When God says, “Give that man a hug.”

It was a beautiful, warm, August afternoon as I stood on a gentle slope in West Ridge Memorial Park waving goodbye to the family members as they exited in their vehicles. I had stood in that particular spot before with this family as we have laid several family members to rest over the years. I gazed up at the cloudless sky where we had just released 50 balloons, symbolizing our letting go and our loved one’s soul returning to its creator, and thought, “What a peaceful day!”

When was the last time you hugged a man wearing blue toe nail polish

I waved at the cemetery maintenance crew to let them know I was ready for them and they began making their way across the small bridge and roadways towards me. I mistakenly thought I was the only one in the vicinity and was startled when I suddenly heard someone sobbing uncontrollably about 15 feet behind me. I quickly turned to see a gentleman around 50 years of age kneeling beside a bronze grave marker tearing at the grass around the edges with his hands. He was clearly overcome with grief as the crying continued unabated. I walked over to him, knelt down on the grass and read the name and dates on the marker. Barbara Conner, Oct. 14, 1941 – Feb. 7, 2014. The epitaph simply stated, “Avid Bowler and Silly Grandma.”

“Is this your mom?” I asked softly. I don’t think he had even realized I was there as he seemed shocked when I spoke. Looking up and speaking emotionally through the tears said, “Yes, I was having a very tough day and just had to come out here and be with her. I miss her so much!” I said, “So, she liked to bowl?” He started telling me all about her. She bowled semi-professionally and was a great cook, a hard worker who raised him by herself – always looking out for him and sacrificing so he could have a good life. After about five minutes of talking he seemed to be doing better. As he started to stand up from the ground, God clearly spoke to me and said, “I want you to give him a hug before you leave.”

Now, I’ve been in funeral service for many years and have given and received many hugs, but there is just a little something uncomfortable about hugging a man I have never met in the middle of the cemetery. Then to add to my hesitation, I glanced down and noticed that all 10 of his toenails were painted a bright blue, as were his fingernails. But God was telling me urgently “You give this man a hug!”

I needed to go, so as he dusted the dirt and grass off his hands I said “I have to go now, would it be ok if I gave you a hug?” He looked up at me with a sort of surprise and replied, “You don’t know how much that would mean to me!” So, I stepped up and gave this stranger a big, strong hug and told him I hoped his day would get better.

The crying started again and through his tears he said, “God bless you! I can’t tell you how much I needed that hug. I haven’t had anyone hug me since my mom died!” In my mind I quickly did the math – a year and a half since someone had hugged this man! As I walked away I heard the Lord gently whisper, “I told you he needed a hug.”

When was the last time you were hugged? When was the last time you gave someone a hug?

Photo Credit: Will Oliver / Barcroft Media

4 Ways to Help a Grieving Friend

When someone dies, it’s never easy. It’s painful, confusing, and emotional for everyone involved. It’s hard to figure out the right things to say and do when someone close to you experiences loss like this. When you want to help, it’s important to remember that everyone grieves in their own way. There’s no “right” or “wrong” way to grieve a loss or to support someone who is grieving. The best thing to do is to let them know you are there for them if they want or need anything, but not put pressure on them.

The need to try and help someone who is grieving can be a strong pull. Being supportive rather than trying to control things isn’t easy but it is much more helpful. Here are four ways you can be supportive when someone you know is trying to deal with loss and grief.

Photo - 4 Ways to Help a Grieving Friend

  1. Recognize there are different stages of grief

While there’s not any right or wrong way to grieve, there are different stages that are common to most people. Recognize this when your friend or relative seems to be struggling or acting differently. The stages of grief include denial, bargaining, anger, depression, and acceptance. They may not follow any predictable pattern or order, but it’s important to know that they are normal. There’s no need to try to stop someone from going through the different stages or try to change their feelings or behavior, unless they are a danger to themselves or others. Click here of an infographic on the stages of grief.

  1. Try to avoid clichés

David Kessler, expert on grief and loss, says some of the worst things to say to someone who is grieving include “He’s in a better place,” “Be strong,” and “I know how you feel.” Resist using clichés, and make yourself consciously think about what you will say before you say it. Remember and acknowledge that everybody grieves in their own way and that there is no timetable on grief. Be available to listen, but don’t try to “solve” any problems or push the grieving person to stop or change. Simply let them know you are there for them without offering your take on the situation or commenting on how you think they should feel.

