A Sacred Moment Blog

Dia de Muertos Gratitude by Lindsay Soyer

done15737348972_2e883f9fac_o_SnapseedA million years before I ever dreamed I’d end up as a funeral director–in the fourth grade, to be exact – my teacher presented a lesson at the end of October about the Mexican holiday, Dia de Muertos, and my mind was BLOWN.

People throw all-night parties – with special food, music, dancing, the whole shebang – in graveyards?? It’s ok (healthy, even!) to display a full spectrum of emotions in an ongoing relationship with lost loved ones? Skeleton and skull decorations and art don’t have to be creepy OR morbid? Why had nobody told me these things!?

My family and most of the people I knew were not particularly religious or spiritual. Like so many Americans, I was raised in a culture that viewed death as unsavory and nothing to be talked or excessively thought about. If it did happen – if it had to be addressed – the appropriate reaction was sadness, followed by quickly putting the whole business out of your mind.

The philosophy underlying the Mexican celebration is similar in some ways to many other traditions around the world. Honoring continued connection to ancestors and deceased loved ones, integrating death to life in an authentic manner, embracing that which is mysterious and sometimes scary in order to live fully and well – was unlike anything I’d ever heard, but felt so obvious, and so right.

So while that grade school lesson barely scratched the surface of these complex and ancient traditions the meaning of death changed a lot for me, forever, in all kinds of positive ways.

So thank you, fourth grade teacher, wherever you are! It may even be your fault that I’m doing this work now! And it’s probably definitely your fault that I dragged my husband (who had never traveled abroad, incidentally) to Oaxaca, Mexico, for Dia de los Muertos, as our honeymoon…..

Which was a truly amazing dream come true – an incredible experience, for which I’m so very grateful. We spent a week in Oaxaca City and the surrounding towns and villages, learning about the history and culture of the folks who live there and their ancestors, as well as current politics and all the challenges various communities are facing each day. We met so many wonderful people, who were extremely patient and generous with us. It’s a beautiful part of the world, and anyone who has a chance should absolutely go visit. Even my husband had fun! (He was a total trooper).

And if you go during this time of the year, expect that it will be like Mardi Gras, only more fun and maybe even crazier . There were spontaneous parades every night in the streets, complete with brass bands, giant papier-mache skeletons, and everyone in elaborate costume. Annual public theater pieces are performed, and there’s lots of music and dancing. In all the places we went, from public spaces to private homes, intricate and gorgeous altars had been set up with offerings for the visiting spirits. Everyone, from children to the elderly, participated in the festivities. And there were, indeed, all-night graveyard vigils and parties, with raucous laughter to silent tears and everything in between.

There were also many tourists, like ourselves, and I noticed an element of voyeurism among us foreigners that made me uncomfortable, and sometimes embarrassed. I suspect that some people who come from ritually and spiritually impoverished cultures and traditions (like me) are desperate for better ways of handling life’s thresholds and mysteries – especially when it comes to death, and especially in such a collective manner. So in addition to my fourth grade teacher, thank you Oaxacans, for putting up with us and graciously sharing your rich wisdom.

Whatever holiday you’re celebrating this weekend, I hope it’s warm, fun, and cathartic!

Here are a few pictures from our trip:

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The Best Gift You Can Give to Your Family

Have you thought about your funeral plans lately?? I know, I know. It’s everyone’s least favorite to-do list item. Most of us would rather get a root canal than consider facing the cold, hard facts of our own mortality. But if we can’t bring ourselves to do it for our own sakes, perhaps we can find it in ourselves to do so for our families.

As we age, we all hope to remain as independent and in control – of our own lives and decisions – as possible. We make contingency plans, keep our affairs in order, and let our children and friends know what we envision for ourselves as various life transitions unfold. We instruct our medical teams about what lengths we prefer they go to should an emergency befall us, and we consult attorneys about wills and estates. We do these things to ensure that our wishes come to fruition, as much as possible, and importantly, so that our families aren’t saddled with the responsibility of managing the circumstances and direction of our own lives on our behalf. What often gets lost in the shuffle, however, is making plans for our deaths.

No one likes to think about funeral plans. But on the other hand, it’s an eventuality we can count on, which makes it only prudent to be as prepared as possible. In some ways, our funerals will represent a summation of our time here, and will serve as vital rituals for our individual communities as they process their grief and honor us.

As a funeral director, I’m here to tell you that when someone is in grief, making decisions is the last thing they are equipped to effectively do. But when someone dies without having made plans and communicating them to their family, that’s exactly the position those family members find themselves in. If a plan is already in place – even a rough one – it’s much, much easier on those left behind to focus on what matters during that time. Making funeral plans and sharing them with our family members and friends is truly one of the greatest gifts we can give them.

