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!

Wednesday, April 29, 2015


Journey Journal... Punta Gorda, Florida


After someone dies, purging a closet of that person’s wardrobe is often a painfully gut-wrenching task… an albatross of grieving.  Clothing is linked to identity, conferring tantalizing evidence of embodied presence – no longer in the flesh, but at least in the mind.  People tend to retain such articles of apparel for lengthy periods of time, yearning to hang on rather than letting go.

Some funeral homes have acknowledged this tendency imbued with an implication of need by offering an opportunity to retain selected snippets of the decedent’s clothes, but in a different form.  The Charlotte Memorial Funeral Home is among those conducting memory bear workshops.  

Twice a year, individuals who have experienced recent losses are invited to attend a Saturday gathering, bringing remnants of their loved ones’ clothing to be transformed into stuffed teddy bears. They are joined by a cadre of volunteers who provide guidance and manage the cutting, sewing, and stuffing operations.  Prior to completion, a small heart with a brief notation is embedded inside the bear. 

Source:  Florida Weekly 

Bereaved participants’ hands-on involvement renders the final product all the more meaningful. The event transpires over the course of several hours, interrupted only by provision of morning snacks and a light lunch.  

By mid afternoon, people who arrived with swatches of fabric leave with their cuddly cloth buddies, enabling them to embrace their memories.  These portable items of poignant significance, though new to them in form, bespeak companionable familiarity.  

At the Waid Funeral Home in Merrill, Wisconsin, workshop participants often have chosen to apply details specifically tailored to the person who died.  Before they arrive with their materials, including bags of fiberfill and buttons for eyes and noses, probably some folks have already constructed images of the final products in their minds.  They may bring any decorative additions that will personalize their creations, such as eyeglasses, name tags coordinating with uniforms, a piece of jewelry, as well as other forms of ornamentation or identity accoutrements.   

Source:  Facebook - Anna Winningham

Volunteers are on hand with patterns amid a sea of sewing machines ready for action.  

Source:  Facebook - Anna Winningham

Source:  Facebook - Anna Winningham

The room is alive with purposeful activity, facilitating interaction among individuals who have suffered losses along with the volunteers who want to help them heal.  

Source:  Facebook - Anna Winningham

A collage of fabric pieces may comprise the body.

Source:  Facebook - Waid Funeral Home

Sometimes a photo is employed as a guide for the design or as a comrade in spirit.

Source:  Facebook - Anna Winningham

Multiple family members may bring multiple teddy bears into existence.  

Source:  Facebook - Anna Winningham

Outfits may feature an item of clothing over the tight “skin” of the animal’s body.  

Source:  Facebook - Anna Winningham

Initiation of the endeavor at this funeral home evolved after learning of family members who had used their grandfather’s work and hunting shirts to fashion these types of teddy bears.  As gifts for Christmas, all the grandchildren had been given their own, with a directive to wrap their arms around the bear whenever they felt a need for a hug.  

The Mattson Funeral Home in Forest Lake, Minnesota, is another facility that hosts biannual memory bear workshops.  

Source: Facebook - Heartley Bears

The venture originated after the mother, grandmother, and aunt of the funeral home’s co-owner made more than twenty bears as gifts for children and grandchildren.  

Source: Facebook - USA Today Video

They were dubbed, “Heartley Bears,” to reflect the name of his grandfather, Hartley, whose favorite shirts from fishing trips and family outings were the basis for the sewn 
creations.  Several hundreds of bears have been designed there since the project's inception in 2008. 

Source: Facebook - USA Today Video

Source (2): Facebook - Heartley Bears

One woman used a pair of her husband’s jeans because that was his usual garb.  She tucked in  wooden heart with a message of affection for her deceased husband.  

A mother and her three daughters attended a workshop in advance of their loved one’s imminent death.  For their bears that would become cherished mementos of their grandfather’s life, each child was allowed to select the item of clothing that would be used.  One of them, a five-year-old girl, chose her grandfather’s swim trunks.  

During the lifetime of an eighty-nine-year-old woman, she had five children who generated twenty-two grandchildren and forty-eight great-grandchildren.  Many of the females – her daughters, granddaughters, and great-granddaughters – gathered at a  workshop after her death.  Collectively, they applied a variety of personal touches to their bears.  One carried a hanky, and another had a mint in its hand… reminiscent of characteristic habits.  Since pearls had been the woman’s favorite jewelry, they were featured on another.  A granddaughter, who had at one time made a pink scarf as a gift, tied it around her bear’s neck.  