  1. Ask what they need and want

Instead of trying to control or manage things for someone who is grieving, ask them what they need and want. You may not realize that your friend or relative hasn’t been able to get a good night’s sleep in a week or hasn’t felt like cooking or eating unless you ask and give them a chance to say what would really help. Instead of guessing what they need or trying to take care of everything, just ask what they need and want and then listen and respect what they tell you. Let them know you are around and willing to help.

  1. Check in on them

When someone loses a loved one, they’ll typically have friends and family around at the time of the funeral and in the weeks after. But as time goes on, there tend to be less people offering help and support. It can be more important to be available for the grieving during this time than at the funeral. They are still grieving but have less support and fewer people around and will probably appreciate some caring follow up. Calling or stopping in to ask how they are and being available to talk, or listen, or offer a break with some diversion can be just the kind of consolation they need. It can be a good time to see if they are open to getting some additional help like grief counseling or therapy if they feel like their sadness is overwhelming or they are having problems coping with everyday activities.

What specifically did you find helpful from your friends during a time of loss?


Writing an Obituary

An obituary is a loving tribute to someone who has passed on. It’s a written account of a loved one by family members who share memories with readers including community, friends, family, professional peers, clubs and charities. It can be simple or it can be a detailed flourish created to bring the experiences, stories, accomplishments and characteristics to the audience in a highly memorable way. It is published in newspapers and online, sometimes with photos or videos, and with information about funeral or memorial services.


What to Include in an Obituary

Obituaries are very personal communications meant for a public audience. Content can vary widely and is limited only by what the family wants to provide. Some things commonly included are circumstances of death, personal details about the person who died, achievements and accomplishments of the person who passed, and contact information about services.

Circumstances of Death

Saying something about the circumstances of death helps people understand what happened and that the person who passed is gone. Some things in this category to put in an obituary include death announcement, age at death, date and place of death, and cause of death. Some families prefer not to say much about the details of how their loved one died, especially if it was traumatic or involved criminal activity. It can be an opportunity to make a statement or public service announcement about things like drinking and driving or violence if the family and friends feel it’s important.

Personal Details About the Person Who Died

Obituaries that include personal details about the person who died help family and friends to remember and respect their loved one who has passed on, and they help the wider community know and understand the departed better. The deceased’s full name, any nicknames, date and place of birth, names of parents, siblings, and friends, marriage or significant other, and children help people understand what kind of person the deceased was. Details of the person’s life and personality, pets, hobbies, sports interests, and recreation activities enjoyed help the audience appreciate the departed’s special qualities. Profession, affiliations and organizations, education, and military service show the deceased in light of the wider community involvement.

Achievements and Accomplishments of the Person Who Passed

Obituaries can include achievements and accomplishments of the person who passed. Prestigious awards, career advancements, community service recognition, charitable organizations, and volunteer recognition are all appropriate remembrances that honor and share the deceased’s efforts, goodwill, and good works.

Contact Information About Services

Many people include information about services at the end of obituaries, unless the service is private and not open to the public. Information about what kind of service, date, time, and place, visitation information, reception details, name and phone number of funeral home, and where to send flowers, cards, and donations.


Some people may want to include a special closing in their loved one’s obituary, such as a poem, quotation, or song lyrics that are either the loved one’s favorite or that represent something about the loved one’s life and interests. Some may want to include a photograph or special thanks to individuals or groups who helped the deceased or family during the deceased’s illness or injury, if any.

Some Things to Consider

It’s best not to include private addresses in obituaries, especially of the deceased. Plan to publish the obituary a few days before services. Request a final proof to review and confirm before printing, and proofread well before printing.

Hickory Creek Room #10

The ringing of the telephone suddenly awakened me from a sound sleep. I rolled over and glanced at the time – it was 4:15 a.m. This was not unusual as I have been a funeral director for many years and could not count the times I had been roused from slumber at that hour. But, when I saw the caller ID it sent a jolt through my tired body, as I knew this was a call I had been dreading. I hesitated longer than usual before answering.

