Today’s guest post is written by Dr. Candi K. Cann
Everyone seems to be online these days, and even if you are not on much, odds are that you have a Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr or Instagram account. With so much of our socializing done virtually, it is no surprise that we are grieving and mourning the deaths of our loved ones online too.
Here are a few Dos and Don’ts for grieving online.
• Don’t announce the death of someone online unless you are sure that the family, friends and anyone that should know about the death, knows already.
The most recent example of this was Wall Street Journal’s breaking news tweet on Philip Seymour Hoffman’s death. Both the death and the details of how he died were tweeted before his family was aware that he had died.
• Once everyone knows about the death, it is okay to post details about the funeral, wake, celebration of life ceremony online so that everyone knows, but please don’t create an Evite for it.
Evites are great for invitations — they are convenient and quick, but they shouldn’t be used in this case for three reasons:
1) They depend on the regular checking of email, and since funerals and memorials are generally held somewhat quickly, those invited may not get the email in time.
2) Evites sometimes land in the invitee’s junk folder, which means they won’t receive them, and funerals and memorials are meant to be open to anyone the deceased knew.
3) Evites are only for those that receive an invitation.
• If someone is posting a picture of themselves with the deceased, they are doing so to let you know they are grieving, so don’t write snarky comments on that picture.
Don’t do it. Just don’t. It isn’t the right time or place.
Yes, we know you were Tom’s last serious girlfriend before his marriage, and probably the reason he finally got his act together to be able to commit to his wife and have children, but that doesn’t mean you should post old love letters or pictures to his webpage. His wife and all the rest of his family just won’t find it appropriate, and it might make their grief worse.
And yes, your position as ex-girlfriend means that you have a right to grieve, and that there is really no place for you to do so, but you will need to stick to your group of girlfriends, or maybe on your own private social media. While the Internet is awesome for giving everyone a voice, sometimes we need to think about our audience.
• Don’t write negative things about the dead.
Yes, your neighbor was a jerk, but if you didn’t say it to his face before he died, then it’s too late now. If you did, then he already knows how you feel, and there’s just no point in making his family and friends feel worse.
• Along those lines, don’t say anything negative about the living posting about the dead.
Yes, we are all getting tired of Katie’s sappy (and badly written, I might add) poems that she keeps writing and posting to her deceased best friend’s page, but please don’t say anything. Remember the old adage — if you can’t say anything nice, then don’t say anything at all? Well, remember it. Or at least, if you must say something that’s not nice, then say it to a close friend who has never met Katie. That way you can be sure Katie won’t find out.
And last, but not least, those funeral selfies.
• If you insist on taking a funeral selfie, try to keep the dead out of the pictures.
There’s a reason some people don’t go to wakes or funerals — they simply don’t know what to do with that open casket. Or maybe they want their last memory of Grandma to be a living one. If you must take a funeral selfie, please make sure there are no glimpses of Grandma in her casket. It’s bad enough we have to see pictures of your cute cat five times a day, we really don’t want to see your dead grandmother before we’ve even had our morning coffee.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Candi K. Cann received both her A.M. and Ph.D. in Comparative Religion from Harvard University, and her research focuses on death and dying, and the impact of remembering (and forgetting) in shaping how lives are recalled, remembered and celebrated. An avid reader, traveler, and lover of poetry, her passions are spending time with her family and friends and living well.
You can follow Candi on Twitter and pre-order her upcoming book, Virtual Afterlives: Grieving the Dead in the Twenty-First Century.
Today, many families live in transience. Jobs and wanderlust have us town hopping.
It used to be that generation after generation lived and died in the same area, but that’s no longer the case. It used to be that families had almost a family-type bond with their local funeral director. Now, families have a closer relationship with their local Wal-Mart.
Transience is fun, until someone dies. Whereas generations before would call a funeral director that they personally knew, you now have to entrust your loved one to a complete stranger. So, you play mortician roulette and hope that the funeral director you happen to pick doesn’t end up making mom look like a Picasso painting.
