Tuesday, April 12, 2016

Pets at the Funeral

Family festivities are not the same without a beloved pet's attendance. Many of pet parents would be comforted to know that their pets might attend their own funeral. Having the pet of the one who has passed at their funeral or memorial service brings the surviving friends and family comfort, as a pet represents a special part of their loved one’s life and happy memories.

Pets provide emotional comfort, which not only cuts through tension, but also lowers anxiety at a funeral. Pets are especially comforting to children and make a welcomed distraction to some of the more emotional moments of the service.

A formally clothed pet shows respect for the deceased and his/her surviving family. Although funeral attire is no longer limited to just black, somber colors are generally considered more respectful than flashy, bright colors. We offer a selection of dressy formal attire for cats and dogs. All outfits shown are funeral appropriate.

The goal of bringing a pet family member to the funeral or memorial is to represent our animal companions, as they should be -- important members of the human family. 

Have you been to a funeral or memorial where pets were in attendance?
Will you request your loved ones to bring your pet to your own service?

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Pet Funerals - Not Just for Dogs and Cats

RIP - Farewell to Catfish, Fish Funeral Brooklyn, NY
Pet parents recently buried their dear Catfish. The family located in Brooklyn, New York describes their dear friend, "We couldn't agree on a name and he seemed like such a special little guy from the start so we simply named him 'Catfish - The Cutest Fish in the World'. He is a Striped Raphael. We have had him for about 7 years now and he has always amazed us."

A Video of Catfish:

Keeping a Pet Catfish

Fish Casket with Flower (Brooklyn, NY)
Catfish's Fish Memorial Headstone (Brooklyn, NY)
Catfish make great pets. Similar to Koi fish, the catfish can recognize its owners and can even follow them around the tank. Catfish exist in a variety of sizes, colors, patterns and personalities. Many catfish are nocturnal, and enjoy eating at night when the aquarium lights are kept off. Catfish can live from 5 to 12 years. Catfish often get along well with other fish species, and are usually peaceful in sharing a pond or aquarium with species. Catfish are actually quite social and prefer to keep company with other catfish. Keeping catfish in groups of 3 or more can add to their happiness and longevity. 

As you can see, pet funerals are an important way to remember a special pet friend, whether furry, feathered, scaled or finned. Doing something on behalf of a beloved companion and creating memorial art is healing.

Monday, February 22, 2016

Cremation Memorial - Natural Stone Garden Urn

Natural Stone Cremation Memorial
Losing a loved one hurts and can be difficult to heal from. However, many find that caring for a tangible symbol helps to heal one's grief. Many studies find that doing things on behalf of the deceased is helpful. By caring for a plant or a tree as part of a living memorial to your loved one, this gives you something special to do for them and another way to remember them as part of your daily life.
If you have cremated remains at your home, you have the option to commemorate a loved one with the creation of a sacred space at home. Although some families may choose to scatter the ashes, bury them, inter them at a cemetery, or keep them in an urn or other special memento, we hope you will consider creating a memorial planting. 

We know that planting is therapeutic, and out of loss can come a positive gathering of family which brings everyone together in supportive care for the bereaved.

Honor someone special, express your grief, beautify your home and bring your family together to remember.

Memorial Garden Urn Garden Urn
This urn sells for $175.00 and includes shipping. Because each stone is natural, the shapes and exact sizes will vary. Generally your memorial stone size is just under: 12 inches x 12 inches by 5.5 inches high. Your memorial is made to order and will be shipped within 2 weeks.

Sunday, February 21, 2016

Horticulture Therapy and Memorial Plantings

"From my rotting body, flowers shall grow and I am in them and that is eternity." - Edvard Munch

A Living Tribute in Your Own Backyard

Make your yard into a natural tribute to your beloved. Any yard or patio can become a sanctuary that welcomes wildlife with just a few simple modifications:
~Make Your Patio Permeable -  A porous surface allows water through to the soil, where it is able to soak up rain and inhibit run off.

~Consider designing patios and pathways with pores in order to prevent run off. This also keeps local streams clean.

~Add Water to Your Yard or Patio - A concave rock collects and holds drinking water for insects such as: ladybugs, dragonflies, and more. Birdbaths provide water for birds that is the best depth of water for play, bath time and hydration.

~Widen a Fence - By removing a few panels or widening space between fence panels, small flying wildlife such as small birds or butterflies, can pass through more easily to your garden. Oftentimes, it makes for a nicer view as well.

Memorial Plantings

Memorial horticulture is a simple, fulfilling and beautiful way to honor a loved one. Memorial plantings provide an opportunity to care for the memory of a loved one. 