Walter and Alice Sproles a few years ago on vacation with Tom at Charleston, South Carolina

Walter and Alice Sproles a few years ago on vacation with Tom at Charleston, South Carolina

It was a local nursing home, one that I had visited many times over the years at all hours of the day and night. Tonight, however, was different because this particular nursing home had a brand new resident, my beloved 89-year-old grandmother, Alice Sproles. My grandmother has been courageously fighting a 15-year battle with the cruel disease of Alzheimer’s. It has slowly but surely taken the once classy and self-assured lady back to a place reminiscent of infancy.

I had just visited her two days before and found her in the cafeteria eating lunch. Although she had looked at me with absolutely no recognition in her eyes, she said, “My, but you sure are a handsome man and what a pretty suit you have on.”  I had replied, “I got my sense of style from you grandmother.” And I did. I briefly remembered all the times when I was a boy she would take me shopping at the Park Belks Department Store in the Bristol, Virginia mall and buy me clothes. A week before starting my first year of college she had insisted on buying me several new outfits which was no doubt the reason the Bible College student newsletter, The Echo, named me the best dressed on campus that year. I was not, however, named the best looking on campus.

I wrote down the name and room number of the lady who had just passed and couldn’t help but lie back down on the bed for a few more minutes. There was no family waiting for this sweet lady whose husband I had buried many years ago. I dreaded going to the nursing home because it made me keenly aware that one day the phone call would come informing me that it was my grandmother who had just died.

After finally mustering the energy to get dressed I drove to the nursing home where I was met at the side entrance by their very caring night nurse, Fawn.  As we passed room #10 in the dimly lit hall I glanced over at the nameplate on the wall that read, Alice Sproles. Fawn said quietly “Tom, I just love your grandmother.  She is always happy and singing and loves making words rhyme.”  I thanked her for her good care as we entered the deceased lady’s room.

A few minutes later we were making our way back down the hallway toward the exit when I paused by room #10 and whispered to Fawn, “Can you give me a couple of minutes?” I slipped softly into the room and stood beside my grandmother’s bed and watched as she slept so peacefully. I thanked God for allowing her to still be with us even though her mind wasn’t and asked Him to watch over her. I was barely able to make it to the removal van and drive away before the torrent of tears I had been holding in freely flowed all the way back to the funeral home.

Please share your experience of placing a loved one into a care facility and how that affected you?


The Day of the Funeral: 5 Ways to Include Children

The loss of a loved one is typically a devastating experience for the individuals left behind. Older family members often attempt to minimize the impact on bereaved children. Some do this by excluding children from participating in or even attending the funeral service. However, being involved in the service helps children during the grieving process. It could also smooth the path to healing.


You can start by telling your child what to expect at the ceremony. Unless he or she has previously experienced a funeral, your child will not know what to expect. Explain what will take place during and after the service. Be guided by the natural curiosity and questions and allow those to set the tone for the discussion.

Give your child as many specifics as he or she wants to hear. For example, you can discuss who will be attending, how the room will look and how long the service is expected to last. Below are 5 ways in which we at Sproles Family Funeral Home encourage the inclusion of children on the day of the funeral. You can ask them to:

  1. Say Something about the Deceased

When an immediate family member passes, your child might be willing to share a memory of the deceased. Allowing your child to publicly express his or her feelings will promote emotional health and healing. It is also a remarkable way to alleviate stress and prevent the bottling up of feelings.

  1. Select Readings or Songs

You can ask your child to help you choose spiritual readings, poems or special songs for the service. You could also find out if he or she would actually like to do a reading, recite poetry or sing at the funeral.

  1. Place Flowers By the Urn or on the Casket

You can buy or ask your child to pick flowers from the garden. He or she can then place them by the urn or on the casket.

  1. Participate in Certain Rituals

Depending on the age of your child, there are several funeral rituals in which they can participate. Younger children can place mementos like artwork and letters into the casket. Older children can participate in releasing balloons, doves or butterflies at the graveside. Explain that this type of ritual signifies the flight of the spirit, love, peace and hope for the future.

  1. Deliver a Eulogy

Older children can be included by delivering a eulogy. You can collaborate with your child to highlight the details of the life of the deceased. Find creative ways to write the eulogy so the personality of the deceased will shine through. In the midst of grief, this will help your child to remember good times spent with his or her loved one.

