Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Dealing With Grief During the Holiday Season

Birthdays, anniversary, and holidays can be a painful reminder that your loved one isn't around anymore to celebrate with you. In our culture we expect to spend the holidays with loved ones, and the fact that a loved one isn't here anymore can be hard to cope with. Traditions that involved them can leave you not wanting to participate at all. Every one grieves differently, and people want different things when it comes to dealing with loss. We have rounded up some of the best advice on how to deal with grief during the holiday season to hopefully make the transition a little smoother.

1. Rather than avoiding the feelings of grief, lean into them. It is not the grief you want to avoid, it is the pain. Grief is the way out of the pain. Grief is our internal feelings and mourning is our external expressions.

2. Have a Plan A/Plan B – Plan A is you go to the Thanksgiving, Christmas Day or Christmas Eve dinner with family and friends. If it doesn’t feel right, have your plan B ready. Plan B may be a movie you both liked or a photo album to look through or a special place you went to together. Many people find that when they have Plan B in place, just knowing it is there is enough.

3. Surround yourself with people who love and support you. Share your plans with family and friends and let them know of any intended changes in holiday routine. Memories can sometimes be a source of comfort to the bereaved. Share your memories with others of holidays spent with your loved one by telling stories and looking at photo albums.

4. GIVE! It's amazing how in times of grief, sometimes the biggest comfort is to give to others.You might purchase something that symbolizes the person or time before your loss and donate it to a needy family. Or make a donation in a loved one's name to a charity or cause he or she cherished.

5. Make a new tradition to remember your loved one. Making a conscious decision to spend some part of the day talking about this person will enable others to feel like they have permission to talk about him or her, too. For example, you could hang a stocking in honor of the person you lost. Throughout the evening, family and friends fill the stocking with items that serve as talking points for memories It's a wonderful tradition that can generates conversation in a comfortable way.

6. Do something different. Acknowledge that things have changed; indeed, the holiday will not be the same as it was ever again. Accepting this will help manage expectations. Plan new activities, especially the first year after the loss. Go to a new location for family celebrations, change the menu or go out to eat, volunteer, invite friends over, attend the theater, travel … create new memories. Many families return to their usual routines and rituals after the first year, but some enjoy incorporating their new experiences permanently.

7. Skip it. If you feel that it will be too much for you and you'd like to simply opt out of participation in a holiday, let family and friends know. But plan alternative comforting activities for yourself and let someone know what you will be doing. It's a good idea to make sure someone checks in with you on that day.

8. Finding a supportive network can be very helpful. Seeking out others who will possibly better understand your feelings may help you feel less alone over the holidays. Grief groups are free to join and attend. Start here to find one in your area. You can also call a nearby hospice: The employees will be able to direct you to nearby support groups and holiday focused programs.  

sources here, here, and here.

Wednesday, December 16, 2015

Not just a man's job: More women are funeral home directors

For centuries, and across many cultures, women have taken many roles in the rituals surrounding death. They have dressed bodies, cooked and cared for survivors and rendered other services.
But, until a few decades ago, few women were funeral directors in the American funeral industry. That job was one among many that were widely considered “a man’s job.”
That is changing, in both perception and reality.

Bernie Henderson, president of Woody Funeral Home and Cremation Service, grew up in a family funeral home business and has seen the change taking place around him.

Back in the 1960s and ’70s, Henderson said, “you didn’t expect to see a woman in that job. It was highly unlikely. It wasn’t thought of as work conducive to having females do it. It was like a lot of other jobs — police officers, firefighters, ministers, doctors, the military, engineers.

“Those were stereotypes that were still around, even into the ’80s,” he said, “in part, I think, because men were afraid they’d get shown up.”

But, in the past decade especially, Henderson said, women have proven “they can do anything they want to, and do it quite well.”

Henderson has first-hand experience to back that observation when it comes to his profession. At Woody — with its three Richmond-area locations — four of the company’s 10 funeral directors are women.

According to the Wisconsin-based National Funeral Directors Association, women accounted for 16.5 percent of the association’s membership as of 2014 — compared with 9.7 percent a decade earlier. The group represents 48 percent of U.S. funeral homes.