Your backyard garden or patio can easily be transformed into the ultimate memorial destination that gives you and your family not only the opportunity to honor a loved one at home, but the convenience and privacy of memorializing in your own home.

Memorial Planting Tips for Your Backyard Tribute

Choose a Special Location for a Memorial Planting
Choose a special location for a memorial planting or a spot in present garden that you would like to recreate or add a memorial to. For families with patios, decide which plant pot or pots you will be using and where you would like to place them.

Include trees, ground-covers and shrubs. This helps to provide shelter and food for helpful bugs. By including both broad-leaf and conifer evergreens, this helps provide additional shelter for wildlife during winter.

Planting flowers like tulips, lilies or daffodils can adorn the garden in a beautiful way.

Add flowering plants with pollen to attract butterflies, bees and hummingbirds. Add plants that offer caterpillars leaves to eat.

 Plant a tree decorate it with lights on their birthday each year.

Plant a variety of plants that produces both berries and seeds throughout the year. This helps to feed the birds. (See some ideas in the next section below.)

Hang wind chimes nearby and consider adding pinwheels (as shown in the video below) to catch the wind and make lively patterns.


All-Season Plants for Your Memorial Plantings

Try adding plants that will attract wildlife during each season of the year. In Oregon there are several plants to consider.

Oregon Grape
Oregon Grape Flowers attract mason bees and butterflies. Blue-blackberries are eaten by birds. Beautiful bronze new growth occurs on evergreen leaves. 

 Kinnikinnik Berries are a favorite of birds. Flowers are visited by butterflies and bees. Leaves help feed the butterfly caterpillars. Glossy evergreen leaves are a beautiful addition to any garden or yard.

Red Flowering Currant
Red Flowering Currant Flower nectar feeds hummingbirds. Berries are eaten by birds. Leaves help feed the butterfly caterpillars. Bright pink flowers add vibrant color to any yard or garden.

Western Columbine
Western Columbine - Hummingbirds enjoy the flowers. Seeds are eaten by the birds. Glowing red and yellow flowers brighten up the garden.

Oregon Vine Maple
Vine Maple Seeds are eaten by birds. Leaves help feed the butterfly caterpillars. Nectar from the flowers is collected by bees. The orange and red fall leaves ornament any yard during autumn.

What plantings do you have in your home garden or on your patio? Have you ever designed a memorial that lives in your home garden or patio? If so, what advice can you share with others?

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Funerals and Personal Hopes

Art of the Funeral

A funeral is a collaborative work of performance and art. The funeral is a time for family and friends to support one another, and share intimate memories. A misconception is that a funeral is solely for those who are religious. It is as much a moment of reflection as it is a series of events providing tasks and activities to undertake as an expression of feelings.

Weeping for Ourselves

It is important to note that as much as we grieve for our dead, attending a funeral is just as much about weeping for ourselves. Roussell, describing anticipatory grief writes, “some people have feelings of guilt and anxiety over having too little time to settle issues and put things in order for their loved ones.”1 For others, attending a funeral establishes emotional stability and security through the unspoken promise of reciprocation. 

What do you hope people will remember about you after you die

Supporting One Another


Funerals offered communities the chance to support to one another. For example, in a scene from the French motion picture “Amelie,” the lead character daydreams about her own funeral. She watches the procession on television and weeps at the sight of people mourning her death. We can identify with this girl. We are at center of our own universe and therefore secretly wish for others to mourn our own deaths. The funeral rite gives us the opportunity to act for others as we would wish them to act for us. When we grieve for others, we subconsciously grieve for ourselves. 

We want our presence to be missed, our deaths to be mourned, and for a death to have meaning. It explains why we host lavish funerals and grand memorials. We yearn to be remembered. Our lives must have had held some meaning. Attending a funeral reminds us that we will someday merit the same honor, respect, and display of affection. To not hold a funeral is not to observe this sacred pact. 

What do you hope people will remember about you after you die
Do you have special plans or hopes for your own funeral? 

¹ Roussell, J.O. (1999). Dealing with Grief: Theirs & Ours. Staten Island, NY: Alba House.


Monday, February 15, 2016

Funeral Directors Help Facilitate Grief

When a person dies, the world seems to continue right along as though nothing has happened, and to the bereaved this experience can be isolating. A funeral director helps the family by making sure that their beloved is cared for and honored while facilitating the organizational and legal aspects of the arrangements. According to Worden, “often the immediate family members are in a dazed or numb condition and the service does not have the positive psychological impact that it might have.”2 While this can be an issue, these families still benefit from just being with those support them through their loss. They want to be comforted. They want to be with those who understand their loss. The funeral is a supportive place to show respect for the dead, and surviving family and friends.

