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Grief Support

Dealing with loss and grief is always easier when you are not alone. Our grief support resources are here for you during your time of loss.
Recent Grief Support Articles

Celebrations of Life – The Power of A Casual Eulogy

October 15th, 2013

Celebrations of LifeA eulogy given at a funeral service can vary greatly.

Typically given by a close friend or relative, eulogies present the difficult task of putting into words who the lost loved one was in life and how they will be remembered.

Choosing these words can be a monumental task in a time of grief. This story details the experience of witnessing a eulogy given in a refreshing and participatory manner.

My grandmother, simply put, was a building block in my life. My brothers and I spent most of our childhood weekends at her house – certainly every holiday. And because she lived only 8 miles away, she was a frequent sight at our back door bringing in squash and tomatoes from her garden or wanting us to sample some new casserole she was experimenting with.

When I was in college was when I started noticing changes in her. She became curt and easily frustrated. She took every action or non-action as a personal insult and had mood swings that were out of control. She lost interest in her church which baffled everyone. And in a few years after her doctors had first introduced us to the word “dementia” they had to explain a new word to us. Alzheimer’s Disease.

Church InteriorAfter various health problems took their toll, our family maintained in-home nurses to see to her needs as long as possible. But good days grew further apart and after multiple hospitalizations, we reluctantly selected a full care facility.  While she grumbled and complained about the situation, she also was rapidly losing touch. She acted miserable after she was picked up for family events or simple outings, would throw tantrums and refuse her medicine.

While all of this hurtful difficult behavior was classic examples of this disease, the family so rarely caught a glimpse of the warm, funny and intelligent woman my grandmother had been. When she finally succumbed to her health problems and passed away, our family grieved together. We consoled ourselves with the fact that she was at peace now after years what can only be described as suffering.

Despite this sadness, her funeral was everything she would have wanted it to be. So many of her friends and family were able to attend, her flowers looked lovely and she looked well-appointed and at ease resting in her open casket. But I believe she would have be most proud of her daughter who choose to give her eulogy.

While there were a few tears when describing her mother’s life achievements, my aunt spoke only briefly before turning to the congregation. She asked if anyone had any stories they wanted to share. I had never attended a funeral service where the attendees where asked to speak informally. It was as if a barrier had been removed and suddenly friends and family were eagerly standing and telling incredible stories of my grandmother.

Some were short and polite, some were the ones we had heard a million times, others were new or rambling, but all were fascinating. We even laughed together as a large group when her childhood best friend recounted a story that had been retold countless times in her family about being young girls in the 1930s and giving their dolls a bath in a washtub under the clothesline.

Walking out of the funeral home, I found myself with a smile on my face because the love in the room was truly overwhelming. I am so thankful that, after years of losing sense of who this amazing woman was, we were all reminded in a crucial moment exactly who she was and what she had meant to all of us. I believe my grandmother would have felt happy and honored to be remembered in this way.

Childhood Memories

Celebrations of Life is an on-going series that features stories submitted by you that highlight how friends, family, and even strangers celebrate the life of the dearly departed. We keep these stories anonymous to protect identities but also to illustrate the universal experience of losing a loved one. You can share your stories in the comments below.

Grief Therapy Dog: A New Kind of Funeral Home Employee

July 9th, 2013

Grief is a constant client for the proprietors of a funeral home. As such, each and every staff member is thoroughly trained and kept as prepared as possible to deal with it in all its many forms. With that in mind, it should come as no surprise to learn that many funeral homes employ a grief counselor or have one on retainer, but what you may not know is that more and more funeral directors have seen fit to hire some additional help in the grief counseling arena. For a growing number of funeral homes, grief therapy just isn’t complete without a grief therapy dog!

Grief Therapy Dog?Hug

That’s right, a grief therapy dog. This is a dog that acts as another employee, greeting and comforting clients in their time of need. Some have said that once it’s been on the job a few months, a grief therapy dog becomes intuitive about who wants the attention and who does not. Even going so far as to seek out someone that is most in need of its services!