The pain of the loss could be intensified if your children are not included in such a significant family event. They could miss out on the comfort and community support these services provide. However, ensure your child is included at the level he or she is comfortable.

In what ways have you included children in funeral services? Comment below to share with us. 

So, Who Is Legally In Charge When A Death Occurs?

I’m sure this question hasn’t even crossed your mind as being important.  However, it has never been more important than it is in today’s culture.  When I started in funeral service just 25 short years ago, families were pretty traditional.  If the deceased died and had a living spouse he or she was in charge of the arrangements; or if there were no spouse, the children seemed to respect their deceased parent and their siblings enough to work together in planning the services.  Sure, there was the time I had to inform the wife of 35 years that the beneficiary of her husband’s $50,000 life insurance policy was his girlfriend or occasionally a person would die with no identifiable next of kin but, for the most part funeral service was fairly routine.

Today, with a high divorce rate, increasingly blended families, individuals estranged from family due to discord, strong personalities, a rise in cremation, eHarmony and match.com, same sex couples and many skipping marriage altogether the funeral director must quickly and accurately ascertain who is legally in charge.  It is very important both for the family and the person who is dying to make sure he or she has in place (legally) who they want in charge of their final arrangements so there are no surprises.

There is a legal priority which determines who is authorized to arrange for final disposition and interment or cremation of human remains.  It is important to inform the reader that laws governing these types of situations vary from state to state. I am not an attorney offering legal advice and would recommend you consult an attorney if you have specific questions regarding the law.  I share this information to hopefully help you have a better understanding of the importance of making sure you have planned properly in this important matter.

Here is a summary of priority as listed in Indiana Code 25-15-9-18:

1)      A person granted the authority to serve in a Funeral Planning Declaration:

  • This declaration is priority #1 in the eyes of Indiana law.  It trumps nearly every other relationship.
  • People use this form to ensure their wishes are carried out exactly as they wish with exactly who they want in charge.
  • Use of this form is almost certain to cause hard feelings among those who have been legally passed over.  Do not use this form without careful, thoughtful consideration.
  • Reasons one would use a funeral planning declaration:  Your wishes vary greatly from the legal next of kin’s, i.e. You wish to be buried and they wish to cremate you; you want to be buried by your first wife of 50 years and the person you married two years ago has other plans; you have no close family, so you designate a friend to handle your final arrangements; you are unmarried and want your significant other to be in charge, etc.

2)      A person named in a US Dept. of Defense Record of Emergency Data (DD Form 93)

  • Used if the decedent died while serving in the U.S. Armed Forces.

3)      An individual specifically granted the authority in a Power of Attorney or health care power of attorney executed by the decedent.  Most POA’s do not include authority for disposition rights, but some may.

4)      The spouse of the decedent at the time of death.  Rest assured in the vast majority of cases the spouse is still the one who takes care of the arrangements which is generally what each spouse wishes in a loving relationship.  There are a couple of important exceptions though that seem to be increasingly common in the funeral process and people need to be aware of:

  • If a petition to dissolve the marriage or for legal separation is pending with a court at the time of death, or
  • If a court determines the decedent and spouse were physically and emotionally separated at the time of death, for an extended time, and that the separation clearly demonstrates an absence of due affection, trust, and regard for the decedent, it removes the spouse from having any authority in final arrangements.
  • This is happening more and more and people need to be aware of this.

5)      If there is no spouse at the time of death then the decedent’s surviving adult child or if more than one adult child is surviving, the majority of adult children.

  • Majority rules here unless they can’t locate all of the children.  In that case less than half of the adult children have the rights as long as they have made reasonable attempts to contact the other sibling(s) and are not aware of any opposition to the final disposition instructions by more than half of the surviving adult children.

6)      Surviving parent or parents.

  • If one of the parents is absent the parent who is present has the rights as long as they have used reasonable efforts to notify the absent parent.

7)      Siblings are next in order of right of disposition.

  • Again majority rules.

8)      The priority from here goes from the next degree of kinship (aunts, uncles, cousins) all the way to the local township trustee.

