Fascinating End-of-Life Traditions from Around the World

Funerals and end-of-life traditions are an essential part of saying goodbye to those who have passed, creating a final moment of memory and peace that draws us together in our love for those who have gone before us.

We in the United States tend to celebrate the passing of our loved ones with memorial services that involve different traditions based on our religions, family practices, and other cultural elements, ranging from somber to joyous.

But as you can imagine, there is a world full of ceremonies and practices that look almost nothing like our own, while still being filled with love and emotion.

Let’s take a look at a few special traditions from across the globe:

HONG KONG 

Hong Kong, which lies off the eastern coast of mainland China, is so small and densely-populated that there is virtually no room for burial—in fact, the cost of burial plots begins at $380,000. For this reason the government set up a system of underwater cremation sites, so that friends and relatives could celebrate their families at sea.

There are eleven sites at which mourners can scatter cremated remains, and the government provides a free ferry service that can hold up to 300 people for funeral attendance.

GHANA 

When we Americans picture coffins, we might think of them as solemn, rectangular pieces in a variety of neutral colors. In Ghana, a beautiful seaside country on Africa’s hump, this could not be farther from the case.

Family members and friends choose extremely elaborate and brightly-colored coffins that are constructed by local artisans. Many of them feature themes that represent their owners’ lives; for example, if the person being honored was an enthusiastic traveler in life, a Ghanaian coffin maker might build a coffin in the shape of an airplane! Then they are proudly displayed during a joyful celebration of that person’s time on Earth.

SOUTH KOREA 

South Korea, while not being quite as small as Hong Kong, is also very densely-populated, meaning that burial plots and even urn niches are extremely expensive for the average family. South Koreans have come up with a both creative and beautiful solution: cremation beads.

Traditional glass blowing involves the use of wood ash, so family members and friends substitute their loved ones’ cremated remains in the glassblowing process. They are then turned into iridescent glass beads. These beads are either taken home and displayed in a dish or distributed to make bright, colorful jewelry. The beads serve as a daily token of remembrance and affection.

THE PHILIPPINES 

The United States typically considers black or other dark colors to be appropriate colors for mourning. There are many other countries and cultures, however, that would consider black to be a very strange sight at a funeral. In some cultures, white is generally accepted as the most appropriate color.

The Philippines are home to many different indigenous cultures with an even wider array of funerary customs and traditions. The Cebuano people make sure to dress their children in red for funerals, which is specifically to ensure that they won’t see any ghosts during the ceremony,

Embracing Traditions

Which one of these traditions did you find the most surprising? Have you ever heard of any of these traditions before?

No matter how we commemorate the passing of those we love, the most important thing is that our traditions both honor and remember our family, friends, and the important people who have made our lives so special. We at PinesFunerals are here to help you and your family celebrate together in a touching and personal way.

How to Talk to Your Spouse About Your Wishes

Difficult Conversations with Deep Significance

Part of truly loving someone is the hopes and dreams that we have of a life with them, always looking towards the future.

But as time marches on, one of the realities we must face is that, while we would love to live together side-by-side with our spouse forever, there will be a time that comes when we cannot.

Therefore, part of showing true love is preparing our spouses, and ourselves, for a time in which they must prepare for our funeral arrangements. Even if you opt for pre-planning, your spouse must be at least informed of where you’ve made your arrangements.

That’s why it’s important to talk to your spouse about your wishes.

Moving Forward versus Delaying the Matter

As with all uncomfortable or difficult things in life, you might be tempted to put this important conversation off for as long as possible, with the task weighing on your shoulders but being unable to take the first step.

Please, for both you and your partner, consider the alternative: What if the time comes where you or your spouse need this information, and this is a conversation that neither of you have had?

If you find yourself constantly pushing back the date, try marking a day in your planner or calendar. Resolve that you will be prepared to have a conversation with your spouse by that day, and follow through with your plans.

Ideas for Broaching the Subject

The topic of end-of-life arrangements is not one of the most animated talks that you two will ever have, but it also doesn’t have to be a “doom and gloom” situation.

Keep these ideas in mind to help you when you decide to have the conversation.