So why is this effective? Scientists have proven that petting animals will reduce stress, lower blood pressure and a University of Missouri-Columbia researcher concluded in 2004 that it will even create a hormonal response that raises serotonin levels which help fight depression!

Because basic interactions with a dog have such profound benefits, dogs come naturally to the role of grief therapist. Some of these dogs are true professionals and have undergone extensive training while others simply fall into the role. Either way, the benefit to the humans they comfort are the same.

Training

Playtime

The problem, of course, lies in the fact that some people don’t like dogs and therefore aren’t interested in any amount of attention from one. This is where training becomes a factor. Grief therapy dogs are respectful of client’s wishes and are trained only to approach if they are solicited. They do not jump up, get rambunctious or get overly excited. A good grief therapy dog is very reserved, accepting of attention but not demanding it and not only willing but happy about going to work.

And it does know it’s going to work. Most grief therapy dogs double as a house pet to one of the funeral home employees, and they invariably say that when the therapy vest comes out, the dog understands what is expected of it and acts accordingly. As much as any other employee in the office, these dogs are professionals.

Grief therapy dogs are a proven benefit and offer love, attention and care to those clients most in need of comfort. They are not only valued employees, but beloved pets. If you are interested in acquiring a grief therapy dog, you should contact your local AKC certified trainers and see if they would be able to help you. Any trainer should be able to help once they understand the behaviors you are looking for.

Not every dog is cut out to be a grief therapy dog. Just as you’d hire any other position in your office, you look for the right attitude and the right fit. However, once you find the right dog, you’ll never understand how you got along without it.

 

Where Do I Obtain Illinois Death Records?

April 1st, 2013

Ask The Funeral Expert:

Michele – My daughter, died on November 9, 1978 and her cremation took place at Severino Funeral in Rosemont, Il. My in-laws, Russell and Elizabeth Berggren made the arrangements and have since passed away. I am trying to find any information I can on my daughter’s death records, and am wondering if you might have any records regarding her death. Any information you can give me would be greatly appreciated.  Thank you.

Funeral Expert Reply:

In the state of Illinois (as long as you can prove a relationship to the deceased and need for information), you can petition the Illinois Vital Record Department for a copy of the her death record.

You will need to prove the following:
The decedent’s full name.
* The date of death.
* The city and county where the death occurred, if known.
* The parent(s) name(s).
* Any additional identifying information you may have — such as the funeral home in charge of burial.
* Your relationship to the decedent.
* The reason for requesting the record.
* A copy/photocopy of a non-expired, government issued photo ID.
* I also suggest giving them the date of birth and location of birth.

You can ask for the information in-person, via, phone, fax, or online.  The best place to start your inquiry is in the county clerk’s office in which the death occurred. For example if she died in the same county as the funeral home, you would contact the Cook County Clerk.

If you want to visit them in person you would go to Cook County Bureau of Statistics, 50 W. Washington – Concourse Level -25 Chicago Il. By mail Cook County Bureau of Statisitics PO Box 641070 Chicago, IL 60664 or call them at 312-603-7788.

I hope this information is helpful. Please let me know if I can assist with anything else.

Plant a Memory for Your Loved One

March 29th, 2013

Plant a memory of your loved one with beautiful memorial flowers and trees that express your sympathy to be shared with friends and family. Or, give a unique “growing memory” gift that blooms and flourishes year after year while creating a lasting tribute to a loved one. What better way to remember a cherished one than with a tree or flowers in a memorial garden?

Seeds of Love Memorial GiftIn planting trees and flowers, you’re passing the gift of life back to earth. Unforgettable lush trees benefits everyone for future generations to come through sight and meaning. They also provide a wonderful symbol of the continuation of life for your loved one.

One company that is offering a memorable way to memorialize life is Plant A Memory. With them, they help create a beautiful way of remembrance of your loved one with their plant memorial gifts.

