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Wednesday, 10 October 2018

The funeral reception

In simple terms, your choice of venue for a funeral reception is between holding it at home (the deceased’s home or that of a close relative) or in an external venue (a hired hall or hotel,
restaurant, club or pub). Sometimes it is not an easy choice but often the choice has already been decided, through the deceased’s requests or ‘because that is what he/she would have wanted’. This can help relieve a great deal of decision-making. But for those that still have to make the choice or would just like to know what each option holds, below I have detailed the issues to consider with each.

House versus Venue

• Transport to and from the house: Where is the house located? Is it on a quiet street without much parking or with ‘pay and display’ parking? Is it down a very tight country lane where accidents are common? Does it have a large driveway that will accommodate some cars? How far from the church or funeral service is it? Is it easy to find? Perhaps a few designated directors
can guide people to the house from the service;
• Need to put certain areas ‘off limit’: This is someone’s home, maybe the deceased’s, or their family home. Either way, you need people to be respectful and to facilitate that you need to set some boundaries. If possible, lock bedroom doors or any ‘off limit’ areas. Put any and all valuables or precious items into these locked rooms;
• Provide maps: Even with all the technology around today, it never hurts to supply people with a physical and easy-to-read map with directions to the house, to make sure you don’t lose anyone en route;
• Immediate family only or all invited: This is a personal decision to make but also one to think about
logisitically. How popular was the deceased? Will everyone who was at the service attend the reception? Will people who could not make the service come to the reception? How many can the house and the food / drink cater for? Would a more quiet, ‘family only’ affair be more respectful and more tasteful?
• No peace and quiet: A common issue with having a reception in your own home is that there is no escape. You cannot retire to bed or relax on your couch and collect your thoughts, cry, laugh, reminisce or scream if you have invited people into your home. Everywhere you go in the house, you will find people who will want to sympathize with you;
• Marquee option: Having a reception in your home is a lovely idea but, if you expect numbers to exceed space you have available to cater for them, consider the option of hiring a marquee and placing it in the back or front garden. It will still have that homely feel but will ease the impact on your home;

Another critical aspect of having a reception in a home is catering for everyone. Typically, people are hungry after a funeral service – thirsty, too. Can you afford / do you have the space to cater for them all? Do you have the kitchen facilities to do it? Will it be finger food, buffet or a three-course meal? Can friends, family and neighbors bring a dish or some sandwiches and help out? It will certainly ease stress if a caterer can come and have all the food and drink (including cups of tea and coffee – a favorite at events such as funerals) prepared for you when you arrive home from the service and will clear up when you are finished. They also can supply the extra cutlery and glassware that would otherwise have to be rented or borrowed.

• Transport to and from: Often a central venue in the local town or city center can be the best choice when it comes to transport. Typically, there is ample parking, directions to the venue are known, and roads and paths are well-lit and secure.
• Local or long distance: Did the deceased drink in a particular bar or visit a particular hotel or restaurant regularly? This could be ideal for the reception. Another option is to think of a venue where perhaps the deceased always wanted to visit. Choosing venues can be dependent on whether you wish to ask people to travel long distances. Elderly people may not be able to commit to the travel;
• Book accommodation: Depending on how far people must travel for the funeral service, you may have to provide them with accommodation information such as local bed and breakfasts or hotels. If you are holding the reception in a hotel, you might be able to negotiate a discount on rooms booked;
• House-sitters: If you choose to have the reception in a local hotel, it is sad, but often burglars are aware of this fact. The deceased’s details have been printed in the newspaper and this house is now empty, with potentially dozens of others on the same road or in the same estate as the deceased. All of these home-owners will be at the hotel at the reception. Safeguard yourself and your home against these opportunists and have a house-sitter mind your home, leave a radio or a TV on, make sure an alarm has been fitted to your home and leave some lights on. Give the impression someone is
• Opportunity to get away if needed: A bonus to having a reception in a hotel, club, bar or local restaurant is that it is easy to slip away for some peace and quiet if you need to. Funerals can be very tiring and emotional experiences and while some people will wish to celebrate the deceased life long into the night, others will feel tired very fast and require some sleep or just a few moments alone;
• Music and entertainment: Having an external venue look after the reception also means that you can hire professionals to provide entertainment for your guests – maybe the deceased’s favorite band or trad singer or pianist?

Again, choosing a venue takes care of the catering issue. Professionals will cater to everyone’s taste and price. You can choose to pay for everything, or allow everyone to order for themselves or you can order some smaller items and if people wish to have more they can pay for it.

