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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.

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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

 

Things Can Change Quickly

In making a funeral plan, we generally consider funeral costs, determining whether burial or cremation services will be used, obituary writer and funeral clergy selection, and whether or not we need funeral insurance or some other funeral fund to help defray the costs which today can be quite high.  Finally, we also must review our probate and estate plan to insure that our loved ones can live reasonably well after we are gone.

The one thing we never think of when making plans, however, is the death of a child.  We always assume that our children will outlive us and generally that is a correct assumption.  But as we all well know, life doesn’t always work out the way we plan and death never takes a holiday.

Sadly, the warm weather which is here now and the activity of young people who naturally think they are immune from harm can combine to create a disastrous situation.  With school letting out and summer almost upon us, now is a good time to talk with your children, be they five or eighteen, about their need to act responsibly and safely in the many fun activities which summer brings.

Following is a true story which involves an acquaintance of my son while celebrating graduation from high school.  The names and location are changed to protect the privacy of the living relatives of the deceased and to respect his memory and peace.  I tell it not to frighten anyone but to make real for others the need to realize just how fleeting the gift of life can.  And since God has given us free will and with it the ability to make choices, poor choices can sometimes result in bad things happening to otherwise good people.

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Johnny was excited.  He was graduating from high school soon and was looking forward to going away to college in September.  He had a good summer job with a local hardware store and enjoyed helping the many customers who came by daily for needed supplies.  But he really looked forward to his free time in the summer since, living in a coastal town, fun in the sun at the beach or on the water was what he and his buddies would be enjoying.

Swimming, waterskiing and fishing were all in the game plan and, of course, whenever they were near the water there were also plenty of pretty girls.  Boys will be boys, but unfortunately they often do stupid things around pretty girls to hopefully impress them or at least gain their attention.  This would prove to be a big mistake for Johnny, one we’ll learn about shortly.

The final week of school went by and graduation was held outdoors at the school’s football stadium.  It was a great occasion and Johnny and his friends immediately left for the beach home of his best friend, Tom.  Tom’s father was well to do and had a beautiful beach home on the ocean about an hour’s drive from the school.  It was within walking distance of a marina, several nice restaurants and the shops and teen hangouts that are always found in beach towns.  A group of four of them had been invited to spend the weekend and relax and enjoy themselves.  Tom’s mom and dad would be in and out, but they trusted these boys they had known since they were children and it was a very close knit group.  Besides, they were warned that the party would abruptly end if any intemperate behavior was involved.

A considerable number of their friends were also spending the weekend at the beach and they made arrangements to meet after dinner the next night at the Rec Center, a group of businesses in a small shopping center beside the beach that catered to the weekend and vacationing set.  It included a fishing pier, ice skating rink, bowling alley and games center, a dance floor catering to teens and numerous eating establishments and shops. 

Linking up in the parking lot, they decided to check out the fishing pier and see if anything was biting.  They had brought their tackle with them and were dying to try their luck.  Besides, it was a beautiful moonlit night, and from the pier the moon shimmered in the water and looking back to shore the twinkling lights up and down the coast were clearly visible beneath the starry sky.

The girls who joined them really weren’t very keen on the fishing idea, so the boys promised if they didn’t have any luck within two hours they would take them dancing.  The girls smiled and were appeased and relented in their complaints.  After all, if they wanted to have a girls’ night out they would have been better off back home.

After an hour or so the boys were growing impatient.  They had only caught two fish and neither were “keepers”.  And this is when things went awry, for the boys started bragging about who could walk the railing from shore to the end and back the fastest.  Johnny’s friend, Tom went first and completed the circuit quickly with no problems. One of the other boys was next and then it was Johnny’s turn.

The railing was four feet high and it was eighteen feet above the water and while wide enough to navigate for someone with good balance, an occasional larger wave coming in would cause the pier to sway a small degree, enough to affect concentration.  Johnny took a deep breath, climbed up and gained his balance and composure and turned seaward.  Heading down the railing he looked strong and confident.  No one could tell he was nervous but he wasn’t about to “chicken out”.

As he made the turn at the end to return to complete his walk, one of the girls yelled that a big swell was coming.  As Johnny looked back and saw the six footer approach, large for an otherwise calm night, he began to lose balance and the passing wave delivered the finishing touch.  Johnny plunged the eighteen feet into the water and didn’t immediately surface.

Tom ran to the point where he fell, looked down, saw nothing and dove in to search for his friend.  It was pitch black in the water below the pier and Tom dove under several times, coming up empty handed and gasping for air before he finally found Johnny.  His body was limp and his head was at a funny tilt.  Using every ounce of strength that he had, he managed to swim with his lifeless friend toward shore, using the incoming waves to push him along.

Finally reaching the beach, he pulled Johnny out of the water and set him down in the damp sand.  One of the girls ran to the rec center to get help while Tom, a certified life guard with experience in CPR, worked on Johnny trying to get him to breathe.  His valiant attempts were unsuccessful and all he could do was wait helplessly for the rescue squad to arrive.

The arriving medic checked Johnny’s pulse and found none, and he noticed the angle of his head which indicated that his neck was broken.  There was nothing anyone could do.  Johnny’s unbalanced fall had resulted in his hitting the water at a bad angle, resulting in his immediate death.

Tom was devastated and blamed himself.  If only he hadn’t thought up the stupid challenge, everything would have been okay and Johnny would still be alive.  It took him the entire summer to return to any semblance of normalcy, despite Johnny’s parents telling him they knew it wasn’t his fault.  They knew the boys were subject to free will and, in this instance, they had made a bad decision and Johnny and Tom both paid the price. Johnny was dead and Tom would have to live with the memory of a horrible accident at a time when they both should have been enjoying their graduation celebration and a wonderful summer.

Death is unfortunately a fate that we all must face and we never know when it will come for each of us.  And I don’t tell this story to show the necessity of having a funeral plan made for someone in advance as young as Johnny, for even the best prepared of us is not likely to plan in advance for this type of occurrence.  But it is important for us to make arrangements much greater than a funeral plan for all of our loved ones, young and old, and it takes their buy in and their acceptance.

The plan I am talking about is one that can only come through individual faith. Having faith in God through His Son, who died for us, is the only way we can truly plan for our future.  For our ultimate future is not in this world, but rather an eternal one involving our life everlasting with the Father.  Teach your children wisely so that they have a plan in place whenever that fateful ending to life happens.  It is the only way to truly live.

God bless you all and have a safe and happy summer, but always put Him first. Your life depends on it.

James Dick

Hawthorne, Florida

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

Book page: www.outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark or

www.amazon.com/author/jamesdick

 

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

 

 

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

 

 

Rejoice in the Glory of Springtime

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Dick

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

Author page: www.outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark

 

 

“Rocket and Me”

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Dick

Website: www.northfloridawriter.com

Author page: www.outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark

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

 

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.

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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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Dick

Web page: www.northfloridawriter.com

Book pages: www.outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark

                       www.amazon.com/author/jamesdick