Welcome!

I'm Oliver Webber, here with my research assistant, Kaydence Ribetnauer. You may not be able to see us because we're tucked in between these blades of grass, waiting for our next meal to fly in and land on one of them. To nourish our bodies and souls, we ponder leaves. We encourage contemplation... especially in regard to issues that will have to be handled when we become worm grub. We hope to motivate others to thoughtfully cultivate preferences and decisions while still vigorously leaping around. We recommend croaking... using voices to broadcast wishes before it's too late to have a voice in this matter. Other than a sumptuous supply of insects, this is assuredly the most "toad-ally" considerate gift we could leave for our life companions! Don't you agree? We invite you to get your feet wet by joining our pond of pondering pre-planners. Let's make croaking meaningful!






Monday, December 31, 2012

PERSONALIZATION Examples

PERSONALIZATION:  CANNED or CUSTOMIZED?

It’s the buzzword in death care management circles these days.  If providers want to appeal to customers, they must personalize their products and services.  Often, though, the word "personalize" is interpreted as "commercialize."  As long as a manufactured identity symbol is snapped onto the end of a casket, then some may be inclined to label the funeral of its occupant as "personalized."  Or maybe there might also be a candle with the individual's photo embedded in it.  Or a floral arrangement with a ribbon bearing the words, "Beloved Golfer." 

But let’s take a peek at a summarized slew of truly personalized circumstances retrieved from the “Featured Funerals” page of the My Wonderful Life (mywonderfullife.com) website:   

Aware of impending death, Wesley David Scott asked for the fight song of his alma mater, the University of Alabama, to be played at his service.  Lung cancer was at the root of his terminal condition; so he related his oxygen deprivation to a request for guests to give his wife oxygen-producing plants in the form of shrubs and trees as an alternative to traditional flowers.

During life, John Jacobs relished the attention he got because of his cell phone that was always ringing.   So it was buried with him in a Paramus, NJ cemetery where the headstone above his grave has the phone number on it.  

Before his confinement to a wheelchair, Jerry Manford had been an active and fun-loving adventurer.  For his funeral event that would be held in a church backyard, he planned a carnival with pony rides, inflatable jumping toys, and decorations.  By way of a “lifetime legacy video” he had prepared, he told his mourners, “See you on the other side. Don’t let it bother you.  You’re born, you die. Have a beer and a good laugh.”  In accord with his request, his coffin was decorated with the words, “Return to Sender: Express Delivery.”

Because of his passion for cranes, Alan Hampton requested to have his body transported to his burial site by one of them.  Strapped to a ninety-ton crane, his casket was at the head of a motorcycle procession through town to the cemetery. 

A Viking enthusiast, Alan Smith, chose an authentic Norse style send-off.  A replica of a Viking longboat was set on fire before drifting out to sea. 

Rose Martin insisted on being buried in her 1962 Chevrolet Corvair that she had driven around Tiverton, Massachusetts for thirty-six years.  After structural modification of the car by a body shop and acquisition of four cemetery plots, the eighty-four-year-old woman’s wish was granted.  

Music from Tim Russert’s iPod was played at his service.

A Minnesota attorney, C. Blaine Harstad, wrote his own obituary, which included an invitation to the Lakewood Cemetery in Minneapolis to see his headstone that he had personally designed.  The memorial was personalized with family trees illustrating his Norwegian heritage and his wife’s German ancestry as well as a map of Norway.

Since Fredric J. Baur was especially proud of the patented design he created for the Pringles potato chip can, he asked for a portion of his cremated remains to be buried in one of the cans.  This relevant receptacle is alongside his urn in a grave at Arlington Memorial Gardens near Cincinnati, Ohio.

An ice cream truck led the funeral procession for an ice cream vendor, Henry Ewell.  At the conclusion of proceedings, Popsicles were served to guests.   

Preston Robert Tisch, owner of Loews Corporation and co-owner of the New York Giants, employed a party planner to orchestrate his final event.  A band added flair to his memorial service at Avery Fisher Hall in Manhattan, after which models passed out chocolate-covered marshmallows on silver trays at a reception.  

Purportedly, during life Henry Smith was most at peace in his leather recliner, watching television.  So for his final appearance, his body was placed in his reclining chair facing a TV playing sports highlights, with a pack of cigarettes and a beer on the table next to it. 

Following a memorial service and private funeral in Heath Ledger’s hometown of Perth, Australia, guests met at his favorite restaurant for a seaside wake.  There they linked arms as they watched the sun setting and many of them jumped into the ocean waters where Heath had played as a child. 