  • Consider going on a walk together to discuss your arrangements (ideally, you will have already made a written list of planned arrangements and ideas that you can later share). Moving around can help release any tension either of you might be feeling.
  • Make it a two-sided conversation involving both of your plans, so that it seems less foreboding towards one partner or the other.
  • Avoid any alcoholic beverages before beginning your conversation. Though you might presume that this would “loosen you up a bit”, you run the risk of provoking heightened reactions or emotional sensitivity is much higher.

Dealing with Emotional Reactions

Depending on your spouse’s personality or sensitivity at the time of the discussion, you could encounter pushback, denial, or defensiveness, and there is certainly a possibility of tears during this conversation.

These are all absolutely normal reactions, and it does not mean that you should continue waiting to have the conversation.

Explain to your spouse that you are having this conversation precisely because you love them and want them to be prepared, and that this has absolutely nothing to do with wanting to upset them or cause anxiety.

If you simply cannot continue having the conversation for any reason, here are two possibilities to move forward proactively:

  • Sleep on it. The next day, when your spouse is feeling a bit calmer, ask them if they could suggest a setting in which they would like to try having the conversation again. Be loving but insistent in the fact that this conversation is important to you, for no other reason but loving them.
  • If all else fails, make sure they know where you have left an envelope containing all of your requests, or the contact information of the funeral home that has your pre-planned arrangements. Consider leaving a duplicate envelope with a close friend or family member.

Showing Your Love Through Preparation

At the end of the day, your preparation is the greatest final gift that you can give to the one you love, and having these important conversations with your spouse is part of showing your love for them.

We at Pines Funerals specialize in pre-planning funeral arrangements and would be happy to help you get started in the process, or simply to assure you amidst any doubts. We know that this can be an overwhelming process, and we are here to make your planning process as straightforward and stress-free as possible.

Continuing the Grieving Process After the Funeral

Going Back to Our Lives While Grieving

It’s a common misconception that our lives go back to normal after the funeral of a friend or loved one, and that we have completed the grieving process once we leave the memorial service.

While the memorial service is an essential part of closure and community, grieving can often last for months, and sometimes years, after we have said goodbye to a person in physical form.

Though the grieving process looks and feels different for everyone, there are certain steps we can take, and points to think about, that might make the process a bit easier.

Points to Consider During This Period

  • This is a natural process and an inevitable part of life.

Grieving the loss of our loved ones is something that every person on the Earth, just like you, must go through, at least during some part of their lives.

We must all say goodbye to someone we love, which means that many people have experienced what you are feeling right now. They have already processed their grief, and they might have valuable advice for you to be able to do so as well.

  • The person you love would want you to keep moving forward.

It might be tempting to put your life on hold until you feel better, which is exactly the opposite of what helps us move forward through the grieving period. We must continue moving to process our grief in a dynamic way so that it does not pull us down into a place of permanent sadness.

If the person you have recently lost were with you today, would they feel better or worse, knowing that their absence had caused you to abandon your life and goals?

  • Not everyone will feel the same way that you do, and that’s okay.

You may find yourself getting frustrated with family members or friends that you feel are not having as difficult of a time as you in the grieving process. But just as we are different in other aspects of our lives, all of us grieve differently, too.

If you feel that you’re not receiving the support you need from your family or friends, or you simply cannot relate to the way that they are feeling, you might want to consider speaking to a licensed professional.

Ideas for Guiding Yourself Through the Grieving Process

  • Be gentle with yourself.

While it’s much better to continue your routines as normally as possible, keep in mind that there might be days during which you simply don’t feel like doing anything, or at the very least, what you would normally do.

Allow yourself to rest, and give yourself an occasional day-off from your responsibilities, if you can. As long as you’re making an honest effort to move forward, and your active days outnumber your resting days, you are making progress.

  • Keep a journal. 

Writing your feelings down is an excellent way to not only make sense of how you feel, but also to watch your progress over time.

Though today you might not feel like you are moving past your initial grief, if you have developed the habit of writing in your journal, you can go back and see that you have actually made quite a bit of progress.

You are becoming stronger, for yourself and for the ones you love.

As you move forward through the process of grieving, you are setting an example for those who might be having a more difficult time than you.

