Man, I swear my life is perfect, I could merch it. If I die, I’ll probably cry at my own service.” - Chance the Rapper
Having my kids at my mom’s funeral was the right thing for our family. Here’s what helped.
Having my 2-year old daughter, Lucy, and 7-week-old son, Arlo, at my mom’s funeral was more meaningful than I could’ve predicted. It took some preparation, some dedicated helpers and faith that it was worth the risk, but it was one of the best parts of a terrible day.
While there’s no perfect answer for every family, having my kids at my mom’s funeral was the right answer for us. If you’re reading this because you’re inclined to give it a try… I hope these tips will help.
Find your words.
Build your team.
Prepare age-appropriate activities.
Have an exit plan.
I want to be clear that I don’t think there is a right answer for all families, and I understand that emotionally charged environments can be overwhelming and, ultimately, traumatic to some kids. I don’t think kids *should* participate in funerals, only that they *can* benefit from doing so, under the right circumstances.
Whatever works for your family, I wish you the best in healing and the empowerment to find what’s right for you.”
READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE.
End note: It is an incredible honor to contribute to a resource that has been immeasurably important to me in the wake of my mom’s death. Their commitment to featuring diverse stories and various viewpoints while maintaining rigorous standards (and avoiding the “pit of despair” narratives that weigh down so many grief stories) is unwavering. Thanks, Rebecca and Gabi, for giving me an opportunity to share this story (and this picture).
"Death does not have to be treated as an enemy for you to delight in life." - Ram Dass
Many of my clients are considering the impact of their passing on beloved grandchildren and, for the lucky ones, great-grandchildren. Selecting a book (or a few) in advance can be a beautiful gift not only for your young family members, but also for their parents.
So many books touch on themes of religion and spirituality, but I have chosen to highlight three books that instead help readers under age 9 deal with the simple concepts of life cycles, death and the complex emotions associated.
We don’t always have the right words, which is why we’re so lucky that these authors did that legwork for us.
Part of the Ordinary Terrible Things series, AH captures the hurt, confused and indignant interior voice of a young reader. She gives words to the frustration of misleading euphemisms and trite cliches. This book doesn’t try to answer questions about the unknown but instead seeks to explore a wide range of feelings after a young boy’s loss of his grandmother.
The font on the cover was nearly enough to turn me off, but it was a $0.25 at the library book sale so I grabbed it and it’s quickly become a family favorite. The gentle but direct illustrations showing a range of life and death against an unjudging white background allowing even the youngest reader to explore the concept of life cycles. Progressing from small insects to human beings, it doesn’t shy away from the real truth. Kids love being told the truth.
Another gentle book for younger readers, this story follows a life cycle without ever directly using the word death. After collecting the remnants of his beloved Flower and burying them in the countryside, Digger finds a field of flowers have sprung up in their place. Never patronizing or sanctimonious, this hopeful story acknowledges that life can be beautiful, even after a loss. What a beautiful message to leave behind for your grandchildren and their parents.
As part of an in-depth advanced planning process, I’m able to make tailored recommendations based on your particular family situation. If you’re looking to provide some extra loving guidance to a younger family member, I can help you find the right materials and create the perfect message.
What a gift.
"What you learn from dying people, you can pass on to your children and neighbors." - Elisabeth Kubler-Ross
Let me begin with this bold statement: Pets are family members. They depend on us and they deserve to be factored into our estate plans.
Here are FIVE key considerations that should be addressed when you draft your Advanced Pet Directive:
Who will provide primary care? Who will support that person, if needed?
Think of who would provide the best care for your pet and have a clear and direct conversation about your expectations and wishes. It’s important to remember that this is not a legally binding agreement, but rather a request. Be sure you’ve documented this wish in your paperwork and communicated in advance with other family members so there is no confusion.
In the absence of that person, who is your next choice?
Always gotta have a back-up plan.
What are the specific instructions to care for your pet?
You probably have a good draft of this already completed for the doggy-daycare or dog sitter, but if you don’t, you can use Google to find a checklist including things like: nicknames, favorite treats, hiding spots, specific fears. Ideally, the caretaker for your pet is someone who knows them already, but it’s a good idea to document even the most obvious details.
How have you planned for insurance coverage?
Do you currently carry insurance coverage on your pet? If yes, ensure that it will continue after your death by calling the insurance company and exploring specific options. If you do not carry insurance, identify the estimated maximum budget for medical bills and identify the source of funds.
What trust or will provisions exist to provide financial coverage?
Draft a monthly or annual budget covering all costs associated with care and boarding and create an estimated expense. Work with your estate planner to ensure that funds have been earmarked, should they be needed.
As I work with clients in the pre-planning space, we cover these important issues in great detail and I can assist in creating the appropriate documentation to provide advanced guidance. I’d love to help you, too.
Hélène Boucher, aviator and world speed record holder
Died: 11/30/34, age 26, airplane crash near Versailles
Buried: Yermenonville cemetery in Northern France
The first woman to lie in state at Les Invalides (see video below), posthumously awarded knight of the Légion d'honneur and namesake of a girls school in Paris, Boucher’s legacy is not forgotten 85 years after her death.
