Grief support

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.



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.


Life Planning: Making a Great Ending

June 14th, 2013

Planning for the end is such a curious concept. So many of us worry about the life we are living and yet neglect to plan for that time when it will become more and more difficult to suck the marrow from our existence. They say it’s not the pace of life that gets you, it’s the sudden stop at the end. That line may be good for a chuckle, but for the majority of us, it’s just not true.

The End of Life

Life does not naturally careen forward only to stop abruptly. The reality is more akin to a car running out of gas. It’s running along just fine, engine purring, and then you begin to notice a few hiccups. The engine is still running, but it’s not doing everything it normally does. Something is missing, the engine struggles, causing the entire frame to jerk violently as it pulls and stops, pulls and stops. Eventually it quits, but even though the driving force propelling the car forward has stopped its thrust, the car hasn’t stopped forward momentum. It’s still moving. Steadily decelerating, yes, but moving until, finally, it coasts to a slow and laborious stop.

For most of us, on the day we die, our bodies will not be functioning as they did in our twenties. They will have broken down, ceased to function properly and yet still be pushing us forward. But that doesn’t mean we are destined to merely endure the end. It is possible to have happy and fulfilling final years; it just takes a little work.

Making a Good End

Judy MacDonald Johnston recently gave a brief talk outlining the basic steps required for ensuring a good end of life. The video is available for you to view below, and I’ve attached a short outline beneath it:

Judy MacDonald Johnston Prepare for a Good End of Life


  •  Make a Plan – You need to realize that your body is going to break down, possibly your mind as well. It is important that you plan for those events to take place so that when they happen your wishes are not only known but possible.
  • Advocates – These are people who will ensure your plan happens and be with you every step of the way. These need to be people that have the time to devote to seeing this through. Relying on your children may not work, so don’t just hold onto an expectation without discussing it thoroughly with them.
  •  Hospital Readiness – You need a brightly colored envelope which holds: a one page summary of your medical history, what meds you are currently on, and your physician’s information. It should contain a copy of your insurance card, power of attorney and do not resuscitate as well as any other pertinent legal documentation. This will expedite your admittance.
  • Choose Caregivers – Whether a senior care facility or at-home care, you need to make this decision ahead of time. Do not settle. These are the people that will be caring for you in your final days; make sure they are the right people.
  • Last Words – Not what you want to say, but what you want to hear. What reassurances do you need about the people or things you’re leaving behind? If you’ve made a plan, all of those important things should be handled, but you may need or want reassurance when your time nears.

If you are looking for more information on this topic, you can visit Judy MacDonald Johnston’s website Good End Of Life here.

Approaching the end of your life can be a beautiful time. It should provide an opportunity to find even more love and happiness, not be a trial you have to struggle through alone. With a little forethought, at the end of your life you can still have a fulfilling life.