Gravestones Talk

Gravestones Talk

Gravestones talk. They tell stories, share history and even cause a little controversy from time to time. Some stones have a sense of humor, some share a message of hope and others portray a deep sense of loss and sorrow.

But how do those gravestones talk? How do those blank, stony tablets transform into beautifully unique memorials made to educate and intrigue generations yet to come? How do they evoke powerful emotions from strangers who approach them? And, most importantly, how do they acquire the stories they tell?

The Transformation

The transformation of a simple stone into a permanent and everlasting story begins with the basic carving of a loved one’s name and dates of life into the surface. The stone now tells the world that this person lived! But what about the rest of the story?  This person lived and….and what?

Perhaps this person was an artist, contributing to the world his or her visions of bright colors and shapes and figures. Maybe this person was an overcomer- breaking the unwanted barriers of a debilitating disease. Or, perhaps this person was dedicated to raising his or her family, ensuring their each and every need was met.

As the monument builder listens to family and friends describe this person and the story that will be told, he or she cannot help but to think through this wonderful life that was lived. The monument builder asks questions to better understand exactly how this person’s story should be told and marvels at the stories told.

A mixture of emblems, symbols, artwork and text are carefully selected to tell the story and worked into the surface of the stone. And then, when the last of the stone dust is blown away, the gravestone can finally talk.

To learn more about how you can visit with your loved ones about their life stories, please consider consulting our Have the Talk of a Lifetime guides and materials.

Alison Raymer, Certified Memorialist
Emerson Monument CO.
Monument Builders of North America

How to Create a Meaningful Conversation With Your Loved Ones


How to Create a Meaningful Conversation With Your Loved Ones

Losing my special needs brother and my mom to breast cancer has made me very aware that time and health are not guaranteed.

It has also created an urgency for me to live to the fullest and a desire to share meaningful experiences with others because those memories are PRICELESS!

This conversation is sponsored by The Funeral and Memorial Information Council (FAMIC.)  All opinions are my own. 

I’ve learned a lot of my people skills from dad and my grandpa, who never met at a stranger.

My dad has also never had a hard time with deep thoughts…the first time that he met my boyfriend/future husband he asked him if he had a personal mission statement.

(I don’t know many 19-year-olds with a personal mission statement, do you?)

It’s probably a combination of his upbringing, his work training in people skills, his faith, and life circumstances facing the death of his teenage special needs son and his wife that have caused him to add more weight to his words.

He’s been faced with those hard questions about end of life wishes way sooner than anyone should, which has made him more open to talking about how he wants to be remembered when he dies and what he wants his legacy to be.

It’s also made me think about life as a fragile gift and reflect on how valuable and precious our time is with each other.


Building the Framework to Capture Memories

By Jessica Grann, Assistant Vice President & Director of Corporate Communications for National Guardian Life Insurance Company (NGL) As you walk into my house you will notice the framed pictures of my family, friends and the many trips we’ve taken. The pictures I’ve lovingly and thoughtfully selected to keep on display show the memories I’ve created with my loved ones. You’ll see my daughters smiling and acting goofy, our wedding day and our four-legged family members. These memories show more than our past and our happy times, they represent the story of our lives. My home is truly a reflection of me and our family values. Every item in our house has been purposefully selected. But it goes deeper than the items located in our house, my husband and I specifically built our home to fit the needs of our family. During the building process, we spent hours picking out the house design, flooring, doors and the colors both inside and out. We discussed the location and prioritized what meant most to us. For many people, the home building process can be stressful and the details overwhelming, but I was invigorated at the aspect of creating a meaningful representation of my family. It might not seem like they go together, but I see similarities between the home building and decorating process and planning an end of life celebration. Just as a builder guides you through the steps involved, a funeral director guides and personalizes the end of life celebration. Both roles are there to make the process as easy and stress-free as possible during a challenging situation. Incorporating Talk of a Lifetime materials makes it easier to start the discussion. Recently, I sat down with my parents and used the Talk of a Lifetime Conversation Cards to learn more about each of them. For example, my father shared that his favorite memory of his grandmother was when they would bake a pineapple upside down cake because she would let him eat any leftover cherries. It was a fun memory that he’d never shared with me before. When we finished our conversation, I showed my parents how the Have the Talk of a Lifetime Workbook helped to capture their cherished moments. Our discussion gradually turned toward their end of life celebration, what they wanted it to look like and how to best reflect their personalities and values. My father is a lover of music. He wanted several songs played during his celebration of life. My mother is immensely proud of her family and asked that her family photos be displayed at her celebration. What surprised me was when they both shared how they wanted one song, in particular, played during their celebrations – Fire Bell Polka. It’s the one polka song that is played at every large family gathering. Everyone gets up and starts singing and dancing. I’m not sure I would have thought to play that specific song or include the mementos they wanted but now everything is documented to help us remember what my parents want when the time eventually comes. I can feel comfortable and confident that I’m respecting their wishes because we talked about the details that matter most to them. When I first started building my house I didn’t have every detail planned. The framework was there but I needed someone to guide me. Talk of a Lifetime provides an opportunity to capture memories and creates the framework for a special, personalized end of life celebration. You don’t need to have all the plans in place, but it identifies wants and expectations for how your loved ones want to be remembered.

