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One of These Days, is None of These Days

Now-vs-Later

Wayne Stellmach Director of Marketing Wilbert Funeral Services, Inc. IMSA Board Member

So here I am in the funeral service industry and still haven’t had The Talk of a Lifetime with my 85-year-old dad – or with my own children. It’s certainly not because I avoid thinking about or talking about death, like many families do. It’s not because I am unaware or in denial that death can come unexpectedly. I am reminded daily of the capriciousness of death and knowing that, I am anxious to have The Talk. So why haven’t I? Because of daily life. Work. Family events. Commitments. Sure, even some fun. Sound familiar? Of course it does…those of you who serve families directly hear it all the time. It’s called procrastination. But I’m going to beat myself up even further with a more blunt word: foolishness. Last year, I lost a friend who received a sudden diagnosis of cancer and died within three months. Even facing a Stage IV diagnosis, he and his wife were so caught up with reckoning and treatments that they never had The Talk. The day he died, she called me in tears because she found she really didn’t know how he would like to be remembered, what his favorite childhood memories were and asked me if he and I ever talked about those things – as well as his preferences for final disposition and funeral services. You know, The Talk. The talk that he should have had with his wife. And the talk that I never had with him either, as I regretfully told her. She felt lost, her heart-wrenching loss of her husband compounded further because she had no idea of how he wanted to be remembered. Sure, she could draw on their 20 years of marriage, but there were 40 years before that. So it’s high time I have The Talk with my Dad. Fortunately, we’re very close and I know many of his life stories, his passions and loves, the fact that his singular point of pride is that he raised seven children in an atmosphere of love and support and has lived to see how his grandchildren have been raised similarly, in large part because we all remembered how Dad and Mom did it. I guess you might say we have had the “pre-talk” of a lifetime. But there’s more. And I need to involve my brothers and sisters and step-mom (we missed the opportunity for The Talk with my mom who was taken abruptly many years ago). He’s not getting any younger…nor are we. His birthday is in a few weeks…what better time to hear his stories, share some laughs and memories. And it’s time that I sit down with my own kids and have My Talk of a Lifetime. My wife’s Talk of a Lifetime. Enough procrastination. Enough foolishness. But guess what has finally motivated me to take action? Have the Talk of a Lifetime®. Even working in the funeral industry for the past four years was not sufficient to place that bug in my ear that I need to have The Talk. I needed to be told in black-and-white. And that’s what we all need to continue to do with everyone we touch. It’s so important. After all, it’s the Talk of a Lifetime.

Empathy

empathy

By Don Calhoun, CM

Monument Builders of North America

Experts say that communication is approximately 80% non-verbal.  The reality is that what we say is not nearly as important has how we say it.  The moment we walk into the house after a hard day at work, it is easy and extremely fast to ascertain if your spouse, or children are happy, mad, depressed or excited.  When your love muffin says: “I’m fine”, it does not take a secret decoder ring to figure out their mood.  All too often their non-verbal communication tells you that had best zip your upper lip and head for the fallout shelter! Empathy is the ability to understand, share and communicate the feelings of another.  Feelings are an emotional state or reaction and are not verbal.  Compassion, empathy and the capacity to love are much more difficult than one would think.  From an early age, we are actually conditioned to hide our feelings, be strong, and not be vulnerable.  Feelings are all too often evaluated as a sign of weakness in our culture. The important question to ask ourselves is what can we do to grow, develop and enhance in our capacity to show and demonstrate empathy?  Based on common human observation we could easily conclude that either you have it or you don’t.  Given the reality that the majority of empathic feelings are communicated by non-verbal behavior, it becomes nearly impossible to hide. For wisdom on the subject, we only need to look to the teachings every Sunday in church, or to the great philosophers in history.  The main lesson is “we get what we give.”  We give love to get love.  We must trust others to gain their trust.  We must be a caring, loving, understanding, and compassionate person to be empathic. The first step to developing stronger empathic skills is to start paying attention to others feelings and emotional states.  The next step is learning how to better communicate that understanding.  Have the Talk of a Lifetime® and listen with the intent to understand, and not to formulate an answer or solution. This requires that we are more open, receptive and vulnerable in our human interaction.  We all want to matter in the world, to make a difference; especially among our family and friends.  Remember that sometimes the best communication technique is silence, or a soft touch, or genuine eye contact. grieving people Whatever we do, we should not get hung up on figuring out just the perfect words to say in moments of heavy emotion. We will only make ourselves nervous and self-conscious, and then as a result say the absolute wrong thing.  When that happens, we are an open book of un-feeling, non-empathic, non-compassionate and non-loving idiots. The goal should be about developing a genuine, honest connection with others, in the desire to improve the human condition.  Dr. Stephen Covey called this interdependence.  Jesus called it love your neighbor as yourself.  John Lennon wrote the song “Imagine.”  Personally, I just try to remember that the most precious gift that I can give any one, is my time.  This present requires being present. Have the talk of a lifetime. It can make the difference of a lifetime.