A loved one's devotion to a sport or a particular team inspires some stylistic variations.  

Source: Facebook - Heartley Bears

A single aspect of one's life history may dictate the style.

Source: Facebook - Heartley Bears

The bear construction initiative at the Mattson facility has garnered widespread interest and substantial participation.  A Facebook page specific to it relates details of the ongoing projects, along with acknowledgements of appreciation for their army of volunteers.  

Multiple photos illustrate uniquely created figures.  

Source:  funeralfund.blogspot.com

Source: Facebook - Heartley Bears

Source:  funeralfund.blogspot.com

Source: Facebook - Heartley Bears

Source: Facebook - Heartley Bears

Pictures of the finished products tell only part of the story.  A peripheral yet pivotal aspect of this activity is the sense of connection and camaraderie that is woven throughout the experience. While engaged in this purposeful mission, individuals readily relate to one another through supportive gestures.  Whether in the role of a volunteer or as someone touched recently by the sorrow of death, participants have a chance to share their sentiments and stitch strong personal threads, thereby interfacing these folks together in a tie that binds. 

Source: Facebook - USA Today Video

The popularity of memory bear projects for grieving individuals suggests that a need is being met through this type of workshop that has been established for them.  It reinforces a realization that ordinary materials readily overlooked during life can become treasures of conscious associations after a dear one has died.  

Source: Facebook - USA Today Video

Sunday, April 12, 2015


Journey Journal... Gotha, Florida


Capacious mausoleums designed with nakedly exposed walls can be like blank slates that invite ingenuity.  When there is a barren expanse of significant magnitude, why ignore the possibilities?  The white, sun-drenched side of such a structure at Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Hollywood, California is transformed into a silver screen on evenings when movies are projected on it.  People bearing picnic paraphernalia and blankets repose on a spread of unadulterated turf as they watch the action under starry skies, overlooking the graves of celebrity stars buried nearby.

Bob Neel, a former funeral director and previous owner of the Woodlawn Cemetery in Gotha, Florida fostered an alternative brainstorm for capitalizing on the real estate.  In 1993 when his visionary idea came to fruition he noted, “'I wanted to make Woodlawn different from other cemeteries, as darkness is unlike light, as eternal life is different from death… 
I got this inspiration to make it different by having this magnificent piece of art where people can study the life of Christ.''

The artwork to which he referred is the Life of Christ Mosaic that festoons the side of the Mausoleum of Christian Heritage.  The colorfully bold façade with its bigger-than-life intricacies readily captures the attention of visitors as they progress toward it over a long entrance road. 

The 1,560-foot mosaic, which measures seventy-eight by twenty feet, depicts pivotal stages of Christ’s life, with twenty-three chronological scenes that begin on the left – starting with his birth and advancing to his resurrection and ascension on the right.  A central panel showcases a figure of the risen Christ.  

It is one of the largest such creations in the country, though a bigger Life of Christ version is on the wall of a mausoleum at the Covina Hills Forest Lawn Memorial Park in California.  That one is one hundred and seventy by thirty feet and has twenty-six scenes.   

For many years, before commissioning two California sisters to create the drawings for this masterpiece, Neel, a Presbyterian Church congregant, laid the conceptual foundation by reading the New Testament and identifying significant verses he considered desirable to depict. Trips to Italy, where he observed other mosaic works, contributed to his visualization.  As part of the images portraying Jesus calling the children to him within a milieu of feeding the multitudes and entering Jerusalem, the artists incorporated likenesses of his four children.  Except for replication of Leonardo da Vinci’s portrayal of the Last Supper, the scenes that materialized were original configurations.  The colored rendering of the mural required three years for the artists to complete. 

In 1989, once the artwork had been completed, mosaic specialists from Italy began the laborious crafting process, employing eleven million pieces of Venetian glass.   Preliminaries within their Italian studio included photographing the mural before making a reverse copy and enlarging it to actual size.   The amplified copy, known within the trade as a cartoon, was segmented into four hundred and three manageable pieces, simulating a giant jigsaw puzzle, and numbered for convenience of assemblage. 

Each piece of glass was then methodically glued to the cartoon prior to transporting it – along with the mosaic crafters – to Orlando for installation.  Over the course of more than a month, with the paper side out, they affixed each section to the wall using a mixture of sand, cement, and glue before peeling off the paper to expose the glass. 