Ingrid Brown was the first of Woody’s female funeral directors when she started her apprenticeship there 13 years ago.

“My father made sure I got a good education,” Brown said. “I like dealing with different cultures, and I think that is a valuable asset for me.”

Women, she said, sometimes have a knack for attention to detail. “We have to check with the hospital to release the body, do the paperwork, meet with the family to make arrangements for visitation and services, book everything that needs to be booked, call the newspapers to put in the notices — there are so many details.

“And all funeral directors have to adjust to the different needs of different families.”

The other women funeral directors with Woody — Carmelita Anderson, Narita Wright and Jordan Mullins — also noted qualities that may help women in the job.

“I think some women may be a little more in touch with feelings than some men may be,” Wright said. “And some family members are able to open up to us a little more and tell us what they need.”
Anderson said she sees women approach the job “a little differently, with more sympathy and willingness to show it. Some families respond to that softer side.
“Some men are stiffer, more businesslike,” Anderson said. “Though some are also able to show emotion when it’s called for.”
Mullins, 27, has been a funeral director for five years and been with Woody since July. She said that, once in a while, women in the position of funeral director still see resistance from grieving families.
“Sometimes certain members of families aren’t expecting to see a woman,” she said. “They still default to an older man in that role — a gentleman in his 60s rather than a female in her 20s.
“But being a younger woman can be an advantage, too,” she said. “It just depends on the family.”

Indications are that the percentage of women funeral directors will continue to rise, according to the National Funeral Directors Association.
In 2013, the most recent figures available, 62.7 percent of mortuary science students nationally were women, up from 35 percent in 1995.
Chuck Bowman, secretary of the funeral directors association’s board and an officer in a Denver funeral firm, said that when women began to assume the role of funeral director “some people thought women wouldn’t be tough enough ... that they couldn’t deal with the sight of a dead body. Of course, that’s turned out to be a bunch of hocus-pocus.”

Bowman said women “bring a motherly quality to the job” that often is ideal for a grieving family, especially when the deceased is a child.

Lacy Whitaker, executive director of the Virginia Funeral Directors Association, said the industry “attracts the caring, nurturing side” of women. And as women continue to enter the business, she said, she expects more women will open their own funeral homes.

Henderson said the rising tide of women as funeral directors — and in administrative positions and ownership in the industry — also reflects the determination of more women to pursue the business.
“Women are coming into the industry with a strong will to be part of it,” Henderson said. “They’re not entering into it casually.

“They have a can-do attitude — they’re going to make this happen,” he said. “They’re not doing it because ‘I’m the son and my daddy wants me to do it.’ ”

Lacyn Barton fits that description. She is a licensed funeral director for Nelsen Funeral Homes and location manager for the firm at its home at 4650 S. Laburnum Ave. in eastern Henrico County.
Barton studied mortuary science at Arapahoe Community College in Denver and worked in the industry in Colorado, Washington state, Arizona, New Mexico and Pennsylvania — 14 years in all before joining the Nelsen staff last week.

“I’ve been trying to seek out opportunities to advance,” she said. “I wasn’t born into the business. ... I’ve been seeking opportunities for better, higher jobs.”

Her entry into the funeral business was an odd one. A horse-training accident resulted in a broken skull and left her unconscious. Her family was planning her funeral.

“When I did wake up, I had to learn to walk and talk again,” Barton said. “My family told me the story of what had happened.”

She no longer could ride horses because of the risk of even worse injury, she said, effectively ending her career in that field. She began contemplating what her family members had been through when they had expected her to die.

“I said, ‘I think I’ve found my calling — helping people through the difficult time of a funeral.’”

She said she expects more and more women to consider the funeral industry as a career path.

“Women will find they have the personality and skills for the job,” she said, “the compassion and empathy to make the work a meaningful personal experience. When it comes to nurturing and care-giving, women are especially adept.”

Nelsen’s two other locations are in Ashland and Williamsburg. Woody and Nelsen — both independently operated — are owned by Houston-based Service Corp. International under that company’s Dignity Memorial brand. A public company, Service Corp. International operates more than 1,500 funeral homes and 450 cemeteries.