Just Cremate Me

Just Cremate Me

By Barbara Kemmis, Executive Director

Cremation Association of North America

One morning, my dad called me at work, which was a first. I was immediately concerned that bad news was coming, however it turned out my parents had made a resolution to “get their affairs in order.” They were starting the process of prearranging their funerals and updating all of their end-of-life documents. My dad’s plan was to have everything in order before I visited in a couple of months and was calling to confirm the funeral home he had chosen. The funeral home my parents chose is well respected in the community and displays the Cremation Association of North America (CANA) logo on its website and door. The crematory operators are all certified, which means they had gone to extra lengths in professional education. So I asked the President of the funeral home why he sought this designation for his business and staff, and what it means to the community he serves. He said, “Our affiliation is important to me and to the families we serve, because it demonstrates our commitment to the highest standards of integrity and professionalism.” When I visited my parents, we went to the bank and spent time reviewing documents – living wills and worksheets from the funeral home. Not surprisingly, my mom had planned a lovely funeral for herself at which her many friends from church and her social clubs, former students and others could gather together. My mom is a social creature known for her party planning. My dad’s worksheet simply stated, “Just cremate me.” He explained that he didn’t want us to be sad or mourn him. He didn’t want a big deal made about his passing. He would be in heaven and we would see him again when it was our time.

How many times have you had the same thought or a similar conversation with your friends or loved ones?

My mom and I looked at each other and then looked away. I said what she couldn’t at that moment. “I love you, Dad, and I will mourn you and I will cry when you die. I need to be surrounded by family and your friends and former students. I need to hear about the practical jokes you pulled in the classroom and the stories of your leadership in the church and community. I want to respect your wishes, but I will mark your passing. I love you too much not to.” It wasn’t until I was on the plane heading home that I realized we had started the Talk of a Lifetime. I resolved at that moment to continue the conversation, because my father deserved more than “just cremate me.” After a recent death in the family my father raised the subject again. I hadn’t attended the funeral, but my father’s impressions weren’t positive. My dad is still a modest man, a faithful Christian who lives his values and counts his proudest achievement as having instilled those values in his children. It was through a mediocre memorial experience that he realized in order for those values to be reflected at his funeral, we needed to talk openly about how he wanted to be remembered. This wasn’t prideful, it would instead be his last act of faith. Using the wonderful Have the Talk of a Lifetime materials available on this website can help your family have the conversation. You won’t regret it. Barbara Kemmis is the executive director of the Cremation Association of North America located in Wheeling, Illinois.

Share Your Journey

Life is a Journey

Mike Mims

Cherokee Casket Company

Over the years, I have enjoyed reading many writings of Ralph Waldo Emerson. One of my favorite quotes of his is, “Life is a journey, not a destination.” I always follow that quote with “Enjoy the trip.” Ever since I was a young boy, I have always approached each day as a new and exciting adventure of discovery. Throughout my sixty-plus years, I have met many people and developed wonderful friendships. I have also had some interesting jobs, crazy hobbies, and wonderful travel ventures. All of those who know me know that I work hard, and I play hard. Enjoying every moment as if it were my last. I’m always telling those who will listen, “I live every day as if it were my last, because one of these days I will be right.” Everyone has a life journey worth sharing. But often times our lives are too full of busy schedules to take time to share our journeys. In the book The Magic Mountain, Thomas Mann wrote, “A man’s dying is more a survivor’s affair than his own.” As a minister, I have presided over many funerals. Too many times I’ve felt that the services were very similar when it came to music, order of service, and content. Every life is different. Every life is special. Every life is worth living and sharing. So every service of remembrance should be different, reflecting the life that is to be remembered. By sharing your life’s journey, it changes the “survivor’s affair” to a celebration of your life as you would want to be remembered. So how would you like to be remembered? Why not take a day and think of your life journey. Then share that journey. It may not be easy, but Have the Talk of a Lifetime can help get that thought process started. Remember it is your life’s journey, and it is worth sharing. Life is a journey, not a destination…Enjoy the trip!

