! A Time to Rejoice and Be Thankful

He lives, He lives, Christ Jesus lives today!  He walks with me and talks with me along life’s narrow way.

He lives, He lives, salvation to impart!  You ask me how I know He lives?  He lives within my heart.

From the refrain to He Lives, I Serve a Risen Savior. Lyrics by Alfred Ackley

 

This week I was talking with a friend and I asked him if he planned to celebrate Holy Week.  He looked at me with a puzzled expression and asked, “Why would you celebrate this week?  Doesn’t it represent the death of Christ?”

I responded by saying that he was looking at a half empty glass instead of one half full. Yes, it is true that Jesus Christ was horrifically put to death during the week but at the end, the glorious end, He arose from the dead.  I told him I celebrated being given the opportunity for Eternal Life through his sacrifice, love and especially grace.  He nodded in response and smiled saying that I had just made him feel better.

We should all be truly thankful this week and remember the significance of the events so many years ago on our behalf. And as I ponder the significance of this joyous time, I like to think back upon my childhood and the widespread activities which were common during the Easter season and which, sadly, we seem to have lost in a secularized society.

As a boy I always loved Easter.  Oh, there was the break from school and the weather was usually glorious in my home in Virginia, but it was much bigger than that.  Being an active and sports loving boy, I didn’t always devote lots of time to matters of faith, but there was something about Maundy Thursday that really brought things into focus.  Like Christmas and the story of the Christ Child, seeing the child as a grown man preparing to die on the Cross for me and my family was just really so touching it made me cry.  Believe me, I wasn’t one normally prone to tears as a boy.

Back in those times Easter parties were the order of the day.  Before the traditional Easter break from school, mothers usually brought a party to school with colored eggs and goodies to eat and all classmates enjoyed a fun time near the end of the school day.  It didn’t matter whether you were Christian or not, children of other faiths were invited and I don’t recall anyone ever turning away. In fact, one of my best friends, a Jewish boy named Richard, ate more marshmallow eggs than anyone and Passover was also included in the festivities. 

I remember accompanying him to his house after school and he told his mother that he wasn’t very hungry since he had stuffed himself.  Instead of showing any negative emotion to the cause, she just laughed and told us she was glad everyone had such a good time. Everyone was tolerant of everyone else and their beliefs and it’s a shame that today we have lost this touch in America. Acceptance of others while not giving up our own traditions just seemed normal and many a time I was invited to participate in his Passover meal.

As I reached the active teen years and high school, Easter still was a huge drawing card.  We all enjoyed the Easter sunrise service, conducted at a beautiful location on historic Fortress Monroe overlooking the Chesapeake Bay and, if the weather allowed, with a beautiful sunrise over the waves.  It was usually chilly but dramatic with the Cross in front of a backdrop of gray, becoming blue skies as the first rays of the sun rose from the sea.  It was a dramatic symbolic setting for considering our Savior’s rising from his cold grave.  And, of course, we eagerly anticipated the breakfast to follow which would calm our grumbling stomachs which were always seeking food at that stage of life.

I must confess that while attending college I went through a stage, like so many students, where I neglected my worship and my faith, opting instead for what seemed to be the excitement of being away from home for the first time without anyone expecting me to get up and going on Sunday.  Yet, even then, I can remember walking across campus on Easter weekend and passing the Presbyterian fellowship just off campus and hearing young college voices singing Easter hymns.  It got my attention, and I went in and participated, making some new friends which helped me find my way back to Him and the right track on life.

And then as a parent my life went full circle. I experienced the joy of watching my own young children learn about Him and the excitement of the special Christian holidays and, thankfully, with God’s guidance learned the joys of the Christian faith.  Oh, they had their “moments” along the way as I did but I am happy to say they survived and learned the errors of their ways.  Now they are both parents working hard to bring Christ to their young children as well.

And as I move into my later years, I still get a chill to run down my back when I see the Cross and hear the beautiful words of the many praises in song that we have for our Lord. I just hope and pray that others who haven’t had the opportunity to experience this thrill can be introduced to it and I will do my best to play my part to help.  If my memories and experiences tell me nothing else, they tell me that I must always put Him first for if I do I will never have to worry about what happens to me when my days on this earth are done.

I wish you all a Blessed and Happy Easter and hope you experience your own joys in the beauty and glory that He has provided for all of us.  God bless.