Patricia Renick, an artist in Cincinnati, left instructions for each friend at her funeral to be given an envelope containing a portion of her cremated remains. They were to distribute them in places that seemed appropriate. Some were even deposited on a Tibetan mountain. 

A California state legislator, BT Collins, was reputed for his love of a good time.  For his final funerary event he allocated funds for a large party in a hotel ballroom. A large buffet, ice sculptures, balloon bouquets, three bars, and a seven-piece band were features witnessed by about 3,000 guests. 

Philip Quattrociocchi chose to have two final events – a traditional religious service in his hometown of Sacramento as well as a funeral in his current San Francisco environs.  For the second affair he made arrangements with a caterer, chose speakers, created a video memorial, and hired a graphic designer to produce his invitations before his impending death. 

In accordance with his request, the cremated remains of Hunter S. Thompson were shot from a canon, accompanied by a fireworks display. 

Upon learning about his terminal cancer, Jack Smith, a bar owner, arranged a yacht cruise for one hundred friends to set sail the Saturday after his death.  The memorial service on board featured a jazz band, blues group, refreshments, and scattering of his cremated remains while “I’ll Be Seeing You” was played. 

An avid Detroit Tigers fan, Connie Scramlin, opted to be buried wearing a Tigers uniform in a coffin reflecting the team’s colors.  “Take Me Out To The Ball Game” was played during her service. 

Paul Wellener, a committed Pittsburgh Steelers fan, had attended their games for over forty years.  After his death, his family bought two seats from the old Steelers stadium to position over his grave as part of his memorial.

Lourenzy Cosey and his wife pre-planned a funeral event that would represent his favorite life activity – hosting neighborhood cookouts.  The funeral was held at a funeral home, with a cooler along with pop and iced tea as a backdrop, accentuated by a buffet amidst jazz music. 

Many thanks to the folks at My Wonderful Life for posting these inspiring examples of special life endings!  Check their website periodically for additional entries. 

These real life (actually, death) illustrations epitomize the concept of connecting personal characteristics or wishes to uniquely memorable memorial observances.  Are your own “wheels of thought” in motion yet to direct you toward distinctively personalized final exit plans?

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

FUNERAL INDUSTRY TRENDS

REMODELED PASSAGES

In case you haven’t been tuned into the death management scene in recent years, you are apt to be pleasantly surprised. Prepare to erase stagnant old stereotypes and replace them with updated images. 

Additional methods for bodily disposition are being introduced in other countries, with potential for infiltration in the United States at some time in the future.  Already, some states have legislated approval for alkaline hydrolysis, and operations are on the threshold of being initiated; in fact, the service has already been launched at the Anderson-McQueen funeral home facilities in St. Petersburg, Florida.  Beyond dissolution options, opportunities to donate organs and tissues for relevant (and sometimes uniquely meaningful) causes have proliferated everywhere. 

Increasingly, “being green” is “in.”  Concern for conservation has prompted advocates to question and alter the way bodies are buried.  The underground milieu has been scrutinized, causing realization that there’s a lot more than decomposing material under the surface.  “What you can’t see won’t hurt you” may no longer be the case.  The reality of wasted wood products, indestructible metal pieces, and potentially toxic embalming chemicals has motivated an emergence of natural cemeteries where only biodegradable matter is allowed to accompany a decedent into subterranean territory.  What began as an initiative in the United Kingdom is now spreading across this country.  There are newly established burial grounds as well as hybrid designations within traditional cemeteries whereby a section is utilized according to natural burial principles determined by the Green Burial Council. 

A hot trend toward rising cremation rates is having a profound impact on the death care industry.  To offset financial voids due to a dearth of casket sales and the services that go hand in hand with them, funeral home operators are diversifying their offerings.  The inherent flexibility of memorial services in contrast to funerals allows for conduct of them in varied settings, in atypical indoor venues as well as outdoors.  Requests for unusual approaches are more apt to be heeded.  Personalization is paramount these days, with all kinds of individualized presentations, including thematic displays and even stage-like set-ups in some cases. 

Wedding planners and other types of event facilitators have been joined by a bevy of funerary event planners and cohorts in diverse roles.  Training programs for celebrants prepare individuals to set up independent practices and officiate at customized services that veer away from standardization.  Receptions have become more elaborate; caterers are apt to specialize in food geared toward commemorative occasions. 

Manufacturers have flooded the market with all kinds of merchandise that bespeaks novelty of concepts and designs.  It can actually feel energizing to shop for items like memento gifts and, certainly, urns.  Artists have created vessels for this purpose that are works of fine art featured in galleries.  