And these days, there are so many options to choose from, it might not even need to be the dreary and depressing task we imagine it to be. For instance, did you know that here in Washington State, you can choose to have your ashes scattered in Puget Sound from a ferry boat? You can have a memorial service, either before (in the case of a “living” memorial) or after you die. Before the cremation or burial takes place, it’s also perfectly legal and possible to keep a loved one at home for a vigil there with family and close friends, before a funeral home even needs to be involved. Another exciting option to consider is natural or “green” burial, which involves returning a body back to the elements using only a biodegradable casket or shroud. And if what you have in mind is something more simple and straightforward, a direct cremation or burial can be accomplished with minimal paperwork and fanfare.

The funeral home I work for, A Sacred Moment, offers the broadest range of services we possibly can. We know that all of us are unique, and we all want to be remembered in different ways when our time comes. Thus today’s choices go far beyond simply “cremation or burial”?

Should you choose cremation, there’s the question of whether you want a viewing first, possibly with a rental casket, and/or a memorial service afterwards. If your family chooses to, they can witness the placement of your body in the cremation chamber. There’s also a decision to be made about what sort of urn, if any, you’d like to hold your remains – and whether you want them buried, scattered, or kept at home.

Perhaps you would prefer for your casketed body to be buried. You can think about whether you would like to have a funeral service beforehand, and/or a graveside service when your remains are committed to the earth. Also keep in mind that embalming is never required by law. Other things to consider include what you might like to be dressed in, what music you might like played at your ceremony, and whether there are some poems, prayers, or other readings you would like spoken. What elements will best represent you, and will hold the most meaning for your survivors?

Should you die away from home, know that your body can be flown back home for burial or cremation, or alternatively, cremated remains can be shipped anywhere in the world.

As you consider these decisions, make sure to share them with your family. And, importantly, write your plans down and store them with other vital documents, in a location known to your family members.

Another benefit of preplanning your arrangements is the luxury of time and a clear head to shop around and really weigh your options – not just about what services you want, but which funeral home you choose to provide them. Do you want an independent funeral home or a corporation? How much money do you want to spend? Do you want to pay in advance? If so, do you want your money to be protected in a trust, or is an insurance policy sufficient? Prices vary widely from funeral home to funeral home, as do philosophies and business practices. Decide what matters to you in the context of end-of-life planning, and find a place that matches your vision.

A final step in preplanning for your funeral is to take care of some paperwork, so your family doesn’t have to do it down the road. If you want to be cremated, authorize your own cremation, in writing, with a witness signature and a date. If you would like to designate an agent to be in charge of your arrangements, you can sign a form for that as well. It’s also helpful to compile some basic biographical information that will be used someday to complete your death certificate. There are many internet resources for forms like this, including our website, www.asacredmoment.com.

Store these documents with your other funeral plans, and rest easy knowing that you’ve relieved your family of a huge burden. Your survivors will thank you for this very thoughtful gift. Even if we can’t plan the circumstances leading up to our deaths, we can find solace in knowing that we are exercising our right to have a hand in deciding what will become of our remains, and how we will be remembered. We can find a measure of comfort in knowing that with a little forethought, our deaths, like our lives, will be our own.

-Lindsay Soyer, Managing Funeral Director, A Sacred Moment

Words honoring Stuart Farber, MD

Yesterday we laid to rest a man of enormous impact on the world. To his family and friends, his patients, and his colleagues, Stu was a man who equally loved, listened, healed, educated, and played with quiet intensity. So when Stu was diagnosed with AML (leukemia), this man who had educated so many physicians (as the founding director of Palliative Care Service – UW Medical Center) on how to have quality end-of-life conversations with patients and families, it took my breath away.

And as his disease progressed, my breath was once again stolen when, Stu and his wife, Annalu (Lu) asked for my help to guide their family through his home funeral vigil. The honor was immense.

Balancing competing personal and professional roles can be challenging as a funeral director, because while we must do all we can to support the grieving, we ourselves grieve. At the conclusion of Stu’s emotional graveside service, I had taken my professional hat off. I put on my hat as a friend when I shoveled that reluctant spade of earth into his grave.

So when an impromptu invitation was offered to speak at the gathering following the graveside service, I was stunned, honored, and emotionally spent. Only upon reflection, the day after, am I able to articulate

the words I wish I had said…

Welcome, thank you for being here to honor the life of Stu Farber. I’m Char Barrett, a friend and colleague and the owner of A Sacred Moment Funeral Services. And that is where my connection with Stu begins.

Stu and I knew of each other and then met through our many hospice connections–myself as a volunteer, and Stu as a physician. When I started A Sacred Moment, I held many trainings to teach people about the healing power of home funeral vigils. This is when a loved one’s body is cared for and lies in honor in the home for a period of days following the death, prior to burial or cremation.

Little did I know how much this concept resonated with Stu. He and Lu had cared for his mother Alice in this manner, in the same sun room of their home, in which, Stu has been lying in honor for the past three days. So when I offered my first home funeral training, both Stu and Lu enthusiastically attended. It was only then that I learned what a healing experience Alice’s home funeral had been for Stu, hence his passion for the topic.

