Sunday, February 22, 2009

Funeral Planning

No one wants to think about death and dying, but in general I believe it a good idea to do some funeral planning.

There are many funeral planning guides out there (google it), but here are a few simple suggestions for everyone.

We can’t plan our lives with the thought that we are invincible. Planning ahead is the key to not incurring financial hardships with funeral expenses. Funerals are not cheap, but with careful planning, you can eliminate much of the emotional pain as well as the monetary one.

There are between 50-90 separate decisions to make when planning a funeral. Where to bury the loved one, what type of casket, what type of flowers, who can come, an after ceremony get together and many other things. By doing it all in advance, every detail can be discussed and the prices of every item can be explained and paid for in advance or over a period of time, so there are no financial burdensome surprises to deal with.

Most of us would be too busy grieving to be able to think about these things. I remember when Marcy died, I couldn’t think; I didn’t want to think. I knew I couldn’t do the planning. I knew nothing about planning a funeral for any loved one. When my dad died long before, my mother did everything. When my mom died a year and a half before Marcy, my step-dad did everything.

When Marcy died suddenly, she had made comments to a good friend the week before as they were attending another funeral that she thought it was ridiculous to have a service at a place of worship and then a procession to the grave for another service. “For me, I want just a grave-side service.” Since she had never said anything to me (it was something never discussed at her age), I was stunned to learn that information, but decided to follow her wishes. Who would have ever thought it would be so soon after her casual request to her friend. We only did a grave service and then had friends and family over afterwards for coffee and a bit to eat.

Pre-planning also allows more freedom and creativity for the funeral service. As an example, friends of Marcy’s spoke and recited words to a song they thought appropriate. At some funerals, songs are sung, balloons released, and flowers displayed for loved ones. Loved ones are asked about contributions to favorite charities, and that information can be included in the information handed out at the service. Choosing a casket and what type to choose are as important as the obituary to be written. Some individuals choose to write their own if they know they don’t have long to live. If a loved one has to write it under emotional duress, it is even harder.

Talking to loved ones, understanding their desires, and following their wishes will help everyone during this emotional time. Death is never welcome in any home, but preplanning a funeral takes some of the sting away.

Sunday, February 15, 2009


Rituals are part of life. When your child dies, they become even more important. For myself, I have a few rituals I follow to honor and remember my daughter. Today will be one of them.

Each time I leave town for more than just a weekend, as I will very soon, I go to the cemetery to see Marcy and clean off her grave. It makes me feel good. No one else cleans it like I do, and I always want it to shine and look good in case others come by to visit and pay their respects. I bring a scrapper to scrap off the accumulated dirt and calcium that forms from rain and watering the area. I bring a brush to get into the embedded words on the stone. And I bring a cloth to wash and wipe it clean. Then I place new white silk flowers in the soft ground around the stone, the same type of flowers that her wedding bouquet was made of. It stays like that for about 3 months maximum, depending on weather conditions. I’ve noticed other stones in the cemetery look worn, old, and covered with mud. Obviously, many of these stones are not cared for by relatives or even friends. I am so tempted sometimes to go around and just wipe them, so that next to Marcy’s they will look good, but the thought eventually passes. I have asked my husband, then Marcy’s best friend (in that order) to take care of the stone after I am gone. It is important to me. Other occasions I definitely go to the cemetery are on her birthday and death date.

Her birthday is a simple affair. In addition to going to the cemetery, we go out for dinner to a nice restaurant, toast her life and wish she was here with us. I know some of her friends have done the same thing.

On Marcy’s death date I light a 24 hour candle and say a prayer, then go to the cemetery. Later in the day I take out the few boxes and look at what I have left of her life: the awards, the writings, the photos and the wonderful stories friends wrote about her and gave to me. I like reminiscing and thinking of all the joy she brought to me and others in her 27 years.

On her wedding anniversary my ritual is to take out the video of her wedding and watch it. Of course, she will never grow old or look old, but I do often wonder how she would look now as I watch it. I love seeing her personality and sense of humor shine though as she speaks on the video. Watching it always leaves me sad, and for days I think of nothing else. But it is something I must do to keep her close. A close friend of hers also gave me a composite video of the last few years of her life that I watch. It is beautiful. Those two videos are the only videos I have of her.

