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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

 

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

 

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

 

 

A Lack of Preparation

Ted Willis lived next door to a funeral home director, Bob Barrow.  They had been friends for many years and Ted always told Bob that when he was ready to make plans for his ultimate demise he would let Bob know.  Bob had even gone so far as to bring him a funeral planning kit, complete with a funeral checklist, information about probate and estate planning, analysis data on funeral costs and funeral expense plus a burial insurance brochure.  Ted thanked him, gave it a cursory look and then put it in his desk file for later reference.

Ted had been promising his wife, Susan that they would take a long overdue trip skiing as a second honeymoon. Ted worked hard as a Professional Engineer and he hadn’t done something special for just the two of them in a long time.  Besides, her parents, Mark and Emily Mears, lived in the same town and always wanted to keep their two girls so there was really no reason to delay any longer.

Ted kept the plans secret but he knew how much his wife enjoyed the mountains.  She had grown up in Fairbanks, Alaska and now living on the Gulf Coast she would love a change of scenery from seashore and flat land.  Some really cold weather would also be nice. He decided to take her to Colorado where they could enjoy the snow and do some skiing.  Both had been very good skiers when they were first married and they would just need to refresh their skills and limit their exercise to the moderate slopes.

Two weeks later, Ted and Susan said goodbye to their children Becky and Angela, thanked Susan’s parents for coming to stay, and headed for the airport.  The weatherman indicated good ski weather with some off and on snow and plenty of powder already on the ground.  They boarded their plane in Gulfport for the beginning of the flight to Denver via change of planes in Memphis. 

About six hours later they landed in Denver and caught the shuttle to the rental car pick-up point.  The driver asked where they were headed; he showed concern when they said Steamboat Springs.  He told them they might want to delay for a day since a surprise storm was brewing but they felt sure things would be okay.

About twenty minutes out of Denver it began lightly snowing.  By the time their exit point on I-70 to Highway 40 North toward Steamboat Springs the snow had become heavy, but there was no sign of road closure so they kept going, watching the storm further intensify.  Noticing that the traffic was almost non-existent, they began to become concerned but there was really nowhere to turn around due to the snow piling up everywhere along the curvy roadway.  Then suddenly, disaster struck.

The car hit an icy page and started spinning out of control.  It careened toward the shoulder and slipped over the side, dropping into a thirty foot ravine.  Flipping twice, it came to a stop at about a thirty degree angle on its side.  The seat belts had kept them safe but they were momentarily disoriented. 

He tried to get the door open but it was wedged into a snow bank which covered about two thirds of the front of the car.  There was no getting out and the vehicle was quickly becoming covered in near blizzard conditions. Their heavy cold weather gear was in the trunk with no way to get to it.

Ted hugged his wife close and tried to use his cell phone but there was no service.  He prayed that someone would find them in the cold because his engine wouldn’t start and it was now freezing inside the car.  As he slowly became numb he thought about his wife, his two precious girls and how difficult things would be for them if something miraculous didn’t happen.  And he wished that instead of this special trip he had taken Bob’s advice and used that funeral planning kit while he still could.  The last thing he did before falling unconscious was to scribble a note of love to his girls telling them to get help from their next door neighbor in what they would have to do.

 ****

When Emily Mears had no word from her daughter of safe arrival by the next day, she called the inn in Steamboat Springs.  She was informed that the couple never checked in but they may have spent the night en route because of the bad weather.  The innkeeper said that if they weren’t there by nightfall he would notify the Highway Patrol.  At six p.m. sharp he did so.

The Highway Patrol was busy that night, there were a large number of cars stranded or missing and they were searching the roadway from Steamboat Springs all the way back to I-70, a long and grueling stretch of road with the conditions very poor.  They pulled out a number of stuck cars with many motorists suffering from frostbite and they even found a couple of cars that had left the roadway with occupants deceased, but no one found Ted and Susan Willis in the ravine under a snowbank.

