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The Power of Conversation



By: Wayne Stellmach, IMSA and Wilbert Funeral Services

Thinking the other day about the merits of Having the Talk of a Lifetime with loved ones, I suddenly had a flashback to 1974. I was in my final year of undergraduate studies at Northern Illinois University in DeKalb, IL and working various jobs to put myself through college. One of those jobs was as an orderly at the county nursing home, a job that certainly had its share of challenges but paid a bit more than my other gig flipping burgers at McDonald’s. Oh, I also played in a rock band in the local clubs, but as much as I loved performing, I quite unexpectedly experienced deeper rewards working in the nursing home…and thinking back now, it was because of the very same dynamics and power of Having the Talk.

As you might expect, there was a lot of mundane work and heavy lifting involved as an orderly in a nursing home. But there were also opportunities to talk with those for whom I was caring. I remember Virginia, a spunky 90+ year old who worked a farm with her husband and spoke of the love she had for the animals, the land, and fun-filled evenings playing Euchre with family and friends. She was still a spitfire with a mischievous sense of humor and I could envision how she must have been the life of the party. She was now alone in the world but she wasn’t one for self-pity and loved to talk about politics and hear about my world outside her four walls.

I remember Matt who couldn’t have been more than 40, largely bedridden due to advancing muscular dystrophy but having a loving mom who would visit often and make sure his small refrigerator was stocked with beer. Every evening, Matt was allowed one beer and when I was on duty, I was asked to sit with him, pop open his beer and assist him with his daily indulgence and brief escape into normalcy. At first uncomfortable, I came to anticipate those times. In halting style, Matt would talk about his earlier life as an accountant that played to his obsession with order…before disorder threw his life upside-down, but he never said that. Instead, he would talk about the Chicago Cubs and Chicago Bears, and we’d talk music and bands. We were both avid Beatles fans…his favorite song was Yesterday.

And I remember Harold, probably in his early 60s, who also required substantial help getting into and out of bed, bathing and eating. Most others thought Harold was somewhat cranky and incommunicative, but he talked to me. He had been a worker at the local Del Monte canning operation until ALS wreaked its havoc on him. He worked nights and still tended to prefer evenings, loving to read books, mostly fiction but also, he loved some of the classics such as Moby Dick and Great Expectations. We talked about murder mysteries and Captain Ahab. His family didn’t come visit very often, but he spoke with pride about his son who was building a decent life in the financial services industry.

My job never allowed me a lot of time for these conversations, but they were cumulative over the course of the 9 months that I worked at the nursing home. I slowly saw the mosaic of these peoples’ lives through snippets of conversations. Only snippets, but precious talks to them and in retrospect to me. We connected. I learned what was important to them. I learned that living graciously with what gifts you had, despite hardships, was preferable to complaining. I saw how much they wished they could talk some more…me too. And when I had to say my goodbyes before I graduated and left that little part-time job, I was stunned to see, of all people, the hard-nosed Harold cry.

All because we talked. Take the time to talk to your loved ones. Have the Talk of a Lifetime.

What to Know About Your Loved Ones End-of-Life Plans

 

By: Jim Miller, The Savvy Senior

  Most adult children don’t know much about their elderly parents’ end-of-life plans, but they need to. Getting up to speed on their finances, legal documents and funeral decisions is important because some day you might have to help them handle their financial affairs or care, or execute their estate and funeral plan after they die. Without this information, your job becomes much more difficult. Here are some tips that can help you become better informed.   Start by having a thoughtful, direct conversation with your parents. If you’re uncomfortable talking to them about this topic, use this article as a prompter. If you have siblings, it’s a good idea to get them involved too so your parents will know everyone is concerned. When you have your talk, you’ll need to find out where your parents keep key documents and how they want certain things handled when they die or if they become incapacitated. Here are three areas to focus on.