Let’s get to the Root of It – learn the rich history of our Moms and Dads!

Spring and early summer reminds us to celebrate our Moms and Dads as Mother’s and Father’s Day are BIG reminders! During these celebrations and gatherings of friends and family we often share stories of days gone by, of past gatherings or family members no longer living, a memorable vacation or simply how things used to be. Every family has a rich history, full of fascinating stories and wonderful memories. While many anecdotes are lost along the way, you can preserve these tales for the future with just a little effort. It all starts with a great conversation – this will help us get to the root of our family history. A bit of directed conversation can unlock a wealth of information! Here are a few tips. Read through our recommendations, print out a Workbook,  and you will get to know more about your family and its roots through your Have the Talk with your family.

Tools of the Trade

Before you start your interview, it’s important to be prepared. While you should keep your focus on the conversation at hand, taking a few notes will help you keep names and dates straight. Many of the Talk of a Lifetime materials include space for notes, but tech-savvy individuals may record audio or video of the interview to remember every last detail. Consider typing up your notes after the interview is over, so you have a written record of what was said.

Getting Started

Start with the oldest generation of your family, like your grandparents. Let them know that you’re interested in recording the family history and ask them if they’d like to contribute. Most relatives will be overjoyed to bring out the photo album and recall their favorite memories!

Asking Questions

It’s a great idea to make a list of genealogy-related questions, but let the conversation flow organically as possible. Make sure that your relatives are comfortable during the process, and don’t push too hard on specifics. Often, exact dates and names get a little fuzzy with time, but any information is still worth jotting down. Here are some prompts to get you started:
  • What is your favorite memory from childhood?
  • What did you want to be when you grew up?
  • What historical events do you remember from your lifetime?
  • What was your parents’ best advice for you?
  • Who is the oldest relative you remember?

Recording the Present

While uncovering the past, you may learn more about your family in the present. As the conversation moves in different directions, don’t miss out on the chance to learn more about your interviewee! This can be the perfect time to introduce the Talk of a Lifetime. Speak to your relatives about their life stories and learn how they would like to be remembered for future generations.

Lunches with Dad

Wayne Stellmach IMSA and Wilbert Funeral Services

Ever since I’ve been aware of Have the Talk of a Lifetime, I have made it a point to have more talks with my family about what is important to me and what is important to them.  These weren’t “official” talks, so to speak, or positioned as “we should talk” events, but simply conversations on a deeper level.  It’s been enlightening and I have to admit rather fun to learn things about my family whom I thought I already knew pretty well!  This is especially true of my Dad, who is 88 years old and still sharp as a tack.  I’ve always had a great relationship with Dad, calling him often and grabbing lunch with him at least once a month, which gives us the opportunity to talk about all kinds of things one-on-one.  I’m fortunate in that the majority of my large family remains in the area so we do have family gatherings around holidays and special events, but because the family is so huge these are not good opportunities to talk on deeper levels with Dad (or anyone else).  Lunches with Dad are really our best talks.  What have I learned about him that I already did not know?

Well, there was the time he hitchhiked across the United States, back in the days when the roads and the world seemed a bit tamer and safer, but still this was a daring adventure!  And it might explain my own adventurous streak!

I also learned that the huge pine tree that towered over our family home yard was transplanted from a wealthy estate, with permission from the estate manager who was overseeing work that my Dad was doing as a young electrician.  Dad would spend time with the estate manager as he waited for the wealthy couple to leave the property for the day as they did not care to be disturbed by the workers who were installing a swimming pool, for which Dad was running electrical lines for heat and lighting.  One day he heard that they were thinning out some trees around the mansion and Dad had just built our family home (yes, built it himself) in an unincorporated prairie area 20 miles west of Chicago and he had no trees or other landscaping.  The only reason this story came out was because I was telling Dad over lunch about a wonderful meal and wine pairing my wife and I had just attended at this estate, now an equestrian center and banquet hall hosted in the mansion.  He went on to tell me that he did work there “back in the day”.  Fascinating threads of life that I never knew about!