Fortunately, the majority of deaths do not experience any issues at all with rights of disposition but these challenges are increasing and need to be better understood.

Here are three actual scenarios:

Situation: A local man met a lady from another state via an online dating service.  She was divorced and estranged from her two adult children.  She moved here to live with her new boyfriend and within a couple of years developed terminal cancer.  He lovingly cared for her until her passing.  At the hospital he said, “Her wishes were to be cremated.  She and her children did not get along and she was adamant that they not be included in her services.” Problem: He had no legal authority to make any final arrangements. Her surviving adult children were the legal next of kin no matter how estranged the relationship was at the time.  Had she simply signed a funeral planning declaration naming her boyfriend as the person she wanted to carry out her wishes, there would be no legal issue.  Outcome: I located her daughters in another state, informed them of her death and explained the situation.  They signed a form to relinquish their rights and allow her boyfriend to carry out their mom’s wishes.  They also attended her funeral prior to cremation and were able to experience some healing in the process.

Situation: A widowed gentleman died.  He had instructed his brother and sister to make funeral arrangements for him and they came to the funeral home prepared to do so.  Problem: He had a son in prison for selling drugs.  A person does not lose the right of disposition just because they have committed a crime (unless of course he murdered his dad).  Outcome: Prison officials allowed the son to express in writing his wishes for arrangements.  These wishes coincided with what the deceased had wanted so the brother and sister paid for the funeral with the deceased’s funds.  The son was not allowed to attend the funeral so we video recorded the service and he was allowed to view it in prison.

Situation: A man in his forties died and had a son who was 14 years old. The deceased was in the process of a divorce from the son’s mother.  She came to the funeral home with their 14 year old son to make funeral arrangements. Problem:  She had no legal right to make arrangements as they were in the process of divorce nor did their son since he was a minor.  Outcome: The deceased’s parents graciously honored the wishes of their grandson and their soon to be former daughter-in-law, including them in the arrangements.

In each of the situations above there was favorable resolution, which is where the funeral director (often arbitrator) played a role.  If however, a situation cannot be resolved satisfactorily, it would have to go to court for resolution while dear ole dad or mom waits at the funeral home.

I realize legal scenarios are difficult to read and understand but I trust this will help you realize the importance of planning ahead, getting good advice, and making sure you have everything in order when that time comes.  Please let me know if I may be of help to you.

Question: Do you have a situation that you need advice on regarding who will have the right to make your final arrangements? 

11 Simple Ways to Create a Meaningful Funeral

When I think of the many funerals I have been honored to be a part of over the years, my mind can’t help but wonder back to funerals that were extremely meaningful to the family and friends in attendance.

Obviously, planning any type of ceremony requires some time and thought.  Many people do not feel very skilled in this area, especially when they are drained emotionally and physically. In an effort to alleviate some of that burden, here are 11 simple things you can do to create a meaningful service that will both honor the life of your loved one and help your family and friends find meaning in the ceremony:

  1. Include Friends: Simply asking a close friend or two to share some special memories at the service or having an allotted time during the service when friends may speak impromptu will add a personal touch that will often include humor, tears and meaning.  I’m often surprised by families who have a minister who has maybe known the individual for only three or four years conduct the service in its entirety.  Even a minister who excels at gathering and including personal information in the service cannot compete with a life-long friend.  Most ministers welcome others who will share personal stories because it helps relieve them of the burden.
  2. Involve Family: The most meaningful tributes I’ve heard have been by children or other family members.  No one knows the deceased like family. The personal stories of camping trips, life lessons taught and humor, it always includes humor.  I realize that often those who are the closest feel they cannot speak due to emotions but those who do have a great impact.  Even if you have to pause while the emotions wash over you it’s ok.  If you feel you simply can’t speak perhaps write something that another family member, friend or pastor can read.

    Often families include grandchildren in the service as well.  Not only is it meaningful for the family and friends, it is very helpful to the grandchildren themselves.  I’ve seen grandchildren give eulogies, sing, play guitar, flute or violin pieces, read scripture, poems, etc and very often serve as pallbearers.  Just think how proud the deceased would be for their grandchildren to be participating in their service.