Legal Documents

Because fewer than half of Americans have prepared a will, it’s very important to find out if your parents have an updated will or trust and where it’s located. Also, find out if they have a power of attorney document that names someone to handle their financial matters if they become incapacitated, as well as an advance directive, which includes a living will and a medical power of attorney that spells out their wishes regarding their end-of-life medical treatment. If they don’t have these documents prepared, now’s the time to make them.

Financial Records

Find out where your parents keep their important financial information including their bank and investment records, insurance policies, retirement and/or pension benefits, tax returns and bills, along with any property deeds, titles, loans or lease agreements. In addition, get the names and contact information of their lawyer, accountant, broker, tax preparer and insurance agents so you can call them to help you sort things out if needed.

Funeral Plans

Knowing your parents’ funeral plans or preferences in advance can significantly reduce your stress of making these arrangements at an emotional time after their death. Plus it ensures their final farewell will be exactly what they want. Whether you’re helping your parents pre-plan their funerals or are gathering information so you can do it for them later, your parents will need to make a number of decisions such as; whether they want to be buried or cremated; whether they prefer a formal, religious funeral or a simple memorial service; and what music they want to be played at their service? For a more detailed list of funeral and memorial planning questions, download the Checklist. This will help your parents determine what they want, and how they want to be remembered.


About Jim Miller

Jim Miller is the creator of Savvy Senior (savvysenior.org), a syndicated information column for boomers and seniors that is published in more than 400 newspapers and magazines nationwide.   Jim is also a contributor to NBC’s “Today” show and KFOR-TV in Oklahoma City, author of The Savvy Senior: The Ultimate Guide to Health, Family and Finances for Senior Citizens (Hyperion, 2004), creator of the Senior Newswire service (seniornewswire.org), and voices a one-minute radio tip of the week that is broadcast in more than 1,000 senior centers and assisted living facilities via Golden Age Entertainment.   Jim has been featured in numerous high-profile publications, including Time magazine, USA Today and The New York Times, and has made multiple appearances on CNBC, CNN, Retirement Living Television and national public television

Funeral Directors Aren’t So Scary

Mark Allen, Executive Director and CEO

International Order of the Golden Rule

  When I was in elementary school, I discovered that one of my classmates was the child of a funeral home owner. I pitied this attractive, popular girl for having a parent that my 8-year old brain imagined to be a beady-eyed, sallow-skinned man who lurked around a cobwebbed funeral home on dark and stormy nights. One day she invited me to a birthday party at her home. I accepted despite dreading the thought of meeting her creepy father. To my surprise, on the day of her party, a man resembling Will Ferrell, not Bela Lugosi, greeted me at the door. He was funny, charming and warm. This was a funeral director? I couldn’t believe that all those Hollywood movies got it so wrong.

That early experience paid off a few years later when I had the opportunity to work for a trade association for independent funeral homes. I’ve now had the pleasure of meeting thousands of funeral directors. Rarely do I meet one who isn’t friendly, compassionate and caring, yet many adults still describe funeral directors as…well, scary. I believe this perception is a reflection of our attitudes toward death rather than a judgment of people who work in funeral homes. After all, several national polls consistently rank funeral directors in the top 10 of most trusted professionals. I’ve learned that they come in all sizes, shapes, colors and personalities. I also know that caring for families during the worst days of their lives is a calling, a 24/7 lifestyle, and evidence of their deeply-held desire to help others, even when that means sacrificing holidays, birthdays and anniversaries with their own families.

Today many people are unable to articulate why funerals are valuable. No one has explained to them that rites and ceremonies have tremendous power to help families cope with loss, regardless of how traditional or unusual those ceremonies are. Given this lack of information, it’s natural to choose the easiest path. For many, that means skipping any type of funeral ceremony. For others, it means throwing a party that has little connection to the person whose life is being honored and all but ignores the healing value of expressing grief among friends and loved ones. After all, who wants to be a downer at a party?