A wave of architectural splendor has permeated the construction of mausoleums and columbaria.  Elements of light and natural beauty have been incorporated to render a soothing environment.  Modernization has endowed dreary domains with a “face lift.”

No matter how distant one’s own death may be, this is an exciting time to explore the contemporary arena of trends and practices.  It’s never too early to begin planning an exit strategy that can be intriguing for the planner now, and greatly appreciated by loved ones later.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

CREATE A GREAT FUNERAL DAY

DAY OF THE BIG "O"

What’s so special about a special day?  Well, it imparts opportunity… a word and a concept generally pregnant with potential! 

Consider Halloween, for instance.  When the office manager announces that everyone is encouraged to come to work in costume on a certain day (although it’s optional), you have an opportunity to have fun by conjuring up and wearing something wacky rather than confining yourself to everyday attire that may render you a lifeless party pooper.  And think of Thanksgiving, which presents a golden opportunity to wallow in meal preparations, perhaps channeling an urge to dabble in new recipes, so that loved ones can gather round the table to “stuff their faces” and catch up on the latest gobbledegook. 

Yes, special days impart special opportunities.  Even incidental ones unknown to many can unlock portals of diversion and frolic.  Have you ever recognized Backward Day on January 31st?  Memorable moments can be grasped by writing, reading, walking, talking, and clothing oneself backward, as well as by reversing the sequence of meals and having dessert first.  There’s also Compliment Day on January 27th, Lips Appreciation Day on March 16th and Hot Tub Day on the 28th, followed by National Scrapbook Day on May 3rd, Hand Shake Day on June 28th, Build a Scarecrow Day on July 1st, Name Your Car Day on October 2nd, and Look For Circles Day on November 2nd.  These are but a few of a broad array of calendar days that can be acknowledged as intriguingly singular in some unique way. 

What does this digression have to do with end-of-life planning?   You may have guessed it!  Several years ago, Stephanie West Allen designated October 30th as Create A Great Funeral Day.  At first glance, people might snicker upon coming across this entry in a list of unusual holidays. But this appointed day for pre-planning is saturated with opportunity and purpose.  Its impact goes beyond embracing frivolous entertainment by reminding folks of the chance to take constructive action. Perhaps the conspicuous “O” at the beginning of this October day can reinforce the notion that it oozes with opportunity. 

So how about seizing a chance to become part of a community of foresighted planners on this novel occasion?   You might write a few end-of-life preferences on a scrap paper or in a computer file, or even initiate dialogue with family members at the dinner table.  Every year on this noteworthy date you could expand your wish list so that by the time your life ends, your companions will have substantial guidelines to follow.  It might even be motivating to feel like you are a contemporary trendsetter, realizing that folks in other parts of the country are similarly engaged on this particular day. 

There are so many choices in life!  You can either ignore this day of opportunity or you can embrace the important activity for which it was conceived.  And while you’re at it, add some “icing on the cake” by embellishing the process on November 2nd when it’s Plan Your Epitaph Day.   As you encounter this catalytic pre-planning opportunity, remember the words to Lee Ann Womack’s song, I Hope You Dance: … “Give the heavens above more than a passing glance… when you get the chance to sit it out or dance… I hope you dance.”

Happy Create A Great Funeral Day!

Sunday, October 14, 2012

FUNERAL BUSINESS CONCERNS

GRIEVING MARKET LOSSES

In terms of trendy places these days, crematories are “hot!”  People in North America are increasingly opting for cremation rather than ground burial.  It is a phenomenon mourned by funeral directors and cemetery operators for whom conventional interments had always provided the “bread and butter” for their businesses.  Loss of income is at the root of their tribulation. These establishments, like so many others, have suffered the effects of a recession propelling individuals’ quest for cost-saving measures.

A customer need not pay an exorbitant amount if cremation is the preferred mode for final disposition.  In fact, the so-called “direct” approach allows for a body to be transferred from the place of death to a crematory with few intervening bodily ministrations that would entail fees.  But even if a whole body destined eventually for a furnace is tended in a funeral home for a while, certain funerary products and provisions will not need to be factored in when calculating costs.  Without a casket, vault, cemetery plot or mausoleum crypt, opening and closing of the space, a perpetual care allotment, bodily transport to a burial site and vehicles for a procession, monetary output can be reduced.

