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Before your life ends, leave some final thoughts behind, a lasting goodbye

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Passare Publishes How-to Guide on Preparing for a Loved One’s End-of-Life | Passare

Passare, Inc., a trusted and relevant source for end-of-life planning and management, today announced the release of its newest resource How-to Guide: “Preparing for a Loved One’s End-of-Life.” Released as the 17th in a series designed to provide information, advice and counsel on end-of-life matters, the new eBook focuses on how to manage the different stages of a loved one’s end-of-life.

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What to Tell Children About Funerals - O'Connor Mortuary

We hear the debate about children being at funerals pretty often around here and while we always encourage people to bring their children, they don’t always agree with us. Well, to my surprise, in the book What Happens When Someone Dies? the question is never even addressed, it is just automatically assumed that children will be there and explains with a delicate, gentle and uncomplicated voice what the child will experience.

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How to Give a Eulogy - Esquire

HOW TO GIVE A EULOGY
It’s no easy task summing up someone’s life in just a few words. But I have my rules.

By Tom Chiarella 


AT MY VERY FIRST FUNERAL, I wanted to say something. It was for a kid I’d known in high school who had somehow managed to get hit by a car in front of a bar outside my hometown. I’d read about it in the paper, left work, and snuck into the back of the service. I hadn’t known the guy all that well, but I remembered that he had a reputation for being particularly tough, the kind of guy you wouldn’t want to mess with. There was a picture of him somewhere—at the door or on the altar or in someone’s hands—and I remember that his hair was hanging down in front of his right eye, just as it always had in high school. I sat there, having come for selfish reasons, out of curiosity, really, thinking, Why was his hair always in front of his eye?

I wish I had spoken. I wish I had stood up and said something about that hair. The way this tough guy sort of hid behind that shock of hair, it told me something about him. But I kept quiet. I listened to the eulogy. I don’t remember one word of it. But the years flip by, and the hair is still in his eyes.

I’ve been asked to deliver a half dozen eulogies since then. People tell me I’m good at it. I don’t care about that. Being good at public speaking is just a party trick. I care about the task.

I’ve heard people say they dread giving eulogies. How, they ask, can you summarize a person’s life in a series of moments? I always shrug. It is hard. But I do have my rules.

FIRST THING TO KNOW is this: Giving a eulogy is good for you. Period.

It may hurt to write it. And reading it? For some, that’s the worst part. The world might spin a little, and everything familiar to you might fade for a few minutes. But remember, remind yourself as you stand there, you are the lucky one.

And that’s not because you aren’t dead. You were selected. You get to stand, face the group, the family, the world, and add it up. You’re being asked to do something at the very moment when nothing can be done. You get the last word in the attempt to define the outlines of a life. I don’t care what you say, bub: That is a gift.

If the idea bores you in some way, don’t do it. If on some level you are not interested in the problem of the assignment, this framing of a life, then simply say no. Suggest someone else. Say you’re too overcome with grief. Get out of it. The job matters.

THE WRITING and reading of a eulogy is, above all, the simple and elegant search for small truths. They don’t have to be truths that everyone agrees on, just ones they will recognize. This can be surprisingly hard, to take notice of the smallest, most unpolished details of a life and set them up for us to stare at in the wonder of recognition.

He protected his family above all else.

She could sometimes be a bully.

He thought out every answer he ever gave before he spoke. And he put his finger on his cheek when he did it.

She never wanted to talk about herself.

That man loved a cigar.

THEY MAY TELL YOU that you have three minutes. They may tell you that you have five. They may tell you to take all the time you want. It doesn’t matter: Time is always an insult at a funeral. Work within the finite space you’re given. Remember that the eulogy is just one part of the formation.

STANDING THERE on the dais, consider the world as a series of concentric rings of loyalty. The people in the nearest ring, those in the front row, are owed the most. You should speak first to them. And then, in the next measure, to the room itself, which is the next ring, and only then to the physical world outside, the neighborhood, the town, the place, and then, just maybe, to the machinations of life-muffling institutions.

Recently I was at the funeral of a friend who died a long, painful death from cancer. I was sitting there in the midday, with heavy wedges of light falling through the church windows, thinking about how she liked to smoke cigars with her husband and how she owned a house that was built entirely underground. A speaker got up and spoke about the woman’s death and the need for stem-cell research. Then the priest got up and urged everyone to listen to God’s word through the church. And then another speaker mentioned stem cells. Soon I forgot about my friend and the house and the cigars, and suddenly it was like watching The McLaughlin Group on a really dim frequency.