Acknowledging grief through gatherings that are meaningful to both the deceased and survivors is an essential step toward recovery. Have the Talk of a Lifetime was created to help families and friends start talking about what is most meaningful to them and how they’d like people to reflect on their lives. Not only does Have the Talk offer resources to start these conversations, but it also provides access to a network of funeral and memorialization professionals who are committed to using their expertise to help families create one-of-a-kind ceremonies. With proper guidance and planning, loved ones often find comfort in these ceremonies long after they’ve ended.

While the subject of death will always be at least a little scary for most of us, getting to know a funeral director is not at all scary. In fact, you’ll most likely find knowing them to be comforting and reassuring. Take a moment to find a Talk of a Lifetime expert in your area.

Why I Decided to Have the Talk of a Lifetime with My Mom

By Sarah Loghry, for the Pre-need Insurers Group of the Life Insurers Council

As I’ve gotten older, I have realized that there are a lot of things about my extended family that I don’t know. Being the oldest child of my grandparents’ youngest daughter and the fifth of seven grandkids leaves a lot of room for little family facts to slip by. Just this weekend, I finally learned how I was related to someone I have heard about my entire life. Before then, I never fully understood why we planted flowers at their gravesite each Memorial Day.

As these little bits of information come out about people in my life, I’ve realized that I don’t know many details about my mom and dad’s lives before I was born. I’ve heard a few college stories here and there and stories with messages in them that pertain to my current stage of life, but I didn’t feel like I knew who they were.

Luckily, with a little convincing and the promise of taking her out to lunch, my mom agreed to play the Have the Talk of a Lifetime Conversation Cards game from the Funeral and Memorial Information Council (FAMIC).

Through their consumer awareness campaign, FAMIC provides resources to funeral professionals and community members from all over the country, to sit down with their families and talk. With a tagline like, “Life. There’s a lot to talk about,” it’s no wonder their resources are bringing families together from all walks of life.

The first question my mom and I had the chance to answer was, “What event(s) in our nation’s history had an impact on you and how?” My mom’s immediate answer surprised me. She said that the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001, impacted her the most. She discussed how she found out about the attacks and how the aftermath affected our family when we traveled to Disney World three months later.

Since I was in elementary school when it happened, I didn’t truly understand the event until I was much older. Even so, we had never talked about why that moment in American history had impacted both of us so much. In my young age, I had no idea that there was a reason Disney World was so empty or why my dad, who works in safety and security, was on high alert during the entire vacation.

My mom is a strong lady. Not much can rattle her or my dad. However, one thing that she said during the video will stick with me: “That day, I just needed everyone to be close.”

My parents and I have taken on a few other questions from the deck as well. I feel as though I’m learning more about who they are as people, instead of just as parents. Since I started at Homesteaders, I have been much more open to discussing end-of-life wishes with my family, and these cards are just an extension of learning about how my parents want to be remembered when they’re gone.

A Walk in the Woods

By: Donald Calhoun, CM

Monument Builders of North America

Walking through the heavy snow, my breathing was heavy and my mouth dry.  The trees were draped with a glistening thick layer of snow, hanging like tantalizing frosting on a Christmas cupcake. The woods were densely populated with tall white pines, maple and several mighty oak trees.  I was following a single set of footprints. I wondered who they belonged too? I had the intention of this being a peaceful, sacred walk. I wanted to find a greater sense of self. My best friend strongly encourages me to try this deeper meditation crap. To be honest, I sucked at it. My life often seemed like a kaleidoscope of chaotic forces of energy.  Daily, I faced a constant bombardment of drama, trauma and sheer volumes of information. I often felt like my life was akin to being in a blizzard, and I was always navigating in whiteout conditions. The crazy reality was that for the most part, I enjoyed a fast-paced, crazy lifestyle. I had rarely been a dude to sit on the beach, meditate or even pray.  My form of spirituality and serenity was akin to the halftime show at the Super Bowl.  Who knows, I wanted to surprise myself and find peace, tranquility and understanding on this walk.   About a mile into the woods, the path had split.  The footprints lead to the right where there were more rolling hills and thick brush. To the left there was an unexpected, hidden and yet inviting little path.  It was inviting because of a little cross on top of a chapel peaked through the window of the forest, and it was visible off in the distance.  I questioned if I should have taken the path less traveled or follow the footprints?

The writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson jumped into my conscious mind, and I decided I had to go with the path less traveled.  I had always loved the unexpected and the adventures of discovery.  My journey had led me through a few sloughs and even some relatively steep hills.  After about 2 miles, a little stone chapel revealed its historic stone beauty.  The chapel must have been easily over a century old.  I walked quietly up to the front of the chapel and slowly peaked inside.  I said: “Hello God?  Are you in here?”

A rush of warmth had hit my face.  The sun peaked through the clouds and danced its radiance upon my face. I felt that I was no longer alone.  I had walked into a sacred space of souls.  I felt the love of my mother in my heart.  I heard my father saying: “My My Mercy Mercy”.  I felt the emotion of love as a dear friend played the piano. I remember thinking it was odd that a Lutheran played the song: “Mary, have you heard”.  Then there was the horrible smell of my Grandmother’s raisin cookies, that I loathed.  I heard my brother say: “Why be good, when you can be great”.

Do you believe in Heaven?  Can you imagine the souls of centuries surrounding, hugging and embracing you? Our subconscious minds allow us to dream.  Faith tells us it is possible.  We have it with our imagination and belief system to experience the greatest reunion ever experienced.  We can have immense and intense feelings of love, joy and connection that fill our hearts.  Our soul can become radiant and bursting with connection to our spiritual friends and family.

Grief is a necessary and painful part of our earthly journey. Let’s face it, it really sucks to lose someone we love.  When someone we love dies we will never get to manifest their physical being again. We won’t be able hug, touch, smell, feel, laugh, cry, or hold them again.  But guess what, at least for me, they can fully remain alive in our hearts, spirit and soul.  For example, my mother died in 1979, however, I fully believe she is with me in an emotional, intellectual and spiritual way.  I can still honor and celebrate her memory when I incorporate her spirit into my life, act in harmony with her belief system, manifest her teachings and lessons into my life.  I consider it an act of honor, privilege, and conscious choice.

We may not fully understand Heaven.  Faith is the belief in something that is not immediately provable.  However, I can’t imagine a life without faith.  We have to have faith in each other and in God.  Without faith it would be like a meaningless walk in the woods.

Let’s all take a moment to remember those who have impacted our life’s journey.  Remember to Have the Talk of a Life Time with those you love and care about. Thank you for joining me on our walk.  It was so wonderful to share this time together.

By the way, who was the most influential person in your life? Mine was my mommy!

Have the Talk in 2018

So what are you hoping to accomplish in 2018? While some vow to work out more or eat healthier, there are plenty 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 deep conversation that challenges you to really 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, so you can pass their advice to the next generation. 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.

Why Should This Be My Family Resolution?

When you make the Talk of a Lifetime a New Year’s Resolution, you benefit both yourself and your loved ones. Setting a family resolution 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!

Why Do We Establish Memorials?

People around the world have created memorials to honor those who have departed. While there has been a noticeable evolution of memorials over time, this ritual has persisted for centuries. So, why do we establish memorials in the present day? Some create memorials to grieve their own loss, others create memorials to honor the life of the deceased. No matter the reason, establishing these tributes can be an immensely healing process.

Importance of Memorials

While it’s true that memorials represent a life lost, they also represent the importance of that individual to the living. Memorials highlight the bonds that that tied this person to society, and cement that person’s place in history. Think of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C. or Mount Rushmore National Memorial in South Dakota. Though these memorials were created generations ago, they remain relevant even to the present day. Memorials can help share a legacy, however big or small, for decades to come.