On the other hand, anyone opting for cremation can get “carried away” even in the absence of a body.  Maintaining physical remains on the premises for a period of time prior to cremation offers opportunities to contract for a number of “line items” from the general price list.  How about an expensive urn instead of the cookie jar at home?  Or a period of visitation would warrant embalming – a stipulation at most funeral homes.  For a funeral service on site, it doesn’t matter if a body or an urn is the central focal point.  And an impressive array of manufactured goods with equally impressive price tags is available for perusal. 

So altruistic nurturers with a high degree of empathy who choose cremation, but nonetheless want to feed a funeral director’s “kitty” can select variations on the usual theme. The livelihoods of funeral home personnel can still be boosted regardless of certain dead elements within their domain. Think of it as grief therapy for providers.  For example, I recently attended a Catholic church funeral that transpired according to tradition… except that the body had already been cremated.  An urn took the place of a casket.  But funeral home personnel assumed their usual roles, as if a body were on the premises.  They delivered the urn and floral arrangements to the church, waited throughout the duration of the service, and afterward, placed the urn inside a full-sized, snazzy hearse for transport to a cemetery columbarium.  Family members followed behind in a limousine from the funeral home’s fleet of vehicles. 

This, of course, might be considered “overkill” by anyone seeking to minimize expenses.  For the most part, as a result of abbreviated services in conjunction with cremation, income generated by funeral home participation is apt to be less if this method of disposition is chosen.

So, if you are the frugal type, what can you do for end-of-life providers who are mourning their losses?  How about giving a funeral director a hug today?  It will “do a body good.”

Friday, September 28, 2012

BICYCLE HEARSES

PEDAL PUSHERS

Vehicular gridlock in cities, pollution from internal-combustion engines, and obesity caused by sedentary habits are “out.”  Bicycles are “in.”  Portland, Oregon is at the top of the list of places where purposeful and recreational bike riding has become an increasingly common lifestyle.  In fact, this mecca was dubbed “America’s most bike-friendly city” by Bicycling Magazine, and there is even a website (BikePortland.org) to promote the practice.  People on bikes there are accommodated by designated street lanes and parking corrals in front of businesses.  Cycling commuters wield a conspicuous presence amid their motored counterparts.  The city serves as a prototype for other large metropolitan areas seeking to encourage this mode of transportation and even launch bike-share programs allowing residents to rent bikes (for an hour or a day) from kiosks.   

So for many folks in Portland, using bikes to get around is a way of life.  But an enterprising cemetery operator in a community a couple of hours south of the city has also made it a way of death.  With the goal of transforming the Sunset Hills Cemetery in Eugene, Oregon into a natural burial site, a range of ecologically sound products and services are being offered.  One of them is the use of a bicycle hearse!  A three-wheeled bike was adapted so that an open-air structure bearing a casket or coffin can be placed inside it. 

Of course, biking to a final resting place has been possible for a long time simply by contracting with a business that operates motorcycle hearses.  It’s a matter of locating one of multiple companies available to provide both the equipment and the service (a driver) within one’s geographical region. Some pull glass-enclosed coaches, √† la nineteenth-century convention, or carriages suggestive of a style from the old west.  Others have adapted motorcycles so that sidecars support the caskets.

But if you would like your last ride to be away from the roar or drone of mechanized sounds, watch for emergence of the wheeled carriers earmarked by “zero emissions” and propelled by people (hopefully, also functioning in the absence of any untoward emissions!).  If you opt for this type of trendy transport, your life companions are apt to garner lasting memories of the trip to your grave.  

Saturday, September 15, 2012

NEIL ARMSTRONG SYMBOLISM

A FINAL FRONTIER

Neil Armstrong was “on board” when the decision was made relative to the disposition of his bodily remains. One might have assumed that this former astronaut would want a portion of his cremated particles to be encapsulated in a container attached to a rocket during a scheduled space mission.  Although a number of astrologically or astronomically oriented folks have taken that route, it’s an expensive way to “go out with a blast.”  Sub-orbital and orbital services for end-of-life purposes are available for anyone willing to spend big bucks to head toward far reaches of the cosmos in minimized form.  

Alternatively, this pioneer – whose “one small step” upon the moon’s surface signified “one giant leap for mankind” – chose to embrace connotation within an earthly domain.   Before joining the NASA program and carrying out space missions, he had served in the Navy.  An initial plunge into a Naval ROTC program while in college led to full immersion in his role during the Korean War – as a fighter pilot while stationed aboard an aircraft carrier in the Sea of Japan.  Water was always pivotal to his work, whether he was completing missions in a plane or heading back to earth in a spacecraft.  Upon returning from extraterrestrial odysseys, direct contact with it meant that he had arrived home. 

