My broken brain, or, "this is just to say"

To everyone who has reached out over the past few weeks and months, THANK YOU. If you sent flowers, a card or a text message, left a comment or said a prayer, thank you thank you thank you from the bottom of my heart -- what you said was perfect*. I have felt so embraced by so many people, completely supported and loved. Thank you so much, everyone.

The only downside to receiving this overflow of love and support is that I know I've failed to respond to some people and left you hanging, waiting for a reply or acknowledgement. I'm so sorry, and I hope you'll understand that my brain simply isn't functioning the way I'm accustomed. I'm sharing the post below from the incredible Megan Devine of Refuge In Grief to expand on this idea. Please forgive me if I've not responded, my brain is broken right now.

When my mom died, Arly was just 5 weeks old and all of a sudden, my brain became completely inelastic. It felt like any flexibility had been absorbed by this huge shock and loss, and so my brain got incredibly rigid (not my normal state, to say the least). It took me quite a while to relax from that place and get back into the flow of life. During that time I was diagnosed with ADHD which I'm certain wont surprise my teachers** one bit and was certainly no great surprise to me, either. I studied the ADHD brain through books (ask me for my recommendations), a coach, videos from How to ADHD and comics from Dani Donovan, and the grief brain through online courses via What's Your Grief, Megan Devine's writing group, the Mourning Herald newsletter from Alica Forneret and so so much more. It's been a ride, folks. I've learned a lot, but the main takeaway is "Megan, cut yourself some slack" and that's what I'm doing this time around.

So, if you wrote and I didn't respond, it might be because I tried to find the perfect words and was unable to achieve the impossible, so I just didn't act. It could be that I thought I imagined my response so vividly that my broken brain thinks I sent it. I might have gotten 8 texts in a span of 5 minutes (which has happened multiple times these past weeks, talk about feeling loved) and I read and then let them fall through the cracks. No matter what the reason, please know that every person who said anything said the perfect thing and I'm deeply appreciative.

Anyway, all of this is just to say***

I have not responded
to your messages
which you sent
last week

and which
you probably wrote
with great care

Forgive me
they were heart-healing
so kind
and so sad.

----------

*I'm always looking for the perfect words and coming up short, but this experience has shown me that when people speak with the heart, they always find the perfect words -- each of you did.

**Thank you Patti, Janis, Julie (preschool), Susan (1st), Sharon (2nd) and Mark (3rd & 4th) for your encouragement in those first years of school which made all the difference. Thank you Karen (9th), Harry (11th) and Bill (12th) for not letting me skate by. I'm so lucky to have found my way to your classes.

***In the style of John Carlos Williams...I mean, all my teachers are tagged on this note, of course I have to show off a bit.

_________

Originally posted on Facebook, 8/25/19

You asked: "What are good books about death, dying and funerals?"

Since I started this journey to becoming an Independent Funeral Consultant over a year ago, I’ve taken on all kinds of trainings and readings but one of the richest sources of information has consistently been from…Reddit! Yes, the time-waster of all time-wasters is now a valuable and regular resource for me on a purely professional level. Trust me, no one is more surprised about this than me.

A user posed the question on r/deathpositive:

I am interested in being a person that people can lean on at times of grief. Someone who knows about your rights, but will also hold vigil during the active dying process, help care for the body immediately after death, let you know that there are burial options beyond embalming and caskets. Besides becoming knowledgeable about the rights of those who are dying, and options for the recently deceased and their families, what else should I read up on?

The outpouring of recommendations was impressive, and I’ve already added a number of books to my Amazon wishlist. These were my two recommendations for my fellow #deathpositive Redditor:

#1. Gone From My Sight: The Dying Experience

By Barbara Karnes (aka “the little blue book”). This was first recommended to me by the wonderful Jill Schock of Death Doula LA when I took her Time to Die workshop. There is simply no better text to help understand the mechanics of the death and dying process. The simple, straightforward text is as comforting in it’s fearless honesty. This pamphlet style book is available directly from her website, translated into 9 languages, for $3 each.

#2. Home Funeral Ceremonies: A primer to honor the dying and the dead with reverence, light heartedness and grace

By Donna Belk and Kateyanne Unullisi. This was one of the first additions I made to my personal deathcare library, and it remains one of my favorites. Spanning the entire dying, death, lying in and funeral process over 8 chapters, the authors provide detailed information, professional insight and customizable ceremonies.