#Havethetalk

HaveTheTalk

By Rob Paterkiewicz, CAE, MBA

Executive Director

Selected Independent Funeral Homes

In this day of Facebook selfies, viral video clips and trending Twitter Hashtags, it seems a bit ironic that we have built a consumer education program that encourages people to talk to each other about their lives! One might assume that these talks already take place. Sadly, in many cases, there is nowhere near enough discussion going on before a loved one dies. The “Have the Talk of a Lifetime” campaign encourages us to talk and share what matters in our lives with family and friends so that when we die they can tell our story; they can help others know more about us. I’m not a funeral director but I work closely with hundreds of funeral professionals every day. They share stories with me about families and individuals who often know so little about the person who died, other than the basic information or perhaps their more recent activities. And yet the most meaningful funeral experiences are the ones where the deceased’s interests, hobbies, and life moments are shared and celebrated. My members tell me that a great funeral is one where attendees leave knowing more about the person who died than they knew when they walked in.  Having the Talk of a Lifetime is a definitive nod in this direction. So why is it so hard to get people to talk to each other? The world we live in today offers many opportunities to connect and share our story, even if that story is about our drive in to work this morning! Maybe the differences in generations play a role. The older generations may be on social media, but are they really posting updates on things going on in their lives? It’s up to us then to take that first step and invite a conversation that will hopefully lead to more knowledge, more insight and even more conversation. One of the great features of the Talk of a Lifetime Campaign are the tools and conversation starters. They are designed to make it easier to start and ultimately capture the discussion. To see what’s available go to http://talkofalifetime.org/have-the-talk/. What about those of us who share our lives on social media? Can we rely on this tool to ensure our messages are captured? Perhaps. Facebook recently announced that it will allow users in the US to designate a friend or family member as a “legacy contact” who can make one last post on our behalf when we die. That contact can respond to new friend requests, update the cover photo and profile, and archive our Facebook posts and photos. I’ve got to think this is one of many opportunities to come in this arena to preserve what we shared while we were alive. I’ll need to keep this in mind though the next time I post some silly update! I look at the environment that my children are growing up in and I marvel at how wide-open their world is. School is a good example; I can easily access my children’s online portal which displays their daily schedule, what grade they got on that science test and if they failed to turn something in! While I’m glad as a parent to have this level of oversight, I do wonder what impact all of this may have on their generation. I’m hopeful that one of the more positive impacts is that they won’t have to remind each other to tell their stories. ###

The Benefit of Having The Talk

If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail

The Benefit of Having, “The Talk”

By Mike Walden

Advanced Planning Consultant

Locke Funeral Home

1519 West Fourth Street

Waterloo, IA 50702

My family members have said it.  Many people who have come in to plan and preplan funeral arrangements have said it.  I am willing to bet you have family members who have said it.  You may have said it yourself.  “Just cremate me and throw my ashes to the wind,” or “Just throw me in the ground and be done with it.” It is a way of saying, “don’t mourn for me.  Just move on with life.”  I believe those who make these types of comments honestly think they are helping their loved ones.  They don’t want anyone to worry about them, when their time comes. They are attempting to minimalize things, in order to protect their surviving family and friends from the pain and suffering.  It is a natural instinct to protect others from this type of agony. What are they really saying to us?  Does it really help the family?  What if you followed their instructions? It is telling us two things.  One, I am trying to protect you.  Two, it is saying, I don’t want to talk about it.  This type of commentary protects them from it, but it leaves a burden for the loved ones.  It does the exact opposite of what is intended.  It does not help the family.  There are no instructions to follow.  You have not been told what to do, except for maybe the final disposition. Having “The Talk,” can be as easy or as complicated as you chose to make it.  It can simply be looking through photo albums and remembering the good times.  It can be talking about services previously held for other family members and friends.  This includes the good and the bad, what to do and what not to do.  It does not need to be a formal meeting. It can be a formal meeting where you express your wishes.  You can do it with family or close friends.  You could have this meeting with a pre-need professional at your funeral home of choice.  The key is to have the discussion.  Leave your family with a sense of direction.  Your survivors want to properly honor you.  They want to celebrate your life.  Give them the tools to make this happen. The funeral, memorial, or celebration of life is about the deceased, but it is for the family and friends.  Gathering together of family and friends to share stories is the primary value of any service.  When we meet and talk, we laugh, smile and remember.  We remember the long forgotten stories, the funny stories, and even the sad stories.  It allows those who gather the opportunity to begin to cope.  It is the point where they begin to move on with life.  Isn’t this what we really want for them? We have all heard Benjamin Franklin’s quote, “if you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.”  Do we want to set up our loved ones to fail?  I think not.  We want them to move forward and succeed with minimal pain.  Having “The Talk,” may be painful in the short term, but it allows for less pain in the long term.  