Knowing that, one might have assumed there would be a full-body sea burial by way of a Naval ship.  For this, a metal casket is prepared according to specifications that dictate boring of holes in the bottom, weighting with concrete, and wrapping with heavy bands.  Burials for veterans take place during regular missions, at which time a military ceremony is conducted and the casket that rests upon a conveyor apparatus is advanced over the ship’s side and into the water.  Ocean burials in similar fashion are available through maritime businesses as well. 

But the unassuming and private man who shunned celebrity opted for a less conspicuous exodus.  Instead of a widely heralded and televised “splashdown” like those so familiar to him in the past, Armstrong’s final journey to the ocean floor took place quietly in the absence of media.  His wife along with a Naval officer simply dropped the urn containing Neil’s cremated remains over the side of a Naval aircraft carrier – in a manner available to most all folks who at some time were members of the Armed Forces.  A restrained and succinct ceremony included remarks by a Navy chaplain, three volleys fired in tribute from a firing squad, and the playing of "Taps."  An American flag was folded according to tradition and presented to his wife.

The day before, a memorial service had been attended by about 1500 people in the Washington National Cathedral, where a stained glass window contains part of a moon rock the Apollo 11 crew brought back to earth.  Here is where this hero’s stellar life was recognized through meaningful tributes. Excerpts from a speech delivered by President John F. Kennedy fifty years ago alluded to the American rationale for moon exploration.  Diana Krall sang Bart Howard’s  “Fly Me To The Moon” as a reiteration of a rendition sung by her at the Smithsonian Institute in 2009 on the fortieth anniversary of the moon landing.  The service was broadcast via NASA’s television station. 

This was one of the universe’s most storied planet-trotting explorers.   Certainly, his ultimate ending warranted far more attention and pomp.  But as a pre-planner he had made his voice heard.  His wishes came to fruition in a way that was appropriate for him, untarnished by observances bespeaking societal expectations.  

And, in the end, relevance was achieved not only in terms of connecting with this trailblazer’s role in American history, but also by reflecting his characteristically humble persona.  Through commonplace measures, symbolism and significance prevailed. 





Monday, September 3, 2012

IDENTITY CELEBRATIONS

IDENTITY MARKS

Imagine how people scurrying through the streets of Manhattan might appear when viewed from above.  What a massive array of human protoplasm!  Most likely, airborne observers way up in the sky would conjure images of swiftly moving ants… or maybe even animated globs… or specks if they are flying high enough. 

Though there are many of us on this planet, and though we share similarities, each one of us is different.  Just as each person’s handprint is distinct, so is each one’s life.  As you recall funeral affairs you’ve attended, can you remember proceedings that truly marked the uniqueness of the person who had died? In the past, your recollections probably would have been blurry, but nowadays you are more apt to come away from such events with a sense of personalized clarity.

Funeral home administrators as well as consumers are recognizing the worth of enhancing or replacing traditional fare to commemorate a life.  Actually, in many instances, “life celebration” is the preferred jargon for an event.  “Cookie cutter” approaches are becoming pass√©.  Instead, each decedent is more apt to be recognized for the manner in which he or she impacted family members and communities.  Individual experiences, accomplishments, characteristics, and signature features are being accentuated so that someone’s spirit endures within the minds of others long after one’s physical presence is gone. 

Although the bereavement of death cannot and should not be denied, through the tears, features of someone’s life can be highlighted joyfully.  Recently I met a woman in her nineties whose husband died several years ago.  To this day, she beams with satisfaction because of the way she managed his funerary proceedings.  The burial took place on a Tuesday so that the most difficult part of the occasion could be completed promptly.  The following weekend, she found a way to draw attention to her beloved companion’s talent and wit.  As an adjunct to a memorial service, several of his carpentry projects depicting his sense of humor were displayed.  One was a small, hand-carved edifice resembling a gazebo that had a wooden block with tacks in it; it was a “tax shelter” that had been given to a lawyer for his desk.  Another was a wooden number one with a hole in the middle of it for a golfer.  A replica of a man’s shoe had a miniature French horn sticking out of the sock.  To entertain fast food quarter-pounder enthusiasts, there was a small mallet elevated and poised to come down on a quarter embedded in the base.  A wooden hairbrush for a bald man was purely wood without any bristles attached. The man’s cleverly painted portraits had been exhibited also. Then there was the picture he had always carried in his wallet just as folks do when they whip out photos of their children and grandchildren to display their “pride and joy.” His photo was a bottle of Joy dishwasher detergent next to a bottle of Pride furniture polish.  When I visited this widow, as she showed me many of these residual masterpieces, she exuded enthused contentment because people still convey to her fond memories of the service and its accompanying paraphernalia.  She is contentedly pleased that it was a lighthearted reflection of her “happy-go-lucky” and ingenious husband.
 