See how you can create conversations around the memory of your loved one and help those around you—you’ll see how you help yourself in the meantime.

Allowing for the Grace of Time

While it may seem at this moment that things will never feel normal again, as the famous saying goes, “time heals all wounds”. You might find that one day that, while you still miss the person to whom you said goodbye at their memorial service, you are now able to go about your normal routines.

It doesn’t mean that you have forgotten about your loved one; it simply means that you have gone on living, just as they would want you to.

So set aside a moment of remembrance to thank that special person for all of the love they brought to your life. At the same time, don’t forget to take pride in yourself for being a brave, strong, and compassionate individual who has come out the other side of a difficult period in their life.

And remember, we here at Pines Funerals are proud to lend a helping hand and a listening ear, whenever you may need it.

4 Special Keepsake Ideas to Help Children Remember Their Grandparents

Dealing with the Loss of a Grandparent as a Child 

The loss of a grandparent can be particularly hard for young children, especially ones that might be too young to really grasp what has happened.

In addition to being a difficult time of loss for you, the whole funeral process can be both overwhelming and unfamiliar to a child. They may be looking for the comfort of a beloved relative who can no longer physically provide it in those unsettling times.

Fortunately, concerned parents and caregivers have begun making a heartwarming effort to memorialize grandparents. They have adopted creative ways that help children retain their cherished memories for years to come.

Here are some ideas that we’ve found particularly touching to help your children feel and remember the love that their grandparents shared with them.

Four Encouraging Ideas to Aid a Child’s Mourning Process

  1. Create a memory box

Purchase a small wooden box at a craft store, and help your children decorate it with drawings or stickers that remind them of their grandparent. Attach a photo of the grandparent and child to the top of the box.

When the box has been decorated, fill it with tokens and mementos that remind your child of times spent together with their grandparents. Perhaps they have saved shells that the two of them collected on a trip to the beach, or maybe you’ve saved ticket stubs from an event or tourist visit that you’ve shared.

Encourage your child to place items in the box that bring back happy memories of them with their grandparent, and when they are feeling lonely, they can visit the box and touch all those things that made their time together special.

  1. Have a shirt sewn into a pillow

If you still have access to a shirt that your child’s grandparent wore often, have someone sew their shirt into a pillow. You might even include a special note or phrase that your child would hear their grandparent say, which you can have either embroidered directly onto the shirt itself or placed on a fabric square in the pocket if the shirt is collared.

Explain to your child that whenever they miss their grandparent, they can give them a hug by squeezing their pillow.

  1. Make a photo collage

There is a high probability that you have many wonderful pictures of your child with their grandparent, so use this as a way to both sort through your photos and display them proudly.

Have your child select their favorite photos of their grandparent, and assist them in gluing the photos together in a picture frame. (Don’t forget to make duplicates of these photos to also have a pristine copy for yourself.)

Encourage your child to discuss their choices and the memories associated with the photos, and talk about how they felt when the photos were being taken.

  1. Write a grandparent story journal

Depending on the age of your child, this might be more of your project than theirs. If your children are extremely young, take an opportunity to write down some of your own memories of your child with their grandparent in a blank notebook. For slightly older children, you can write down the stories as they’re dictated to you, and for children that are of writing age, you can discuss the stories and help your child write them down.

Children, Emotional Development and Family Bonding 

Above all, the most important part of helping children cope with the loss of a grandparent is keeping that grandparent’s memory alive, rather than removing the grandparent from the conversation for fear of making your little one sad.

Tell stories, share memories, and display pictures of your children with their grandparent, and be sure to address any age-appropriate questions they might have with honest and accessible answers.

They are grieving, and you are too—instead of keeping your feelings from them, use this as an opportunity to teach your children about emotions and to grow together as a family.

At Pines Funerals, we recognize that losing a grandparent is a significant event in every family member’s life, and we are here to help and support each and every one of you, no matter what the age, at this delicate time.

 

4 Ideas for Including Long-Distance Friends and Relatives in a Memorial Service

Given the events of the last two years, it has not always been possible for everyone to attend a memorial service that would have liked to. Whether for geographical, logistical, or health reasons, family members and friends haven’t always been able to be on-site to help mourn the loss of a loved one, which is certainly a vital part of everyone’s grieving process.

