What Happens To Cremated Remains Thereafter?

When a New York funeral home closed its door a few years ago, it found itself in the midst of a moral dilemma it had never bargained for. There, on its shelves, were more than 275 boxes of cremains never picked up by the families of the deceased. Some dated back 100 years.

Legally, it was not required to do anything, but the owners instead decided to try to track down the families. Many did not respond. In the end, a crypt was purchased to be the final resting place of the abandoned boxes.

The story serves as a pointed reminder of what every funeral director has witnessed: families often view cremation as a final disposition, like burial or entombment. It is not, and that means some important decisions must be made. Unfortunately, families often put off deciding what to do with the cremated remains or don’t give the disposition enough serious thought.

With the rate of cremation growing exponentially – in some areas, cremation has surpassed that of traditional burial – the issue has become even more pertinent.

Cremated remains should be treated with the same reverence as one would a body, yet they are often treated carelessly, or as an afterthought. Stories abound about cremains being found in a closet or attic after someone has moved and being returned to the crematory or funeral home of record.

The Decision to Scatter

Of course, many people get caught up in the inevitable Hollywood solution: scattering Uncle Harry’s ashes at the local beach or the racetrack where he blew his money or that favorite park near his house. What Hollywood doesn’t show is the regret that sometimes follows for families.

Because of the irreversible nature of scattering, it is not something to be chosen lightly. The process cannot be undone. What’s more, while many request their cremains be scattered in a favorite place, some of those requests are impractical. Chances are, your relatives will never make a trip to Mount Everest.

Some years back, I handled the funerals of close family friends. Both chose to be cremated, although they had purchased graves in a local Catholic cemetery. Their son, John, chose a companion urn for his parents and kept it in his home.

When he moved to Florida, he recalled his parents’ love of the beach and scattered their ashes, a decision he now regrets. It meant that there was no place to really go and honor their memory.

“My father was a veteran. I could have had [their cremains] buried in the nearby national cemetery,” he said.

Others find it hard to put into place the wishes of the deceased.

Village Chapels, a funeral home in Middle Village, New York, recently handled the funeral of the wife of one of their pallbearers. The 75-year-old woman was cremated with the intent to split her cremated remains in two. One half was to be buried in the family plot in a Catholic cemetery, and the other half scattered in Oregon, where the deceased was originally from.

However, after speaking with his priest one Sunday after Mass, and learning the church’s position, the woman’s husband, a practicing Catholic, made a different decision and buried his wife’s cremains in their entirety.

Religion Has Its Say

Religion does play a role in these decisions. For Catholics, the rules are clear. Although cremation is allowed, it is with stipulations, and the awareness that the cremated remains should not be separated.

“The body is precious and sacred. As best we can, the body should be maintained intact when we have the control to do so,” said Rev. Joseph Fonti, the pastor of St. Mel’s Roman Catholic church in Whitestone, New York.

“For those who do opt for cremation, it should always be done with the awareness that the person themselves, and those caring for them, don’t deny the bodily resurrection,” he explained.

Rev. Fonti understands that “some have a harder time letting go.” In that case, they can bring the cremains back to the house for a time as long as they are “maintained in a respectful area and not tampered with.” Still, they should be buried in a timely manner in consecrated grounds or a consecrated niche.

Funeral director Omar Rodriguez concurs. “Some people prefer to have some time with the cremains. They feel that it’s a source of comfort and closure for them.”

After a recent cremation, the daughter of the deceased told Rodriguez she wanted her mother to stay with her for a little while. She plans to have the final disposition later on.

Cultural considerations come into play, as well. Rodriguez said a number of the families he has served plan to return to their country of origin after retirement and will decide upon a permanent disposition at that time.

Other Options for Cremated Remains

There is a surprising number of options for the final resting spot for cremated remains beyond scattering them in a public space. Here are the most common ones:

Burial

Cremated remains can be buried in a family plot. The charge is substantially less than that for a whole-body interment. What’s more, the name of the deceased can be inscribed on the tombstone.

Columbarium

Similar in style to a community mausoleum, a columbarium is a structure with niche spaces that house cremation urns. They can be found in cemeteries, and sometimes in churches or Asian temples. They can be located on an outdoor wall, an indoor room, or a separate building.