Choosing a Memorial

Just as every life is different, every memorial is a little bit different as well. Consider the personality of the person that you want to remember. Did they have a favorite hobby, like fishing or gardening? Did they give to a particular charity or cause? As you go through your favorite memories, consider reaching out to friends and family for extra ideas. You may be surprised by what inspiration you find when you combine minds.

And while you’re investigating the legacy of your loved one, you might want to take the time to think about your own. What motivates you in life? What lessons do you hope to pass onto the next generation? Consider having the Talk of a Lifetime with those close to you, so you can express how you want to be remembered in the future.

Types of Memorials

Memorials come in many forms. Ancient civilizations created grand monuments for the deceased, while modern memorials may be smaller, or even completely virtual. Here are just a few examples of modern memorials:

●Planting a tree or creating a small memorial garden is a wonderful way to honor a nature lover.

●Online memorials can be shared with friends and family all over the world. Add images, videos, and words of remembrance with just a click.

●Public spaces, like universities and parks, often offer tributes for those departed. Speak with the organizers about purchasing an engraved bench, brick, or plaque to celebrate your loved one.

●Visit the Monument Builders of North America website for inspiring ideas for beautiful monuments to memorialize your loved ones.

Have the Talk of a Lifetime Today

How do you want your life to be honored? Have the Talk of a Lifetime today and let your family know how you want to be remembered. Visit the resources page and download free materials such as the Activity Guide and Workbook which will help you begin your conversations!

Creating Meaningful Gifts For the People You Love

Artwork

There’s nothing like giving or receiving a truly special gift. While gift cards may be nice sometimes, they just can’t compare to something that’s been designed especially for someone. A meaningful keepsake can be almost anything – something to wear or display, or maybe just something to keep in a special place. And, a unique gift is exactly the kind of conversation piece that can help you Have the Talk of a Lifetime. Consider one of these creative ideas:

Annual Letters

Every year at the same time, write a letter to your child and include some money in the envelope. Stow them all away until he or she turns 18, and then give them as a gift. What a fun surprise to read these notes from the past! You could even do them for other family members.

Unique Quilts

You can create a quilt out of all sorts of memorabilia – baby clothes, athletic jerseys, t-shirts – whatever you want. The end result is a creative way to show off cherished memories. Websites like Project Repat, Campus Quilt, and others can make the process a snap.

Photo Collages

Grab up some old photos and cut out the best parts for a framed collage. The larger the better! Or maybe you have some polaroid pictures that you can arrange in a heart shape on a white background to frame. Be as creative as you’d like!

Shadow Boxes

Collect ticket stubs or other papers to display inside a shadow box, a beautiful way to hang onto them in an organized fashion. You could write a letter on the backing for an extra sentimental touch.

Personalized Jewelry

Thanks to the power of the internet, you can easily find lockets and other personalized pieces that are perfect for moms, grandmothers, and sisters. Whether it’s with pictures, poetry, or names, jewelry will always be worn proudly.

Remember When? Box

Think about writing down some of your favorite memories on beautiful scrolled paper and placing them inside a box titled, Remember When? This gift will keep on giving, because you can keep adding memories down the road.

Don’t Wait to Make a Meaningful Gift

The sooner you make a loved one a creative, meaningful gift, the more time there is to enjoy it. These kinds of gifts spark memories, and memories make it easy to start the Talk of a Lifetime. To find out more about Have the Talk of a Lifetime, Contact Us today.

5 Ways to Honor a Loved One During the Holidays

Burning Candle

When you and your family are grieving a loss, the holiday season can be especially challenging. But, the holidays can also mark a wonderful opportunity to remember those who have passed. In this guide, we go through 5 ways to honor a loved one during the holidays. These new traditions serve as a way to cherish those memories of the past, while sharing those moments with future generations.

1. Light a Candle

Many cultures around the world use the lighting of candles to pay respects to the departed. The shining light can represent the spirit of those you love, so you can include them in your celebrations long after they are gone. Consider picking up a special candle in a favorite color or scent, or pick up an LED candle as a flameless alternative.