This company offers evergreens, forget-me-nots, daisies, wildflowers, herbal garden mixes or roses to remember your beloved. All come in beautiful packaging that is dedicated to your loved one.

With these seeds and trees, you’ll be able to create a memorial garden with gorgeous flowers and trees that offer a special place to honor your cherished one. Every time you see the garden, you’ll be reminded of all the fond memories that you two shared.

It’s also something that you’ll be able to share with family members and generations to come.

Memorial TreeSince Plant A Memory features these lovely seeds and trees in beautiful packaging, they are ideal for funeral keepsakes. Some family members like to save flowers from the funeral as a keepsake, but These lovely seed packets offer a renewable alternative to that practice.

They are even personalized with name, dates and a special message. Choose a dove bookmark with a wildflower mix, a cross memorial keepsake with forget-me-nots or a lovely evergreen that let family members have a beautiful, living keepsake to cherish for years to come.

Share lasting memories by planting flowers and trees that will bloom and grow with time. Visit Plant A Memory for meaningful and special flowers, as well as evergreens to create an everlasting impression for your loved one.

Honor Your Beloved Pet with a Memorial

March 25th, 2013

The loss of a pet is utterly heart wrenching. To some, it’s like losing a member of their family. Pet memorials are a great way to commemorate the lives of those who gave you so much love and companionship. All pets are special and deserve a high quality memorial that will remind you and others of your wonderful life together. Pet families need the same support as those who are grieving the loss of a human family member. This is why dog and other pet memorials are becoming increasingly popular.

Pet Grave MarkersThere are many memorials available that can capture the special nature of your pet. You’ll find headstones, pet memorial stones, urns, tribute boxes, pet memorial jewelry and even online memorials.

Pet Headstones & Urns

There are many different types of headstones and urns for your beloved pet. Many companies provide headstones that feature their name, date of birth and passing date. You can even have it personalized by adding a precious photo, including a tribute or creating a special design. Monument companies will have many suggestions to enhance your ideas.

If you are wanting to have your pet cremated, you’ll also find various urns for the ashes. Again, you’ll find many designs and styles so you can choose the best one that suits your pet’s personality. Choose from wooden photo boxes, marble urns with or without a personalized photo, urns with poems, figurine urns and outdoor urns. These can easily be personalized exactly as you want so your friend is memorialized.

Shadow Boxes

Another alternative is a shadow box. This is a tribute box for your pet where you can place special photos, mementos, paw print impressions’, dog collar or favorite toy. Whatever your pet was fond of, include it in the shadow box. What a comforting way to memorialize your pet in your home. Every time you see the shadow box, you will be reminded of the special times you shared with your beloved dog, cat or animal family member.

Memorial Jewelry

You’ll also be able to memorialize your pet with jewelry. Pendants, bracelets or necklaces are available in different sizes, shapes and designs. Memorial jewelry is a way to keep you cherished pet close to your heart.

Memorial Pet Gardens

If you would like to honor you pet in a unique way that is comforting year round and you can celebrate the life of your pet, consider creating a memorial garden. Create a nice resting place for your beloved pet with a personalized memorial that is surrounded by beautiful flowers and trees. Your cherished pet can rest peacefully in their own lovely living memorial.

There are many ways to honor your beloved pet. It’s never easy to say goodbye, but a well-chosen pet memorial can help you remember your special pet.

Who Can Obtain An Obituary?

December 17th, 2012

Ask The Funeral Expert:

Can I obtain a copy of my sisters obituary?