Available in a variety of styles and materials, such as granite, marble, or glass fronts, niches can be personalized with photos and memorabilia. National cemeteries offer free niches, just as they do free graves, to honorably discharged veterans, their spouse, and dependent children.

Scattering Gardens

These are designated areas within a cemetery in which cremated remains can be scattered. Among cemeteries offering such a service is historic Woodlawn Cemetery in Bronx, New York. The cemetery offers communal scattering in a large receptacle known as an ossuary. A bronze name plaque can be placed on a nearby wall to permanently memorialize the deceased.

Water “Burial”

Scattering at sea is a popular request. However, under less-than-optimum conditions, problems such as the cremains “blowing back” on a windy day may ensue. A better option is to place cremated remains inside a biodegradable urn, which will float on the water’s surface for a time. After it drifts below the water’s surface it will begin to biodegrade.

Memorial Reefs

Then there are artificial reefs that sit on the ocean floor. The cremated remains are mixed with concrete, then molded into a “reef ball.” Over time, the structure will mimic a natural reef formation and provide shelter for marine organisms. Bear in mind, such ecological mindedness does not come cheap. Expect to pay between $4,000 – $10,000.

Originally published on November 28, 2021 @ https://sixtyandme.com/cremated-remains/

What To Know About Choosing a Cemetery

Recently, I arranged a funeral for the husband of a woman named Arlene. The couple did not have cemetery property. Nor had they discussed where they wanted to be buried.

They were, in other words, like too many others who haven’t thought about the important decision of a final resting place.

Arlene’s husband, Dan, was an honorably discharged veteran, so he was eligible to be buried in a Veteran cemetery.

Calverton National Cemetery, on New York’s Long Island, was their closest option, but it was a good distance from her home, and Arlene feared she would not be able to visit as often as she liked.

Because the couple’s Catholic faith was also an important consideration, Arlene was torn over where to bury her beloved husband. So, she checked out two Catholic cemeteries on Long Island, ultimately deciding upon St. Charles Cemetery in the town of Farmingdale. Dan was buried there with military honors.

Arlene’s struggle is not uncommon. Choosing a final resting place is not an easy decision, especially if the deceased did not express a preference. Bear in mind, it is a choice that will often serve generations to come, for cemeteries are not just places to bury the dead, they are also repositories of a family’s history.

For Arlene, the Catholic connection mattered, as it does for many others. “We are a Catholic cemetery for a reason. It is basically sacred land, and an extension of our church and our faith,” explained Carlos Balcarcel, who is the sales marketing manager for the Brooklyn Diocese in New York.

He added, “When you come to a Catholic cemetery, you see the expressions of your faith. You see the religious significance. You see the areas of repose that are specifically set apart for you to not only grieve, but to trust in your faith.”

Types of Cemeteries

Despite the high rate of cremation these days, in-ground burial and entombment continue to be much-requested modes of final disposition. That may reflect our long-held cultural beliefs about the nature of death. The word “cemetery” is derived from Greek and means sleeping place.

When it comes to selecting a cemetery, there are a number of choices. The differences are important – and often lost on people who wait until the last minute to make a decision.

Veteran Cemeteries

Veteran cemeteries provide a free grave and monument to honorably discharged veterans, their spouse, and dependent minor children. For cremated remains, they provide a niche.

Religious and Churchyard Cemeteries

Jewish Cemeteries, like their Catholic counterparts, are sacred grounds on which religious customs and practices are observed. Churchyards, which are relatively small in size, are usually reserved for members of the congregation, but not always.

Green Cemeteries

A few opt for what’s known as a green or natural “cemetery.” The grounds prohibit embalmed bodies, vaults, and traditional headstones, and require a biodegradable casket.

Traditional Cemeteries

Also known as Rural or Garden Cemeteries, traditional cemeteriesare open to all religious faiths. They generally contain upright monuments, statuary, and mausoleums, in a variety of architectural styles.

Memorial Parks

Memorial parks are cemeteries that contain flat bronze gravestones (also called grave markers, or memorials), rather than upright tombstones, to retain a park-like environment. They are generally non-denominational.

Cemetery Specifics

Many cemeteries are steeped in not only local, but national history. People often like the idea of being part of a cemetery with historic connections.