Luckily, with new challenges come new solutions.

With a little bit of additional effort, you can be sure to include the ones in the memorial service that would be there if they could, all while giving your loved one the commemoration they deserve.

Ideas for Including Family Members in Commemorating Your Loved One

Whether near or far, everyone can take part in honoring those who have passed with any of these ideas incorporated into the memorial program.

  • Make online streaming options available

There are many reasons why all of the people who want to honor their loved ones will not physically be present at the funeral home. Allow them to send their love and condolences through a virtual memorial service.

This can be achieved by one or multiple screens placed strategically in the funeral home, as well as a steady Internet connection, which allows for everyone to attend the memorial in the most realistic way possible.

Holding a virtual service naturally depends on the capacities of your funeral home and care providers. It should be planned with enough advance time, not only to allow the home to set up the necessary technology, but also to give family and friends the appropriate passwords and links.

  • Make a recording temporarily available

If family members are located in different time zones or have different home or work schedules, it would be a good idea to allow everyone access to a recording of the memorial service, at least for a short period of time. That way, everyone has a chance to say goodbye, no matter what their situation may be.

  • Hold a virtual wake 

Many of us have now become experts at video conferencing for work and family connection, and there’s no better time to use this technology than for coming together and celebrating a beloved family member.

Schedule a time that works for the largest number of people, and tell stories, laugh, cry, and appreciate the person who you are honoring, in a way that you might have never imagined possible a number of years ago.

  • Create a shareable presentation to send to family and friends

Someone among your family and friends might be talented with creating videos, so ask them to help you create a slideshow with any pictures, videos, or other mementos that you might have. This memorial presentation can be shared with the family during any part of the long-distance memorial service, and you can send a copy to them by email to keep after the commemorations have ended.

Moving Forward Together in Memory

Our loved ones are both near and far, and some might say that traditions are changing as a result of recent world events. We here at Pines Funerals believe that this has simply allowed us to be even more inclusive. We can now more naturally and professionally help everyone share in the gathering and commemoration of the ones you love.

 

We are more than happy to accommodate you in any way that we can when it comes to long-distance commemoration and memorial services.

Grieving a Coronavirus Death: Help for Special Circumstances

by Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D.

If someone you love has died of the novel coronavirus, it is likely that you are facing a number of challenging circumstances. Grief is always difficult, but it is especially difficult whenever a death is sudden, unexpected, and unfolds in ways that violate our expectations and puts up barriers to the cultural grief rituals that help us through.

I have been a grief counselor and educator for over forty years, and this pandemic is unlike anything I have encountered. I am sorry you have been so deeply affected by this hardship.

First, it is important to understand that grief is always normal and necessary. It is part of our love. But in complicated loss situations, the grief that follows often gets complicated, too. It is essentially normal grief in an abnormally challenging loss situation.

If this is where you are finding yourself right now, I hope this article will offer you some affirmation, comfort, and hope in the weeks to come.

If you couldn’t be with the person who was dying, or if you couldn’t view or spend time with the body after the death

In most cases, infectious-disease protocols are keeping loved ones apart from those who are critically ill or dying. Whether you were across the country or just down the road, you probably felt frustrated and maybe even distraught that you couldn’t be by your loved one’s side. While the enforced separation may have been necessary, you may understandably feel cheated of precious last moments and goodbyes.

Sometimes hospital caregivers have been able to use technology to help families communicate with loved ones dying of COVID-19 (or other causes during this period of restrictions). I hope this was true for you, but I also realize that these measures are not the same as being there.

Holding the hands of the dying and spending time with the body afterward are ways that we as human beings acknowledge the reality of a death and begin to embrace the pain of the loss. These are two essential mourning needs that will be naturally more difficult for you to meet in the weeks and months to come.

I encourage you to talk out your thoughts and feelings about these circumstances with people who are good listeners. When the time is right, I also encourage you to reach out to the hospital and/or funeral home staff who cared for your loved one and ask them to tell you anything they can. If you can reconstruct what happened even a little bit, you will likely feel better. Often our minds are searching for a few details and assurances, and when they’re provided, we can rest a little easier.