    During the funeral of a grandpa who had been a builder and had given each of his grandchildren tools when they were small and taught them how to build, the three, now grown, grandchildren walked up to the casket and placed a hammer, ruler and small handsaw in the casket.  It was very moving.

  3. Place Something Meaningful In the Casket.  Many families find it comforting to place items with personal meaning in the casket with their loved one.  This gives them a feeling of connection that lives on past the funeral.  I know there are some who find this practice “tacky” but I have seen it bring some comfort to many families.  Here are just a few of the many things either the family or I have placed in the casket:  favorite pictures, drawings by grandchildren, letters, angel pins, a snickers candy bar, a golf ball, juicy fruit gum, a stick grandpa whittled, cigars, coffee mugs, (and yes, since your mind is already wondering, Budweiser, Jack Daniels, and even a few funny cigarettes).

    One of the very first funerals I conducted as a funeral director, the deceased had two adult daughters.  The youngest was very much a daddy’s girl and just before the service slipped a very small velvet jewelry bag in my hand.  She whispered in my ear and asked me to do her a favor; in the bag was one of her baby teeth she wanted me to place in her daddy’s hand when I closed the casket.  I am sure over these past 25 years knowing that a part of her was with her dad has brought her much comfort.

    Sometimes these items are humorous; a family once gave me two Metamucil packets to place in dad’s suit pocket because “There was never a day that Dad didn’t take his Metamucil.”

  4. Incorporate Favorite Passions:  We all have things that we were passionate about; a doll collection, restoring classic cars, Ford tractors, quilting, golf, sports, fishing, photography, art, pets, and on and on….If mom was an artist bring some of her art in and set around the funeral home. If dad restored a 1957 Chevy park it in front of the funeral home during the services and lead the procession with it.  Bring the fishing lure collection and quilts in and lean the golf clubs against the casket.

    I had the services for a gentlemen who had a pet Maccow Parrot named “Bubba” who went everywhere with him on his shoulder.  We brought Bubba into the funeral home during the visitation and everyone loved him! He talked up a storm and finally halfway through the visitation said “Bubba wants to go home” so the family took him home.

    A lady died in the month of May and during the arrangement conference her daughter lamented the fact that “mom didn’t get to see her flowers bloom this year.”  I suggested we make the floral spray from her own flowers.  The florist met the family at home, selected and cut the flowers, arranged the casket spray and 10 bouquets to hand out to her children and grandchildren at the cemetery.  Her daughter told every single person that visited the family during the calling “now these are mom’s flowers from her garden.” She found great meaning in this.

  5. Add Special Music:  Nothing gets right to the heart like music.  We are all unique individuals with personal tastes.  It is rare to find a family who doesn’t find music meaningful.  Whether it was a song that was meaningful to you and your spouse or one that you alone find meaning in, I encourage you to incorporate favorites into the services.  During the calling we can create a playlist of Big Band and 1950’s music, play Elvis or Beethoven.  Select songs that were especially meaningful to be played during the ceremony itself.  Precious Memories by the Gaithers, The Long and Winding Road by the Beatles or He Stopped Loving Her Today by George Jones (yes, I’ve played it a few times with the ex wife sitting in the chapel because their children felt it was appropriate). The point is that we find meaning in music and it is a simple thing to add to the service.
  6. Select Favorite Clothing:  If dad was a farmer and hated suits, put him in what he felt most comfortable.  If mom loved her nightgown and slippers by all means use them (or buy new if they are worn out)! ☺  Families find meaning in their deceased family members wearing clothing they liked.  I’ve used everything from Athletic Jerseys to Armani Suits, Bare feet to Isotoner slippers.

    Often families will bring in a blanket or perhaps a shawl the deceased quilted or found comfort in and we will place it out of sight at the lower end of the casket then when closing the casket bring it up around the deceased.  The family will sometimes help tuck their loved one in and many find this meaningful.