Ferncliff Cemetery in Hartsdale, New York, is one such cemetery. Founded in 1902, the roster of permanent residents is extensive and diverse. It includes Ed Sullivan, Tom Carvel, Joan Crawford, Alan Freed, Oscar Hammerstein II, Cab Calloway, and Madame Chiang Kai-shek.

The Feel

Designed as a memorial park, the grounds contain not only graves, but also three community mausoleums, niches for cremated remains, and a crematory.

When sales counselor Fred Santos, who has been with Ferncliff for five decades, meets with families, he first narrows down what they are looking for before taking them on a tour of the grounds.

Maintenance

A key consideration should be the comfort and convenience of those who will visit. Santos says that most people are looking for proximity to their home, and heritage plays an important role, too. “With our families, one brings the other. We have many generations here, one after another.”

He also advises that you “check how the older sections of the cemetery are maintained.” If they are not well maintained, that may be indicative of what will happen to newer sections.

Price

Price, too, is a major consideration in purchasing cemetery property. “The main thing that people look for is what’s within their budget,” Balcarcel said, noting that there are options for “all kinds of budgets.”

In fact, St. Charles, like most Catholic cemeteries, has special sections set aside for those with a financial hardship. The cemetery also contains community mausoleums, and niches for cremated remains.

Faith

A key difference between a Catholic and non-sectarian cemetery is that “Masses are said every single day for people who are resting in our cemeteries,” Balcarcel stated. In addition, special Field Masses are celebrated on Memorial Day and All Souls day.

“People are looking for a place that provides a peaceful place away from the world to connect with their loved ones,” noted Balcarel.

No One Wants to Make This Choice

From their long experience as sales counselors, both Balcarcel and Santos know well the reluctance of families to look into the purchase of cemetery property. After all, “no one wants to leave their loved one here,” said Balcarel. But when the time comes, you want that to be with “someone who you trust.”

“It is not something most people want to think about. We don’t think our parents are ever going to die,” Santos said. Still, he believes that it’s best to plan in advance. “You will pay today’s prices when pre-planning. Plus, there may be less availability in the future.”

“The information is out there and it’s important that a conversation is had,” added Balcarcel.

What to Ask

Remember, when you purchase a cemetery plot, you are buying the right of burial, not the land itself. Santos likens it to becoming a shareholder in a co-op. With your contract, you’ll receive a copy of the cemetery’s rules and regulations.

Still, it’s wise to ask the following questions before you sign:

  • What is the charge to “open” the grave, crypt, or niche, at the time of the funeral? The charge is generally not included in the purchase price.
  • Does the cemetery require a vault? Some cemeteries require that the casket be placed in a concrete or steel vault within the grave.
  • What are the requirements and/or restrictions on the types of monuments the cemetery allows?
  • Does the purchase include perpetual care?
  • How many remains will the grave hold? Individual graves generally permit between one and three burials.
  • Are cremated remains counted as burials? How many are permitted in a grave?
  • What are the rules regarding flowers, plantings, and memorabilia being placed at the gravesite?
  • Will the cemetery buy back the grave if it remains unused or you decide to move the deceased elsewhere? At what price?

This article was originally published on https://sixtyandme.com/choosing-cemetery/

Moonrise at Green-Wood Cemetery

Last night, I attended  a most unique event at Green-Wood Cemetery with my friend & fellow funeral director, Doris Amen. It was a two mile stroll through the grounds, after dark, on a perfect fall evening . Along the way, we encountered performance artists stationed in and around some of Green-Wood’s many notable mausoleums and monuments. Food stations, too, were available.

Our ties to Green-Wood run deep. Doris is the cemetery’s “go to” funeral director, having handled the funerals of the cemetery president’s family, as well as many of the staff’s loved ones. While I, enamored with the grounds from my very first visit as a funeral director, wrote a book about the place. During the researching and writing process, I traversed the grounds countless times. Still, seeing it at night is something extra-special. Even in the dark, we discovered new sites and saw others in a different light. Highlights were the Currier (of Currier & Ives) monument lit up in pink, and the Charlotte Canda Gothic memorial (a perennial favorite) illuminated by candles.

When at last we came to the end of the trail, we were sad to see the night end. But we have our memories, and lots of photos, some of which we shared on Instagram.