If a funeral wasn’t possible or has been delayed

Funerals are essential because they help us begin to meet all of our mourning needs. The mourning journey often takes years, and a good funeral sets us off on a good path.

Funerals help us acknowledge and accept the reality of a death, share memories, convert our relationship with the person who died from one of presence to one of memory, give and receive social support, express our grief out loud, consider the meaning of life and death, and help us start to think about how to live life forward with meaning and purpose.

Yet I realize that in this pandemic, many gatherings have been rendered impractical or impossible. I’ve been encouraging funeral directors and families to try to have a brief immediate ceremony, even if only by Zoom or Skype, followed by a larger memorial service once the restrictions are lifted. Some people have also been holding an informal, intimate service in their own homes to mark the death and honor the person who died.

Please know that it’s never too late to have a ceremony, and especially if you weren’t able to be with the dying person or the body afterward, holding several ceremonies is a good idea. Ask a clergyperson, celebrant, or friend to help you. You will find that people who were unable to support you at the time of the death will want to provide you the support you need and deserve. And inviting friends and family to support one another is something you will always be glad you did. To achieve the goal of multiple ceremonies, you might have an immediate candle-lighting service in your home, a graveside or scattering service as soon as possible, and a tree-planting ceremony on the anniversary of the death, for example.

Essentially, ceremony and ritual have the power to partially fill some of the holes created by the COVID-19 death circumstances. And it’s never too late to use them.

If you’re separated from your support systems

While most of us are sheltering in place, we’re apart from the people we would normally talk to, hug, and hold close during a time of great loss.

If this is true for you, I urge you to use all the technology tools you can to reach out to the people you care about. Video calls are probably the best substitute for face-to-face conversations. Voice calls come second. After that, emails, texting, and social media work too. And don’t forget the power of the handwritten letter! The point is to stay connected as much as possible AND to be open and honest in those communications about whatever it is you are feeling or struggling with at the moment. Your candor will encourage others to be honest as well, creating the opportunity for mutual support and kindness.

In addition to creating a lifeline in the time of separation, these tools will help you maintain and build your important relationships so that when gathering and travel restrictions are finally lifted, you will have the strong connections and good momentum you need. Everyone will be on the same page and ready to support one another in person. You can even use this homebound time to plan ceremonies, build online memorial pages, and gather photos, video footage, and memorabilia of the person who died.

If you’re angry, anxious, self-blaming, or feeling guilty

In complicated grief circumstances, these feelings are especially common. They’re normal! Feelings aren’t right or wrong—they just are. Please don’t make it even harder on yourself by judging your feelings or thinking that you’re abnormal.

Maybe you’re angry about how the person who died contracted coronavirus or was cared for while ill. Maybe you feel anxious that you or someone else will get the disease (and perhaps die), or maybe the death has given rise to anxiety about finances and other life realities. Maybe you blame yourself about some aspect of what happened. And maybe you feel guilty that you are still living while your loved one is not.

Again, these and other feelings are normal and common in grief, and especially in complicated grief. Whenever you’re having an uncomfortable or “stuck” feeling, the key is to express it as much and as often as it takes for it to begin to soften. You express it by sharing it with a friend, writing about it in a journal, or talking about it in a support group or to a grief counselor, for example. Expressing your grief is called mourning, and mourning is how, over time, you step one day at a time toward healing.

I understand that right now, the traumatic nature of your loved one’s COVID-19 death and your thoughts and feelings about it may color every aspect of your grief. It is part of your grief, but it is not the totality of your grief. Other factors that contribute to your grief include the nature of the relationship you had with the person who died, your unique personality, your religious and cultural backgrounds, your gender, your age, your previous experiences with loss, as well as others. Your grief is a complicated blend of thoughts and emotions, most of which stem from your love for the person who died. Over time you will come to find that your grief is as much or more about the life than it is about the death.

If you are able to muster the courage to actively mourn and use ceremony, over time you will find a path to a renewed life of meaning and purpose. Remember, you are not alone, and there are no rewards for speed. I hope you will share your coronavirus story and grief tips with me at drwolfelt@centerforloss.com.