Among the longer-tenured women funeral directors in the Richmond area is Nicole Blanchard, one of three women among the 12 funeral directors at Bliley’s Funeral Homes’ three full-service Richmond-area locations.

Blanchard comes from a funeral-business family. Her father ran a funeral home in Delaware. A 1990 graduate of the mortuary science program at John Tyler Community College, she made the rounds of Richmond-area funeral homes for 18 months looking for an apprenticeship — a requirement for a funeral director’s license.

“I wasn’t having any success,” she said. “A few places said, ‘We’ll call you,’ but I knew they weren’t going to.” She said she was ready to start hunting for jobs in Northern Virginia when she tried Bliley’s one more time. “And they were ready to have a woman on the staff.”

She is in her second tour at Bliley’s, her work there sandwiched around a stretch at Nelsen from 1994 to 2006.

Initially, she said, she saw some resistance to a woman as funeral director — at work and from families — but that faded and often many families appreciated her softer approach.

“Some people would say a woman can’t move a 300-pound body — well neither can a man,” she said. If a woman needs help, she gets help, just as a man does, Blanchard said.

She said she is surprised to see how many younger women are entering the industry now.

“The younger generation isn’t limiting itself,” she said. “Just as in other occupations, they’re overcoming the same arguments against doing the work.”

She said most men in the profession “care about the families they work with. They have the same warmth and sympathy that women do,” but there are times when grieving families respond to women more freely, such as when the deceased is a child or a baby.

She recalled a time during her apprenticeship that she took as a sign that she had made the right career choice.

She was driving a hearse, she said, not during a funeral procession but in ordinary traffic. “I was stopped at a light. An older gentleman pulled up beside me and motioned for me to roll down my window. I did, and he smiled and said I was the first female hearse driver he had ever seen. He said, ‘I think I like it.’ ”

Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Allowing Families to Face Death - Watch Your Loved One's Cremation

You may have heard that cremations are on the rise. More and more people are choosing to forgo the traditional burial in a casket and do cremations. In an article posted by the Charleston Business Journal, it was reported that nearly 62% of Americans were buried after death in 2005. The National Funeral Directors Association projects 48.5% of Americans who die this year, or about 1.27 million people, will be cremated. The percentage jumps to a projected 56.2% in 2020 and 71% in 2030.

With the change, we have already seen a shift in the way we go remembering our loved ones. Companies have come out with more eccentric ways to store ashes, funeral homes sell pendant necklaces that feature a dead relative’s fingerprint, personalized urns with an etched photo of a departed friend and bracelets that hold the ashes of a beloved family pet. Today, the possibilities are really endless when it comes to memorilizing those you care about. You can even view your loved one being cremated. For some, watching the cremation process, something unheard of in the 1970s, has become another step in the grieving process.

Marcus Yocum, who has worked in the funeral services industry since the early 1990s, opened Charleston Cremation Center and Funeral Home in October. His 6,400-square-foot facility includes separate crematories for humans and pets in the same building as the chapel and reception lounge.
Loved ones of deceased individuals can stand in a hallway and look through a window to watch the cremation process. Yocum said it’s a way of giving families peace of mind and comfort.

“More and more families are wanting to witness the cremation, view the cremation,” he said. “We’re taking that question out of whether or not their loved one was the one that was placed inside. I want to take that question out. My facility is full-disclosure.”
The McAlister-Smith Funeral Cremation crematory in West Ashley is also open to families who want to see the process.
He then offers to let the family go to the crematory unannounced to inspect it. If the family is still concerned, he offers the opportunity for them to watch the cremation.
“I would make it available for you to not only place mom or dad in the cremation chamber, allow me to put everything in place, close it, you can even push the button to start the process,” Willis said.
“Now, that’s not saying you have to go and do this,” he said, adding that some religious customs require the entire family to bathe the body and place it in the cremation chamber as a group.
Willis’ facility also includes a draped window from behind which family members can watch.
“For us, as funeral directors, to be able to stand with the family and allow them to face death — that’s what we want,” he said. “We want to stand with them and be with them and help them walk down that road. All of what we do, all of these things is an effort to do that.”
The aftermath of death feels like it has always belong to the Funeral Director, but families are wanting to be more involved, more inclusive when it comes to the preparations of their loves ones. 
“There are a lot of avenues for families to take now,” Willis said. “It has become — not necessarily a trend, but families have said, ‘This is what we want,’ and most funeral homes nowadays are saying, ‘Then let’s help you do that.’ ”

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

A Will For The Woods - A Green Burial

We have a seen a "green" movement make its way into our every day lives, in our products, businesses, and even our drinks! Today people are more conscious about the earth we live in, and there is more of an urge to take care of it. There is an effort to make whatever we can more of a green processes, and we have seen that take affect in the funeral industry as well.  