I am her brother, closest living relative.  Fred

The Funeral Expert Reply:

Most obituaries are public notices of a person’s death. So almost anyone can get a copy of someone’s obit if they subscribe or buy the newspaper in which the obituary is published.  The obituary can be published both online and in print.
Often it is the funeral home who submits the obituary to the local newspaper. Funeral homes often will also publish an obituary on their website. However this isn’t the only way an obituary can be submitted to a newspaper. Many newspapers charge a fee to publish the obituary. So family members can submit obituaries as well.
To get a copy of your sister’s obituary you can do one of three things:
  1.  Contact the funeral home that provided the funeral services. They should be able to give you a copy of the obituary submitted to the local newspaper or published on their website.
  2. Contact the local newspaper where your sister’s funeral was held. They should be able to give you a copy of the published obit.
  3. Search for your sister’s name + obit on the internet. If the service was held in the last decade, you should be able to find the obit online.
Keep in  mind that obit do not serve the same legal function as a death notice or death certificate. If you need proof of your sister’s passing, you can contact the state in which your sister died and petition for a copy of her death certificate. You will need certain information to get a death certificate such as full name, year of birth, year of death, social security number and other personal identification information. The requirements are usually listed on the state’s death certificate request form.
Hope this information was helpful. Please let me know if I can help with anything else.

 

How To Find An Obituary

December 14th, 2012

Ask The Funeral Expert:  My mothers obit

My mother was killed in 1976 her name was Leola Murdock -Brown and I would like to get an obit. Because I never got one. Wilda

Funeral Expert Reply: 

Wilda,

There are several ways in which you can find an obituary for someone.  However, it depends on how much information you have about the deceased and how many years since their passing.  Since your mother’s was in 1976, it maybe harder to track the obit down.

A simple Google or Bing search using their complete name, year of death and the word obit (Leola Murdock -Brown 1976 obit) will often times give you the information you need to find an obituary.  However, I was unable to find your mother’s obituary with the information you gave me. The only reference to a Leola Murdock Brown was connected with a 1998 obit for a John Murdock. In that obit a Leola Murdock Brown was listed as a survivor.  Normally this method works for deaths that have occurred in the last 10 years. Obituaries over ten years can be more tricky to find.

If you know the name of the funeral home in charge of the service, you can contact them.  Most funeral homes send an obituary to a the local newspaper where the funeral home is located or to the home town of the deceased. They should be able to give you the name and contact information of the newspaper.  With that information you can call the newspaper’s archive department and get a copy. The newspaper will more than likely charge you a nominal fee.

Unfortunately, I was unable to find your mother’s obituary information with the information you gave me. The only reference to a Leola Murdock Brown was connected with a 1998 obit for a John Murdock. In that obit a Leola Murdock Brown was listed as a survivor.

You might try several of the genealogy sites. These sites often have a database of obituaries. You might also try the newspaper in her home town or the town in which she lived at the time of her death.

Sorry that I couldn’t have been more of a help.

 

Can a Bucket list Help You Through Grief

October 22nd, 2012

There are many forms of grief. How you cope with death is your decision. Everyone grieves differently. Why not let it have a positive impact of your life?

When you lose a loved one, do you ever take a moment to sit down and see how their death impacts your life? You’ll miss spending time with them, sharing talks and just knowing that they will always be there for you. What sort of positivity can come from it? Yes, it’s a truly saddening time, but think about how it can have a positive impact on your life.

Recently, Candy Chang, a local artist in New Orleans, took the time to turn an abandoned home into a giant chalkboard. She created a fill in the blank that said, “Before I die, I want to _____”. Her neighbors answers were funny, inspiring and uplifting. It made them take a moment and understand their dreams, wishes and life aspirations.

How can you apply this to your life or how can that same scenario help you with your grieving process? Live each day to it’s fullest, because your time on earth can be gone in an instant. Is there anything you have wanted to do since you were little: a hobby you wish you would have taken up; a specific food you’ve wanted to taste; a beautiful location you’ve wanted to visit? Everyone has hopes and dreams; start living yours today.

Sit down and create a bucket list of the things you have always dreamed about. You can even create a bucket list that features some of the aspirations of your lost one and dedicate it to them. It can be the top five, twenty or even one hundred. You decide. Let the loss of your loved one have a positive impact by helping you live your life to the fullest. Strive towards your goals and never give up. Once you achieve them, you will be able to look back and say that the loss of your loved one truly had a positive impact on your life.

Is My Child Ready to Attend a Funeral?