I’ve read a LOT of death related books, but there were plenty of recommendations that were new to me, too. Other books related to death, dying and funerals included:

Are there any good books about funerals, death or dying that you’d recommend to someone looking to enter the field? Are you looking for a book about funerals, death or dying? Let’s connect! You can find me on Reddit, LinkedIn, Twitter, Goodreads, email or schedule time to talk.

Uncommon Remains: 4 ways your ashes can sustain life on earth

More people choose to be cremated each year; whether it’s for financial reasons, because the traditional funeral home model is outdated, or because people are simply mobile throughout their lives and less likely to have a place they’d like to be buried, the trend is obvious. As more people choose to be cremated, the options increase.

Here are four ways that cremated remains — or cremains — can be used to nurture and sustain life on earth.

Become a raindrop:

Based in the UK, Ascension Flights is a collaborative between funeral directors and leaders in space flight. “We’re all created from stardust” so ashes are sent over 100,000 feet above the earth’s surface and released into the atmosphere where they gather precipitation and return to the earth’s surface in the form of raindrops and snowflakes. Families can opt to view the video footage of the scattering and even submit their own historical footage to be compiled into a tribute film. Services are offered worldwide.

Grow a tree:   

The Living Urn company offers a biodegradable urn which, when combined with wood chips, soil mixture and their proprietary ash neutralizing agent, will sustain a plant of your choice. The company works with the Arbor Day Foudnation to offer over 20 different seedling options. The founders of the company worked with arborists, soil scientists and eco-friendly manufacturers to develop a complete system that can accommodate individuals, families and pets. Based in Colorado, products can be shipped worldwide.

Restore a reef:

The Eternal Reef project offers a combination “cremation urn, ash scattering, and burial at sea.” Using environmentally-safe concrete and incorporating the cremated remains, reef balls help create permanent reef restoration and development, creating new habitats for sea life within weeks of placement. There are more than 10 active locations and representatives of the company continue to work with the Army Corps of Engineers in developing new reef restoration projects.

Water the garden:

While cremains contain calcium, potassium and phosphorus - all nutrients which plants need to grow - they also contain excessive amounts of sodium and can throw off the nutrient balance of the soil, leading to toxic conditions for plants. Bummer. Serving as a memorial sculpture and urn, this garden waterfall will hold the ash and slowly release it into the soil over the course of 10 years, even making space over time to accommodate more remains. The company, Scattering Ashes, is a UK-based service offering guidance, education, support and products related to all types of ash scattering.

There is no time limit for creating a memorial ceremony to return a loved ones cremains to the earth, and if you’ve been looking for the right way to say a final goodbye, I’d love to help you explore your options. If you’re interested in having a more in-depth conversation about setting an advanced funeral plan for yourself or a loved one, I hope you’ll contact me.

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What I really think of funeral directors and deathcare professionals.

Unlike any other industry I’ve ever encountered, the people who are called this line of work do it for one reason: to serve families and individuals dealing with death. The funeral directors, crematory managers, funeral home desk clerks, afterhours answering services, death doulas, hospice providers, cemetery grounds keepers, officiants, embalmers, grief therapists — all of them — have been committed to making the process of loss easier on their clients and they are willing to do what it takes to meet those needs.

Deathcare professionals are on-call at all hours of the day, night, weekends and holidays. They customize their services to meet the unique needs of their clients, and work tirelessly to understand and accomodate those needs. Even when they aren’t directly providing grief counseling services, deathcare professionals are encountering grievers and accompanying them through incredible challenges.

The best part: deathcare professionals really, really love this work. I know, because I’m one of them.

Most people would assume that a natural burial advocate would cringe at the thought of applying chemical cosmetics after a death, or an advanced planning specialist would be critical of someone’s decision to entirely forgo their estate planning. Deathcare professionals are different.

I’m an independent funeral consultant, which means a big part of my job is helping families and individuals find the right service providers. Yes, I am in a position to evaluate the quality of professional service provided by a funeral home or memorial park, but that doesn’t mean I’m critical. I believe that the right fit funeral service provider or deathcare professional is exactly that — the right fit for the family that needs it, which is why I never take fees or payment from the providers I recommend.

If you’re looking to find the right fit funeral service provider, end of life transition specialist, death doula or other deathcare professional, I’d love to help. Contact me and let me know what you’re looking for.

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TED Talk: Life that doesn't end with death (2013)

Funeral ceremonies are a raucous affair, where commemorating someone who's died is not so much a private sadness but more of a publicly shared transition. And it's a transition that's just as much about the identity of the living as it is about remembrance of the dead.