One day we were talking about career paths – my children’s and my own – and Dad shared with me something I never knew.  Although he had eventually launched a successful electrical contracting business which ultimately employed several of my siblings, Dad said that while working as an electrician and manager at other firms earlier in his career, he was passed over for promotions several times.  But they were conscious decisions he made because he placed our family above his job.  He worked hard and put in a full day, but at the end of the work day, he left to be home with Mom and us 7 kids – and all the craziness that created!  He was told if he was to advance, he had to put in additional time, but he continued to decide that family truly came first.  As I said, he did pretty darned good for himself and for all of us but the things you take for granted…

So while seemingly examples of just random or idle chit-chat, I learned quite a bit from these talks about his lifetime.  His priorities, his spunkiness, his values, what matters most to him and his being willing to stick his neck out for the sake of his family.  Now that’s a Talk of a Lifetime!

I Hear You

I Hear You

Do you ever ask yourself why is it that some people are so easy to have a fun and engaging, even a deep conversation with when others it may be difficult to get the time of day out of them? Many times, the conversations that are the most difficult to start can be with those who are members of our family. Today, more than ever with miles that separate families and loved ones it is important to have conversations, to open the lines of communication. To get to know one another again! When you Have the Talk of a Lifetime, conversations about the things that matter most to your loved ones and how they can be remembered and honored in a meaningful way, it’s helpful to have some tips to get that conversation flowing. Try these suggestions to get the information you’re looking for:

Keep the Tone Friendly

Make sure you’re relaxed and smiling when you start your Talk of a Lifetime conversations. Make eye contact and respond to the other person to show that you’re listening, with a laugh, a nod, or an empathetic comment. If your overall body language is open – no crossed arms or staring off into space – then the other person will feel important and heard. These conversations may be in person or video chat, you may want to record some of your conversations.

Stay Positive

Some of the memories and discussions you have may be painful, get off to a good start with a joke or a family story that’s going to get a laugh. Even when you get to more serious topics, a positive attitude can go a long way toward understanding and coping with memories and other issues.

Small Talk is Good

Many people get impatient with small talk, but it’s an important step in communication. You may need to fill some awkward silences with comments about the weather or what you had for breakfast, but these are things anyone can relate to. Small talk is a good way to bond and move toward deeper conversations. Plus, small talk is a more natural way of starting a conversation, rather than just abruptly jumping right into a big topic like funerals and cremation.

Questions, Questions

The heart of Have the Talk of a Lifetime is engaging your loved one and asking questions about his or her life. What mattered in that person’s life? Let the topics lead you along the path. Questions are a normal part of conversations, and if you’re keeping things positive and the tone friendly, then information will start coming. Comments that affirm and reinforce the information someone is sharing are important, too. “Wow,” “I didn’t know that,” “Tell me more,” are the kinds of things you can say to encourage someone to keep talking.

Keep Your Mouth Closed and Your Ears Open

You’re really there to listen, so let the other person do all the talking. It’s easy, especially if you’re relating to what someone is telling you, to jump in with your own personal story or anecdote. You don’t want to take over the conversation, so try to focus on the other person and consciously try not to dominate. If the talk stalls, that’s a good time to relate something from your life experiences to get the conversation going again.

Have the Talk of a Lifetime

Now you’re ready to have the Talk of a Lifetime! These conversation tips can get you going, and our free workbook can help, too. 60% of people who used the Have the Talk of a Lifetime materials learned something new about a loved one! Visit  today and find out how to get your talk started today.

For Fans of Final Resting Places

Mark Allen, Executive Director and CEO International Order of the Golden Rule

Who doesn’t love a good cemetery? Cemeteries offer nature, sculpture and history rolled into one. Realizing that every person resting in a cemetery has a one-of-a-kind life story is an awe-inspiring thought. I always want to know more about how people lived their lives.

An entertaining way to learn about who’s behind some of those markers is to watch a series of YouTube vlogs entitled “Hollywood Graveyard.”  Its host, Arthur Dark, does an admirable job of noting the beauty of cemeteries as he presents facts about their notable inhabitants. Most of the graves he visits are those of famous people whom many adults will recognize: Michael Jackson, Elizabeth Taylor and Joan Rivers, for example. Others are celebrities from years gone by whose fame faded long ago. Ironically, it’s the people I’ve never heard of who often have the most interesting stories.

For instance, I’d never heard the name Ub Iwerks even thought I was quite familiar with his contributions to the entertainment industry.  Mr. Iwerks was Walt Disney’s right-hand man for many years. In addition to contributing to the creation of dozens of beloved animated characters, he is also credited with illustrating Mickey Mouse as we know and love him today.