Do you think Americans need to be more open to public displays of grief? 

The funeral home and or cemetery are the socially acceptable places for mourning. This leaves Americans with few places where it is acceptable for grief to be displayed openly. In American culture, we are taught to hold back public display of pain so we do not make others uncomfortable. We are encouraged to shed tears privately, out of sight. This can create disenfranchised grief. Worden recommends, “some type of ongoing contact with these families might be considered for the purpose of grief counseling.”2 The funeral meets a family’s spiritual, psychological, and social needs as they share the pain of losing someone loved. The funeral rite gives us a universally understood social tradition to observe for coming together. Thus, the funeral is one of the few events where people are not judged as harshly for showing emotion. This makes the funeral director's job of creating conducive atmosphere for healing all the more important. By offering the bereaved a place to address these feelings, funeral directors help to facilitate grief and allow survivors to find meaning through the funeral rite. 

How have funeral directors helped you or a loved one
Do you think Americans need to be more open to public displays of grief? 

² Worden, J.W. (2009). Grief Counseling and Grief Therapy. A Handbook for the Mental Health


Sunday, February 14, 2016

Visit a Cemetery this Valentine's Day

It's Valentine's Day, and for most people it signifies a time for romance, sweet gifts, and happy couples enjoying a day that focuses on love. But what about a surviving spouse, family member, friend or partner of one who has already died? 

Holidays provide a perfect opportunity to reflect on the memories that keep a loved one alive in spirit. While some like to visit friends or family to reminisce, others enjoy looking through old photos or reading old letters. Visiting a favorite and memorable place, special to your loved one, can also be a thoughtful way to spend the day. Visiting the cemetery to remember a loved one by cleaning the grave, dropping off flowers, or just spending time, is another meaningful choice.

Whatever you decide to do this Valentine's Day, remember your loved ones, living and past, and have a Happy Valentine's Day.

Saturday, February 13, 2016

VM Book Reviews: When Breath Becomes Air by Paul Kalanithi

Paul Kalanithi's book, "When Breath Becomes Air" takes a deep look at what it's like to have a terminal illness and to explore one's own mortality. "Severe illness wasn't life-altering, it was life-shattering."

Paul's perspective on mortality is colored by his years as a talented Neurosurgeon, having to often face the terminal diagnosis and life-or-death choices his own patients have faced. "Like my own patients, I had to face my mortality and try to understand what made my life worth living."

He shares with us a glimpse of life in medical school, and notes how it "sharpened my understanding of the relationship between meaning, life and death." And he poses important questions like, in the face of terminal illness, "What makes life meaningful enough to go on living?" 

As a neurosurgeon, Paul's decisions must be made cautiously and with compassion. "Life and death decisions and struggles...surely a kind of transcendence." He shares the challenges of helping families make important decisions, such as, considering what the patient might want after a traumatic brain injury, "an easy death or to struggle between bags of fluids going in, others coming out, to persist despite being unable to struggle." 

Paul describes his role not as "as death's enemy, but as its ambassador." "The call to protect life -- and not merely life but another's identity; it is perhaps not too much to say another's soul -- was obvious in its sacredness."

This book read quickly and Paul's part was most eloquently written. We learn a lot from Paul, his compassionate care, and his journey through acceptance of his own mortality. 

Have you helped a friend or loved one face a terminal diagnosis? What was the most important lesson you learned?

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Tradition in Hmong Funerals

Fear of death is ubiquitous. What precedes death is as unwelcome as one's prospects in the afterlife. In Anne Fadiman's book, “The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down, A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, And The Collision Of Two Cultures”, she describes the rituals and traditions of the Hmong people. 

Central to Ms. Fadiman's theme in the book, is the fact that the Hmong are a death-denying culture. Death is not acknowledged by the Hmong and they cannot speak of it. The Hmong use beliefs and rituals to help redefine the problem of mortality. 