This TED Talk has received over 1.5 million views since it was first posted in 2013, and I can probably account for at least 100 of those viewings myself. Kelli Swazey discusses her anthropological observations of other cultural approaches to death, dying and the funeral or memorial process of transition. How grief, loss and death affect identity are a huge component of our cultural attitudes and social sensitivities.

This 14-minute presentation explores the impact of funeral transition ceremonies on the community of the living. After watching the video, check out the discussion questions I listed below or click the button to download the complete conversation guide.

Discussion Questions:

  1. When did you feel self-aware of your role in the community at a funeral?

  2. What are some situations that might confer social death, but not medical/biological death? What are situations that reflect the opposite?

  3. Discuss a time that you experienced “a period of transition as the relationship between the living and the dead is transformed but not ended”

  4. What are some topics you could raise when discussing the social life of a death?

  5. Other reflections?

These prompts might help you start an important conversation with someone you love, or explore a topic about end-of-life transition in a new way. If you’d like to take your end-of-life conversation to the next step, I hope you’ll contact me.

Historic Funerals: 1935 Paris, French Aviator Helene Boucher

Hélène Boucher, aviator and world speed record holder
Died: 11/30/34, age 26, airplane crash near Versailles
Buried: Yermenonville cemetery in Northern France

The first woman to lie in state at Les Invalides (see video below), posthumously awarded knight of the Légion d'honneur and namesake of a girls school in Paris, Boucher’s legacy is not forgotten 85 years after her death.  

ORIGINAL FUNERAL FOOTAGE AVAILABLE VIA BRITISH PATHE -- CLICK THROUGH HERE

ORIGINAL FUNERAL FOOTAGE AVAILABLE VIA BRITISH PATHE -- CLICK THROUGH HERE

Despite her significant achievements in aviation, Boucher was just 26 years old and in a time after the Great War, as Europe approached an even darker period, she represented hope for the future. A ceremony this elaborate for a private citizen, a woman nonetheless, was certainly remarkable. 

It’s no secret that I lean toward the creative, nontraditional celebrations - I mean, I trademarked the term “newfashioned funeral” for goodness sake. That said, I have spent hours and hours reading, researching and pouring over footage of traditional services, soaking up all the details and developing a deep appreciation for all kinds of things I once swore I’d never include in any service of my own.

I have a great deal of respect for the traditions that have been carried on from generation to generation, and there is absolutely no reason why you can’t include some or all of them in your personal advanced plan.

Contact me if you’re ready to document your wishes for creating a celebration that will reflect your values, honor your legacy, and assist your family during a critical time.

6 Questions To Address During the Estate Planning Process

You bought the life insurance policy, had the estate documents drafted, hired the right investment managers. You’ve talked with your family about your final disposition and funeral wishes — probably more than they’d like to hear — and you trust them to make the right decisions on your behalf. You’ve looked at the big picture and you feel confident everyone is going to be taken care of.

Here are the SIX questions you need to discuss with your family to prepare them for the immediate-term impact of your death, those critical days and weeks as they are regaining their balance without you:

Questions for your financial advisors

In the case of my/my spouse’s death...

  • Which accounts, specifically checking and credit, will be continuously available to my next of kin and which will need retitling?

  • When will insurance payouts be made available and what is the process for transferring those assets?  

  • How will ongoing income streams be impacted in the initial 30, 60 and 90 days?

Questions for your family

In the case of my/my spouse’s death…

  • What are the regular monthly, quarterly and annual payments or transfers? Are those originating accounts impacted by retitling or estate settlement issues in the immediate term?

  • What is the current process for payments or transfers and how might that change?

  • Who will be responsible for covering costs associated with funeral, burial, memorial services before the estate’s assets are made available? What type of guidance do they want or need for that responsibility?

Your trusted advisors are looking at a generational timeline — wealth goals are typically stated in terms of generations — but it’s these small windows of time that can have great impact on the solidarity of a family. Planning for the immediate impact in the initial 30, 60 and 90 days after your death allows you to provide an extra layer of financial and emotional support to both the members of your family and your family unit as a whole.


You asked: "What is an Independent Funeral Consultant?"

What services does an independent funeral consultant provide?

As an independent funeral consultant, my services include:

  • Documentation of final wishes

  • Financial arrangements*

  • Obituary writing & placement

  • Service provider evaluation

  • Event planning & coordination

  • Burial plot purchase & resell

  • Correspondance management

  • Cost evaluation

  • Concierge level service

  • Customized, coordinated care

What does it mean to be Independent?