  7. Personalize the Flowers:  Florists are creative people and can often accommodate unusual requests.  We have placed fishing poles, lures, golf clubs, barbed wire and boots for a cowboy, Jeff Gordon race cars or a candle in the middle of casket sprays.  Perhaps he loved the outdoors you could arrange for a casket spray of wildflowers, wheat and cat tails.  Maybe mom loved purple hyacinths or yellow roses because that is what dad always sent her on special occasions.  Did the first grandchild call grandpa a funny name that somehow stuck? Place it on a ribbon.  Flower arrangements can easily be personalized to add value and meaning to a service.
  8. Utilize Photos & Video:   At our funeral home we take photos the family brings in and create a tribute video that plays on a larger screen during the gathering and services.  It is amazing how a small picture now on a 50” screen is so vivid and powerful.  A daughter exclaimed “I had no idea I was holding a cat in that picture!” Photographs of early childhood, favorite family vacations, weddings, anniversaries, grandchildren, etc., cause us to reflect on great memories where we draw comfort and strength.  It is also a good conversation piece for friends who visit.  After the service we make copies of the DVD for family members to take with them as keepsakes.
  9. Give Something Away:  Many families find meaning in giving during a time of loss.  The family of a bird enthusiast recently gave away bird cages and suet to all the attendees of her funeral.  I’m sure all her friends remember her as I do when I watch the woodpeckers in my backyard feeding during the cold winter.  A family, whose dad was known as the “Candy Man” who always gave you a piece of candy when you saw him in town, gave away….you guessed it, candy, at his service.  A dog lover’s family placed dog biscuits in doggie bowls by the register stand with a card that read “Please take a handful home for your pet.”

    One of the most touching I remember was a very well known family who asked friends to bring a bag of non-perishable food items to the visitation.  Their company pick-up truck parked in front of the funeral home was filled to overflowing and following the service my staff and I delivered the food to three local food pantries.

    We recently had an artist’s family bring in several beautiful paintings.  I walked around with her daughter and wrote certain names on the back of the pieces.  During the visitation she told her mom’s closest friends which one was a gift for them.

  10. Funeral Processions:  One simple and easy to fulfill request is to drive by the family farm or home en route to the cemetery.  Or maybe it’s by the community foundation she helped found, the firehouse where he was stationed, the elementary school where she taught so long, the church dad helped build, or any other place of significance to the family.  We will pass by and pause a minute or two and families often find it meaningful.  I have even surprised families who thought I was going the wrong direction and then realized when I paused in front of the long time family homestead.

    We have led processions with dad’s favorite tractor, the car he lovingly restored, the school bus he drove, his motorcycle buddies, the vintage Rolls Royce he bought while on vacation in California or 200 fellow police officers.  We can transport the deceased to the cemetery in a fire truck, ambulance, motorcycle hearse, and horse drawn caisson or farm wagon pulled by a tractor.

    At a recent procession for a young man who had a jacked up favorite truck, his best friend led the procession with it and did a major, two or three minute burnout then the funeral coach and friends pulled through the smoke to start the journey to his final resting place.  There are numerous ways to be creative and find meaning in the funeral procession.

  11. Activities at the Graveside:  Families have found doing something tangible at the graveside to be meaningful.  Depending on the weather, we can arrange for a balloon release, dove or butterfly release ceremony.  Something as simple as each person taking a flower from the casket spray is meaningful.  Some families close the graveside by everyone singing a hymn or dad’s favorite chorus.  Recently, at the conclusion of a graveside service, the children sang the nursery rhyme their dad always sang to them at bedtime.  I will admit I shed a few tears as did all of those present.

    These are just a few ideas to help you create a service that is not the usual run of the mill, “cookie cutter” type funeral.  You don’t have to utilize every suggestion but hopefully something mentioned here will help you plan a service that your family and friends will walk away from feeling your loved one was truly honored in a meaningful way and one that gives you strength as you journey on.

Question: What one thing stands out in your mind that you found meaningful at a funeral you attended?

How to Help a Grieving Loved One During the Holidays

While many people look forward to yearly holiday traditions, gatherings with family and friends and the general good feelings associated with the season, some people dread the holidays. For those who have lost a loved one during the past year, the holidays may emphasize their grief.

Guest Blog: This week, I would like to share the following article from the National Hospice Foundation and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization. If you have a loved one who is dealing with a loss this holiday season, please share this post with them.

Twelve Practical Tips for Saying and Doing the Right Things 

The holidays, especially the first ones after losing a loved one, are especially difficult for people who are grieving. Often, friends and family members of those affected by a loss are unsure how to act or what to say to support their grieving loved one during the holidays.