Remember your rings of loyalty.

YOU MUST WRITE IT DOWN. This is not a wedding toast. In grief, people ought not be forced to wander through memories that may not be acute, well framed, and, above all, purposeful.

AVOID SIMILES, the weakest and most friable form of metaphor. If, like me, you can’t avoid them altogether, at least spend some time on them. Construct them. Any fool can say, “Mike was like a tiger,” and he wouldn’t likely be wrong. I heard that one recently, and I found myself sitting there thinking not of Mike but of tigers and the stupid things people say about them—that they have heart, that they are ferocious, that they are the “last known survivor,” in the droning lyrics of “Eye of the Tiger.” I found myself thinking, Mike wasn’t like a tiger at all. Tigers are giant eating machines that lie around the zoo all day like so many junkies in a deep, sun-warmed nod. There’s a simile for you. You may want to argue that. But at least you get my point, because I know you’re not thinking about Mike.

YOU MAY CRY. Accept it. But you should not let yourself be hobbled. A eulogy is not a chance to show off what you feel. Need I say this? It is not about you.

That’s why you write it down. That’s why you read it aloud until you feel in yourself every response you might have to every detail. You want to get through the moments that will touch you. When my aunt Jane died, I read a catalog of truths about her in the middle of the eulogy. At one point I said, “She smoked too much.” I had read the thing to my dad in our hotel maybe six times. I’d read it the night before about fifteen more. I’d read it probably seven times that very morning, and I’d barely even noticed the line.

But in the church, on the heels of my father’s brilliant eulogy, with my mother not ten feet away from me, the line simply stopped me cold. I could see my aunt’s hands and the huge glass ashtrays she favored with three or four lipstick-smudged butts cocked in the ashes. I hadn’t expected to feel that. I started to cry. Later on, my brother said he hardly noticed it. Sometimes I think it must have been a gulp, but it felt more like an ax to the sternum.

I can recall, inside that moment, that the way I kept my composure was to say to myself, I owe her this much at least. It was a mantra I made up in advance. I said it to myself twice before I could go on. Make up a mantra to get yourself through those moments. Scratch it out on the top of every page.

THERE ARE SIMPLER RULES: Don’t read poetry unless you knew it going in. Don’t use Bartlett’s. Don’t do imitations. Don’t sing, unless they ask you to. Even then, consider not singing.

YOU MUST MAKE them laugh. Laughs are a pivot point in a funeral. They are your responsibility. The best laughs come by forcing people not to idealize the dead. In order to do this, you have to be willing to tell a story, at the closing of which you draw conclusions that no one expects.

When my friend Mary died, I could not type her name without crying. What can I tell you? I loved her. I’m not even offering you any piece of that love here. I don’t know you. That’s how much I want to keep that near me. I will tell you this: After she died, I asked to give her eulogy. I asked. It felt egotistical to do so, as if I were putting myself at the center of something that was not about me at all. But I stood in back of her house with her husband, wiping my nose on my sleeve while the gutters were spewing out rainwater at our feet, and told him I wanted it.

For Mary, I started by listing all the things everyone agreed on: that she was kind, that she cared about others, that she had delighted us—all of us, really—with small gifts from her travels, thoughtful notes, sweet inquiries after our children and families. It was not hard. She was an incredible person. I knew that everyone agreed on that.

I was not there to tell people what we all agreed on. That isn’t telling at all. Eulogies are assertions about the dead and the living alike. I knew more, so I paused and said, “But I’m here to tell you that Mary was not a glass of milk.” I was about to speak about her combativeness, her prickly side, her argumentative nature. But for a moment, the air went out of the room.

In any good eulogy, there are moments of panic. Silences. Laughter in the wrong places. Moments when the speaker gets choked up. These moments—the tears or the silence—these are why you learn to pause.

So I stopped for just a second. Then I heard her daughter laugh, a little at first and then more. And then both daughters. And I remembered my concentric rings of loyalty. Her laughter gave permission to the room to laugh with her. I looked at her then. I pointed my finger. “She knows what I’m talking about!” I said. And then we were all laughing.

Even so, I wanted to cry just then. That’s one of those surprises that comes when you give a eulogy, one of those things you prepare for but do not expect. But I had more to read and more that I owed Mary. I took a deep breath then, and I did the thing everyone does after someone they loved has died.