Simply put, being “independent” means I don’t work for, represent or take fees of any kind from any professional service provider. You can trust that any information or guidance you receive is completely neutral.

The information and recommendations you receive from me is completely neutral. I’m not affiliated with any service provider and never accept fees or payment from the funeral homes, funeral directors, memorial parks, cremation service providers or other professionals. I work for my clients, not the funeral service industry.

When we create your end of life transition plan, our goal is to provide your loved ones with clarity, guidance & encouragement in a what can be a disorienting, tumultuous time. Unlike the forms and templates you can find online, we'll consider your unique situation and create a tailored plan.What a gift. What a legacy.

Contact me today to discuss creating your end-of-life plan.

*I am a licensed Life Agent in the state of California (CDI# 0M31195, exp 04/20) and offer pre-need funeral plans through National Guardian Life.


Reading List: Grandparents & Grandkids

As my clients prepare their funeral arrangements, many are considering the impact of their passing on beloved grandchildren. Selecting a book (or a few) in advance can be a beautiful gift not only for your young family members, but also for their parents.

We don’t always have the right words, but these authors did that legwork for us.

Death is Stupid by Anastasia Higginbotham 

Part of the Ordinary Terrible Things series, the author captures the hurt, confused and indignant interior voice of a young reader as he copes with his grandmother’s death and funeral. This book doesn’t try to answer questions about the unknown but instead seeks to explore a wide range of feelings after a young boy’s confusing loss. 

Lifetimes: The beautiful way to explain death to children by Bryan Melloni 

The font on the cover was nearly enough to turn me off, but it was a $0.25 at the library book sale so I grabbed it and it’s quickly become a family favorite. The gentle but direct illustrations showing a range of life and death against an unjudging white background allowing even the youngest reader to explore the concept of life cycles. Progressing from small insects to human beings, it doesn’t shy away from the real truth. Kids love being told the truth.

The Digger and the Flower by Joeseph Kuefler 

Another gentle book for younger readers, this story follows a life cycle without ever directly using the word death or directly discussing funerals. After collecting the remnants of his beloved Flower and burying them in the countryside, Digger finds a field of flowers have sprung up in their place. Never patronizing or sanctimonious, this hopeful story acknowledges that life can be beautiful, even after a loss. What a beautiful message to leave behind for your grandchildren and their parents.

As part of an in-depth advanced planning process, I’m able to make tailored recommendations based on your particular family situation. If you’re looking to provide some extra loving guidance to a younger family member, I can help you find the right materials and create the perfect message.

What a gift.

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You asked: "How can I ensure my pet is cared for after my death?"

Let me begin with this bold statement: Pets are family members. They depend on us and they deserve to be factored into our estate plans. Here are 5 key considerations that should be addressed when you draft your Advanced Pet Directive:



Who will provide primary care? Who will support that person, if needed?

Think of who would provide the best care for your pet and have a clear and direct conversation about your expectations and wishes. It’s important to remember that this is not a legally binding agreement, but rather a request. Be sure you’ve documented this wish in your paperwork and communicated in advance with other family members so there is no confusion.



In the absence of that person, who is your next choice?

Always gotta have a back-up plan.



What are the specific instructions to care for your pet?

You probably have a good draft of this already completed for the doggy-daycare or dog sitter, but if you don’t, you can use Google to find a checklist including things like: nicknames, favorite treats, hiding spots, specific fears. Ideally, the caretaker for your pet is someone who knows them already, but it’s a good idea to document even the most obvious details.



How have you planned for insurance coverage?

Do you currently carry insurance coverage on your pet? If yes, ensure that it will continue after your death by calling the insurance company and exploring specific options. If you do not carry insurance, identify the estimated maximum budget for medical bills and identify the source of funds.



What trust or will provisions exist to provide financial coverage?

Draft a monthly or annual budget covering all costs associated with care and boarding and create an estimated expense. Work with your estate planner to ensure that funds have been earmarked, should they be needed and that your estate documents include provisions to direct and fund future care.



As I work with clients in the pre-planning space, we cover these important issues in great detail and I can assist in creating the appropriate documentation to provide advanced guidance. I’d love to help you, too.

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My First Newfashioned Funeral

Huntington Beach, CA
June 23, 2017

"Congratulations on whatever it is you guys are celebrating,” the caterer said as he was packing up after four hours of serving the nearly 200 guests at my mom’s funeral.  That’s when we knew we’d succeeded.