All is takes is a little thought and a little planning to decide how one would like to be remembered and to develop ideas for one's own commemoration.  And even in this context it's possible to feel the exhilaration of creativity.  There can be energy in matters of death.

Friday, August 3, 2012

A CONSUMMATE PRE-PLANNER

 A “FINGER IN THE PIE”

While gathering material for the book I was writing, I spoke to a funeral director who related his vivid recollections of a pre-planned memorial affair.  Here is his story, as excerpted from Pondering Leaves:  Composing and Conveying Your Life Story’s Epilogue: 

A Michigan pre-planner from a conservative, religiously oriented town steeped in tradition chose to "stray from the beaten path."  Though, in deference to family needs, a church Mass preceded his social reception, he had only cared about having an elegant wine and cheese cocktail party that would mimic one he had attended for the opening of an antique shop.  With passionate zeal, this consummate gentleman, who had been reputed for his fabulous dinner parties, planned every single detail of the pre-funded event that he envisioned, including the brand of whiskey, type of mustard, and placement of design elements.  As a window dresser for a department store, he had an artistic flair that directed him toward an Asian theme, with bird of paradise floral arrangements to complement it.  He wanted all of the townsfolk to feel welcome, so when he wrote his own obituary he included an open-ended invitation to this two-hour event.  Upon his death, the funeral director used the man's handwritten notations to implement arrangements.  Though about one hundred people were expected to attend, three hundred showed up, and they had such a good time that it was in full swing for six hours.  There were no memorial tributes at this one.  It was all about an occasion graced by ambience that epitomized the spirit and the style of this individual. 

Instead of shying away from pre-emptive involvement in his own end-of-life proceedings, this man embraced an opportunity to assume the director’s role.  Rather than allowing a default mode whereby family or a funeral director would determine details for an affair, he picked up the reins by specifying precise intentions so that those folks would be able to execute them seamlessly.  And, besides enjoying a sense of control over an aspect of life generally regarded as uncontrollable, probably he had a great time throughout the decision-making process!

I bet if someone writing a book asked the man’s guests if they had ever witnessed a novel memorial affair, this one would come to minds instantly and be relayed enthusiastically.  Undoubtedly, the man is remembered for his prescient pre-planning.  

So how about you?  Can you fathom having a hand in some aspect of your final proceedings?  If you at least allow yourself to think about it, ideas may pop around in your mind like a bag full of kettle corn in a microwave.  Find your comfort zone on the notion continuum… from a single, incidental element to a broad spectrum of detailed arrangements. You’re apt to feel a sense of engagement and empowerment that may motivate you to keep thinking and notating throughout the rest of your life. And you may even discover why there’s “fun” in the word “funeral.”    

Friday, July 20, 2012

DEATH MANAGEMENT TRENDS

THE NEW FACE OF ABSENCE

Death, as always, continues to be a sad occasion.  But, nowadays, instead of only church bells tolling, the end of life often is broadcast with “bells and whistles.”  Instead of focusing only on aspects of bereavement, mourners are rejoicing in the lives of beloved companions through celebrations, revamped approaches, and unconventional fare.  The modern concept of event planning has infiltrated commemorative affairs.

Anyone who has been wearing blinders in recent years may not have noticed the changing scenarios.  Currently, ecologically conservative cemeteries are sprouting up around the country.  In conjunction, biodegradable products are multiplying in the marketplace like seeds cast to the wind.  The word “retro” aptly applies to advocates who are reclaiming practices of the past by providing funerary care at the hands of loved ones in home settings.   Public awareness programs are alerting folks to organ and tissue donation opportunities; as a result, “recycled parts” are restoring lives and contributing to treatments and scientific discoveries.  The growing prevalence of cremation is engendering creative adaptations and unusual dispersal modes for remains; scattering options along with unique sites abound, as well as means for integration within infinite assortments of decorative and functional items.  New methods for disposal of bodily remains are being unveiled.  Technology is yielding marvelous products that are causing the word “dreary” to be obliterated from perceptions of funerary fare.  The marketplace is bursting with tantalizing memorabilia.  Service providers are individualizing presentations and events with distinctive features.   The field is being transformed by exhilarating forces of change.  It is refreshing.  It is an exciting time to be alive and to participate in this dynamic evolution of death management... even in anticipation of one's own demise.