I gathered myself. And I decided to proceed.

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What to Wear to a Jewish Funeral | Coffee Shop Rabbi

What to Wear to a Jewish Funeral
A funeral is a time to be present for the mourners.
Funeral clothing doesn’t need to be elaborate.
The most-read post on this blog is “10 Tips for Attending a Jewish Funeral.” A lot of people find that entry by Googling “what to wear to a Jewish funeral” – so I thought it might be helpful for me to expand on the subject. When a person is in a new or uncomfortable situation, it helps to feel that one’s clothing is right.

THE MOST IMPORTANT THING is not your clothing, but your presence. It is better to show up in clothing that is a little bit “off” than to stay away.

THE BASIC PRINCIPLE IS RESPECT. We attend a funeral to show respect for the dead and to comfort the family. Therefore it’s important that our clothes show that respect: be clean, be tidy, and avoid anything flashy or attention-getting. The star of the show should be the departed, not someone in the third pew.

THE IDEAL FUNERAL OUTFIT for men or women is subdued in color, appropriate to the weather, and low-key in general. Think “subdued business clothing.”

SHOES should be comfortable, and if you are going to graveside, remember that you’ll be walking on plushy grass. Stiletto heels are stupid and dangerous in a cemetery. However, your favorite Nikes are a bit too casual unless your only other shoes have 4″ heels.

MODESTY is another way of showing respect. If the funeral is Orthodox, everyone should dress in clothing that covers at least shoulders and knees. Men should wear a head covering or accept a kippah (skullcap) if offered. It may be the custom for adult women to cover their heads as well. If you do not own a nice hat, carry a scarf so that you can put it on if needed. For an Orthodox funeral, women will be wearing skirts.

Even if the funeral isn’t Orthodox, a funeral is not a place to wear a sun dress, your shortest miniskirt, or shorts for either gender.

IN VERY HOT CLIMATES (say, Las Vegas in August) you may want to wear a hat that will give you shade and carry a bottle of water. Again the basic principle is that you don’t want to draw attention, so stay hydrated and shaded so that you don’t require EMT’s.

CELL PHONES should be SILENT. If you are a physician on call, set your phone or pager to vibrate. Otherwise, just turn it off and leave it alone for the service.

A TIP: Death comes periodically in every circle of friends, and often does not have advance warning. Figure out ahead of time what combination of clothes in your closet would be OK for a funeral. If you don’t have anything that would “do” for a funeral, it may be time to add something to your wardrobe. Accompanying the dead and comforting the mourner are important mitzvot, and when the time comes for you to go to a funeral, you don’t want to be worrying over fashion.

Finally, remember: showing up is the main thing. If the only way you can get there is in your bunny slippers, show up in bunny slippers.

Filed under funeral tip end off life what to wear how to death dying traditions religion jewish

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How to Return Human Remains to the U.S. | About.com Death & Dying

How to Return Human Remains to the United States
The steps you should take if your loved one dies while traveling overseas

By Chris Raymond
Updated January 21, 2014


Planning a funeral service following the death of a loved one can prove challenging enough without the added burden of also arranging for the return of his or her body home from another country. Unfortunately, whether traveling or living abroad for business or pleasure, people do die unexpectedly far from home, and the next-of-kin must arrange for the repatriation of the body/human remains from the country in which the death occurred. This article details the steps you should take to return a deceased body to the United States for burial/interment if your loved dies while traveling overseas.

Help is Available
Whether you are traveling abroad with your loved one when the death occurs, or remain back in the United States and learn of it afterward, the first step is for the next-of-kin to contact a consular officer at the closest U.S. embassy or consulate in the country in which the death occurred. The “next-of-kin” is the person who possesses the nearest degree of relationship to the deceased, such as a spouse or domestic partner, a blood relative, or someone legally appointed to handle the affairs of the deceased.

Visit the U.S. State Department website, USEmbassy.gov, to find the necessary contact information for the U.S. embassy or consulate in the country in which the death occurred. Keep in mind that many countries are home to more than one U.S. embassy or consulate. The U.S. Department of State maintains four embassies in Russia, for example, nine embassies in China, and 13 embassies in Mexico, so you should contact a consular official in the city located nearest to where your loved one died for assistance. (And don’t worry: if the consular official you contact thinks a different embassy or consulate should help you, then he or she will redirect you.)