Hopefully, you’re in a position where you already know a good funeral director. But, if you – like many others – don’t know ANY local funeral directors, here’s a list of characteristics that you should look for when picking one.
One. Federal Trade Commission Compliance
Per “The Funeral Rule” , funeral home are required to give you their “general price list” (GPL) upon request. This helps you if you’re shopping around and it helps the funeral industry appear honest. If a funeral home doesn’t have or can’t procure a “general price list” (GPL), this is an immediate red flag.
Two. Word of Mouth.
Traditional advertising doesn’t always work for funeral homes. Who wants to see the name of a funeral home on the back of their son’s T-Ball uniform?
We attempt to make up for our lack of advertising opportunities by investing in civic and community events and organizations. As we all know, trust isn’t bought, it’s earned over years and years of consistent professionalism, compassion and bacon gifting. This trust creates a reputation and funeral homes — like all businesses — guard our reputations with tenacity because we know that our best advertisement comes by word of mouth.
A good funeral home / director will have good reviews from your friends and family. Head in the direction of good reviews, you’ll probably find a good funeral director.
Three. Good Listeners.
We may not have Oprah’s skillz, but we should be pretty good.
There is often a HUGE cost difference from one funeral home to the next, while the value isn’t much different.
About a year ago, a husband and wife died about four months apart. The wife knew us so we buried her and the husband knew the funeral home in a neighboring town, so they buried him. They both had the same funeral, same casket, vault, etc. The family called us to let us know that the other funeral home charged $3,000 more. Same value, different cost.
A good funeral home will have fair market pricing. Find the market value by calling around to different funeral homes. Ask for the GPL. The less expensive funeral homes are often less expensive for a reason … and that reason is usually a good one. Remember, cost doesn’t always equal value.
Good funeral directors don’t have to share your beliefs, your lifestyle, your culture, but they should know how to communicate respect for all that is you. Although you can’t expect us to play Nickelback at a funeral. That’s asking too much.
Six. No Pressure Sales
If you EVER feel pressure from a funeral home or funeral director to buy something more expensive — or something you don’t want — FIRE THEM! Seriously, just fire them. Walk out if you need to. The fact is that your mind is already clouded by grief and the last thing you need in your life is something trying to squeeze money out of you … because they will. You just experienced a death in your life. You need people who love you, NOT people who want to exploit you.
Good funeral directors NEVER exploit.
Seven. Good funeral directors aren’t self-important.
They understand this time is about the deceased and you. I’ve met too many self-important funeral directors who have had their ego inflated by one too many compliments from the choir. Stay away from them.
Eight. The Extra Mile.
We aren’t slaves, but we are servants. And we should be willing to walk the extra mile to personalize a funeral to your wishes. Unless, of course, that extra mile involves a nudist themed funeral. Then no. Just no. No.
If you loved one didn’t preplan their funeral, you might not know what to do. A good funeral director will give you good direction. She will help you feel confident in your choices and decisions.
Good funeral homes have a unicorn. Great funeral homes have a blessing of unicorns.
 The Funeral Rule requires providers of funeral goods and services to give consumers itemized lists of funeral goods and services that not only state price and descriptions, but also contain specific disclosures. The “General Price List” (GPL) must list all prices for funeral goods and services offered by the funeral provider, although separate price lists may be developed for caskets and outer burial containers. The GPL must contain four disclosures:
- the consumer has the right to select only the goods and services desired;
- embalming is not always required by local law;
- alternative containers are available for direct cremations; and
- the only fee which a consumer can be required to pay is a non-declinable basic services fee.
The rule enables consumers to select and purchase only the goods and services they want, except for those which may be required by law and a basic services fee. Also, funeral providers must seek authorization before performing some services, such as embalming.
Today is Ash Wednesday. And whether or not you consider yourself apart of the Christian church, there’s value to be learned from “Ash Wednesday.”
Ash Wednesday isn’t suppose to be comfortable. It’s a day when the Christian church takes repentance public. A day when something usually reserve for the private sphere gets pushed into the public sphere. It’s a day when repentance is there for all to see, with the sign of the cross inscribed in ash on one’s forehead.