Hmong Funeral Rituals 

These are all part of the elaborate collective ritual performances for the dead. These rituals take place over 3-days and include:
  • Burning incense 
  • Stylized lamentation and Chanting
  • Dancing
  • Drum beating
  • Playing a Qeej - The qeej player is meant to guide a dead person’s soul back through the twelve heavens. Without a qeej player at the funeral, it is believed that a soul cannot be guided on its afterlife travels, cannot be reborn, and might make surviving relatives physically ill. In fact, if the qeej player is good, it is felt that the soul will have no trouble following directions in the afterlife. (A qeej player plays Ger Xiong Qeej Funeral Song in video below.)
  • Washing the body
  • Dressing of the body in special garments. Ideally, funeral garments are brought to a terminal person in hospital. The belief is that if the dying person is not dressed properly before death, once they die the family will always dream of the deceased as being unclothed or naked.
  • Honoring the deceased with animal sacrifices. The animals are often live chickens, calves and/or pigs which are expected to be companions in death for the deceased.
  • Spoken guidance of the deceased back to the place where one’s placenta is buried. 
  • Laying to rest the deceased in a hand sewn coffin
  • Carrying the deceased on the shoulders. To not carry a deceased relative on their shoulders is considered disgraceful. 
  • Burial on a sloping mountain. The Hmong believe that not burying the dead is terrible.

Hmong funeral tradition emancipates the deceased’s spirit. Performing death rituals helps to relieve death anxiety and provides opportunities to feel positive about having completed a folkway or custom on behalf of a loved one.

After death, the Hmong ask their deceased ancestors for guidance as a sign of respect. Benevolent spirits summoned home secure good fortune for family in the coming year through a “Soul calling ceremony”.

Remembrance of the deceased in dreams also helps them deal with their death. The Hmong believe that their fortunes are divined by interpreting their dreams.  

Sadly, some Hmong living in America fear they will not receive a proper funeral ceremony that respects their cultural rituals or that they may not find a good burial space here. For these individuals this can be more important than any other thing in the world, and thus these families opt to send their deceased loved ones back home for the funeral.

How Hmong Beliefs Shape Medical Care


Photo by Bob Tubbs/Wikimedia
Further death denial by the Hmong people has extended to taboos against modern medical practices including avoidance of blood tests, spinal taps, surgery, anesthesia, and if possible, autopsies as well.  Avoidance of these activities distance Hmongs from harm and thus death. 

Hmong families fear leaving loved ones in hospital and their rooms are usually crowded with family members. The hope is that by demonstrating love, the loved one will be spared from death, either in the physical world or symbolically. To be revered by one's family is wealth, and this love for a family member is seen as a barrier against death.
A doctor should never tell a Hmong family that a child is going to die. They do not understand the different tenses such as “you will die”, “you may die”, “you could die”, or “it would be better to die”.  They believe it makes death come closer to the child. It means that the speaker of such words plans to kill the person, because how would he/she know otherwise. Therefore, prognosis is read as a threat and any reminders of a terminal designation could bring relatives of a terminally ill patient to act aggressively. Instead of saying, “when you are dead,” to the Hmong say, “when your children are 120 yrs old", as this conveys the magnitude of the situation while allowing the family to avoid confronting death openly.

  • Do you or your family have beliefs that shape your feelings about death?
  • What funerary rituals do you find comforting or helpful?

Tuesday, January 26, 2016

Wedding Rings After a Spouse Dies

My mother, still wearing her wedding rings, overlooking my stepfather's casket at graveside.
This week, photographs of Celine Dion at her husband René Angélil's funeral show her removing their wedding rings from a "ceremonial pillow" atop his casket and then placing both of their wedding bands on her finger.

There are a variety of religious and ethnic customs surrounding funeral services and also with relation to what happens to the couple's wedding rings after death. 

Some of the traditions for the surviving spouse after the funeral/burial include:
  • Wearing your wedding ring on the ring finger of the opposite hand.
  • Wearing your wedding ring on the same hand (sometimes this will be for the remaining years of life, or until the time feels right to remove it, or until one has chosen to remarry.)
  • Wearing your wedding ring on a chain as a necklace pendant.
  • Discontinuing wearing any wedding rings.
When deciding what to do with a spouse's ring who has passed, this too can vary depending on each family and/or culture's traditions.
  • Some feel it's most proper for the spouse to be buried with his/her wedding ring that he/she always wore during life.
  • The ring may be kept and given later to a child or grandchild as a family heirloom.
  • The surviving spouse may decide to wear both rings (his/her own plus, the ring of the spouse who has passed); sometimes wearing both rings on the same finger.
Something to keep in mind is that if your spouse has chosen cremation, jewelry, like wedding rings, will melt down and become destroyed during the cremation process. Thus, you must decide if you wish for the ring to go with your spouse/partner when he/she is cremated.
Of course, most decisions are made by what is most comforting to each individual, and thus customs and traditions will vary from person to person. 

  • Have you any advice or comforting tips to offer a surviving spouse when it comes to wedding rings after the funeral? 
  • If a spouse/family member chose cremation, what did your family decide to do with his/her wedding ring(s)?