If the next-of-kin is located in the United States, he or she can also contact the U.S. State Department’s Office of Overseas Citizens Services toll-free at 888-407-4747, or locally at 202-501-4444, Monday through Friday between 8 a.m. and 8 p.m. Eastern Time. For help outside of those hours, such as weeknights, weekends and/or holidays, the next-of-kin should call the U.S. Department of State at 202-647-4000 and ask to speak with the Overseas Citizens Services Duty Officer.

The Bureau of Consular Affairs
Once the next-of-kin has contacted an official at the Bureau of Consular Affairs, this individual will immediately offer various forms of assistance that will prove invaluable to the grieving family. Foremost, a U.S. consular official can provide information about the options and potential costs associated with repatriating the remains of the deceased to the United States. Navigating the often-complex regulations and laws governing the transport of human remains from one country to another can feel overwhelming for those grieving a death; the consular official can help make this process easier by conveying a family’s instructions to the appropriate individuals/offices abroad.

In addition, a U.S. consular official can inform you about how to transmit/transfer the funds necessary to return your loved one to the United States. Please understand that the Bureau of Consular Affairs, the embassy or consulate located in the country in which your loved one died, and the U.S. Department of State do not provide money to pay for the expenses incurred when repatriating the remains of your loved one to the United States. The surviving family must pay all expenses.

Next, when the deceased has no next-of-kin or legal representative present in the country in which he or she died, the U.S. consular official will assume responsibility for the deceased’s personal estate. Acting as a temporary “personal conservator,” the official will first collect the items owned by the deceased, such as clothing, jewelry, documents and paperwork, etc., and then create an inventory of these objects. After communicating with the next-of-kin or legal representative, the consular official will process these items per the instructions he or she receives.

Finally, as you might imagine, repatriating human remains to the United States from another country is subject to a myriad of laws and regulations. The disposition of the deceased individual is subject to both U.S. law and those of the country in which he or she died, as well as the customs requirements of both countries. An essential duty performed by a U.S. consular official is the preparation of the necessary paperwork to facilitate the shipment of the body/human remains to the United States.

Chief among these documents is the “Consular Report of Death of a U.S. Citizen Abroad,” which is also called a “Consular Mortuary Certificate.” Based upon the death certificate issued in the country in which the death occurred, the “Consular Mortuary Certificate” provides, in English, essential information about the cause of death, and the disposition of the body/human remains and the deceased’s personal estate. The consular official can provide up to 20 certified copies of this document to the next-of-kin at no charge. Not only does the “Consular Report of Death of a U.S. Citizen Abroad” help ensure a smoother shipment of the body/human remains back to the United States, but U.S. courts also recognize this official document when settling estate cases.

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Talking to Children About Death | About.com Death & Dying

Talking to Children About Death

Suggestions to help your child understand and cope with the reality of death

By 

Updated December 04, 2013

Father holding daughter

Explaining death to a child is never an easy task.

Photo © altrendo images/Getty Images

Because of this, many parents and guardians wonder how to discuss the topic of death with a child when necessary, whether due to the loss of an immediate family member, close relative or a friend — or else caused by a tragedy elsewhere in the world that receives significant media coverage. Here are several suggestions to help your child better understand and cope with the reality of dying and death.

Be Honest and Direct
While you might feel tempted to use “softer” terms with your child when explaining the concept of death, you should avoid using euphemisms, especially with kids around age six or younger. Any parent who’s regretted telling a child sitting in the back seat of the car that they would arrive “soon” — only to hear “Are we there yet?” 60 seconds later — understands that young children often interpret what they are told literally. Thus, explaining the death of a grandparent by telling a child that he or she is “sleeping” or “went away on a long trip” will likely trigger additional questions, such as “When will he wake up?” or “When will she come back?”

In addition, being indirect about death can actually complicate your child’s grief responseby causing unnecessary fears as children continue to process what they are told. Using a euphemism such as “We lost Grandma,” for example, might make your son or daughter later worry that another loved one will disappear every time he or she hears someone is going away. Likewise, telling a child that a deceased family member is “taking a long nap” might make your child fearful whenever you tell him or her it is naptime.

Listen, Then Explain, Then Answer
Whether a loved one died following a long illness, for example, or perhaps unexpectedly because of a traffic accident, you should first ask your child what he or she knows about the situation. Children often perceive or sense surprisingly more than adults realize. By listening to what your child knows, or thinks he or she knows, you can then offer a brief account of the death that provides only as much detail as you feel your child needs or can absorb, while also addressing any of his or her initial questions or misperceptions.