It’s a public acknowledgement that we are mortal. That we — and all we stand for — are dust.
“Ash Wednesday” is a time of relinquishment … relinquishment of our project of immortality.
We are all — religious or not — seeking immortality in one way or another.
There are five main ways (per Robert Lifton) we pursue symbolic immortality:
Through our family heritage. Our children, grandchildren, etc.
Through our work. Our businesses, our job, our artwork, our discoveries, etc.
Through the well-being of nature. “So that our children can live better than we do”.
Through getting in touch with a higher power.
Through our involvement with a community larger than ourselves. Political party, religion, community service, the armed forces, etc.
Ash Wednesday is a day when we reflect on our immortality projects and acknowledge the fact that all our works will turn to dust. It’s a day when we stop denying death.
It’s good for us to remember that the works of our hands will not last forever. That our kingdoms will fall. That America will one day be no more. That our bodies will die. That our jobs, our business, our children, our name, our political ideals, and even our religion will one day find themselves in the annuls of history. And that history too will one day forget.
Ash Wednesday isn’t suppose to be comfortable. No, there’s nothing comfortable about this day. Today is a day that we repent of our immortality projects. Today is a day we remember that “from dust you were made and to dust you shall return.”
The value of Ash Wednesday is this: that in forgetting our immortality projects, we might strive for life now. That we forget ourselves and remember that today is all we have. And that love may be the only thing that makes today valuable.
I got home at five, settled in by watching Penn State football and then my cell phone rang.
“Caleb,” it was my grandfather’s voice, “we have a call at Such and Such Nursing Home.”
I grabbed my suit, put it back on, drove to the funeral home, loaded the collapsible stretcher into the hearse and off I went to Such and Such.
I pull up to the front door of the nursing home. A new nurse greets me and tells me she doesn’t want me “dragging the body through her wing.”
Too tired to persuade her with a smile, I jump back into the hearse, drive around to the other wing, and as I pull up there’s a younger man wearing a Phillies shirt, maybe a little older than me sitting in his electric wheel chair. As I get out, I try to cut the I’m-a-funeral-director-here-to-pick-up-a-dead-person awkwardness by striking up a conversation. I can tell rather quickly that he’s not a visitor. He – the not so older than me person of the wheel chair – is a patient.
His speech is slurred and slowed, but his mind’s still working as he jokes with me about the choking Phillies. And as we converse, I try to open the door to the nursing home but it’s locked, which kinda upsets me cause as I peer through the door I notice there’s no one around. No one.
The anger that starts rushing through my arteries is slowly abated by a “I dot da toad for da door.” He gives me the passcode and I give him a “See ya later” as I expect him to be gone when I come back.
But 45 minutes later he’s still there.
Alone. He’s a little older than me.
I open the door and park the collapsible stretcher on the porch as I open the door on the hearse and he says, “So, you dedided to go intu da bisiness, Caleb?”
A question with an obvious answer, but it wasn’t meant to be answered … it was meant for awareness.
There was only one person I knew who was wheelchair bound that was my age.
In college one of my friends got drunk with one of his buddies, drove his sports car, wrecked it, but not before throwing his buddy/passanger out of the vehicle, paralyzing this guy and causing damage to his speech capacity.
“Eddie,” I said. “I remember you.” Which was the answer he was looking for.
And then I continued with some bitching and moaning about working 80 hours this past week, which comes so naturally at times that I was able to hold my own private conversation inside my head, thinking, “How ungrateful am I complaining about working when this guy sits all day, mostly paralyzed.”
I can sometimes do two things at once. Rarely can I do three.
But here I tried: I was talking to him, trying to think about what his life’s like and then, for honor’s sake, I started to load the body into the hearse. And it wouldn’t go.
The collapsible stretcher wouldn’t collapse.
I tried to put the body laden stretcher into the hearse once, twice and on the third time I pushed extra hard and … BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP, BEEP ….