About the author

Alan D. Wolfelt, Ph.D., is an author, educator, and grief counselor. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is on the faculty of the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. Dr. Wolfelt has written many bestselling books on coping with grief, including Grief One Day at a Time and First Aid for Broken Hearts. Visit www.centerforloss.com to learn more about grief and loss and to order Dr. Wolfelt’s books.

Pre Planning Your Final Arrangements

The greatest gift you can leave your family.

The holiday season has just passed and many of us shared in the season of gifts and giving. It was a time of family, life and reflection. Many memories were shared with one another and many new memories were made. Gifts are given in love to those we care most about, and we usually accepted the gifts as a token of that love we share. Planing for your final arrangements are not always thought of as a gift, but what greater gift can you leave with your family than the peace of knowing everything is taken care of when you pass away?

Soon after I began my career in funeral service I decided to talk to my parents about their final wishes. It was at that moment I realized, this is not an easy thing to do. They were both reluctant to talk about death at all and it shocked me. My thought was, we are all going to die, let’s talk about what to do when that happens. For me it was normal, but for most it is a forbidden subject. Finally, I got enough out of my parents that I knew what I would do when either one of them passed away. While pre-planning may seem difficult at the time, knowing ahead what you will do when your loved one dies will take an immense burden off the family at the time of death, and is truly the greatest gift you can leave your family.

What is pre-planning? Also known as preneed, it is simply planning for one’s final arrangements prior to death. When a death occurs going to the funeral home to make funeral arrangements and select a casket or urn is one of the hardest thing to do. To do this in advance is a tremendous benefit to the entire family. At the time of death a family (no matter how prepared or unprepared) goes into a state of shock. Instantly their minds become separated from normal life. For the next several day decisions will be made that are irreversible. This process can be made easier by planning ahead, and it takes the burden off of the survivors. Never once has a family said, “I wish our loved one would have never pre-planned their funeral arrangements.” In fact, families are often relieved when they realize they don’t have to come to the funeral home because mom or dad took care of everything years ago.

We encourage everyone, regardless of age or health, to pre-plan his or her final arrangements. Pre-arranging is very relaxed and can be done either at the funeral home, in the comfort of ones home, or even online. Pre-arranging is also personalized to meet the needs of everyone. There are several types of pre-arranging:

Pre-arrange only

To pre-arrange a funeral one would discuss with the funeral director his or her wishes regarding their final arrangements. This could and should include discussing type and location of service, pre-selection of the casket,vault or urn, and any other special requests there might be. Remember, in pre-arranging, you can do as much or as little as you want. In pre-arranging, it is not necessary to pre-pay at all. Most people who pre-arrange have the means to pay for their service at the time of death.

Pre-arrange and Pre-fund

This is the same as pre-arranging except the person makes financial arrangements as well. To pre-arrange the financial end of a pre-arrangement it is possible to lock in todays funeral prices for the future. This is usually done with insurance funded policies that are set up at the time of the pre-arrangement. A single pay policy would mean that the total funeral is selected and paid in one payment. The monies are put into a single premium insurance policy and the policy grows each year to keep up with our price increases and is guaranteed to pay for the funeral at the time of death. Another option is a monthly pay policy where the total funeral cost is set up on a monthly payment that is affordable to the one arranging, and is generally paid over a number of years. This type of service is also designed to pay for the total funeral at the time of death.

Pre-Fund only

This is for the person who wants to leave the final arrangements to their survivors, but provides the financial means to pay for the services selected. Simply put, one can write a check for a certain amount to pay or to be applied to their funeral at the time of their death. This can also be set up on a monthly pay payment plan.

Some things to remember when pre-planning are: don’t alienate your family from this process. Remember, funerals are for those left behind to grieve. You may think, all I want is the simplest thing available, while a spouse left behind may need a time of closure and the support of others. Services can be made simple and even private. Discuss these things with your family and let them be involved in the process. I have seen to many times grieving families following the wishes of the deceased and going against what they want or need, only to make the whole grieving process much more burdensome. Knowing that will open the door to discussion and ultimately making the right choices for everyone involved.

For more questions please feel free to contact Robert Nunnaley at 910.947.2224, or Robert@PinesFunerals.com

Robert is vice president and general manager of Fry and Prickett Funeral Home, Inc.