A child’s ability to understand the concept of death varies with age, so you should explain death in an age-appropriate but honest manner. Generally, it should prove sufficient to tell a child aged six or younger that a person’s body “stopped working” and “could not be fixed.” Six- to 10-year-olds usually grasp the finality of death to some degree by now, but will often fear that death is a “monster” or somehow “contagious,” so your explanation should include reassurance that this will not occur. Those nearing their teens, or teenagers, will usually begin to understand the forever-nature of death, but also begin to ask life’s “big questions” about their mortality and the meaning of life.

After listening to your child and then offering an honest explanation of the situation, you should allow your child to ask you questions — if he or she feels like it. Younger children will typically ask questions of a practical nature, such as where the loved is right now or if pets also go to heaven. You should answer such questions honestly and patiently, and be prepared for your child to ask similar questions in the days and weeks ahead. Older kids, such as preteens and teens, might not ask any questions initially, but you should make it clear that you are available to talk if/whenever he or she wants.

Be the Parent, But Let Your Kids be Kids
Finally, it’s important to remember that parents (and adults in general) often focus too much on their worries and woes, and can lose sight of the fact that children are not “mini versions” of themselves. In other words, just because you have been thinking continually about the death of a loved one, do not assume your child is continually thinking about the loss, too. Children — particularly younger ones — possess the remarkable ability to focus on something serious one minute and to laugh or play with complete abandon the next.

Therefore, as a parent, you should avoid projecting your grief response onto your child. Regardless of how you’re feeling, try to make an honest assessment of how news of the death is affecting your child. Watch for changes in mood or behavior, such as acting out, a need for more touching or hugging, problems sleeping, panic attacks, or complaints of physical ailments, for instance. These could be signs that your child is not coping with the loss effectively.

Filed under death dying children explanation end of life how to about death

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How to Write a Condolence Letter: 5 Suggestions | Kathleen Buckstaff

How to Write a Condolence Letter: 5 Suggestions

Posted: 11/06/2013 4:58 pm
After my book The Tiffany Box, a memoir was released, I received many emails from readers expressing how grateful they were that I included several condolence letters that were sent to me after my mom passed away in my book. Each reader liked seeing examples of sympathy cards.

Who knows what to say when someone dies? Often, not knowing what to say, we put off writing the note and eventually don’t say anything. The intention to write is there, but what to say isn’t easy or obvious.

I decided to write a blog post on writing a condolence letter. This is a list of suggestions. I know each loss is specific and personal in tiny ways and big ways, and that it is impossible to capture the specificity of loss in a template condolence letter. I also know that it is far better for friends to say something to someone who is grieving than to not say anything.

Silence from friends can hurt too. Reaching out by writing a condolence letter is important to do, even if it feels awkward, even if you don’t know what to say.

I want to share with you that for me, it always feels awkward and hard to reach out to someone who has lost a beloved. The unthinkable has happened. Even if someone knew a beloved was dying soon, loss is profound. No one can know what pain someone else is in. But we all know enough about pain to want to stay away. This response is the opposite of what most people need. Reaching out through a note or a letter is a way of saying, I witness your loss and I see you. Often, when someone is in a dark hole, being seen is enough. An act of kindness is enough. A few sentences are enough. I’m thinking of how gentle rain can feel kind on hot skin.

1. Because of this, the first thing I say to myself when I sit down to write a condolence letter is that it’s important that I get comfortable being uncomfortable.

Sometimes I get up and get a piece of chocolate and make tea, but then I remember that it’s hard and important to do and so I take a breath and I begin. I date the letter. I start with “Dear” and then I write.

2. I try not to say that I am sorry someone has died. Instead, I say that I am sorry for the person’s loss.

I want you to know that I am sorry for your loss.

I may even say something like — This is a hard note to write, but I want you to know that I am thinking of you even though I don’t know what to say.

3. Then I bring to mind the person who has passed and remember them in a joyful way. What was something I saw them doing that made me smile? What was something I saw them doing that made them smile? I begin a sentence with the phrase,

I will always remember…

Here’s a list of ideas and memory prompts:

*Retell how they made us smile.

*Retell a story of what they did that they loved.

*Remember quirky details that made them uniquely them — that one paper snowflake that no one else can replicate. This is exactly what makes the loss so hard and yet it is also what makes the loss poignant, specific, real, and irreplaceable.