The finished product, which had cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, was covered with a white veil in anticipation of a 1993 dedication ceremony that took place relevantly on 
Good Friday.  Members of seven hundred churches and burial plot owners were invited along with civic and business leaders.  To reveal it, the two thousand people in attendance pulled more than one hundred cords that brought down the veil.    

Though Robert Neel, an influential prime mover in the community, died in December, 2014, his legacy lives on through this enduring hallmark of his undertaking. Every year, an Easter sunrise service is held meaningfully in front of his massive work of art. 

There is more to this mausoleum’s attraction than the garnished wall.  Another eye-catcher, also inspired by Neel, was added to the ground in front of it.  In keeping with the spiritual theme, a labyrinth is in place as a means for bereaved individuals to confront their sorrow and find spiritual renewal. 

This round, circumscribed plane is a replica of one in the Notre Dame Cathedral in Chartres, France.  There is another at the Grace Cathedral in San Francisco.  Such patterned circuits are of ancient origin, thousands of years old, and found all around the world. 

The path within it twists and turns back upon itself in an elaborate circular pattern.  A journey begins by starting at the entrance and putting one foot in front of the other to follow the winding route until reaching the six-petal rosette at the center.  There, one pauses for meditation or prayer.  Then the process is reversed as steps are retraced.   

The mind is quieted when engaged in this “body prayer” or potentially transformative walking meditation.  One’s complexity of consciousness is addressed through the simple act of walking – by retreating from the chaos of life and focusing only on the discovery of self.  Described as “prayer in motion,” it offers an avenue for introspection and healing. Relaxed contemplation is inspired, possibly augmented by focusing on breathing sensations. Slowly walking along its singular path can potentially invoke calm for individuals confronting life transitions such as death. Perspectives change, as one’s body and vision are never facing in the same direction for long.  The objective is to remain open to whatever feelings may emerge. Sometimes tears are summoned, especially when the walker is feeling burdened by grief. Metaphorically meaningful, such instruments for meditative self-exploration and restitution can help individuals take steps toward moving forward in their lives, particularly if it becomes a repetitive practice.   

Friday, April 3, 2015


JOURNEY JOURNAL... Fort Pierce, Florida


For someone with a convincing imagination, strolling around the grounds of the Haisley Funeral and Cremation establishment might feel as if traversing the unconfined campus of a summer camp… minus the lakeside fleet of kayaks, tennis courts, and campfire pits.

The spread of several buildings suggests a history of their progressive acquisition, each for specific purposes.  Funeral home owners around the country have often purchased properties adjacent to their primary site in order to convert them for accommodation of additional funerary functions.  A former bowling ally, food market, or hardware store are the sorts of shops that may be proximally located, lending practicality for reconstruction projects that reflects burgeoning  trends.  Changed industry circumstances, particularly the steadily increasing rate of cremation curtailing a need for more traditional products and services, have prompted revised business strategies directed toward alternative revenue sources.  A wave of reception centers exemplifies this type of development. 

Here, modern design exaggeration is trumped by original character.  Rather than hopping on the radical reconstruction bandwagon, the vintage footprint has essentially been retained, lending a sense of classic old-world charm.

As is typical in general, a large sign in front of the building closest to the road identifies the name and nature of the enterprise.  

photo from Haisley website

Though the stone marker is beautifully enhanced by a surrounding flowerbed and prominent foliage, chances are, people driving by may barely give the actual name on it a second glance because it lacks titillation.

If attracting attention is an objective... hypothetically and whimsically contrived, this identity representation could be replaced by one that would aptly allude to the divergent complexion of the premises – the physical layout of the quarters.  A larger placard with the addition of an eye-catching slogan would likely command more than the fleeting glimpse ordinarily dependent on drivers’ peripheral vision.  It might declare definitively, “Haisley Funeral and Cremation Services… A Mecca for Healthy Living!” 

Probably upon catching sight of this oxymoronic proclamation, a perplexed reaction would invoke cogitation, conversation, and maybe even chuckles.  One doesn’t routinely equate wellness with a funeral home!  

By extending the scope of focus beyond the immediate signage, a clue is readily apparent.   
Another sign announces the presence of a fitness center on the premises.  Take a second look for verification because such an amenity for the hale and hearty is not something one is apt to find as part of a funeral home’s facilities.  Apparently, besides their usual patrons they must appreciate able-bodied clients! 