Here are some suggestions: 

  1. Be supportive of the way the person chooses to handle the holidays. Some may wish to follow traditions; others may choose to change their rituals. Remember, there is no right way or wrong way to handle the holidays.
  2. Offer to help the person with baking and/or cleaning. Both tasks can be overwhelming for one trying to deal with raw emotions.
  3. Offer to help him or her decorate for the holidays.
  4. Offer to help with holiday shopping or give your loved one catalogs or on-line shopping sites that may be helpful.
  5. Invite the person to attend a religious service with you and your family.
  6. Invite your loved one to your home for the holidays.
  7. Help your loved one prepare and mail holiday cards.
  8. Ask the person if he or she is interested in volunteering with you during the holiday season. Doing something for someone else, such as helping at soup kitchens or working with children, may help your loved one feel better about the holidays.
  9. Donate a gift or money in memory of the person’s loved one. Remind the person that his or her special person is not forgotten.
  10. Never tell someone that he or she should be “over it.” Instead, give the person hope that, eventually, he or she will enjoy the holidays again.
  11. If he or she wants to talk about the deceased loved one or feelings associated with the loss, LISTEN. Active listening from friends is an important step to helping him or her heal. Don’t worry about being conversational…. just listen.
  12. Remind the person you are thinking of him or her and the loved one who died. Cards, phone calls and visits are great ways to stay in touch.

In general, the best way to help those who are grieving during the holidays is to let them know you care. They need to be remembered, and they need to know their loved ones are remembered, too. Local hospice grief counselors emphasize that friends and family members should never be afraid of saying or doing the wrong thing, because making an effort and showing concern will be appreciated.

Many people are not aware that their community hospice is a valuable resource that can help people who are struggling with grief and loss. Hospices provide bereavement support to the families they serve and often offer services to other members of the community as well.

To learn more about the National Hospice Foundation and the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization, visit www.caringinfo.org


Butterflies and the Hand of God

When tragedy strikes, it often leaves us feeling helpless; wanting to do something tangible to help but often not knowing what to do.  This is why, when a death occurs, friends bake casseroles and show up unannounced to mow lawns, etc. Anything to show we care.

butterflies hands

Such was the case several years ago on a hot and humid summer afternoon in a nearby community.  A precious little five-year old girl thought it would be a good day to set up a lemonade stand.  She remembered the card table that her dad kept stored in the attic of the garage and decided to get it down and set up shop.  Tragically, an accident occurred with the pull down spring-loaded ladder and this sweet child died.  The overwhelming grief of this unexpected loss caused her mother, who was expecting, to go into labor.  My wife, an OB nurse, assisted in the delivery.  There are simply no words to describe this situation.  Only the strong faith of the parents and support of the community and friends helped them through this horrific time.

After hearing what had happened, I felt a strong impression that I had to do something, but what? This little girl had several siblings and the thought occurred to me to do a butterfly release at the graveside.  I called my friend and funeral service colleague who was handling the arrangements and offered to do the butterfly release if the parents would feel it would be beneficial.  They did.

So, I ordered three dozen beautiful and colorful Monarch and Painted Lady butterflies from a butterfly farm in Florida.  I was waiting at the cemetery when the very large crowd of people arrived.  After the minister concluded the service, I stepped up with the box of butterflies.  I invited her brothers and sisters to step outside of the tent into the clearing. They gathered around as I knelt on the ground so they could see the butterflies. As I opened the lid, 36 butterflies swooshed out of the box and immediately flew away toward the warmth of the sun on that cloudless day.  As everyone stood with their eyes fixed on the kaleidoscope of butterflies, a very unusual thing happened: as they reached the treetops, they made a big u-turn in the sky and headed right back down toward us.  There were probably a 150 people standing around. Where do you suppose they landed? Every single butterfly landed on the little girl’s brothers and sisters and flitted around them as they shrieked and jumped with delight.  Shortly thereafter, the butterflies again flew up and away in unison following the same path until they were out of sight.

I have no idea if the children still remember that day, but many times over the years the scene has replayed in my mind.  And, without fail, I always say “Thank You Lord!” for whispering to those butterflies to return to earth and provide a few moments of joy for the siblings of that precious little girl.