Four days later, after a quick thaw and bright sunshine, the car was spotted and the unlucky couple was found dead, frozen to death while huddled together. They also found the note Ted had written still clutched in his stone cold hand.

When the phone rang after four days, the Mears’ knew the news wasn’t good. They were informed of the death and also told about the note.  Since they knew the neighbor, Bob Barrow, they called him immediately and told him of their sadness and about the note.  He had been very comforting to them in the past few days and they knew how fond he and his wife were of Ted and Susan.

Bob immediately came over and took the information very hard.  He asked if they would give permission for him to start looking into funeral arrangements since, as difficult as that was, it had to be done quickly. He told them that since he knew Ted never used his funeral planning kit he would need their help, but first he would have to talk with the Ted’s trust officer, who handled the trust for the children which was the guiding force for the will. They immediately concurred and he quickly got to work.

About a week later the bodies of Ted and Susan Willis were received at Barrow’s Funeral Home.  The arrangements were taken care of, the beautiful memorial service and burial were carried out masterfully and, with the help of their grandparents who were given custody of the two girls, life would go on.  The parents would certainly be missed, but they would be remembered forever and the family was able to attain closure.

But what if Ted and Susan didn’t have a good friend like Bob Barrow and grandparents nearby who loved, and were dearly loved by, the girls?  What would a grieving family do to face loss of both parents at once while also having to plan and carry out final arrangements quickly?  That is the reason for presenting this sad but realistic situation, many similar events happening all too often these days.  Life can throw some strange curve balls and it is certainly easier to handle them if we are prepared.  Be ready for all possibilities for we never know when it is our time to be called home. Act accordingly.

God bless you all and have a great week.  And keep the Holy Spirit in your soul and the love of your country in your heart always. God bless America.

James Dick

Hawthorne, Florida

www.northfloridawriter.com

www.outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark

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

 

Funeral Meals: A Grieving Family Needs Lots of Support

We have spent a lot of time weekly talking about funeral planning and its many associated facets including estate planning, funeral costs and funeral expenses. One area we haven’t discussed is the funeral meal, one of the most memorable events following a funeral and one which requires the efforts of many to insure that it is handled well.

While I was pondering this subject I came across an old column from the New York Times internet edition which was right on the mark. While I am not a big fan of the Times, I do enjoy many of the specialized articles like this one which was found in the August 10, 2005 issue of the dining and wine section. Written by Abe Opincor, it reminded me of some of the old stories my mother passed along about funerals she had attended and the preparation involved.

Opincor talks about a lady named Vertamae Grosvenor, a cultural correspondent for National Public Radio, who grew up in South Carolina. Ms. Grosvenor wondered why people tended to eat so much at funeral meals and she provided her theory, and it was a simple one: “We ate so much because that way we knew we were alive.” Opincor further goes on to discuss variations in funeral meals and traditions by sections of the country and social grouping.

Being a Southerner by birth, I found that some of his comments about my region closely paralleled some of those things told to me by my mother. I also had some personal experiences which support his points.

Mom used to say that women in the South, particularly in small towns and rural areas, always had a casserole in the freezer just in case it was needed for a funeral. This paralleled directly with the Opincor piece which also brought back memories of fried chicken and rich desserts. We just weren’t as conscious of health issues or maybe it’s just that we decided comfort foods were needed at a time of great stress. I guess at times like that we really didn’t worry about what the doctor advised. This is probably true in many cases today as well.

But there was something even more dramatic in the way of cultural differences that I had to affirm as having witnessed myself. If you have never attended an African-American funeral in the South you have missed the feast of a lifetime. The church social hall, which is where family and friends gather after the service, features a smorgasbord of foods salty and sweet, hot and cold, with many different aromas and textures but all delicious.

My first personal experience with such a funeral was during my final active duty Army assignment and I was assigned to a post near my hometown in Tidewater Virginia. It was then that I learned the part that food really played in the celebration of a Christian death by the black community. One of my top civilian employees lost her father and she asked me to come to his funeral; she told me that I would never forget it. And what a celebration it was. Not only was the service joyous and uplifting with forward looking eulogies and wonderful spiritual music, the array of food served was something I never before had seen.

Being a weight watcher, I tried to graciously limit my intake and give my condolences when a giant of a man with a warm smile grabbed my shoulder and told me I couldn’t go home hungry and he wasn’t going to take no for an answer. Snapping his fingers, two young ladies went to the serving line and prepared a plate for me that I couldn’t finish in a week. It had fried chicken, baked ham, sliced pork, sweet potatoes, green beans, okra and so much more.

Looking at the table I could see that they had brought me what they thought I would like. They had left many wonderful concoctions that obviously were enjoyed by their community, traditional soul food, but they were uncertain if I would like it. Before the day was over I had sampled some and while it requires the development of a taste for it, it was surprisingly good.

Well, things were delicious and I ate until I thought my waistband would snap and I just had to stop. The Elder came by and smiled and told me that he knew I could do it. Then the same two young women came over with a tray full of rich desserts but I said I just couldn’t possibly eat another bite. They relented but did send me home with two desserts, a wonderful bread pudding and a huge homemade slice of pecan pie.

Never before had I been fed anywhere like that, let alone at a funeral. But as I said my goodbyes they all told me that maybe I should go back to my church and tell them how a real funeral meal is served. And I have never forgotten it.

The next morning I put in an extra fifteen minutes on my morning run and added some extra repetitions to my weight workout. If I ate like that again I think I would be attending my own funeral but, wow, was it good.

And I again remembered what my mother had told me as a boy about having a frozen casserole at the ready at all times. Those wonderful folks at that traditional African-American church certainly didn’t have any frozen casseroles on the table, that’s for sure. Everything was done from scratch after learning of the death of someone dear to them, and it was truly a labor of love. It was also a celebration of the end of life on this earth. They were celebrating the transition of this good man to his seat in Heaven with the Father and his Savior.

I tell you this story because I think it points out two very important things to be taken from it. First, if you are a Christian and the decedent is also a person of faith, the final tribute and that special meal should truly be a joyous occasion and, secondly, the family can’t do this alone. They need friends and family to step up to the plate so that they can properly attend to their own sorrow and closure. And nothing shows your love for them like helping to take care of the funeral meal. Remember this when you are called to help a family facing this situation.

God bless you all and have a wonderful week. And God bless America.

James Dick
Hawthorne, Florida
Northfloridawriter.com
Author’s book page: outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark

 

Depression and Grief: The Aftermath

WRITER’S NOTE: When a family suffers the loss of a loved one, the worst of grief and depression is temporarily averted because family and friends rush to their side and important decisions must be made quickly. The days leading up to the memorial service and internment are tied up with family and friends and funeral planning, encompassing such items as determining funeral costs, funeral expenses and the availability of any funeral insurance or burial insurance which might cover some of them. Only after services are completed and the home is empty of friends and relatives does the family face its new normal. This often brings cold, hard reality and often intensive grief and depression. It is at these times that the family will need support from family and friends more so than ever.
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Suzy McIntire and her family were alone and she was now face to face with her sorrow and that of her children. After three days of non-stop visitors, meeting with lawyers, accountants, the funeral director, her minister and many well intended extended family and friends, her husband of twenty-five years, Jake, was finally put to rest at a heavily attended ceremony. Now on a Thursday night, only five days after his death, she and her three children were trying to put the pieces of their changed life together with the realization that Jake would not be back.

Suzy had been brave or at least she thought so. She did not shed a tear and maintained her composure throughout the grueling days and all that had to be done. Suzy was raised in a strict family where emotions were frowned on and she thought breaking down in tears in front of her children would not be a good example.

Suzy’s children, Jake, Jr., Melissa and Amanda, followed her lead. They were somber and stone faced throughout, but they looked miserable as if they just didn’t care what happened next. Sitting down with them in the den, the room that their father loved so much, she suddenly broke down into big sobs. The three children looked at her in amazement but then little Jake rushed up and put his arms around her.

“Mom, it’s okay, you can cry”, he whispered. I talked to Pastor John last night and he said tears are good when someone dies. It helps you stop being so sad.”

Suzy showed a tiny smile and responded, “But Jakie, I’ve always taught you children that tears are a sign of weakness and we can’t show weakness at a time like this.”

By now, the two girls had come close to their mom and little brother and were paying attention closely. Little Jake pondered things for a moment and then looked closely into his mother’s eyes, showing much maturity for a ten year old.

“Cry, Mom, I want to cry, too,” was all that he said and he began to cry openly.

When he hugged his mom tight with tears streaming, the two girls also entered the family huddle and joined in a group hug as well. All four members of the family, mother, two daughters and young son all broke into sobbing tears. The release of the pent up feelings and sorrow was free flowing, relieving some of the grief and depression which was building and, without relief, could have long term consequences.

The next day, the sun dawned a little brighter and more cheerful, the kids were off to school and Suzy called her supervisor saying she would be back at work on Monday. A little later, Pastor John Simpson, their family minister, came by to check on Suzy. She told him what had happened the evening before and how little Jake had passed on his advice.

Pastor John nodded and said, “I thought he would tell you. I knew it needed to come from him and not me, but it was important for you to open up and let your feelings out.” He added, “Things will get better for you now that you are facing the issue. And don’t forget, Jesus is here to help in any way he can as am I.”

At the end of the visit she thanked him profusely and decided it was time to get busy. She headed out to the store to buy some special fixings for the family. She would make one of their favorite suppers and get the family back on track to a reasonable life. They were going to live life actively and enjoy what God had given them. And she knew that her loving Jake was watching approvingly from his Glory above.

The story just told is a situation that is faced by many of us and often no one outside of the immediate family has any understanding of the degree of sadness faced. Why did I decide to use it? Well, it’s important for us to realize that no matter how strong and tough people appear, in times of mental anguish, of which death is one of the most difficult to deal with, appearances of those impacted can be most deceiving. We must remember this when dealing with family and friends suffering from loss. Follow up with them, spend time with them, afford them the opportunity to release their anguish and just be there for them. It is important, they will always remember the kindness and concern provided and it’s what God expects from us. Kindness, caring and compassion go a long way to alleviate human emptiness.

James Dick
Hawthorne, Florida
Website: northfloridawriter.com
Author page: outskirtspress.com/honeyweshouldaboughttheark

 

A National Remembrance: Veterans Day

On the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month in the year of our Lord nineteen hundred and eighteen, the guns fell silent in France. After a long and arduous struggle with the advantage shifting back and forth and months in the trenches, soldiers were notified that a truce had been reached and that the fighting was over. While the details of Germany’s surrender would be ironed out by the Treaty of Versailles, exhausted warriors on both sides of the battle were finally able to escape the constant noise, horror and fear and experience calm and peace.

The following year, President Woodrow Wilson declared Armistice Day, a celebration for all Americans who took up arms against the forces of the Kaiser. It was not until 1954 that the name was changed to Veterans Day by a law signed by President Eisenhower. From that date forward, the day would honor all American fighting men and women who had served their country in uniform. The impetus for this change was, of course, World War II and the multitude of young citizens who fought, with many injured and killed, against a resurgent Germany under Adolph Hitler and eventually his ally the Empire of Japan.

In the funeral business, the patriotism and dedication of our fighting forces and the reverence we Americans display toward them is probably seen as prominently as anywhere. Funeral planning for military personnel, both active and retired, is a standard feature involving many important responsibilities such as determining and assisting with arrangements to handle funeral costs and funeral expenses, working with appropriate funeral clergy and in some cases funeral chaplains to insure smooth delivery of services, and often supporting active military funerals.

The effort provided on behalf of our World War I veterans has now ended as the last of our survivors are gone. Funeral planning for World War II vets is also beginning to wind down as that generation is reaching the end of its lifespan. Funeral planning and support, however, will continue for Korean War and Vietnam veterans and, of course, the Iraqi and Afghanistan support requirements are ongoing. These same support requirements will continue as long as conflict remains with mankind and, unfortunately, it is likely that this will be ongoing as long as we continue to inhabit the earth.

To provide support for veteran families in their time of need is a distinct honor. And for all of us in this great country, Veterans Day should be a special occasion for each of us to celebrate these brave men and women, these veterans, and what they have done for us. Whether they served in combat or not, each of them was willing to serve their country wherever they might be called and in whatever capacity their duty required. These veterans also subjected themselves to separation for extended periods from family and requirements for hardship and sacrifice that most Americans can’t even imagine. Yet they have done so, generation after generation and war after war, unflinchingly and with resolve.

I believe America always has and always will respond positively with a warm thank you to our veterans. Oh, there will always be those few who scorn them and call them vulgar names, but there are always a few bad apples in any barrel. But just this past week if you happened to see the You Tube video of the reception a group of Marines received at the Chicago airport while passing through, it is obvious that Americans have high regard for their military and by this I am including those currently and past in service. The outrage recently displayed over the government’s unwise decision to close the World War II memorial during the federal partial shutdown is another example of this.

And there is the other side of this coin as well. Those Americans who are veterans are extremely grateful to all of their American brothers and sisters who have supported them in times both good and bad. You see, they remember those times when they were away from home and often lonely and fearful, but they also remember the pride they felt knowing that those on the home front supported them, prayed for their wellbeing and honored them. And they have been honored by the privilege of serving their country and the many back home kept safe and secure by their service. It is something they will always remember and always cherish. It has been a distinct honor and privilege to help maintain The Land of the Free.

So whether it was in the hedgerows or on the Normandy beaches of France, dodging intense fire on the black sand beaches of Iwo Jima or in the freezing cold at the Chosen Reservoir, or on patrol in the jungles of Vietnam, operating in the stark environments of Iraq and Afghanistan, even working stateside in a motor pool, America salutes all of her veterans who served anywhere. And these veterans remain ready even today, after their term of military duty is over, to stand with their country and their God in whatever endeavor duty calls. That is the foundation of the American veteran and their belief in America.

As a grateful nation made up of citizens with loving hearts, let’s take a moment to pray together a prayer for all of our veterans who have answered their nation’s call:

Dear Father Above:

We thank you for the willingness of so many who have served the needs of their country and the cause of freedom which she represents. To all who have served this great land, we ask for Thy love and benevolence in caring for them and helping them with the many issues they have faced after service. Many live with debilitating physical injuries, others suffer from psychological disorders caused by the stress of war, even more suffer after returning from war to find difficulty in finding gainful employment and economic prosperity. Be with them and give them strength to deal with their issues and overcome them.

We also beseech Thee, Oh Lord, to give each of us the compassion and goodness of heart to help our veterans in any way we can so that they might return to a normal and loving lifestyle without the internal demons so many face. And give our government leaders the wisdom and good sense to honor all commitments and promises made and to always look for ways to find alternative solutions to international problems other than war, for it is the young, the strong, and the courageous who receive the call to make the personal sacrifices that war brings.

Finally, Lord, be with America. Keep her strong, keep her people brave, and keep all of us in Thy love and grace. And help each of us to understand the importance of maintaining our personal relationship with Thee, for when this is multiplied by millions Thy power becomes a force that will weather any crisis and any storm.

We ask this prayer in His Holy Name, Amen.

To all of you out there who served proudly, Happy Veterans Day. And to those of you who have not served but appreciate the service they have given, find a veteran on this special day and thank them for their service. God bless America and may she ever be free.

James Dick
Hawthorne, Florida
www.northfloridawriter.com

 

Grief and Depression: Half Empty or Half Full?

The funeral business is full of stories about grieving families suffering through the loss of a loved one. Their grief and depression can be totally a result of the immediacy of loss or, in other cases, the grievant might be pre-disposed to grief and depression which is exacerbated by death of a loved one. In the latter case it is even more difficult to focus on the many funeral planning issues they suddenly face, such as funeral expenses, funeral costs and funeral needs. Sometimes these added stresses can last long after a reasonable period of mourning is over. In such cases, it is of paramount importance to find a permanent answer to the problem or their life can be effectively put on hold.

I thought about this while I was planning this week’s column and I remembered a dear friend of mine who had a personality that was always in “down” mode, never upbeat and always looking for the worst likely outcome. He was a good man and a loyal friend, but he always fought these feelings and when faced with the sudden death of his wife of over twenty years he just sank to a new low. It was very difficult to bring him out of it and I don’t think he ever fully recovered.

So what can we do to avoid a gloom and doom outlook and instead find the brighter side of things? I bring this up because all of us will come in close contact with such a situation in our life, either directly or indirectly, and knowing how to deal with it is something that will be of critical importance. In some cases professional psychological or even psychiatric help might be necessary, but in many other cases outlook can be changed by a positive attitude. Often we can train ourselves to find the best in things just by the way we spend our time and focus our thoughts and thereby put that smile back on our face. It involves creating a point of view that always sees the half empty glass as half full instead. If we focus on filling the glass instead of how empty it is, we change the entire perspective.

I’ve personally had periods when I was gloomy, suffering from limited bouts of grief and depression, but I’ve always found that by getting away from what’s troubling me and taking a fresh look from a new perspective, things turn out to be not nearly as difficult as I surmised. A couple of things I do that might be of help are simple and they don’t cost anything, but they can bring about a change for the good if practiced regularly.

First, I find a pleasant and peaceful space where I can be alone with my thoughts yet surrounded by evidence of beauty and wonder. I am fortunate to live in a rural setting where the glory of nature and energetic life is always abounding. I try to take at least an hour a day to just admire my surroundings and ponder my life and the gift that it truly is. It is fragile, yet wondrous, and should never be taken for granted. Our Maker wants us to enjoy it, relish it and live it in a way that is pleasing to Him.

And this brings me directly to the second point. I try to begin and end each day with prayer to Him. It is my way to thank Him for what I have and it requires me to communicate with Him often and regularly. My prayer or “talking time” with God keeps the lines of communication between us open and affords me a way to “clean the cobwebs’ out of my soul, open my heart to Him and turn my problems over to His Divine Majesty. This frees me up to focus better, live better, and appreciate the things we have much more. It makes Him an active part of my routine life and gives me peace, and peace is the key to reducing grief and depression and many other problems.

When we accept God into our lives, we notice a change in the way we feel and the way we act. Oh, we still make mistakes and use poor judgment since we are, after all, mere humans. But when we open our hearts to Him we receive inner peace and we experience joy in our lives, a joy which relieves those things that burden us. He brings us hope, love and the opportunity for eternal life. And once we accept this and are born again into Him, our eternity starts. It offers us permanent protection under His watchful eye.

If we are skeptical about this that is normal, but it’s important to reach into our inner selves and give faith a chance to come forward because our salvation is based upon faith. It’s why He gave us free will and the right to choose for ourselves. Otherwise we wouldn’t appreciate it; we would be mere robots.

And think about this. God’s grace and his love for us will meet every need we could possibly have with a wonder and majesty we can’t even imagine. The result is a permanent solution to our problems that will leave us never really wanting. And then, when the time comes that we have to face the death of a loved one, or even our own mortality, His comfort and strength will carry us through and give us the willpower and guidance to face whatever our future holds now or forever more. Could anything be more wonderful than that? It cannot be found.

So what kind of glass do you see in your future, half empty or half full? Have a great day and week ahead with the Lord in your heart as He yearns to fill your glass with his love and spirit. Hallelujah!

James Dick
Hawthorne, Florida
www.northfloridawriter.com