Yet Another Trying Day at Pinelawn Memorial Park

In the past, I’ve written about the horrific conditions I, and my family, were subjected to at the funeral (if you can call it that) of my mother in 2015. Again at the funerals of my uncle in 2017, and my aunt in 2019, we were treated badly. Having experienced such callous treatment by a cemetery has made me hyper-vigilant that families in my care won’t receive similar treatment. Mercifully, I don’t get to Pinelawn a lot, but when I do I’m filled with dread. A dread that is, unfortunately, borne out by reality.

When I arrived at Pinelawn for today’s funeral, I was surprised to see that the bathrooms were still closed. Porta-potties were still standing from the height of the Covid pandemic. My hearse driver took a look and reported how filthy they were. He also commented on how the cemetery could possibly think that would be sanitary. But that paled in comparison to what was to take place.

After I signed in the funeral at the outside tent (the office is still not open) the staff took their sweet time, as usual, clearing the paperwork (now having the extra step of going inside to the office). As we waited, I commented to my hearse driver that it was unbelievable at this late date that the office and bathrooms were still closed. Only the day before, I had been at St. Charles Cemetery, across the way, where bathrooms were open and clean, and funeral directors were welcome to enter the cemetery office. Suddenly a man standing in earshot broke into our conversation and in a nasty tone declared, “We are the best cemetery in New York. During Covid we buried more bodies in a day than any other cemetery.” And at what emotional cost? From the stories shared with me by other funeral directors, there was little in the way of dignity, respect, or compassion taking place. What’s more, those burials were not done out of altruism, or charity; the cemetery was getting paid.

When we finally went to the site of the family’s crypt (45 minutes after we were scheduled) we had a pissed off deacon, now made late for his next assignment (he began the prayers before all the mourners had even gotten out of their cars). It was also left to us to explain a holy host of arbitrary rules to a grieving family: the casket (a casket they never got the opportunity to see up close) could not be present during the committal service (it would be placed into the crypt before,and the family would not be able to witness this), only 10 people could stand 20 ft. away, and the rest in the roadway. What’s more, the mourners could not place their roses on the casket, a longstanding ritual, and the deacon ended up praying to a curtain high above us. Of course, there was no explanation for any of this (irrational as it is, how could there be!?).

I was heartsick for this family,and apologized profusely. A friend of the family asked in dismay if this was how the funeral industry was treating people. The hearse driver and I explained that it was this particular cemetery’s policy, not the funeral home’s. Only the day before, we had had an entirely different (and positive) experience at St. Charles. The lack of uniformity is incomprehensible. And after recounting this experience to a colleague, who shared a similar story, we are hoping to get clarification by reaching out to the cemetery bureau.

At this late date, there is little reason to behave as if Covid is the dire threat it was in the spring, especially, on Long Island, a county with a low infection rate, and in which people dine out in restaurants with regularity. As a colleague said, “surely the cemetery staff eats in restaurants, and uses the facility’s rest rooms.”

On a personal note, the daughter of the deceased gave a short eulogy. She spoke of the difficult relationship she had with her adoptive mother, (whose name was the same as that of mine). Hearing her words, and witnessing the adverse conditions, brought back searing memories of the trauma I experienced five years before at Pinelawn. It was a painful PTSD experience that I’ve yet to shake.

Families and funeral directors, alike, if you’ve had a bad experience with Pinelawn (or any cemetery), feel free to contact me through this site and tell me your story.

I Want to Watch

An essential component of our role as funeral directors is to maintain the sanctity of our work and protect the privacy of those in our care. Something that continues to trouble me is the prurient interest some have in the most private part of funeral service. “I want to watch. Can I?”  It is an embalming they are asking to watch. In mortuary school we were told that the only non–official who could legally watch was the next of kin. “But why would they want to?” asked out instructor.

Some years back, I was interviewed by a young freelancer for a piece about Green-Wood Cemetery (my book about the cemetery had recently been published). At the conclusion of our interview she asked if she could come to the funeral home to watch an embalming. It was not the first time I had been asked, and, as always, I was taken aback by the question. After telling her that she could not, she spitefully cut me out of her article. Not very professional!

At one time or another many funeral directors have been asked that question by the morbidly curious. Some feign an interest in funeral service as a way to gain entrée.  At other times a funeral director is careless in his/her thinking, and allows a person into the preparation room. But that is always a mistake.