Then there’s the even lesser-known Tamara De Treaux, an actress who stood 2’7” tall. Her diminutive stature kept her from being a leading lady, but it didn’t stop her from becoming part of movie history. She was the person inside the costume of “E.T.”

Even familiar people can have unfamiliar backgrounds. Baby Boomers may remember Julie London and Bobby Troup as the married couple who starred in the 1970s television series “Emergency.”  Prior to their stint as television stars, Julie recorded over 20 albums of pop and jazz standards which are now mainstays on online music sites and top radio stations. Her husband had a no less impressive career as a jazz composer and musician, writing the standards “(Get Your Kicks On) Route 66” and “Girl Talk.”

While cemeteries are historically the most common site for final resting places, today we have other options. Online tribute sites can tell a detailed story about a person’s life through photographs, videos, stories and mementos. QR codes linked to memorial websites can be attached to urns. Social media platforms offer conversion of people’s profiles into memorial sites.

Still, a physical location, whether it be an earth burial, urn or scattering garden, suggests a permanent connection. There’s something sad about having nowhere to go to pay tribute to people like former Beatle George Harrison, actor Christopher Reeves and John F. Kennedy, Jr. whose cremated remains were scattered in places unknown or inaccessible.

We don’t have to be famous to have input about how—and where–we’ll be remembered. Many helpful tools are available through the Have the Talk of a Lifetime program that make it easy and even fun to give this information to others. After all, sharing stories with young people, passing along cherished recipes or noting accomplishments that made us proud may be the most enduring way to keep memories of us alive.

New Year – New Dreams – New Resolution?

  Welcome 2019! Do you have a list of dreams and goals for the new year? Some have travel, many list visiting the gym and eating healthier high, there are many of other ways to make a significant change that will benefit both you and your loved ones. How? We encourage you to Have the Talk of a Lifetime as a New Year’s resolution. Read on to discover just what is the Talk of a Lifetime, and find out how you can strike up a conversation with your friends and family.

What is the Talk of a Lifetime?

The Talk of a Lifetime is a conversation that challenges you to think about your life’s priorities. What are your goals? What are your proudest moments in life? How do you want to be remembered after you are gone? As you speak about these important questions with your loved ones, you develop a deeper sense of their legacy – and your own as well!

How Will This Benefit Me and My Family?

While some people feel uncomfortable thinking about life and death, the Talk of a Lifetime is a stress-free way to discuss your legacy. Speaking about these issues openly and honestly can be a huge asset for your family. Plus, you can go at your own pace. Maybe you’d like to share a story about your favorite role model, pass advice to the next generation or leave generational information. Maybe you have specific wishes for memorialization after you are gone. No matter what you hope to express, the Talk of a Lifetime is the perfect venue for communication.

How Can This Be My Family Resolution?

You can make the Talk of a Lifetime a New Year’s Resolution, to benefit both yourself and your loved ones. By setting this discussion as a family resolution, it encourages bonding through a shared experience and commitment. When you have the Talk of a Lifetime, it’s a two-way street. Not only can you express your thoughts and feelings, but you’ll gain a deeper understanding of your family as well.

How Do I Learn More?

There are plenty of resources available to learn how to have the Talk of a Lifetime. From conversation cards to free workbooks, it’s easy to find the tools you need to communicate effectively! Do you still have questions? Feel free to Contact Us for any advice!

My Big Fat Greek…Heritage?

By Alison Wintheiser

Like many people, all of my grandparents died when I was extremely young. While I have photos of me sitting on my grandmother’s lap and a few of my grandfather’s old shirts in a trunk in my basement, I have almost no real memories of my grandparents. Sure, I’ve heard my parents tell stories here and there but I’ve never heard anything that made me feel truly connected to my grandparents.

Last month, I brought my Have the Talk of a Lifetime Conversation Cards to my parent’s house and we came across a card that asked, “did your heritage play a role in your upbringing?” To my surprise, my mom began telling me a story about how her and her siblings used to dress up in traditional Greek attire and march in their church’s parade every March 25th to celebrate Greek Independence Day.

While the story was incredibly fascinating, I was extremely confused because I’ve spent my whole life thinking I was 100% German descent. After I went home that night, I couldn’t stop thinking about what else I possibly didn’t know about my family and my heritage.

I had heard about those websites that can show you all about your ancestry and family tree but I always thought they were too expensive and too complicated to use. But after hearing the stories that my mom shared about her heritage, I knew I had to find out more. After doing some research, I stumbled across the Family History Library – the largest genealogical library in the entire world AND the database for The library has thousands of records dating as far back as the 1800’s and their main goal is just to help people discover more about who they are and where they come from.