My mom was diagnosed in November and died in June.  In the meantime, I gave birth to my second kid, received some pretty disappointing news about my job prospects at the major bank I was working for, my sister started her law career, and my dad earned an unofficial MD through countless doctor’s visits, treatments and medication schedules.  It was a busy six months.  From the beginning we knew this was “treatable, not curable” cancer and that death was bearing down on us, but we couldn’t fathom spending one minute planning for the time after my mom was gone if we could spend that minute being in the present moment.

My dad knew we’d have “a party” for my mom.  He had clear ideas of how it would go - like all of our parties, no formal program or coordinated events just all of her friends and colleagues together in one place to send her off in her favorite place, her backyard. We called in favors from the caterer we used for my wedding and babyshower and we knew enough to hire extra serving staff.  We did our best to estimate the alcohol need (as running out was simply NOT an option) and I made 3 trips to Costco, schlepping cases of beer and handles of gin with a 7 week old baby strapped to my chest.  My dad made dozens of collages from scanned photos to hang in the “toasting room” where he’d set up a table with shot glasses and a few bottles of whiskey.  My sister calculated a food order for an ever-fluctuating headcount.  We all found ways to laugh and reminisce as we coordinated these details in honor of my mom.  It felt good and right.  We called it “a party,” but today I see it as my first newfashioned funeral.  It was perfect.    

The flipside to that experience is stark.  I’m a natural optimist, but it’s not fair for me to share my joyful experience without also sharing the struggle.  Each of us made dozens of phone calls to former colleagues, sewing friends, tap dance classmates, family near and far.  The phonecalls were the worst and hardest part of the entire process and in no way did it help me to process or heal.  Breaking horrible news over and over, consoling people who had lost a friend when I had just lost a mom, listening to grown men cry and then trying to communicate specific details for the party - nothing about that was positive or necessary.  If it hadn’t been for the discomfort of making those calls and the disappointment of inadvertently missing an extremely important invitation, I might not have ever conceived of starting this business.  In fact, my first idea was simply to act as a notification service to families in my position; from there it has grown beyond expectation. 

Huntington Beach, CA June 23, 2017 Both kids are wearing clothes sewn by my mom.

Huntington Beach, CA
June 23, 2017
Both kids are wearing clothes sewn by my mom.

5 Lessons from an 80's Themed Celebration of Life

My good friend, Christina Andreola, owner and founder of New Narrative Memorials, shares the lessons she learned about the “uniqueness and personalization that can happen with a Celebration of Life” after planning and hosting an 80’s themed funeral in Vancouver, Canada. 

1. You can wait a few months to host a Celebration of Life event

2. Themed memorials can be a fantastic tribute to a loved one

3. It is perfectly acceptable to host a Celebration of Life at a kids’ Science Centre (or anywhere, really) 

4. Select your activities (guest book, speeches, etc) and set up the room for congregating

5. Kung Fu Fighting is the perfect song to play at a memorial “because nobody can be unhappy when they hear [it]”

READ THE FULL ARTICLE HERE

About New Narrative Memorials and Christina: New Narrative is an event planning company that celebrates incredible life stories. They work with families to curate an exceptional send-off that creatively represents the most important narrative: a life lived to the fullest. www.newnarrative.ca

What an Independent Funeral Consultant IS NOT

I talk a lot about what I do as an Independent Funeral Consultant, but I think it’s important to lay out some key points about what I do NOT do in this professional role as another way of clarifying how these professional services can benefit a family:

  • I am not a Funeral Director; I don’t handle mortal remains or process death certificates or burial paperwork but I can help you find the service provider that offers what you’re looking for.

  • I don’t receive any fee, payment or kickback from the funeral homes, cremation providers, memorial parks, cemeteries, memorial jewelry artists, grief counselors, estate planners, casket makers, investment advisors or any of the other professionals you may choose to hire. This allows me to remain completely neutral and avoid any conflict of interest.

  • I don’t have an opinion on the your funeral plans you create — whether you prefer a traditional church ceremony, home funeral, green burial, scientific donation, alkaline hydrolysis, recomposition, ocean burial or cremation — I’m here to help you create a plan that’s right for YOU and what I think really doesn’t matter.

  • I can’t replace the work of an estate planner or draft legal documents, but the service I provide is a compliment to the work your existing advisors are doing and I’m happy to coordinate with them directly or together with you.

There are so many professional service providers available to families and individuals navigating the funeral, memorial or death transition process and my goal as an Independent Funeral Provider is not to replace, but to compliment those services. I help families understand their options, make arrangements and communicate the plan to loved ones.