A colleague shared the story of a funeral home owner who allowed a friend to keep him company in the prep room. When the friend’s mother died, he went elsewhere for her funeral. When his funeral director friend asked why, he responded by saying, “I feared you would let someone else in to keep you company, and I didn’t want anyone to watch my mother being embalmed.” The funeral director’s indiscretion  cost him a funeral –and the trust of a friend.

Recently, I overheard a “videographer” working on a potential documentary ask a funeral director if he could watch an embalming. I hope the funeral director will have the good sense to turn him down

It is both morally reprehensible, and illegal, to watch an embalming without being qualified to do so.  Please don’t ask us to break the law. And if those factors don’t deter you, ask yourself this question: Would it be okay for strangers to watch the embalming procedure of someone you love?

R.I.P. Regis Philbin

Years back,  I was a guest on Live! With Regis and Kathie Lee. It was a lot of fun and, a few months later, Regis invited me to be on his cable show to talk about funeral pre-planning. His beautiful wife Joy was the co-host, and together we planned a pretend funeral for Regis. While imparting helpful information to the audience, Regis’ comedic timing made the subject less intimidating. In fact, he had the audience in stitches.

I thought of that when I heard the sad news of his passing.

His Funeral Mass and burial will take place on the grounds of Notre Dame, his beloved alma mater.

Unsung Heroes

In July’s issue, American Funeral Director pays tribute to COVID-19 heroes.When I was asked to contribute, I thought of the countless funeral directors who fit that description (and how it would take untold issues to mention them all). I decided to profile Tom Boland (many funeral directors in NY know him), who not only went above and beyond, but –despite taking painstaking precautions–contracted COVID, and after recovering, had the heartbreaking task of burying his dear friend and colleague, who had been killed in a crash. He did it all with grace, dignity, and strength, embodying what funeral directors are made of. His photo appears in the upper left of the magazine’s cover.

Home Funerals

Today I participated in my second home funeral. The visitation was held in a magnificent estate in Greenwich, Connecticut and, as we were getting things ready, a colleague remarked that the setting was grander than most funeral homes. The room where the deceased reposed was bedecked with beautiful flowers, and family photographs. In the entrance way to the home, a table held memorial cards, and memorial folders.

The interesting thing was that the family had not chosen a home funeral because of anything they’d read, or heard in the media, about home funerals. Instead, it was borne of necessity. Funeral homes in their area are still not offering wakes, and a visitation was very important to them, as was a religious service. They were able to have a priest lead them in prayer later in the afternoon. There were also eulogies given by family members.

The first home funeral I was involved in took place two years ago. While the setting was more modest, it held the same beauty and intimacy. Again, the family did not choose a home funeral because of anything they’d read of heard. At the time of the funeral arrangement, the daughter of the deceased commented on how much her mother had loved her home, and that it would be the most fitting place to hold a wake– if only. She had no idea that she could, and was surprised when I told her that some were seeing a return to home funerals. Like the Connecticut family, that wake included a religious service at home.

I’ve been impressed by both these funerals, and am an advocate of home funerals being an option. Naturally, there are practical considerations for having one, and you can discuss this with your funeral director when planning, or pre-planning, a funeral.

God Winks

As deaths from the pandemic have, mercifully, subsided, cemeteries have relaxed a number of their restrictions. One that has yet to do so was the cemetery I was at this morning. The gates are still locked, and to enter one must be a funeral director there to facilitate an interment. No visitors are allowed. As I waited behind the locked gate, trying to get the attention of the guard, a light-colored Prius pulled up behind me. The driver was wearing sunglasses, and I could not make out his face, but I recognized –or thought I did –the car as belonging to the Deacon who would be officiating at this morning’s funeral.  Earlier, the Deacon and I had had a brief conversation as we both drove on the parkway leading to the cemetery, and by his calculation he was “right behind me.” So, when the guard unlocked the gate for me, I told him that the car behind me was with me, and to kindly let him in as well. He did, and I pulled into the waiting area, as the Prius pulled up next to me. The driver opened his window, and I exclaimed in surprise, “You’re not my Deacon.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                “No, but thank you for getting me in. It’s my mother’s birthday, and I want to visit her and lay flowers at her grave.”  He went on to tell me how upsetting it had been for families not being able to visit their loved ones, and how he could not understand why cemeteries, with so much acreage (and plenty of room to social distance), would feel the need to lock their gates to visitors. I agreed. When my Deacon did arrive, a minute or two later, I told him the happy car coincidence. “That was no coincidence, it was a God winks moment,” he said with a smile.