Every Life Has Meaning

Every Life

Every Life Has Meaning

By Christine Pepper

Chief Executive Officer, National Funeral Directors Association (NFDA)

If you’re like me, chances are you caught the movie It’s A Wonderful Life during the recent holiday season. In the familiar story, George Bailey grows up with big dreams of traveling the world and becoming an architect. But life, as it often does, intervened and, following the death of his father, George steps in and takes over the family’s building and loan business. He settles down, marries his sweetheart and has four children. He never leaves his hometown or becomes an architect but, by the estimation of most, George lives a good life. On Christmas Eve, we find George and the Bailey Building and Loan on the brink of financial ruin. Overwhelmed by his current situation and, looking back on his abandoned dreams, George believes he is a failure and thinks the world would be better off if he hadn’t been born. George’s guardian angel Clarence grants his wish. As George wanders through his hometown, he sees that it’s no longer the idyllic place in which he’d grown up; the world without George Bailey is full of squalor and vice. The friends and neighbors who led good lives were struggling because George Bailey hadn’t been there to help them when they needed it. George begins to understand that his seemingly unimportant existence was actually quite important. George implores Clarence, “I want to live!” Clarence restores things to their natural order and George returns home to his family and business knowing that his life was important and wonderful. I think most people are a little bit like George Bailey. Our parents, grandparents and other loved ones don’t realize the impact that they’ve had on lives. (In fact, I’m not sure I fully understand the ways in which I’ve touched my family, friends or co-workers.) Deep down, most of us – myself included – want to know that we’ve made a difference in the world and that we mattered to someone. While we may not have a Clarence in our lives who can offer the kind of transformative experience that George Bailey experienced, we can use the Have the Talk of a Lifetime materials to start a conversation about what matters most. Having the talk isn’t a one-way street. Yes, you want to allow your loved one to share their life story with you. But you should also take time to tell your loved ones about your memories of them. The family celebrations you’ll always remember … the advice and life lessons you carry in your heart. Fond memories of your mom or dad helping you learn to ride a bike or how to bait a hook … the guidance your grandfather or grandmother offered when you were contemplating life after high school … and the delicious chicken soup your aunt or uncle made whenever you were sick. Having the talk is an opportunity for you to be a “Clarence” to someone – to let them know how much you love them and that your life wouldn’t be the same without them. It’s a chance for you to thank them for all they have done so that they, like George, can understand that they do matter and that life is, indeed, wonderful.

T.M.I. verse T.L.I.

shopworn art supplies

T.M.I. verse T.L.I.

By Don Calhoun, CM Monument Builders of North America

Do you ever have someone tell you: “That’s T.M.I. Too Much Information”?  Unfortunately, I hear it with extreme regularity, at the checkout register at Sam’s Club, in a meeting with a client, in the middle of my physical exam with my Doctor, or even during confession with my local priest!  Somehow in my life’s journey, I decided that it was best to be open and honest with myself and others. “Have the Talk of a Life Time” means that we must have a certain degree of courage and bravery in bringing up important subjects with our loved ones. While it may seem that we could be labeled an “odd duck” if we don’t play along with the traditional societal norms of digging deep in our relationships, we should challenge the logic.  We don’t all have to behave in predictable ways, to be just like everyone else, and blend in with the flock.  Each of us has it with our capacity to grow in our relationships. Our lives are like an original piece of art.  We are meant to paint the masterpiece of our authentic self, and not some cheap imitation, knock off version.  This is true in terms of our parents, siblings or our friends. We need to start by not being afraid of fully discovering and revealing who we really are. When we do that, we will realize that we will always want to learn and discover more about our loved ones.  T.M.I. should not be a part of our love language for those we really care about. “Have the Talk of a Life Time” requires the ability to listen, probe and grow deeper into our most treasured and meaningful relationships.  Without that desire, we will be left with a life of T.L.I. Too Little Information?  There would be no greater tragedy that to leave this earth with no meaningful connection to our family and friends.  The world is our paint brush and there is an original piece of art that needs to be revealed in all.