My rituals are simple, yet they satisfy me as best they can. Each of you can do whatever helps you remember, with love, your special child

Sunday, February 8, 2009

Embracing Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day, a day for love, a day to celebrate with those you love. Valentine’s Day, another holiday to remember your child, who can no longer celebrate with you. It is a difficult day for all of us who grieve the loss of our child or children.

So I say, embrace Valentine’s Day as a special day to commemorate your child and celebrate your love for him or her. Death may end our child’s life, but it does not end the relationship we had and still have. Bonds of love are never severed by death, and the love we shared with our child will never die either.

What can we do to celebrate this day? I am a writer and what better thing to do but write about my child. I can do a poem, an anecdote, a letter, a song, or a story about something memorable she did for me on Valentine’s Day.

My daughter Marcy never forgot to give me a card. Nor did she ever let her Dad forget. She then had to check out not only the card he bought but also the gift as well. A stamp of approval meant we could all go out for dinner to celebrate. I wish I had kept all the cards she gave me. I only have a few. Usually they were cute cards with a touch of humor, while her father’s cards were more on the romantic side.

Another thing you can do is to go on a short trip to a special location you both loved. I remember one year Valentine’s Day fell on a weekend, as it does this year, so we all went to romantic Sedona, AZ, to celebrate with Marcy and her boyfriend at the time. I have gone back to Sedona on special occasions and immerse myself in the healing power of remembrance.

This Valentine’s Day, light a special candle for your child. Perhaps do it every Valentine’s Day and continue that tradition as you remember the good times you shared. Or make it a holiday where you decide since it is February and arbor day is around the corner, why not plant a tree at your child’s school this year and why not every year.

Talk about your child to anyone who will listen. You will find that people do care and do remember him or her. They may even contribute to the conversation as to something they, too, remember about the child. It will not only surprise you but also please you as well that your child is not forgotten. Recently, I have had that experience and it lifts my day every time.

Volunteer some time to an organization that could use your help. Do it in honor of your child. It could be a child-related organization, a pet organization (if your child had special pets), or any local hospice group. Doing something good for others can help ease your pain.

Creating and practicing personal grief traditions are good for you, particularly if your memories are all positive ones and leave you with a smile or laugh or giggle. These rituals do not mean you have not moved on with your life. They are part of your life as you now live it…without your child.

Sunday, February 1, 2009


Time heals…she is in a better place…she is still with you…you should exercise every day…there, now, don’t you feel better. No, I don’t, and neither do you if you have lost a child. Our grief is with us always and there is nothing that will make it go away or make us forget. We will always be devastated, but eventually we learn to live again.

In her newest book, Comfort, Ann Hood takes us on a journey with her 5-year-old daughter, Grace, who died suddenly from strep throat, a journey for Hood that will no doubt last a lifetime. She pours out her heart to us, tells us exactly how she feels and what she thinks of all the platitudes from friends and family who have no clue. Hood searched for comfort and eventually found it at a time when none seemed possible. What she didn’t realize was how grief and unforgettable love would change her life and give her hope once again.

The simplistic way she shows her courage by taking up the pen once again and putting these thoughts into words to reveal her climb out of the abyss, is pure magic.

I felt myself agreeing with everything she said and did. I also felt myself going back in time and thinking about how I handled various situations. I remember a friend saying to me, with a catch in her throat, a few months after my daughter died, “How are you doing?” “I’m fine,” I answered immediately without even thinking about what she said. She looked at me sternly. “You are not fine, and don’t tell me you are,” she admonished me. I looked at her, and with the realization of someone who had just made a rote statement without even thinking, said, “You’re right; I’m not fine.” From that moment on, when asked that question by others, my response has always been, “I’m doing the best I can at the moment.” With Hood you can identify with her joys and her sorrows and, in the end, you want to stand up and cheer.

As Hood suggests, one cannot make sense out of losing a child and writing about it. Losing a child is incomprehensible. She and I can try to help bereaved parents in many ways by offering advice or techniques that have been tried, but in the end, it is hard to imagine that we have done any good. Hopefully, we have, but the reality is that the child is dead and nothing we write about or do can change that.

I, like Hood, can only say that someday, be it 1 year, 3 years, 5 years or longer, parents will be able to move on, but their hearts will always be broken and there will be times when the grief is overwhelming. Read this book to realize you are not alone in what you feel, say or do after losing a child.