So glad that man could have that precious visit on such an important day.

The Art of Giving a Eulogy – Share the Best Stories and Get Personal About It

Over my long career as a funeral director I’ve heard more than my fair share of eulogies. In a sense, eulogies are like taking a scenic drive through a life.

There are times the view seems so familiar, and other times when one may be struck by the beauty in front of them; beauty that they were not expecting to see, or never noticed before.

Such was the case in 2013, when I heard what was to become my favorite eulogy. It was given by the then mayor of New York City, Michael Bloomberg, for the city’s former mayor, Edward I. Koch.

Bloomberg was on top of his game that day as he stood on the bimah of Manhattan’s venerable Temple Emanu-El and addressed a filled-to-capacity crowd with warmth and humor. Bloomberg remembered Koch as New York City’s “quintessential mayor” and spoke of Koch’s extensive career as a public official, his love for the city of New York, and his contributions to its safety and well-being.

The crowd laughed as Bloomberg recounted incidents from Koch’s colorful past, such as the time Koch stood at the entrance ramp to the Queensboro Bridge, recently re-named for him, yelling, “Welcome to my bridge!” to approaching cars.

Koch being Koch, he stood in the freezing cold for another 20 minutes, even after the cameras stopped rolling, shouting out the welcome. Bloomberg also traced Koch’s life as a lawyer, author, and television personality after his three-term mayoralty came to an end.

But the most moving moment came when Bloomberg underscored Koch’s pride in his faith. Bloomberg recited the words that, at Koch’s request, would be etched into his tombstone: My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.” They were the last words spoken by slain journalist Daniel Pearl.

Markedly less impressive was the eulogy that followed, presented by former United States President Bill Clinton. To the discomfited looks of many, Clinton shared a correspondence he once had with Koch about Viagra. If, indeed, eulogies are a roadmap for life, Clinton’s comments had many wondering, “How did we get here?”

True Words

The word eulogy derives from classical Greek and means “true words.” In ancient Greece it was customary that men of “approved wisdom and eminent reputation” be selected to eulogize the dead.

Fittingly, it was Pericles, who, in 431 B.C., eulogized the Athenian soldiers who lost their lives in the Peloponnesian War. Today, it is usually a colleague, close friend, or family member who is given the honor.

Eulogies have been the subject of three books by author Cyrus M. Copeland, who was inspired to explore the subject after giving one for his late father, an experience he describes as cathartic.

His first book, Farewell, Godspeed: The Greatest Eulogies of Our Time, includes the eulogies of such diverse individuals as Martin Luther King, Henry Ford, Andrew Carnegie, Eleanor Roosevelt, and Karl Marx.

It also contains the eulogy Madonna gave for fashion designer Gianni Versace in 1997. Madonna captured the attention of the audience with her very first words: “I slept in Gianni Versace’s bed.”

Like me, Copeland has a favorite eulogy. It was the one given by the late writer Pat Conroy for his father Colonel Donald Conroy, a.k.a., the movie character “The Great Santini,” and it appears in Copeland’s second book, A Wonderful Life: 50 Eulogies to Lift the Spirit.

“I’ve read hundreds of farewells and studied the art form. Conroy’s was a master class in remembrance,” said Copeland. “He tells stories, he is honest, he finds the bigger themes of his father’s life, he makes us laugh.”

And laugh is what I and hundreds of others did during the eulogy given last spring at the funeral of Queens County’s longest-serving district attorney, Richard Brown. Brown’s son-in-law, Bruce Foodman, shared a recollection about how intimidated he felt when he first married into the family of the eminent justice.

He was not sure how to address his formidable new father- in-law. Brown, sensing his discomfort, assured him that “Richard is fine.” Puzzled, and thinking someone had been ill, Foodman responded by asking who Richard was.

It’s Not About You

Unlike Foodman’s humorously self-effacing recollection, some speakers can’t help but talk about themselves, instead of focusing on the deceased. We have likely all sat through eulogies listening to speakers share how smart, attractive, accomplished, etc. the deceased thought they were.