Friday, July 13, 2012

INTOLERANCE TRANSFORMATION

CHANCE DISCOVERIES

Once upon a time a frog appeared on the oval deck surrounding a large backyard pool on our family property.   Soon it became a permanent fixture, apparently after finding the environs a suitable habitat.  Chlorinated water apparently wasn't deleterious to its existence and didn't deter its desire to stay on the premises!  We recall that its skin color whitened over time (though that may be biologically impossible); it was definitely white at some point, though.

At first, this disruptive interloper intimidated us, dampening our usual sense of abandon when plunging into our recreational resource. Often someone’s intention to step into or onto the body of a whale, giraffe, or hollow turtle – one of assorted inflatable floats in the water – would be preceded by a shrill utterance (eeeeeek!) upon observing that it was already occupied by this amphibian.  The human shrieks, however, didn’t come close to the volume of amplified noise emitted by our guest croaker.  Family meals on the back porch overlooking the yard were accented by reverberations of ongoing communication with other members of its species. To our shock and amazement, upon returning from a summer trip we discovered that our ever-present companion had been doing a lot of communicating while we were away.  Our pool was teeming with hundreds of tadpoles!   

Okay, so this is an intriguing recollection, but what's the point?  Where's the relevance?  How can this ostensibly errant story possibly relate to exploring funerary matters and making your own final decisions?  

Well, the uninvited frog just might be considered analogous to the topic of issues associated with your life's ending.  Like our family members who weren't exactly thrilled to find this alien in our pool territory, you may have regarded the prospect of pre-planning your death arrangements a bit or a lot unsettling.  Maybe upon first glance you felt like you just didn't want to have to deal with it.  

But now after "getting your feet wet" in the vicinity of this intrusive perception that has forged its way into your awareness, maybe you'll become acclimated to the reality of its presence... just as our family became accustomed to delving into the water in spite of the fact that the squatter was cohabitating with us.  

And, lo and behold, just as we eventually adopted the misplaced creature as our family mascot, even giving it a name, you may become tolerant of the pre-planning subject to such an extent that you'll be willing to maintain it in your mind at some level of consciousness.

A similar process of transformation that we claim to have observed may enter the picture.  Just as the color of our adopted resident ostensibly changed over the course of time, any negative attitude you might have brought with you to this place may translate into newfound acceptance of the issues you encounter. 

And, believe it or not, to your great astonishment, you may even find that swimming around in this body of information may be as refreshing as swimming around in a pool of water!  It won't hurt to interact with this material, just as the frog did no harm to us.

In fact, you are apt to be unexpectedly entertained, just as we were when during our meals on the porch we listened to all of the sounds emanating from the pool deck.

Your exposure here may even prompt you to explore other avenues related to this subject, resulting in acquisition of funerary savvy and personal enlightenment that may be compounded exponentially... in the same way our amphibian trespasser reproduced and brought multiples into our presence.  

So what's the moral of this story? 

We can thrive in what might initially be perceived as an aversive environment.    

By overcoming reluctance and immersing ourselves in a milieu that's intimidating yet saturated with possibilities, we can change our attitudes.  And we may ingest either a bevy of ideas or a mouthful of tadpoles.

Insights have a surprising way of developing productively, far beyond our expectations.  We might find something enlivening where we least expect it!

Whether an originally disgruntled perspective pertains either to the subject of death or to another life form, it has the potential to evolve into an exercise in tolerance and a captivating learning experience that can lead to memories never to be forgotten. 

Thursday, July 5, 2012

MOTIVATING ATTITUDES

MIND MAKEOVERS

What are we going to do with ourselves when we can no longer inhabit the earth?  Or, more likely, what will those closest to us do with our physical remains?  In what manner will the essence of our lives be recognized and commemorated?  How can we be assured that the presence we embodied will live on in the minds of others?

These are questions that only the most undaunted, well-organized and well-adjusted members of our society have been inclined to ask themselves. What about everyone else?  The inevitable reality of separation and loss… of life endings… of permanent departures… is excruciatingly intimidating and emotionally draining for escapists who prefer to “bury their heads in the sand.” Denial and dismissal of thoughts about that last incomprehensible yet natural phase of life mask unrelenting truths, thereby perpetuating a state of rampant lack of preparedness.  

