Honoring the Left Behind

I have a soft spot for military members, probably from growing up surrounded by military bases, with uniforms and maneuvers as routine in my world as flip flops.

This video touched me deeply.  I’m so thankful for the New York State Funeral Directors Association, and the Patriot Guard Riders (here, of NY, but the entire organization) who made this ceremony happen to honor veterans who otherwise would have gone unclaimed and unhonored.

This service covered remains left for decades, and touched 70 years of US military service.

Thank you, NYSFDA & the PGR.

Going Where No Man Has Gone Before

Last week, history was made when the New Horizons spacecraft did a fly-by of the not-planet Pluto and beamed back never-before-seen pictures of its surface for the world to marvel at.

Slightly less reported across the media, the New Horizons craft also contained a very special payload:

Pluto ashes

Picture from Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, via Forbes.com

The circular container shown contains a portion of the ashes of Clyde Tombaugh, the man who originally discovered Pluto in 1930.  His ashes were included aboard when the craft launched in 2006.  They now are the farthest-traveling human remains known to mankind, and will be the first to leave our solar system as well.

The inscription on the container reads:

Interned herein are remains of American Clyde W. Tombaugh, discoverer of Pluto and the solar system’s ‘third zone’ Adelle and Muron’s boy, Patricia’s husband, Annette and Alden’s father, astronomer, teacher, punster, and friend: Clyde W. Tombaugh (1906-1997).

The Last Word: Obituaries

So, what are your thoughts about obituaries?

I get the small thrice-weekly county newspaper here at the house.  The town I live in is well known for its giant active-adult community, and what seems like a never-ending selection of senior living/assisted living/nursing care homes–you’d better believe that little paper’s obituary section gets a workout!   In The Sun, obituaries are fairly cheap, and thus are frequently long, full of lists of relatives, military service, religious and political affiliations, and the like.

In the big metro south of us, the mainstream paper’s obituary section is frequently two or three pages, and many times full-length columns per person.   In that paper, it’ll cost you almost $10 a column line for an obituary, plus $75 for online availability.  It’s not hard to see how an obituary could add up fast at those rates!

In today’s digital society, how important are obituaries anyway?  Newspaper subscriptions and distributions are down precipitously–who’s going to see it at all?   I know no one who subscribes to the big metro paper–is it worth the $10 a line (plus fees) to inform some small segment of strangers of a death that matters to me?  It is just what you do, right?

In this day and age of alternative deathcare, why not question the utility of the obituary, especially in the face of crazy pricing for column space.   Do you really need one?  Do you really want one?  What good is it anyway?

One could argue for the newspaper obituary being a good way to permanently archive the death on the internet (for future seekers), but every year, more and more companies come online doing just that with tools for web-based memorialization, a self-directed and much more flexible option at a far cheaper price.  Innovators such as Your Dash, Qeepr, and Everlasting Footprint are creating interfaces which allow for interactive, digital, scrapbook-style memorials, far beyond the typical genealogy lists of a traditional obituary;  in many cases, these will be searchable and indexed to search engines as much as the standard newspaper obituary or legacy.com listings are.  So you can have your eternal web ‘obituary’ presence without the need for an obituary at all.

Beyond that, in our interconnected age, can Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and blogs (even simpler than the specially-designed websites and memorialization apps) do what the obituary has always done, but cheaper and better?   Most social media sites now are developing procedures for converting active accounts to memorials, to be cultivated going forward for the friends of the deceased to remember the person by.  Even if you don’t convert your loved one’s profile into a memorial, it can stand forever, inactive, with the news as it stood when its owner left, presumably with the few “I’m gonna miss you, man–sorry to hear about your passing” notes that inevitably will be posted to the profile–thus leaving a footprint, a trace of sorts out of sheer neglect.

More than a few of my clients, when asked the obituary question, indicate that they don’t want any trace at all left online.  Is this you?

I must admit, I do search for my deceased loved ones online when I have time.  For most of the ones who died without becoming digital (my grandparents, a few younger relatives who died prior to 1995), there is little to no sign they ever existed–a citation from a law case here or there, one acknowledged in a book forward, another (a young death) existing in perpetuity as the named on a memorial scholarship.  Certainly nothing first-hand–no pictures, no life story, no blog posts or tweets or duck-faced Instagram pictures, nothing truly personal to discover about them.

That might make me sad.

I want more than that for my digital legacy, for the fingerprints I leave behind.  Heck, this blog, Facebook, and Twitter virtually guarantee there’ll be more left behind!  But the older I get, and the more I face losing my close loved ones, the more I want them (and me) to take control over what they leave behind, for me, my kids, my grandkids, and the world.