Despite her significant achievements in aviation, Boucher was just 26 years old and in a time after the Great War, as Europe approached an even darker period, she represented hope for the future. A ceremony this elaborate for a private citizen, a woman nonetheless, was certainly remarkable.
It’s no secret that I lean toward the creative, nontraditional celebrations - I mean, I trademarked the term “newfashioned funeral” for goodness sake. That said, I have spent hours and hours reading, researching and pouring over footage of traditional services, soaking up all the details and developing a deep appreciation for all kinds of things I once swore I’d never include in any service of my own.
I have a great deal of respect for the traditions that have been carried on from generation to generation, and there is absolutely no reason why you can’t include some or all of them in your personal advanced plan.
That’s what makes a newfashioned funeral so unique - it’s yours, no matter what components you use to make it.
"A generic statement made in better times has little bearing on the complex and emotionally wrenching choices that arise when a life is in the balance." - Virginia Morris
You bought the life insurance policy, had the estate documents drafted, hired the right investment managers. You’ve talked with your family about your final wishes, probably more than they’d like to hear, and you trust them to make the right decisions on your behalf. You’ve looked at the big picture and you feel confident everyone is going to be taken care of.
Here are the SIX questions you need to consider to prepare your family for the immediate-term impact of your death, those critical days and weeks as they are regaining their balance without you:
Questions for your financial advisors
In the case of my/my spouse’s death...
- Which accounts, specifically checking and credit, will be continuously available to my next of kin and which will need retitling?
- When will insurance payouts be made available and what is the process for transferring those assets?
- How will ongoing income streams be impacted in the initial 30, 60 and 90 days?
Questions for your family
In the case of my/my spouse’s death…
- What are the regular monthly, quarterly and annual payments or transfers? Are those originating accounts impacted by retitling or estate settlement issues in the immediate term?
- What is the current process for payments or transfers and how might that change?
- Who will be responsible for covering costs associated with funeral, burial, memorial services before the estate’s assets are made available? What type of guidance do they want or need for that responsibility?
Your trusted advisors are looking at a generational timeline - wealth goals are typically stated in terms of generations - but it’s these small windows of time that can have great impact on the solidarity of a family. Planning for the immediate impact in the initial 30, 60 and 90 days after your death allows you to provide an extra layer of financial and emotional support to both the members of your family and your family unit as a whole.
"It's easy to see the beginning of things and harder to see the ends." - Joan Didion
More people choose to be cremated each year; whether it’s for financial reasons, because the traditional funeral home model is outdated, or because people are simply mobile throughout their lives and less likely to have a place they’d like to be buried, the trend is apparent. As more people choose cremation, more families are faced with decisions on whether to inter, scatter or bury those cremains.
1 in 5 Americans is currently homing the cremains of a loved one, mainly a parent or spouse, typically because they don’t know what to do with them and scattering poses logistical and legal challenges. According to the Cremation Association of North America, the cremains of 300,000 Americans were returned to loved ones for home storage in 2017 alone.
The endless options for final disbursement can be overwhelming, so here are four ways that cremated remains, or cremains, can be used to nurture and sustain life on earth.
Based in the UK, Ascension Flights is a collaborative between funeral directors and leaders in space flight. “We’re all created from stardust” so ashes are sent over 100,000 feet above the earth’s surface and released into the atmosphere where they gather precipitation and return to the earth’s surface in the form of raindrops and snowflakes. Families can opt to view the video footage of the scattering and even submit their own historical footage to be compiled into a tribute film. Services are offered worldwide.
The Living Urn company offers a biodegradable urn which, when combined with wood chips, soil mixture and their proprietary ash neutralizing agent, will sustain a plant of your choice. The company works with the Arbor Day Foundation to offer over 20 different seedling options. The founders of the company worked with arborists, soil scientists and eco-friendly manufacturers to develop a complete system that can accommodate individuals, families and pets. Based in Colorado, products can be shipped worldwide.
The Eternal Reef project offers a combination “cremation urn, ash scattering, and burial at sea.” Using environmentally-safe concrete and incorporating the cremated remains, reef balls help create permanent reef restoration and development, creating new habitats for sea life within weeks of placement. There are more than 10 active locations and representatives of the company continue to work with the Army Corps of Engineers in developing new reef restoration projects.
While cremains contain calcium, potassium and phosphorus - all nutrients which plants need to grow - they also contain excessive amounts of sodium and can throw off the nutrient balance of the soil, leading to toxic conditions for plants. Bummer. Serving as a memorial sculpture and urn, this garden waterfall will hold the ash and slowly release it into the soil over the course of 10 years, even making space over time to accommodate more remains. The company, Scattering Ashes, is a UK-based service offering guidance, education, support and products related to all types of ash scattering.
There is no time limit for creating a ceremony to return a loved ones cremains to the earth, and if you’ve been looking for the right way to say a final goodbye, I’d love to help you explore your options.
"At last, technology and competition are starting to disrupt this most conservative of industries. This is good news for anyone who plans to die."
- The Economist, 4/12/18