It took me about 30 seconds to sign up and I began to start researching everything about my family’s history. The best part was that it was completely free. The website lets you upload pictures, enter information about other family members that may not be on the website yet, and connect with other members. I could search records based on names, marriages, death, age, location, and so much more. The Family History Library helped me discover so much information that I never knew was possible.

Turns out, my great grandparents moved to the United States from Greece when they got married so they could raise their family. I was even able to find my grandparents marriage certificate and find out that I have a great uncle that lives in Canada. My mom’s family lives all over the country so I never really got to see them growing up and when I did, we never really got a chance to talk about our heritage.

It’s funny how I was able to uncover an entire part of my family history just by asking one simple question from the Have the Talk of a Lifetime Conversation Cards. Now I have so much information about my family, heritage, and life. Just think about what you could uncover about your families background with just a few simple steps!

Turn a Meaningful Experience into the Talk of a Lifetime

By Dean Lambert, for the Pre-need Insurers Group of the Life Insurers Council

I have always had a deep appreciation for my Jewish heritage, but am not particularly religious. And so, it was surprising when my youngest daughter expressed an interest in Judaism and participating in a Birthright trip, which is a two-week Israel experience provided by a foundation for young adults who have a Jewish parent. My daughter told us that our son recommended that she go on her Birthright trip, something I didn’t realize until after she returned. It made sense; prior to his deployment to Afghanistan, he communicated that, should anything happen, he wished to be memorialized in a manner consistent with Jewish tradition. He intended to go on his Birthright trip following his enlistment in the Marines. Sadly, he died in 2015, which made my daughter’s visit even more meaningful.

She fell in love with Israel and became more committed to Judaism. Upon her return, she applied for a teaching fellowship there starting this fall. Once she was accepted, it was decided that my wife, my eldest daughter and I would accompany her to Israel. So off we went last month, for a two-week trip to the Holy Land. We explored the religious, historic and architectural wonders in this country, a fulcrum point of world affairs for more than 2,000 years. Everyone I know who had been there and who was surprised that I had not, said I absolutely must go. They were correct. The experience was amazing, of course, but not only because of the things we did and saw. And not because of the deep meaning and connection I felt to the country of my people.

What made the experience so amazing is that my family was with me, who were able to gain insights into my background and how important my Jewish heritage is to me. My wife is not Jewish and did not know much about the religious and historical aspects of Judaism and Israel. Throughout our 30-plus-year marriage I sometimes talked about my family members lost in the Holocaust, but never delved into their stories very deeply.

On this “bucket list” experience, my family was present as I found the city that is my grandfather’s namesake, “Lemberg,” among the Valley of the Communities, a massive 2.5-acre monument commemorating more than 5,000 Jewish communities which existed for hundreds of years but today, in most cases, nothing remains of them as a result of the Holocaust. Our tour guide took us to places many hear about on the news, such as the Golan Heights and West Bank. It became very clear to my wife and daughters, the complicated feelings I have about the events that resulted in the creation of the State of Israel, and the complex state of affairs that exists in the region today.

It wasn’t all about me, though. The land holds intense significance to Christians and Muslims as well. From the place where Jesus was crucified and buried, to the site of the first and second Jewish Temples on which now stands a Muslim mosque, we talked about the importance of these religious and archaeological sites, and how this experience affected their perspective on things. I am particularly proud of what my daughters gained from the experience, and how it might shape their social and world views.

The trip was also not all about the heavy stuff. We experienced some fun and amazing things, too, such as rafting down the Jordan River, floating in the Dead Sea (can’t help but float, because the water is 35% saltier than any ocean), shopping in centuries-old markets in Jerusalem and Tsfat (the birthplace of monotheistic religions) and relaxing on a pristine beach in Tel Aviv. This was, to say the very least, an event of a lifetime that I am grateful to have shared with my loved ones. I also feel grateful that my children drew me closer to my faith; something that likely would not have happened since my parents and grandparents are no longer around to influence this important part of who I am.

My big takeaway is, had we not gone on this amazing trip, my daughters and wife may never have known the true extent of my connection to my heritage and faith. I never really discussed it with any authentic emotion. Conversely, we likely would never have discussed the things we did about the past and present, or the future. I would urge people not to wait to talk about things that matter. Don’t just dream about the big trip — take it! Whether you’ve read a book or watched a movie that caused you to think or feel a certain way, or if you’ve been on a trip or experienced something meaningful, use it as a way to start a conversation about what’s important to you. It will become part of your story — your Talk of a Lifetime.