Wind and Rain

image of stone monument

Wind and Rain

By Don Calhoun, CM Monument Builders of North America

In the book “Dance with the Elephant” I wrote: “As the winds and rain slowly erase the tangible aspects of your life, your major contribution to humanity will be measured by the stories you created in the hearts of the people you’ve touched.  There will be no moving van to haul your earthy possessions to the grave. “ Have you ever thought about what is going to be your legacy?  What are the most important aspects of your life story?  If you had the option to engrave your story into stone what would it say?  Is your story worth remembering or telling? Memorials are a part of our history, from the cave walls of the Stone Age, to pyramids of the Egyptians, to the granite sculptures lining our Nation’s Capital, we have always taken the time to remember the people or events that have shaped our lives.  For centuries we have told our stories in stone.  Your story is not worth less or worthless.  If you held a secret pole within your family and friends, I bet they would most likely say your story is priceless. How much would you pay to spend one more day with someone who you loved who has died?  The term “priceless” is not much of an emotional stretch when it comes to mother, father, brother or sister who has died.  We probably would give almost anything to see, hear, or to touch them again. While writing the stories of our loved ones in stone is a woefully inadequate method to express the depth of our love and connection; it is non-the-less a very important process to our human experience.  We are built to remember people or events that defined us.  One example of this is expressed in how important it is for us to remember the sacrifice the members of the military have made to ensure our freedom.  Monuments are an important tangible reminder of our story and history.  Expressing the legacy of those closest to us in a permanent form will stand the test of time. Their stories will always be worth telling and remembering!

They’ll Thank You for Telling Your Story

tell your stories

They’ll Thank You for Telling Your Story

By Alyssa McNab, for the Pre-need Insurers Group of the Life Insurers Council

Funeral directors tell me they’re often asked why they choose to do what they do. In spite of the emotionally taxing situations, long hours and unpredictable schedules they face every day, one concept surfaces again and again: “Funeral service is really about telling the stories of the person who has died, in order to help their loved ones through the most difficult times in their lives.” In her article “The Storytellers,” industry expert Kim Medici Shelquist echoes their sentiment: “How can it ever be depressing to ensure that the stories get told, that lives are made significant through the stories? … I have the privilege of encouraging people to share their wishes and stories with their families so they will be honored in the way they choose and their lives will have significance long after they are gone.” This is what funeral directors really do best: Plan events that celebrate the life of a person in the way that will provide lasting comfort for the loved ones they’ve left behind. But truly creative and memorable funeral services require an understanding of an individual’s personality, interests, milestones and beliefs. Are you equipping your loved ones with stories that create memories today and will help them remember you after you’re gone? Will they know…
  • …what your childhood was like?
  • …your favorite place in the world?
  • …how you met the love of your life?
  • …the funniest thing you ever experienced?
  • …what motivated you through tough times?
These are the types of questions that can spark valuable stories. Questions like these can also take some thought – you may be surprised by what you recall and discover about yourself in the process of considering how you want to be remembered. Imagine how much more vivid your story will be when you take the time to share these thoughts with your loved ones! It’s both touching and inspiring to encounter stories of unique memorial celebrations that truly capture the personality of the person they’re intended to honor. The people who were responsible for these events clearly had a strong connection to their loved ones, and knew how to honor them in the ways that best fit their unique stories. One recent memorial that fits this description was for a man in California who loved the ocean. Some of his fondest memories were of visiting tide pools and abalone hunting with his family. When the man died, his loved ones scattered his ashes in the ocean, and then placed his photo in a bottle with a message: “Today my family is laying me to rest in a place that I love … the ocean. So, this starts my journey.” The family also set up a Facebook page, where people who find the bottle can share about where they found it before sending it back on its travels. This man’s story had a far-reaching impact, making headlines across the country and touching the lives of those who found the message in a bottle. Every person has the potential to be honored in a similarly meaningful way: a balloon release on the spot where your spouse proposed; bound collections of the poems you wrote, to be given to your loved ones as cherished keepsakes; a funeral service at which your loved ones wear your “signature” color or accessory and hear your favorite songs. Significant memorial events like these help families remember the lives of their loved ones and create new memories in the process. When you Have the Talk of a Lifetime, you’re doing more than easing your own mind and helping to prepare your family for the inevitable. You’re also bringing to light stories that otherwise may have never been told, and that will help your loved ones celebrate your one-of-a-kind life – long into the future.