A week or so after the training, I was contacted by KING5 News. They wanted to do a segment on this “new,” (actually quite old and even ancient) concept of a home funeral vigil. I needed “actors” to play the part of those attending a home funeral training, and Stu and Lu were some of the first people to respond. They even brought along Lu’s nephew Cliff, who was in Seattle attending medical school at the time. Screen Shot 2015-03-02 at 10.15.23 PM

For many years after that segment aired on KING5 News, Stu would often refer to it. Stu, ever the teacher, wanted others to know about this healing way of experiencing a loved one’s death, just as he had with his mother, Alice. And so, now, for the last three days, we all have been experiencing the healing gift of being present to this incredible man’s body, in the sun room of his home. The honor of being able to assist Lu, his son Saul, daughter-in-law Michelle, and other family members through these days is beyond what I can say in words.

And before I conclude, I would be remiss if I didn’t also acknowledge the impact Stu has had on every resident of Washington state through his pioneering work as a founding member of the Washington End-of-Life Coalition (WEOLC). Stu was responsible for my becoming a member of the Coalition and even championing me to give the keynote address on home funerals and green burials at the annual meeting that same year.

This coalition is a sub-committee of the Washington State Medical Association (WSMA). It was responsible for the creation, and now, oversight, of the POLST (Physician’s Order for Life Sustaining Treatment) form. This form allows every Washington state resident with a terminal diagnosis to make their end of life wishes for treatment and care known to any medical provider. The POLST form (or one similar to it) has been adopted by most states across the country, via the National POLST Paradigm Task Force. The achievement of this important, end of life step is just one more example of the immeasurable impact Stu Farber has had on the world. He also was a dear friend and colleague, and I will miss him always.

Our green burial / home funeral workshop

We at A Sacred Moment always look forward to teaching our regular workshops about home funeral vigils and green burial at Bastyr University. Any opportunity to meet and talk with people who are interested in the things we do, and share our knowledge, is special to us. The experience is always inspiring and rejuvenating, if also a bit overwhelming (in a good way)! Last weekend’s class was no exception.

 

We had a record turnout of almost 20 participants, all of whom were fired up and curious about alternative, sustainable deathcare – both the practical applications and the larger, societal implications. The students were from all over western Washington, and represented a wide range of professional and personal interests drawing them to the subject matter.

 

Some are preparing to take care of their own aging loved ones during home funeral vigils in the future. Others are therapists or nurses who see education about funeral options as a natural extension of their roles in the lives of the individuals and families they support. Still other participants feel passionate about bringing these traditional options to their wider communities, as home funeral guides and sources of information.

 

The day-long workshop always goes by much too fast, and with never enough time to pack in all the information, dialogue, and hands-on training we want. Funeral directors, especially “alternative” funeral directors, sometimes feel like weirdos with creepy proclivities when we’re out in the wider world.  So being in a room full of people who are just as “weird” as we are, and interested in the same things – that so many others are afraid or unwilling to talk about – feels like a humbling affirmation of our work and shared vision, every time. We are so grateful to all who participated, and to Bastyr for being such wonderful hosts, as always.

 

If you’d like to attend a workshop in the future, consider joining our email list, and keep an eye on our Facebook page and events section of our website. And check out some photos (courtesy of staff member Jan) from last weekend’s class, below!

-Lindsay

 

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posted in:  Green Burials  |  Home Funerals

Scattering Ashes – Celebrating Dean

After four years, we finally buried Dean’s ashes.

We’d gotten used to having him around. Nova called him “the manager of the cupboard.” This is the cupboard in our office where we keep ashes, also known as cremains or cremated remains. Poured into heavy-duty plastic bags, they are then tucked inside sturdy plastic urns that are labeled with the late person’s name and birth and death dates.

Usually urns arrive and depart from our cupboard quickly, carried out to cars by grieving family members and friends. Continue…

Welcome to our new online home

At A Sacred Moment, we’ve just made coping a little easier.
We understand the challenge of facing a loss, while
needing to plan a cremation or burial.

With this in mind, we’ve redesigned our website. Every new feature was created to ease your way. Here are some of the benefits:
• Accessibility. Whatever device you use, you can find us. Information comes when you need it, in your chosen method.
• Easy to read and navigate. Straight away you see our full range of services, from simple cremations to natural green burials.
• First Steps When Someone Dies. A guide to prevent brain fog. Just follow the numbered steps to take care of your loved one.
• Schedule an appointment online. At 2 a.m. when you can’t sleep, you can request an appointment. We’ll call to confirm the next business morning.
• Online arrangements. You can complete the necessary arrangement forms online, from wherever you are.
• Deep resource. Whatever question you have, you’ll probably find the answer. From basics about cremation, to in-depth, leading-edge info about home funerals and natural green burials.
• Easy-to-view obituaries. People can easily find the online tribute to your loved one, and see one another’s comments.

In addition, we think our new website looks and feels like A Sacred Moment. The pages come in our favorite colors, purple and green. There are lots of beautiful (and informative) photographs. And design elements were inspired by our staff’s beloved and much-used quilt. Give our new online home a look at asacredmoment.com.

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