Writer Larry Gelbart, who created the iconic television show M*A*S*H, wrote the forward for Copeland’s, A Wonderful Life, cautioning us to resist the temptation to make the eulogy about ourselves:

“A eulogy is not meant to be a vehicle for self-aggrandizement. Try pressing the shift key as little as possible when typing the letter i.

Still, Copeland says that “it’s not a mistake to get personal – just as long as it ties into the themes of the deceased’s life. This is what distinguishes a eulogy from an obit – the personal imprint they left on the person behind the microphone.” 

Getting personal is just what Dominick Yezzo, an administrative judge in New York City, did when he gave a eulogy for his late brother, James, this past January.

“Having been privileged to know him at the beginning and very end of his life, I connected myself to him intimately and removed myself to talk about him,” said Yezzo, who views the giving of eulogies as being “holy” and having a “sacred base.”

Yezzo, speaking on behalf of his large family, wanted to “let everyone know who his brother was.” So, when preparing the eulogy, he was mindful of incorporating aspects of his brother’s life that everyone could understand and relate to, including his Catholic school education and lifelong devotion to the New York Yankees.

Writing a Meaningful Eulogy

“A good eulogy should have at least one good story,” says Copeland. And for maximum impact, Copeland suggests relating a “recognizable truth.” “This,” he writes, “is what binds us together, and connects the eulogized to the dearly departed in a meaningful fashion.”

A stirring example of this was a recent eulogy I heard by a young woman who spoke about her father by telling the mourners, “My father made me feel loved, special, and secure, each and every day of my life.”

In Copeland’s third, and most recent book, Passwords: 7 Steps to Writing a Memorable Eulogy, he shares ideas to serve as the foundation for the making of a great eulogy. He uses Conroy’s eulogy for his father as an example: “… begin memorably, tell stories, tell the truth, get personal, find a big moment, and end strongly.”

Copeland, who often travels around the country to speak at conventions on the art of eulogizing, has a succinct answer to the question of why we need eulogies.

As he put it in Passwords, “A great eulogy assures us that our loved ones will endure in our collective memories. The more specific and real the remembrances, the stronger the bridge.”

Originally published @sixtyandme.com on March 18, 2020

RIP Dr. Jacquie Taylor

The industry was saddened to learn about the recent passing of Dr. Jacquie Taylor. Funeral service lost an excellent champion in her. An educator, who was also licensed as a funeral director, Dr. Taylor  truly “walked the walk and talked the talk” unlike so many others today. In 2013, I attended a continuing education seminar Dr. Taylor gave in NY. As colleagues greeted one another, we expressed the hope that this lecture would be relevant and fruitful. And we weren’t disappointed.

Dr. Taylor began the seminar by discussing the unfortunate effect interlopers are having on funeral service. I was riveted by the word interloper. No one had ever put it better. “They believe that just anyone can do what we do. In fact, many of them think they can do it better than we can,” she said. She went on to say that some of these people  have been publicly dispensing advice and giving seminars themselves, as unqualified as they might be, about funeral service issues and concerns.  In essence, she told an enrapt audience, they are attempting to do our work without the qualifications. After the seminar, I went to meet her and thank her for her spot on observations. She was so inspiring that later that night a respected Ohio colleague and I began a Facebook group called Funeral Directors for Real.

 Dr. Taylor’s words resound mightily in a day and age when social media is rampant with self-appointed experts aka wannabes. The now ubiquitous, and meaningless, term “funeral consultant” (funeral directors are the consultants) is everywhere. Many of my colleagues likely recall our first taste of this in the form of a pushy and obnoxious woman, who not only wormed her way into a national magazine article, but promised that her “connections” could lead to jobs for those who “stuck with her.” Websites abound with advice from these “experts,” most of whom are unlicensed and unfamiliar to anyone actually in funeral service. They all seem to be looking for a piece of the pie – a pie that is steadily breaking down due to outside interference. And it is not only the outsiders. We have to endure more than our fair share of the fringe element today. We have some who see funeral service as entertainment, hawking sensational YouTube videos, and others who refer to themselves by the pompous, albeit comical term “death educator.”  Who among us has not cringed as their gibberish has made its way into print? Why are we allowing these people to speak for us?  They are all such an embarrassment to the men and women who have dedicated their lives to caring for the dead.