July 12th, 2012

“Could my child handle a funeral service?”

As a parent, the emotional health of your child is always at the forefront of your mind.  When a family member or friend passes, it is natural for you to be concerned about their involvement in the funeral services.  You may be feeling grief, anger or even guilt and fear that your child will experience the same difficult emotions.  In the past, it was considered unwise to allow a young child to attend a funeral, primarily based on the high emotions and fear of death it may create. Today though, most funeral homes, psychologists and parents see the funeral as a chance to provide closure for a child who has lost someone they care deeply about and to shed light on the mysterious, and often frightening, concept of death. FSN Funeral Homes has taken the time to list a few considerations you should make when choosing whether or not to allow your child to attend a funeral.

Is my child old enough?

Age is possibly the greatest concern for most who oppose children attending funerals.  Rabbi Earl Grollman, a bereavement specialist and chairman of the National Center of Death Education at Mount Ida College, suggests that, “If a child is old enough to go to church services, that’s old enough to go to a funeral.”

On the other hand, Hospice of the Valley finds that, “When deciding whether your child should attend a funeral or memorial service, age is not the most important consideration. Your child is part of the family, and children who are old enough to love are old enough to grieve.”  From their perspective a healthy grieving process should be supported in all ages.

The primary concern you should truly have is the maturity level of your child.  Can he or she remain quiet?  Is your toddler too restless to sit through a service?  Will your child remain respectful of others? Decide whether or not your child will disturb others during their mourning.  Remember, kids are kids and you cannot expect them to listen intently to every speaker and song.  If the child can be occupied by a  quiet activity, this would be an appropriate distraction.

Attending a Funeral Allows Your Child to Say “Goodbye”

How close was my child to the deceased?

If you feel that your child has a meaningful bond with the deceased, that their loss will  affect them personally, then there is good reason to allow your child to attend the funeral.  Just like adults, children need closure.

The funeral serves the same purpose for children as it does for adults.  The shared mourning and celebration of life are crucial to a healthy acceptance of their loved one’s passing.  Phyllis R. Silverman, a psychologist who has conducted research concerning children who attended a parent’s funeral, stated that she found among those children she interviewed a generally positive perspective.  “They were pleased that there were many people at the funeral who cared for their parent. They talked about the importance of remembering, celebrating their parent’s memory and mourning together. The funeral helped them do that.”

Many parents and psychologists have also found that children appreciate being included in the funeral plans of someone dear to them.  Choosing the casket or deceased’s dress is often offered as good ways to involve them in the decision-making process.  You could also suggest they write a letter or draw a picture to be placed in the casket.

Does my child want to attend the funeral?

While it may seem strange to allow your child to make this decision, giving your child the power of choice will provide them with confidence and control in a time when they are feeling powerless.

If your child is uncertain whether or not they wish to go, there are several reasons they may be hesitant.  They could have unanswered questions or unfounded fears.  For example, Barbara F. Meltz, a child care journalist, explains that referring to the deceased’s “body” may unwittingly create a fear of a headless loved one.  They may not understand the gravity of the situation and find personal, selfish things more appealing – like thinking, “Why would I spend my Saturday with old people?  I want to play ball!”

Do not make the child feel guilty for not wanting to attend, simply ask them why they don’t want to.  Address any concerns they mention honestly and sincerely.  Additionally, many psychologists recommend encouraging the child to attend.  Emphasize the family aspect of the service and the reasons funerals are held – showing respect, celebrating life, and grieving with family.

If your child does choose to attend the funeral, encourage him or her to ask questions and assure them that you want to know how they are feeling.  Conveying openness and a willingness to work with your child will give them the support they need to address their grief. Make sure to thoroughly explain what will happen during the funeral so they fully understand what will take place, eleminating any fear of the unexpected.