Somehow when I had pushed the third time I must have squeezed the panic button on the keyless entry device in my hand and had begun to ruin the quit peace of the Such and Such Nursing Home.
It was so loud!
I hit the panic button again thinking that would stop it. Nope. Tried the “unlock” button. Nope. And it was here I tried the fourth time to get the stretcher into the van to no avail. Dilemma. I thought, “If I start the car, it will probably stop … but if I start the car, I have to leave the stretcher hanging out the back of the hearse.” But I had no choice.
We were sitting on the top of a hill and the worst case scenario was running through my head … a scenario that – if it had happened – I wouldn’t be telling it here, on my blog. But the fear of losing a stretcher down a forty foot hill with a decent sloop scared me enough to try and secure it. I then ran to the driver seat, turned the key … nope.
So I quickly get out and go back to attending the stretcher all the while expecting a nurse or supervisor to come out and rip into me.
For some reason I hit the panic button again and while the alarm goes off, in place of it I hear this loud, almost barking kind of a noise coming from the wheelchair: “Arf! Arf! Arf!”
Eddie’s barely able to suck in air as he lets out his massive belly laughs one loud yelp at a time. He finally gets his breath, I finally get the body in the hearse and he starts yelling, “I wish (gasps for air) I tad a camera (sucks in another deep breath) I’d put dat on (deeeeep breath) dootube!”
I had made his day … maybe his week.
The beeping crescendo of my awful week was the laughing pinnacle of his.
And his laughter somehow made all the problems of my week fade away.
Every time tragedy strikes, the swindlers come out in drovers. In fact, a couple scam artists set up fake charitable organizations during the Sandy Hook School Shooting and were taking “donations” for the families of the victims. There are few words to describe the awful level of humanity one must adopt to scam those experiencing tragedy. And while we’d like to think scamming those at their weakest moment is a confined event, it takes place as a matter of practice by some who are masquerading as “funeral directors.”
I’d like to say that ALL funeral directors are in the funeral business to serve people, but sadly there are those who are looking to profiteer on humanity in their weakest moment. Yes, many — even most funeral directors — are good people, but there are some.
In 1984 the Federal Trade Commission established The Funeral Rule. It was created to protect you, the consumer, from scam artists who hide under the guise of respectable, here-to-help-you “undertakers.” Even decent funeral directors tend to bend parts of the The Funeral Rule, and I – being a funeral director – know which parts tend to be bent.
Let me highlight those parts of The Funeral Rule that you, as the consumer, should be aware:
One. A burial vault is NOT required by state law. Most cemeteries require a vault to keep the ground from eventually caving in, but some do not require vaults. If you don’t want to pay the extra expense of a burial vault, find a cemetery that doesn’t require them!
Two. While embalming still constitutes the “traditional funeral”, it is NOT required. In fact, we must have the permission of the next of kin to embalm. You can even have a public viewing with an unembalmed body. No worries, no one will catch death if an unembalmed body is displayed in public. *Some states require embalming when transporting a body from one state to the next.
Three. You don’t need a casket for cremation. Profiteering funeral directors will try to sell a rather pricey “alternative container” for cremation, but most crematories only require a body bag that keeps body fluids contained.
Four. You don’t have to buy the casket, urn or merchandise from the funeral home. You can buy it from a third-party, such as Wal-Mart; or, you can make it yourself.
Five. Our “basic service fee” is necessary to pay, but everything else is an optional item/service to be purchased, such as a casket and even transportation of remains (you can do this yourself … although you need to go through the proper channels).
When all is said and dead, if you want a “traditional” funeral or cremation, it should be more cost effective and efficient to use your local funeral home’s services and products, but sometimes it’s not. I advise you to price shop BEFORE you pass. Some funeral homes are nearly twice as expensive as others and it’s helpful to find that out before you die.
There are funeral directors who are legally sound, but ethically stinky in their pricing. Make sure you find a funeral director that YOU can trust with your funeral and your money. And know your rights.