Our attitudes toward death affect us throughout life.  Quality of existence can be heightened through an appreciation of life’s limitation.  We have choices.  We can live in fear of mortality and cowardly assume a posture of avoidance, or we can ease the potential for strain on ourselves as well as our families by addressing measures of preparedness now.  We can either disavow the certainty of death or embrace it as a natural consequence of living. We can control certain elements of our endings. We can explore the possibilities. We can dictate our preferences and initiate plans for closing scenarios.  We can eliminate many of the decision-making chores that would burden our distraught loved ones during their time of sorrow.  We have the power to determine conduct and personalize details relative to the occasion of terminal transition. We can reconcile ourselves to this irrefutable reality by adopting an attitude of acceptance and even enjoyment of the planning process. 

With revitalized perspectives we can find our way to a new comfort zone.  We can travel along modern routes paved by emerging trends and opportunities.  If we open our eyes to the possibilities, we can witness expanded horizons and paint our own exquisite sunsets.

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

PRE-PLANNING HUMOR


CAN DEATH AND LEVITY CO-EXIST? 

Is it okay to treat the subject of planning one's own end-of-life affairs in a lighthearted manner?  We are accustomed to shying away from anything that pertains to death.  We don’t want to think about the demon that follows us through life, threatening to uproot us from our existence.  Normally, we don’t laugh at a reality so abhorrent and contrary to our sense of well-being.  We can’t fathom it in the imaginary context of an amiable companion.

We seem to have inherited our negative attitudes toward mortality because of maladaptive fixations that characterize our culture.  In other countries, people are better able to treat the transition as a natural phase of the live cycle.  As human beings, we all share the universal agony of loss when it occurs.  But while many others seem to regard this natural passage more purposefully, we tend to regard it more scornfully.  Can we learn to accept an evolutionary reality that can’t be changed?  Is there a way to be relieved of the heavy burden of intimidating fear that permeates our lives and diminishes our quality of living?

I think humor can be a tool.  It isn’t meant to imply disrespect for this phenomenon that is imbued with painful repercussions for loved ones.  Instead, it is intended to serve the function of a preemptive host, opening the door and welcoming newcomers to unfamiliar territory.  It is the “ice-breaker,” so to speak.  Maybe it can help to spark discussions and invoke a newfound comfort in a realm that had been too uncomfortable to broach.  

If we could allow ourselves to lighten up a bit, maybe we would be able to tolerate this taboo topic more readily.  I believe in the power of words to alter our ingrained perspectives.  I like to use upbeat language and concepts as a balm in hopes of subduing the ache of prospective separation.  It seems easier to explore this subject when surrounded by figurative expressions pregnant with metaphors, double meanings, and symbolic terms that are not only palatable, but jocular as well.  I’d much rather look at a frog symbolizing a mission to communicate about death rather than a skull and crossbones reinforcing the threat of it!  

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

INTRODUCTION

TAKING THE PLUNGE 

Here you are, on the brink of the drink.  We’re wondering what brought you to this pond.  Why are you reading this?  What’s motivating you to submerge yourself in muck… topics that folks generally tend to avoid?  

Is it curiosity… like that of a marine biologist who studies underwater plants and animals? Or maybe you just yearn for the stimulating refreshment and revitalization of jumping into cold water. Or are you so bored that you’re willing to delve into a dark abyss with springs of surging currents that will lead to enlightenment? Or perhaps you are a risk-taker who scouts for adventure; you don’t know what’s under the surface, but you’re going to find out.  Even if you are not a great swimmer, maybe you already know that having the courage to dive into the unknown is apt to bolster your confidence and make you stronger.

You won’t need a life jacket to learn about issues related to death.  Soon your mind will be so freed of inhibitions that you’ll feel like you are floating on air… or at least bathed in the enveloping warmth of a bubbling whirlpool.  You’ll be able to absorb features of modern funerary products, services, and approaches drenched with innovation and flexibility.  Eventually, after taking a dip here periodically, you’re apt to become unmoored from stagnant patterns and attitudes as you paddle toward making decisions about your own end-of-life arrangements.  No longer anchored to muddy funereal realities of days gone by, you’ll be able to adopt the perspectives of wedding planners who relish the sparkling nuances of vibrant planning. 

So don’t be afraid to open your eyes under these waters.  Visit frequently to capture the intrigue of enlivening funeral and memorial content.  It will be energizing!  Hopefully, with new concepts swirling through your mind, you’ll leave with a commitment to identify or maybe even alter preferences relative to your own life’s ending.  And, before you dry off after being here, spread the word about your intentions as well as the pleasure of wading through the depths of information you discovered.    

Welcome to our community!