That’s the word I’m looking for, irreplaceable. What about that person was irreplaceable? This is the diamond at the center of grief, why it hurts so much and why we are richer for having been touched by that person.

If I don’t know the person who passed, I may something like:

I will always remember your stories about ______ with ______. “

If I don’t know stories, I will say, ”I will always remember how much you loved ____.”

Remembering someone who has passed doing something they love is my way of cheating death. In my heart of hearts, I try very hard to put aside as well as I can how someone died. I think we as a culture and people focus a lot of energy on illness or disaster. We retell and retell and retell how someone died. I am tired of that. I believe it is far more important to retell and retell and retell how someone lived.

4. I always end a condolence letter by telling the person that:

My thoughts and prayers are with you and I wish you peace.

5.The last thing I do is write the address on an envelope, pick out a pretty stamp and mail the condolence letter. I acknowledge to myself that there is absolutely nothing I can say that takes pain away, but that small acts of kindness are eventually how we make our way out of the dark hole into daylight — hopefully carrying a diamond.

I hope these ideas help you write a sympathy letter. I like to focus on the joyful spirit of the person who passed and on offering kindness and love to the one who is grieving. The heaviness of grief is softened by small acts of kindness.

Be sure to comment on any phrases you have found helpful that I might have missed, and please share this article with your friends. Thank you.

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5 Ways to Honor a Veteran Today | eFuneral

5 Ways to Honor a Veteran Today

 November 11, 2013  0 Comments


Today is Veteran’s Day — which is a day to celebrate and honor those who have made unfathomable sacrifices in order for U.S. citizens to live freely.

While every day should really be a day where Veterans are given the respect and admiration that they deserve, today of all days is one in which each one of us should go the extra mile. Not sure where to start?  Here are five simple ways that you can honor an active or retired veteran in your neighborhood:

1.  Pick up the tab unexpectedly.

If you decide to eat out today, keep your eyes open for signs that there’s a veteran nearby.  Certainly, an active-duty uniform will stand out, but retired veterans might decide to wear hats or other clothing that might tip you off that they’ve served in the past.  Ask your waitress to include their meal on your tab.  This could be just the surprise that they needed in order to know that their service is being recognized.  Don’t have a lot of money to spare?  Hang out at your local busy cafe.  Even buying a drink for a couple of dollars can go a long way.

2.  Call a veteran family member.

You likely don’t need to look any further than your own family to find an active or retired veteran.  So give them a phone call.  Let them know that you’re thinking about them.  Even if the conversation is only a few minutes, the sign of respect that you’re showing them will likely not be forgotten any time soon.  And who knows — perhaps you’ll learn something about that person that you never knew before.

3.  Shop at a veteran-owned business.

Do you know a local business owner who also happens to be a veteran?  Shop at his or her business today and let them know that you’re thinking about them.  Not only will your purchase support that particular veteran and their business, but it will do its part in helping the local economy as well.

4.  Spread the word about veteran causes.

You might find out about veteran causes today that otherwise never would have heard about.  For instance, did you know about this crowdfunding campaign that was designed by Degage Ministries to help disadvantaged veterans?  Let others know about this veteran-related cause and others by sending messages through Twitter, Facebook, or any other social channel you’re a part of.

5.  Say “Thank You.”

Sometimes, it’s better to just keep things simple.  When you see a veteran or active military member today — just simply say, “Thank you for your service.”  You might be surprise by how a simple expression of thanks can go a long way.

Filed under veterans day vets how to honoring memorial thanks

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Funeral Caskets: How to Select a Funeral Casket | eFuneral

From a Funeral Director: Understanding and Selecting a Funeral Casket 


Tom Rybicki, Funeral Director for Rybicki Funeral Homes

It can be difficult to select a casket for your loved one. Understanding the differences in materials, construction, and aesthetics inherent in each casket can make the selection process easier.

Selecting a casket is always a difficult experience. But when you are faced with buying a funeral casket for a loved one, do it in an informed and balanced manner.

The term “casket”, though originally defined as a small container to hold something valuable, is now commonly understood to refer to the large, four-sided, rigid container meant to hold the remains of a deceased human being (a real ‘valuable‘).  Frequently (but incorrectly), the term “coffin” is used interchangeably with “casket;” an actual coffin differs from a casket in that it is a large, six or eight-sided container meant to hold the dead (imagine the funeral boxes from old Western movies). Regardless of the terminology, it’s helpful for those planning a funeral to understand that there is a HUGE variety of casket/coffin options available.  Understanding the value of each of these options can go a long way to help families make sound, comfortable decisions about selecting the right products for their funeral needs.