James Dick

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

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

Author of Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark, available from Amazon and Barnes and Noble

 

The Power of a Beautiful Flower

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Final Disposition of Remains: Part II – Traditional Burial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Final Disposition of Remains: Part I-Cremation

Something that most of us don’t like to think about is planning your own funeral. Often looked at as being a morbid subject, it is nonetheless an important thing to consider now so that your family doesn’t have to determine what you wanted after you’re gone. Use of a funeral planning list is a good way to approach the issue. It allows you to prepare a general estimate of anticipated funeral costs and funeral expenses and, more importantly, to designate the final disposition of your body.

While most Americans in the past have thought of in ground burial as the appropriate ending to their life, cremation services are becoming more popular these days for many reasons based upon economic and lifestyle changes today. Rapidly rising cost of burial at a time when many are facing tighter family budgets is one. Increasing concern for environmental issues and the limited availability of needed space is another. Let’s take a look at each of these separately.

At the time of death, the remaining family is faced with many expenses that they are often not prepared to deal with. While some have burial insurance to help, many do not and when you add this to the impact of a slow economy the situation can become quite dire. In such situations it is critical for the survivors to find a means less expensive than traditional burial which will both fully honor their loved on while showing the respect due.

Cremation services, wherein the body is reduced to ashes quickly under high heat and regulated conditions, are becoming commonplace today. The remaining ashes are usually placed in an urn which can be either simple or ornate and given to the next of kin for disposition as desired by the family. Some keep the urn intact as a permanent memorial while others scatter the ashes in a special place of remembrance. Others even have the urn placed in a mausoleum or even buried with a marker for the spot.

Cremation services allow for delay in final disposition of the body if needed, such as when gathering the family together is made difficult by distance and time constraints. The need to quickly hold the final ceremony can be deferred as long as needed since public health issues are eliminated once the cremation process is completed. In some cases, the next of kin may desire to retain the ashes intact and since the urn contents are not dangerous to the environment and are portable in weight and size they may even be retained during a family move. Many keep the ashes nearby as a lasting memory for sentimental and emotional comfort.

Environmental concerns involve another factor which brings favor to the cremation services concept. With burial space more limited and with concerns about the impact of embalming chemicals over time on the environment, particularly in times of large increases in population, cremation services offer an option more in tune with a “green earth” campaign, yet the potential for burial in a more traditional funeral remains available without the normal concerns. There are even “green designated” burial plots in many locales which bury remains in a manner which does not interfere with the natural landscape. One such facility exists here in North Florida in Paynes Prairie where to the naked eye it is hard to imagine that human remains have been interred.

The primary concerns voiced about cremation usually involve religious traditions and the dignity of the mourning process. With regard to the religious issues, it is necessary to inquire of the particular church or denomination to find out what church doctrine calls for. As far as the dignity of the mourning process, cremation can easily be applied to a traditional funeral. The principal difference would be the use of the urn, small and easy to handle in place of the bulky casket. The desire of the family is the only governing factor; there is no universal one size fits all guiding rule that applies.

In closing, following is a primary list of potential areas for saving by use of cremation. Savings can be maximized if funeral home activities are not needed. This also assumes that the traditional funeral and interment of the remains are not required. They are, however, in no ways precluded solely due to cremation. I would personally want a funeral ceremony, but many of the cost savings listed below would still be achieved.

Areas for potential savings:

Elimination of expensive casket
No embalming required
Funeral home staff charges eliminated
Funeral or church fees reduced
Visitation charges eliminated
Transportation fees reduced
No plot or mausoleum crypt
No vault or grave liner
No grave opening and closing costs
Headstone and/or marker not required

Here in North Florida the cost for a streamlined cremation can be found for as low as $895. Even with additional services but no casket or burial, the cost is usually found in the $1200 to $2000 range. Compare this with the current costs of a formal funeral and burial in the traditional sense where the cost can easily by in the $7000-$10000 cost range and up. But the bottom line: it’s entirely up to you.

Next week we will discuss the traditional funeral and its components and, then on the following week I have a big surprise. I’ll tell you more next week. Until then, God bless you all and God bless America.

James Dick
Hawthorne, Florida
Author, Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark
Website: northfloridawriter.com
Author site: outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark