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Selecting Funeral Clergy or Eulogist


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Have a wonderful week and God bless you all.

James Dick


Book page:

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


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

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


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

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

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


Selecting a Cemetery

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

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

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

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

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


It’s Never Too Late to Plan

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Dick


Book page:

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


Author page:



A Lesson in Saying Goodbye (Part One)

The first funeral that a child is allowed to attend is really an important event in understanding life.  It means that they are deemed old enough to face the cold hard facts about death at life’s end, something which none of us can avoid.  If properly prepared and taught to believe in the power of God’s love, however, they will also understand it to be the beginning of something much better, eternal life. 

Some families are able to hold a large and festive event of celebrating a life while others, due to limited resources, don’t have this capability.  So I thought we could take a look at both the funeral and final rites of someone with resources abundant as well as someone of limited means.  The reason is to show that a respectful and memorable event can be held to match either situation if proper funeral planning has been done and organizations like Shared Sorrows can help you make it happen in either case.

This week we will look at the more elaborate, the funeral of a physician of means. Next week we will visit a funeral for a man of lesser means, showing how big and elaborate final rites are not always necessary to show the love and respect that those left behind have for the deceased.  In both cases, they were good and honest men respected for the way they lived their life, and the stories will be presented from the viewpoint of a child.  Children always pick up on the things that we adults sometimes miss and they are also very honest and open.

I hope you get something of value to think about out of both messages.



The little boy was dressed up and ready to go.  He had never been to a funeral before but now, at age eight, his parents thought it was time for him to understand more about death and how it is a part of God’s plan for each of us.  After all, he attended church and Sunday school and knew about Jesus’ death, so they thought it would be appropriate as part of the explanation of eternal life about which he had asked questions recently.

“Come on, Johnny, let’s go.  They aren’t going to wait for us at the church”, said Susan Watkins, his mother.

“Here I come, Mom”, he replied, “I feel dumb in this suit and tie.”

As he came down the stairs Susan just smiled and told him how handsome he looked.  This was his first suit and she knew he would come to appreciate dress clothes as he grew.

Mom, Dad and Patrick Watkins, husband and father, hurried to the car and they were off to the Methodist Church in town.  They were on their way to the funeral for Patrick’s good friend and Johnny’s Godfather, Sam Swanson, who had died suddenly of a heart attack.  Patrick had taken his good friend’s death hard on the first day after he heard the news but he was composed now.  He was, however, a little bit worried about Johnny since he was close with his friend and didn’t totally understand all that was happening.

As they arrived at the pretty white clapboard church with the red brick addition and the tall bell tower, a crowd was streaming into the church.  Sam was the Town of Prosperity’s only general practice physician and everyone knew him and liked him, especially the children who called him Doctor Sam because he could make them laugh even when receiving a shot.  He just had the type of personality that people liked to be around.

The church was decked out in beautiful flowers including lilies, white roses, and gladiolas creating a wonderful scent in the air.  Each pew had a red ribbon attached to the end, a color that was Sam’s favorite.  Even the pastor was in his finest purple and gold ministerial robe, something he didn’t always wear.  Sam liked formality at church as a sign of reverence to God.

Johnny and his parents were escorted to the third row behind Sam’s family reserved for close friends. While Susan and Johnny took their seats, Patrick took a brief moment to walk up to the first pew and offer a quick hug and hand to Sam’s wife Ellen. She nodded through her black mourning veil and made a courageous attempt to smile.  The words thank you could be read on her lips.

The service was formal and quick with Pastor Heflin offering words of praise for Sam while speaking of the Glory of Heaven and the salvation that comes to believers upon earthly death.  He pointed out that Sam was a man of few words but many short jokes and he followed that lead in his remarks. Before closing he also told a childhood story about Sam’s youth which added a cheerful touch.  Even Johnny laughed when he learned that Dr. Sam wasn’t a perfect kid; he was actually quite mischievous.

From the church, most of the attendees joined the procession to Evening Shade Cemetery where Sam was being buried in one of the block of plots that had been in the Swanson family for years. The cemetery was over one hundred years old and the history of Prosperity was told in the names of the deceased on the tombstones who built the town from scratch.  Sam’s marked plot had room for one other person, his wife Ellen, when the time came for her to be called home.  Their children were grown and had moved far away.

The canopy covered seating was semi-circular around the beautiful cherry casket with brass fittings.  It was atop a stand with the sides and ground covered so that no sign of the actual soon-to-be occupied grave could be seen.

Beautiful lilies adorned the area, offering a wonderful contrast with their dark green stems.   Three little doves were contained in a gold container beside the casket, cooing as if saying their last goodbyes to Sam, who had raised them.

After the final remarks, many passed by the casket saying their last goodbyes.  Little Johnny was given a single white rose which he lovingly placed on the casket, at long last crying as he realized the finality of his favorite man in the world next to his dad.  As they walked toward the car, Johnny looked back and said a little prayer for his good friend, Dr. Sam.

Johnny’s eyes brightened when he saw his friend, Will Spencer, who had been seated several rows back with his parents.  Will and his dad were having a mild argument as Will didn’t want to go to the reception saying it made him sad.

John Spencer looked at Johnny and his dad and said, “Johnny, do you want to go to the Doc’s house or would you rather come with Will.  His big sister is home and you could both stay with her while we adults go to the reception.”

Johnny looked at his parents, received a nod in response, and smiled broadly saying, “You don’t think Mrs. Swanson will mind, do you, Dad?  I certainly don’t want to upset her but I don’t want to be sad anymore.”

“Oh, I think she’ll understand and approve”, was the reply.

That settled it.  Johnny was off with Will.  The Spencer’s would drop the boys off and then go to the reception.

Back at Will’s house, the boys talked about the funeral since it was their first.  They realized that it was a sign that their parents thought they were old enough to handle one of the toughest things in life by being allowed to attend.  But they also knew that young boys had a long life ahead and they weren’t ready to be adults anytime soon.

While enjoying a movie in the den, the doorbell suddenly rang.  A truck from Hometown Caterers was there and they jumped up immediately and followed Will’s sister to the door.  A big man with a bigger smile was waiting patiently.  He had a huge delivery bag in his hand.

As the door opened he said, “Hi, kids, I’m Hank from Hometown Caterers. We are handling the food for the reception at Dr. Swanson’s home, may he rest in peace.   Mrs. Swanson thought you guys might enjoy some of the food.  It’s really good”.

All three thanked him, bid him goodbye, and took the bag to the kitchen table where they eagerly opened it.  In it were fancy party sandwiches, meatballs and cocktail sausages, cheese and crackers, small individual cakes and packets of fresh fruit and baked goods.  What a feast and they stuffed themselves.

Later, when the adults returned and Johnny said his goodbyes and headed home with his parents, Patrick asked him, “Son, did you learn anything from your experience today?  Is there something you would like to share with us?”

Johnny pondered for a moment and said, “Well, Mom and Dad, I learned that Mrs. Swanson and a lot of other people loved Doc Swanson.  They gave him quite a goodbye today.  And I think all of that was because they knew he would be going home to God.  And they sure did give him a good goodbye part. Don’t you think so, Dad?”

Patrick and Susan both smiled, knowing that they had made the right decision in including him in attendance at the funeral and responded, “Absolutely, Son, absolutely.”

A young boy learns something important about life and all who attended the good Doctor’s funeral will remember it clearly as a sign of love and respect.  What a fitting way to end a good man’s life.  Don’t you want to be remembered fondly yourself when your days or done?  As we’ll learn more next week, it’s not the size or the exquisite nature of the funeral that counts; it’s the love and devotion that accomplishes the desired result.

Have a great week and remember Him who brought you here and God bless America.

James Dick

Hawthorne, Florida


Book page:

Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark: Selected as a Best Read 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

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Aging Well: Step Lively for Longer Life (Part 1 of 2)

Since I began blogging for Shared Sorrows, we’ve talked in some detail about funeral planning and some of the questions we have about what is included in a good plan. Will the estate need a probate attorney and if so, does this mean probate and estate planning must be done early to protect the estate? Should a funeral fund or funeral insurance program be established? What about the need for grief care in the event grief and depression become extremely difficult for our loved ones? These are just some of the things that should be considered, but what about the remainder of our own lives? What steps can we take now to help us maintain better health for a longer life?

I think back to when I was in my 30s and my mom was in her late 60s. She’d tell me when I visited her, “Son, if you want to live a long life, get off the couch and get active.”

Mom always enjoyed a brisk daily walk. Living near a large wooded park, she loved to traverse the walkways with friends, enjoying the beautiful trees and the abundant small wildlife that resided there. And even though she had some arthritis that sometimes slowed her down, unless she was having a bad spell she always took her daily walk. A former nurse, she was convinced that keeping the blood flowing was the best medicine for good health. And few things you can do are better at warding off the feelings frustration or thoughts of grief and depression that many of us face in uncertain times.

Now that I’m in my 60s myself, I have to admit that she was certainly right. Oh, I always stayed in good physical shape as a younger man, but as we age and we develop those nagging little aches and pains it is always easy to make an excuse for not being active. But remembering what Mom said I have always tried to keep a good exercise routine in place.

Let’s talk about a few easy things we can do to help us meet that goal of a long and healthy life. They take a little time, but in retirement years, when maintaining fitness is so critical to remaining active, we generally have plenty of free time available. And these steps don’t need to be expensive; it’s all in the specific program you want. There are two aspects that I want to include: aerobics (for cardio maintenance) and weight training (to maintain good muscle tone). We’ll look at them separately.

Aerobics. The idea of a good aerobics exercise program is to give the heart a workout which will keep that organ, a pulsing, life giving machine, toned and fit. An increased heart rate through a good exercise program helps maintain good blood flow and proper blood pressure. It also plays a major role in keeping cholesterol under control as it improves the “good” cholesterol (HDL) to counteract the “bad” (LDL). If you’ve been sedentary, it is important to talk with your doctor first; he can advise you on what type of exercise is appropriate to start with and how you can enhance it as your fitness level improves. Frequently a stress test is performed to make sure that the body is fit enough to start and to establish a bench mark.

a. Jogging. If you have been active to this point and your jogging has created no health issues impacting your workout, you can continue this exercise in later years. There are some marathon runners in their eighties, people who have lived in the fashion of Jack LaLanne, the ageless fitness guru who ran into his early nineties. This, however, is the exception rather than the rule. But if it fits your lifestyle and your health level checks out, go for it. Even in the case of knee problems, use of a treadmill can be feasible for many and some of the equipment today simulates a real running environment as well.
b. Walking. This is probably the best and most appropriate for people getting older. You can start off slow and over time increase both your speed and distance. Remember, the better level of shape maintained, the more you can challenge yourself if you desire. Make sure you have good walking shoes and a safe course that you can follow. It can be on the sidewalk around your neighborhood or in a park or on a hiking trail, and the goal is to work up to a level where you can manage a minimum of thirty minute session at least three, preferably more times per week work while working up a sweat and increasing your pulse rate and breathing. Remember, however, if you feel pain or can’t catch your breath you need to slow down. The walk routine should be something enjoyed not something damaging.
c. Organized or individual aerobics. Some of us have trouble doing independent exercise on a regular basis. We can get bored or maybe it’s because there is no one to push us onward. Aerobics programs such as Aerobicize were designed for this purpose. Such activities are simply a paced workout (the pace being set is according to the capabilities of the audience) set to music with an assigned leader to direct the actions to be performed. It offers relief from boredom, a basis for competitiveness and should be exhilarating. Going through the various motions to the beat of the music is always helpful to make the time go by in an enjoyable fashion. The leader is also there to encourage, direct and gently push the participants to completion. In the event that you don’t want to do it in group format, there are many aerobics videos that can be purchased for home use. All you need is a DVD player and enough room in front of the screen to perform the exercises and you are set. The music and a leader plus a workout group are usually featured in the video and you can simulate doing your exercise routine in their company.

Weight training. Here I am not talking about bench pressing to see how much weight you can handle, rather, I am talking about muscle toning. As we get older we unfortunately have a tendency to get flabby. In the case of men it is particularly common in the upper torso where our pectoral muscles can start to resemble a bowl full of Jell-O. The upper arm area is also prone to this; women particularly are susceptible to this. And the law of gravity seems to always work against us with the buttocks, hips and stomach growing with variances by gender. An active aerobics program along with muscle toning is the best defense against these problems, especially if teamed with a sensible diet.

I recommend that if you are not in good shape and you haven’t used weights before, perform the exercise motions for a week without the weights and then add light hand weights, starting with one or two pounds. If you are already reasonably toned, you can begin at higher levels. For most of us getting older who aren’t interested in becoming an aging Charles Atlas, hand weights of about five pounds are sufficient although the more ambitious might use eight pounders. You might also want to add ankle weights for added resistance, but be careful not to overdo. It’s entirely up to you but, again, make sure to consult with your doctor first if this routine is complete new to you. If after a period you feel fine and want even more resistance, there is no rule that says you can’t do more. Each of us has different strength levels and limitations. You can research toning programs by just searching on line, at the library or at a book or video store and, of course, through your doctor. Try out a few different programs until you find the one you like best and remember, it’s something that you want to use regularly and you want it to be enjoyable, not something you dread.

Each type of exercise program, including jogging, walking, aerobics and muscle toning will grow on you the more you do it. Your body will actually tell you when it misses the exercise and will practically make you feel guilty if you cheat on your schedule. And the results will be better health and you will both feel and look better. Plus if you are prone to “down days” with bouts of sadness or grief and depression, you will find that a regular exercise program will brighten your spirits immensely. So let’s go ahead. Let’s put a little spring back in our step.

When we meet again next week we’ll talk about the other half of staying on top of our game. We’ll talk about staying alert and sharp mentally. God bless you all and have a good week. And God bless America.

James Dick
Author of Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark,
Available on line from or
Selected as a Best Read of 2014 by American Pet Magazine


Our Legacy is the Way We Live

As we get older and begin to face our mortality, we naturally think much about our families and how we want life to be for them after we are gone. Certainly funeral planning, with all of the associated actions such as probate and estate planning, funeral needs and associated funeral costs, and the possible need to select an obituary writer come to mind. I think, however, that most important is the legacy that we leave behind, a legacy which is honorable, tells our life story and which makes our remaining loved ones proud. If we are successful in doing so by the way we live our life, one issue that often requires professional help, grief care, can often be negated. Let me explain why.

If we live in an upstanding manner, earning the love and respect of our loved ones, our light will shine brightly for them and in them after we are long gone. The pride that they feel having been part of our life will help them avoid grief care, for they will rest easy knowing that we have gone to a better place and a long needed rest. Oh, they will still miss us and have some moments in solitude of sadness, but the joy of their memories and the strength that our example has given them will negate the need for special help. They will be able to provide their own independent grief care with the positive light that we have left behind of ourselves.

Now having said that, what do I mean by living in an upstanding manner? After all, that is a broad term and all I can do is explain it in the manner that my heart directs me. If you don’t agree, establish your own criteria to live by but this works for me. It means trying to live the remainder of my life with the following foremost in everything I do, and I place the important things in order: God, family, and country.

God is placed first for me because He is truly my Father. Everything about me and all that I have been blessed to have comes from Him. With Him I am everything, but without Him I am nothing. And by following His Son, Jesus Christ, I am offered the opportunity to live forever with Him after this life is done.

Family is placed second and it follows after God because if I love Him and do my best to live my life as He demands my family will be cared for. And if I love Him, I will bring His love and caring to bear on them and they will ultimately reach the same conclusion from His light. In my life I have been blessed that my wife and children have accompanied my growth into becoming strong and loving Christians. They have had their ups and downs as we all have but when all is said and done they know that God is with them and that His Son, Jesus Christ, died for our sins and has offered his grace through faith.
My love of my country comes next. I was blessed to serve her in uniform and I am grateful that I was born in the greatest country on earth. I must say that I am sometimes troubled these days with some of the things that are happening but I know that if I rest my cares with God He will do His will. If that means times have to be tough for mankind to understand His truth then so be it. And when I pray to Him he will direct my energies to do what is right and just for the land that I love.

So when I die I want to be remembered for my strong belief in these three things, the second and third of which are always dependent on the first. And I know that if I live my life in this fashion and my family understands where I am coming from and has accepted a similar viewpoint about life, they will thrive after I have gone.

They may suffer some hardships and sorrow, but they will be focused on what is really important in this world. It is living your life as He would have us do and in so doing, with the love of Christ and the forgiveness He has given, they will be secure and safe whatever the future might bring.

In the end, the strength that He provides us through the gift of free leads us to true freedom. And this freedom is infectious if we display it by the way we live with love. For God expects us to live our lives with love in our heart both for Him and for mankind, even those who don’t love us. If we love in this manner we cannot fail because He loves us and He rewards those who praise Him and His Son. And that reward is the ultimate security blanket, more precious than property, gold and power. It is the gift of eternal life.

So put God in the form of the Holy Trinity, family and country in your heart in that very order. He knows that America was given a special gift of freedom like no other country has ever seen and he wants to see it strengthened and returned in full force. He also wants us to enjoy life on earth while we have it, but that enjoyment puts many worthwhile responsibilities on our shoulders. Meeting that requirement will secure both your family and your country and, for playing your part in doing so, you will leave wonderful memories for your loved ones and both you and they will be truly blessed.

God bless you all and have a great week.

James Dick
Hawthorne, Florida
Author of Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark, recognized as one of the
Best Reads of 2014 by American Pet Magazine


Final Disposition of Remains: Part II – Traditional Burial

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

James Dick
Hawthorne, Florida
Author of Honey, We Shoulda’ Bought the Ark, now available at my book website