2. Prepare a Special Meal

Many holidays, like Hanukkah and Christmas, involve a festive feast that’s full of recipes handed down for generations. This is a great chance to dig out those old family recipe cards. Gather the family to make grandma’s prize-winning pie, or take turns preparing your father’s beloved roast recipe. While gathered, encourage your family to reflect on their own lives and the impact of loved ones. We call this “The Talk of a Lifetime.” Learn more about having this conversation here.

3. Volunteer for a Cause

The holidays are a wonderful time to spread good cheer to all, so think about volunteering for a cause that was important to your loved one. You can help out a community food bank or create holiday cards for a local hospital. The goodwill that you receive from volunteering with your family can make any holiday brighter and more meaningful.

4. Create a Display

If you and your family are creative, you can create a holiday display about favorite memories of your loved one. Dedicate a small space of a room to photographs, letters, artwork, and other mementos that remind you of our favorite times with family. Tech-savvy thinkers can also make memorial videos or multimedia projects to share during the holidays.

5. Decorate the Gravestone

Many families gather at the gravestones of their loved ones over the holidays to pay respects as a group. While you can gather in silence or rehash your favorite stories, some people enjoy the process of decorating the gravesite. Flowers, paper cutouts, painted stones, or even small ornaments can bring festivity to the final resting place.

Have the Talk of a Lifetime Today

How will you want to be honored? Have the Talk of a Lifetime today and let your family know how you want to be remembered. Visit the resources page and download free materials such as the Activity Guide and Workbook which will help you begin your conversations!

Learn the Top Three Family Activities that Spark the Talk of a Lifetime

Family Picnic Whenever you get together with loved ones, your day gets a little bit brighter. Whether grabbing a coffee or talking on the phone, a friendly chat is always a welcomed treat. But, the holiday season marks the perfect opportunity to do something extra special. We’ve compiled a list of fun family activities that spark the Talk of a Lifetime. Feel free to round up your friends and family to create new memories while having a blast.

What is the Talk of a Lifetime?

Life is full of casual conversations and small talk, but the Talk of a Lifetime provides a unique opportunity to dig deeper. When you have the Talk of a Lifetime with family, you ask open-ended questions that encourage self-reflection. You’ll learn about your family’s wishes and dreams, and what they hope to leave as a legacy. Ask your grandmother about her favorite memories from childhood, or ask your father about the one piece of advice that he’s carried with him for life. These simple questions can reveal a great deal about your loved ones. You can find more information by visiting the Have the Talk of a Lifetime website.

What Activities Will Spur Conversation?

We’re glad you asked! Here are our favorite hands-on activities that are suitable for the whole family. Consider adding a few to the schedule for your next holiday celebration!
  1. A Gratitude Tree is a simple activity that can make a big impact. Gather fallen twigs from the yard with your family, or make your own colorful stems with pipe cleaners. Attach a small piece of construction paper at the top of each branch and instruct each guest to write something that makes them grateful. Arrange all of the contributions in a vase or other container.
  2. Make a Holiday Time Capsule to keep a record of all your favorite family memories. Get a sealed container and load it up with family recipes, newspaper clippings, photographs, and anything else you’d like. Seal the capsule and tuck it away in a safe spot until you’re ready to relive the past.
  3. Create a Holiday Memories Tablecloth to brighten up your holiday feast. Pick up a plain white tablecloth or runner, and set out a bin of multicolored pens. Guests can take turns writing down favorite memories from the year and sharing these memories with others.

Have the Talk of a Lifetime

Activities are a great way to spark the Talk of a Lifetime. Have the Talk of a Lifetime provides several great tools to help families have their Talk of a Lifetime. Visit www.talkofalifetime.org/resoures for resources including a Holiday Guide that will help you and your family Have the Talk over the holidays!