I don’t think that’ll be a traditional obituary, as I’m still frugal above all.  But there are so many good tools out there which can function as an obituary stand-in, to provide help to capture and archive essential information, let you create a slideshow for your funeral, and give you a chance to record things to pass on.

What Will Your Final Ride Be?

If you know me and my passions at all, you know I’m about making sure you think death-and-end-of-life things through thoroughly.  That you write them down and communicate them the ones who matter.  Hopefully, in the process, you develop for the ones left behind a picture of how best to honor and celebrate your life, in a personal and meaningful way, for the price you want to pay.

The funeral for Jim Jameson, from Michigan, is a wonderful example of how simple, small tweaks can allow for unique touches that bring the life of the celebrated into focus.

From The Bay City Times:

The Bangor Township man, who spent more than five decades driving semi-tractor trailer trucks up and down Michigan roads, went out the way he would have wanted — cruising on the back of his big green truck named Petey.

Bigrig Hearse

Photo by Yfat Yossifor | The Bay City Times

…And it wasn’t enough to have his casket strapped to the back of his Peterbilt big rig and delivered to Floral Gardens Cemetery on Monday, June 8. He had 17 other semis follow him in one of the louder funeral processions in recent history at Gephart Funeral Home on the city’s West Side.

Jameson’s nephew Tony Jameson drove his uncle’s semi, blasting black smoke out of Petey’s shiny chrome exhaust pipes and honking his ear-piercing train horn.

The scene became a conversation. Petey honked and roared his engine. A dozen other semis from across Bay County shouted back. Soon, Midland Street was rumbling.

I can’t say I know any truckers in Austin, so maybe this won’t be what we plan.  But perhaps a horse-drawn carriage?  Or a tractor?

How else would you like to personalize your ceremony?  Who knows better what feels good and right, and best at capturing your unique flavor?  Let’s talk it through and write it down before we miss the chance!

In The Season of Reunions: Have You Considered a Living Funeral?

If you’re like me, you’ve been to at least one funeral that became a spontaneous reunion of sorts afterwards.  So many people will still make a funeral a priority in their schedules, where less urgent things like reunions (class, group, family) and meetings often don’t rank for compelling attendance over the other activities in our busy lives.   Funerals, though, still bring the veil of showing respect, of paying tribute and honor, with the whole one last time aspect.

So here’s a thought:  why not hold your funeral now, while you’re still alive?

Granted, it’s probably a one-shot deal, so you may want to hold off if you’re still young enough to actuarially have decades left.  But if you had a diagnosis of some sort, where you knew your death was coming, how better to bring all the folks you love in for a last visit?   A great deal of the planning you and I would do together, you’d then get to be present to see happen!  You’d get to hear the love and see the friends and family who would attend your funeral, and eat the church ladies’ cold cut lunch (or BBQ, or pimento cheese sandwiches, or pasta salads).    Who wouldn’t want to hear all the amazing and loving memories usually brought out at funerals and memorial services, said about themselves to their face?

If you planned it in enough time, folks wouldn’t have to pay crazy fees to fly to it–they could book as normal, not last minute.  Those who need to take time off, or save for expenses, could do so.   Attendance would be far less stressful for everyone!   And, as part of the event, it would be so easy to then say, “This is it–there will be nothing more when I do die.  Once I’m done, my body will be cremated (buried, donated), but we won’t be having any services then.   Thank you for coming to honor me while I can still enjoy your love.  I love you all, and you’ve honored me the best way possible.”   Voila. Your funeral, with no guilt or urgent traveling for anyone, done, and you basking in the love and laughter of those who attended.

If this sounds to you like a roast, or a Kennedy Center Honors PBS special–you’re right!  Who says that kind of acknowledgment from peers, that level of attention and love from your circle has to be limited to celebrities?   (Rainbow-beribboned medals and golden statuettes not included…)

Granted, this won’t be for everyone.  It might be embarrassing, to be the center of attention at such a shindig.  Perhaps you’re more modest than that.  Possibly you think of it as bragging?  No worries, there’s always the old standby–a standard funeral, after your death –if you think this idea is distasteful.

But, if the idea intrigues you, why not talk to your family about it?  Village Memorial has put together a handy guide for planning a Living Funeral, if you need a little help thinking it through.

Do you want more active help, a coordinator to help get all the pieces together?  We do that!   And the best part of working with Marilee:  we can plan and execute your Living Funeral now, and cover documenting the final step–what you’ll have done with your body once you’re actually dead–all in one.   A nice party, and a one-stop-shop for your end-of-life final wishes!

Curious?  Want to know more?  Start at our website:  www.marileeparsons.com