The Key to Protecting Your Child

Let your child feel included in the funeral

As an adult, you understand what has happened to a deceased loved one without attending a funeral, but a child has no concept of such things as a casket, grave, or burial if you do not educate them. Imagine never knowing what has happened to a loved one; this is how your child could feel if they are not familiar with the concept of death and funerals.   The best method to ensure your child will be ready for a funeral is to prepare them yourself.  Do not avoid answering questions, but reward curiosity with enthusiasm.  This preparation should address the following aspects:

  • The Funeral Service - Hospice of the Valley suggests you make sure the 5 W’s and H are answered for the child when addressing the funeral service (Who, What, When, Where,  Why and How).
  • The Concept of Death -   Death’s permanence, the separation from a loved one, and the physical body may be difficult concepts for your child to understand.  Be straightforward and avoid euphemisms which may be confusing to your child.
  • The Emotional Aspect -  Describe how some people may be acting at the funeral – crying, quiet, etc. – and open up to your child about how you feel.  Most importantly, make sure your child is comfortable with his or her own feelings.  Let them know that reacting emotionally is natural, but also that he or she will not be expected to act like everyone else.  Everyone mourns differently. Encouraging your child to write, draw, or talk out any feelings they are having is a good way to gauge how they are reacting to the experience.

If you find discussing any of these issues difficult, there is no need to worry. There are plenty of resources out there to help you educate your child on all aspects of death – from the funeral to grief.  Also, when you find the funeral home which will be holding the service, contact the director.  Sometimes they will have special services just for children or at least will be prepared to answer any questions your child may have.

“I hear people say the funeral would be too hard on them.  They are not allowed to say good-bye to loved grandparents because the experience might traumatize them.  In our efforts to protect, we leave it to their imaginations.  That which is left to the imagination is an invitation to nightmares and struggle.”

 – Doug Manning, in The Funeral: A Chance to Touch, A Chance to Serve, A Chance to Heal

While it would be easier to look at this decision as if it were black and white, it’s not. This issue truly is a personal decision based on your individual child – and it should be individually based on each child you have.  Though the parental instinct wants to immediately protect your child from  such a tragic event, opening up to your child about what is going on is the best way to protect them.  As Manning said, avoiding the topic of death simply makes it a more terrifying idea.  Children will try to explain their world in whatever way they can, even death, so leaving them uninformed is simply leaving room for fear.  Whether or not you find attending a funeral would be right for your child, you should take the time to explain to him or her what is going on.  Most importantly, ensure that your child does not feel isolated.  Make sure they understand what is going on, know that there are people they can reach out to, and let them know that their opinions and feelings matter to the family.  Taking the time to reassure and educate your child could make all the difference in how they deal with the loss of a loved one.

Other Resources for Your Consideration:

Father and Son photograph from Kelly B. on Flickr.
Children at Grave photograph from Kratka’s Photography on Flickr.
Girl at Candle Vigil photograph from The U.S. Army on Flickr.

Remembering Lost Loved Ones During the Holidays

May 29th, 2012
Memorial Tree Planting

Remember Loved Ones By Planting A Memorial Tree

The holidays may be a time which brings friends and family closer together, but it’s not easy to celebrate with the loss of a loved one weighing on your mind. While their absence may be painful, there are many beautiful ways to remember those you have lost and to celebrate their life during the holidays.

Overcoming Holiday Sadness through Memorials

If you want to remind yourself and others that a loved one’s passing has not ceased their importance in your life, a memorial can serve as the perfect reminder.   Many different types of memorials are out there and each could be easily personalized with intimate touches.  Below are a few examples.

  • A living memorial, such as a tree or rose bush, makes a perfect opportunity to host a memorial service in your loved one’s honor.
  • Annually lighting a candle allows those who participate to take a moment to remember those they have loved and lost and may be displayed in a window for all to see.
  • Christmas ornaments or memorial plaques may be set up with holiday decorations as a seasonal reminder of a loved one’s memory.
  • Hand-maid memorials give kids the opportunity to participate in the remembrance process.  (Ideas and templates  for homemade memorials may be found online.)

Continue reading “Remembering Lost Loved Ones During the Holidays” »