The building used for this purpose blends with the milieu on the cusp of a residential street.  The studio is located in the front section  – perhaps a former living room when it was someone's private home.    

photo from Haisley website

The inspiration for this zone of rejuvenating exercise came from the owner’s wife.  The site is perpetually alive with activity, as evidenced by a full schedule of regular pilates classes.  

photo from Haisley website

While standing near the front door, listening to an instructor energetically dictating the moves, it was obvious there were a lot of beating hearts inside.  

Let’s not ignore a more mundane aspect of this funerary business that promotes health.  It is simply the fact that this is a fresh air funeral home situated under sun-drenched Florida skies.  People who go there for various purposes are apt to walk outdoors for one reason or another rather than staying inside more conventional multi-purpose buildings that address everything under one roof. 

Mourners who arrive for a funeral or memorial service would likely go first to the chapel, which is the most prominent edifice close to the road.  A crematory is located at the back of it.

Basic wooden rocking chairs facing the entrance summon relaxation.  People may notice wreaths hanging on the front doors, as often seen at private homes, implying cordiality.  Perhaps these quintessential decorations are there to represent the circle of life or the notion of immortality in spite of death.  Whatever interpretations one might ascribe to such universally prevalent symbols imbued with multi-faceted meanings, they invariably signal a folksy welcome. 

After the service, guests might take a short walk to reach the reception site, located in the same building as the fitness studio.  Upon arriving at the screened porch where the entrance is located, one could easily feel as if approaching a neighbor’s home to ask for a cup of sugar.  

This gathering area invites further appreciation of the great outdoors.

photo from Haisley website

The room inside has seating for eighty people when there's a sit-down meal or it can accommodate one hundred folks less formally.  It is designated for affairs in conjunction with commemorative services, but it also serves as a meeting space for non-profit community functions.  Here, also, restorative measures for grieving individuals are addressed through monthly After Care meetings.  They are managed by a coordinator with a background in ministry, counseling, and education who has authored books about relationships; the funeral home’s chaplain participates as well.  Featured guests whose specialities relate to special needs during bereavement are invited to provide input.  

photo from Haisley website

The kitchen adjacent to both the fitness studio and the reception room triggers recollections of friends stopping by idly for an impromptu chat in days of yore before societal frenzy intervened.  

Tucked behind an apron of trees, a separate building might be considered headquarters for operations here.  Swings along the entrance pathway beckon a time out for the weary. 

photo from Haisley website

This is where people go to make arrangements at the time of a death.  Though  encompassing a small area, the room for discussions with staff is comfortably appointed.    

Anyone with the wisdom to contemplate advance planning is directed to a building specifically for that purpose.  

photo from Haisley website

Flanked by administrative office space on either side, the main room features a spacious area for consideration of options in a setting marked by all the comforts of home.  

The conveniently situated microwave and refrigerator advance a consistency of efforts to keep bodies energized and in full-steam-ahead mode… the healthful alternative to death!     

Increasingly, pet loss services are being incorporated into the array of provisions at funeral homes.  Here, simple or deluxe cremation packages are offered in addition to pet burial facilitation.     

Yet another building houses a cremation retort used exclusively for animals. 

A service vehicle transports pets from homes and veterinary offices to the facility.

The detached units of operation scattered on this property come together collectively as an enterprise defined by unpretentious, homespun warmth… akin to a patchwork quilt, of sorts.  A relaxed chat with a funeral director while absorbing rays of sunshine in front of the office, an interaction with a pre-need counselor who oozed jolly enthusiasm, and a prolonged outdoor encounter with the crematory operator when walking between buildings all contributed to this impression.  A flavor of gracious Southern ease prevailed.  

This impression was advanced also through observations of emblematic significance.  Ornamental pineapples festoon framed wall hangings, the roadside signs, a banner that flies from the porch of the fitness studio, and are configured as lamps flanking the chapel doors and on lampposts.  Conclusive evidence of this as a logo is recognized upon seeing one on the side of the pet vehicle and on business cards, as well.  Furthermore, a staple of grief support services in the form of a newsletter is titled, the “Pineapple Press.”

Probably this design element was chosen for a reason other than its salubrious attributes.  
Rather, these fruits of ancient lore attest further to the predominant attitude of this business.  “The pineapple is recognized as a traditional expression of ‘welcome’ throughout the South and in areas along the Eastern Seaboard.  Appearing on all sorts of décor – from door knockers to quilts – the fruit symbolizes those intangible assets we appreciate in a home: warmth, welcome, friendship and hospitality.”   Here, indeed, this funeral home is a “home” for funeral service… and a haven for healthful invigoration.