Ultimately, the casket is designed solely to contain and display the deceased’s body for funeral services and ceremonies, burials, and other types of disposition. Whenever the body is to be displayed or the body is moved for funeral ceremonies, a casket is going to be involved.  Nearly all burials and entombments require caskets; ‘green’ or ‘natural’ burials are the exception.

Selecting a casket that is appropriate for your needs will be easier for planners if they understand the differences in materials, construction, and aesthetics inherent in each casket.  In general, caskets are made of either metal or wood (coffins are almost exclusively made of wood).  Metal caskets can be made from steel, copper, or bronze; and each of these types have variations in the thickness and quality of the metal used.  The finish on the exterior can be painted, polished, or ‘brushed.’

Metal Caskets

Steel caskets are usually described as 20-gauge (thinnest), 18-gauge, or 16-gauge (thickest) steel.  The differences in thickness mainly reflect the overall quality of the casket in relation to the durability of the product. Steel caskets can also be made of differing levels of stainless steel, which is more corrosion-resistant than standard steel.

Copper and bronze are non-ferrous metals (they don’t rust); caskets made from these metals are described by the amount of the metal in each square foot of the casket exterior (usually 32 oz. or 48 oz. per square foot).  These caskets tend to run on the more expensive side of available options, but their additional durability may be the right match for some consumers.

Well-made metal caskets will usually be carefully welded and structurally reinforced to accommodate weight-load requirements and to maintain the integrity of a “protective” casket. Protective caskets use a rubber gasket between the box and the lid to basically keep what is outside, out and what’s inside, in.

Wood Caskets

Wood caskets (my personal preference due to their warmth and beauty), are made from a variety of hardwoods and softwoods. The actual specie of wood used will be a major determinate in the price of the casket, as will the construction; walnut, mahogany, and cherry are going to be more expensive than oak, pecan, or pine, and a solid wood casket is more expensive than a casket made with multiple kinds of wood or veneers.  The stain color and finish of the wood are not usually major price factors, but they do influence the overall look of the product.

Other Considerations Around Caskets

The overall look of a casket is clearly one of the factors the family uses in making a buying decision.  The color, the design, the finish, the ‘theme’ all play a part in selecting what’s right for the family.  The trend towards ‘personalization’ of caskets has provided even more options to the family; special corner pieces, interior panels, and plaques can help customize a standard casket to more truly reflect the life of the deceased.  True customization (such as personal photographic panels surrounding the entire casket exterior) is available, but producing and delivering these products will take more time than most families are willing to wait.

Consumers also need to be aware that caskets come in fairly standard sizes; most caskets will accommodate a body that is less than 250-300 pounds and shorter than six feet, five inches tall.  An individual whose weight or height exceeds these standards is likely to require a specialty casket that is designed for larger folks.  These special caskets will be significantly more expensive than a comparable standard casket and are almost always made of metal. Our growing obesity problem in this country is reflected in a significant increase in the use of these larger caskets over the last twenty years.

Funeral homes will usually have a casket display area, picture book, or a digital catalogue of caskets they sell, and these will help you understand the options available to you. Caskets are available from other sources, though, and the Federal Trade Commission Funeral Rule requires funeral homes to accept third-party products without charging handling fees.  These other providers may offer caskets at a ‘lower’ price than many funeral homes, but I would caution any consumer to carefully check and compare the quality of the exterior and interior materials, the quality of the overall construction, and the origin of these materials and manufacturing.

Purchasing a casket is always a difficult experience; no one WANTS to buy a casket! When you do have to go through this experience, though, do it in an informed and balanced manner.  This is a large purchase, often made under difficult emotional circumstances with little time available for research or rumination. Be educated about cost and quality factors, pre-plan the purchase if you can, and choose wisely when under the stress of the death of a loved one.  Remember that this is a very personal choice that must take into account what is right for you, your family, and your budget.

This article is part of the eFuneral Resource Center and was written by Tom Rybicki, President and Funeral Director for Rybicki & Son Funeral Homes. Tom was raised in the funeral business, and for the last 25 years, he has been working as a funeral director at the funeral home his grandfather started 73 years ago. Those thinking about end-of-life should visit eFuneral.com for help researching, planning, and arranging a wide variety of funeral-related services.

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