What Is a Green Burial? Green burial is a simple and natural alternative to resource-intensive contemporary burial or cremation. The deceased is laid to rest in the earth using only biodegradable materials and without a vault or toxic embalming, in a woodland or other natural setting, often with a fieldstone or indigenous plant marking the grave. This practice can be used as a conservation tool, enabling the acquisition, restoration, and stewardship of natural areas. Simple natural burials were prevalent for thousands of years (and still are in many parts of the world, including in traditional Muslim and Jewish burials) before the contemporary funeral industry propagated the standard of expensive and elaborate funerals divorced from natural processes. 

As the world has become increasingly concerned with climate change and environmental degradation, the role that our funeral and burial practices play in these matters has gone largely unaddressed. The typical American-style funeral — with a casket made of precious wood or metal, a concrete vault, a large marble or granite monument, and embalming — is incredibly resource-intensive, and it has become common in much of the world. In the U.S. alone, approximately 33 million board feet of mostly virgin wood, 60,000 tons of steel, 1.6 million tons of reinforced concrete, and 5 million gallons of toxic embalming fluid are put into the ground every year. Further, the large tracts of land that conventional cemeteries occupy are typically covered in turf grass in need of constant maintenance in the form of mowing, watering, and the application of chemicals. Cremation, sometimes misconstrued as a green alternative to conventional burial, consumes a large amount of fossil and other fuels, and as the body is burned at high temperatures, particulate pollution, CO2 (approximately 110 pounds per cremation, on average), and toxins such as dioxins, furans, and mercury are released into the atmosphere. The burgeoning green burial movement seeks to change these conventions — not only by greatly reducing resource use and pollution, but also by using burial as a conservation strategy to protect and restore natural areas. In addition to these environmental benefits, the cost of a green burial is often much less than that of a conventional one. Furthermore, green burial offers many the solace of knowing that they will remain within the cycle of life. Created over the course of four years, A Will for the Woods documents the movement’s progress by focusing on some of its key figures, including Joe Sehee of the Green Burial Council; Kimberley and Dr. Billy Campbell, founders of the nation’s first conservation burial ground; and Dyanne Matzkevich, who is saving a tract of forest within her conventional cemetery by turning it into a green burial ground. The film’s main focus, however, is the story of Clark Wang and Jane Ezzard. Faced with the possibility of Clark's imminent death, they find beauty and comfort in the environmental and spiritual significance of green burial.

Wang asks the questions, what if our last act could be a gift to the planet? Determined that his final resting place will benefit the earth, musician and psychiatrist Clark Wang prepares for his own green burial. While battling lymphoma, Clark has discovered a burgeoning movement that uses burial to conserve and restore natural areas, forgoing contemporary funeral practices that operate at the ecosystem's expense. Boldly facing his mortality, Clark and his partner Jane have become passionate about green burial, compelled by both the environmental benefits and the idea that one can remain within the cycle of life, rather than being cut off from it. The spirited pair have inspired a compassionate local cemetarian, and together they aim to use green burial to save a North Carolina woods from being clear-cut. Making the most of the time that he has, Clark finds joy in his music and dance, connection with his friends and family, and great comfort in the knowledge that his death, whenever it happens, will be a force for regeneration. The film follows Clark's dream of leaving a loving, permanent legacy, and environmentalism takes on a deeply human intimacy. Documenting one community's role in the genesis of a revolutionary movement, A Will for the Woods draws the viewer into a life-affirming portrait of people embracing their connection to each other and to timeless natural cycles.

Check out the trailer for this inspiring documentary!

A Will for the Woods - Official Trailer from A Will for the Woods on Vimeo.