Regardless of which option you choose, home or external venue, there are still more decisions to make. Food and drink options will be similar whether the reception is held in the home or in a public house:
• Will you have a special toast for the deceased?
• Is there a special menu you would like to supply in honour of the deceased?
• Will you supply a buffet, finger food or sit down menu? What time will it be served at?
• Will you supply a free bar/limited bar or have people pay for/bring their own?

Another option could be to have a family sit-down dinner immediately after the service and meet up with everyone else in a broader reception afterward. Always keep some food aside; this might seem like a waste but it will not be. This food is for the immediate family who may or may not eat during the reception as they will be chatting with everyone and accepting sympathies. This food will be greatly appreciated after the reception when everyone has gone home.

Sunday, 19 August 2018

Online Legacy Part 3/3 - Death on Instagram and Snapchat

Social media platforms can be used to communicate online the details of a funeral service, receive sympathy messages from those abroad who cannot get home for a service and to mourn a loved one online. Displaying photos of the deceased, their recipes, songs, art or photos on Facebook, Instagram,
Snapchat, Pinterest, Twitter or YouTube can provide comfort to some.

Instagram’s  ‘death policy’ aligns closely to that of its parent company, Facebook. Users’ accounts can either be memorialized or removed BUT unlike Facebook, where you can decide pre-demise which YOU would prefer Instagram leaves it up to your loved ones to decide on how you should be remembered.

Similar to Facebook a Memorialized account will not show up in public spaces or suggested searches. To memorialize an Instagram account you need to provide:
  • Fill out a form on their site
  • Their name and username
  • Their email address
  • Date they died and a link to their obituary

The other option is to Permanently Remove an Instagram Account. Only verified immediate family members are able to make a request for removal of the account. Upon submitting a deletion request, Instagram requires individuals present proof of immediate family relation, which would be the deceased person’s birth certificate, death certificate or “proof of authority under local law that you are the lawful representative of the deceased person, or their estate.” More info here

According to Bloomberg, there are 150 million people using Snapchat every day and YET Snpachat has failed to provide any ‘death policy’. The ONLY current method of memorializing or deleting your Snapchat account upon your demise is providing a loved one with your login and password. NOT something many people are comfortable doing BUT if you have this information and want to delete then….

First, log into Snapchat here, with the person’s username and password. Then simply check the box confirming you are not a robot, click submit, re-enter the username and password and click continue. After following these steps an account is deactivated for 30 days, which involves individuals not being able to interact in any way with the person on Snapchat. Then after the 30 days, the account will be permanently deleted.

As always my suggestion is PREPLAN!!!!

Other issues in the online space include:
  • Access to the deceased’s email accounts and subscription sites: Do you have the necessary user/account names and passwords? If you have usernames and passwords, it will make account access and deletion much easier. If not, there is still the option of contacting the service providers as mentioned above; 
  • Blog posts: People blog for both personal and business reasons and a regular action online is to ‘schedule’ your blog posts so that they are spaced out over the course of a month or a year. However, if posts are scheduled to appear after the person’s death, this can cause discomfort, pain and upset if regular readers receive blog posts posthumously;
  • Online business revenue: Whether this is online advertising revenue, eBay sales, Paypal accounts or other, you should inform the deceased’s solicitor and accountant, as well as whoever is taking responsibility for the deceased’s business affairs;

Wednesday, 23 May 2018

Bio/Water/Hydro...etc...Cremation! OR Alkaline Hydrolysis OR Resomation

Known by a million different names, Resomation (that's what I am sticking to for the purpose of this article) is definitely a hot watery topic in the funeral world. ;-)

At the ICCFA in Las Vegas earlier this year, there was a workshop early one Saturday morning talking all things resomation in the pet world. I went to update my knowledge.

So what is it? From what I gathered at the show and from previous informative workshops and a little research, it produces less carbon dioxide than cremation and would be considered more environmentally friendly as there is no fire or smoke emissions as it 'dissolves the body's tissue'. It uses a combination of heated water and potassium hydroxide (or the cheaper sodium hydroxide) to liquefy the body, leaving only the bones behind. The bones are then pulverized, similar to regular cremation, and these are fragments returned to loved ones.

There is a choice of two different types of machines - one using high temperatures and one using low. There is a 'cycle time' for the typical body of a pet of 8-20 hours which seems like a fairly broad estimation of time so clearly, there is no 'average' yet. For pets, about 2-6 pets can be put through each 'cycle'. For humans it appears the cycle time is 3-4 hours as there is a higher temperature use.

While considered environmentally friendly and research has proven the destruction of all pathogens (things that cause disease), there is still a concern over prions (deadlier disease-causing creeps that mostly reside in the brain). The speaker at this particular Vegas workshop, Seyler, said he had not ever witnessed the destruction of prions and was curious to hear more on studies of it using resomation.

The first human 'test' was completed in the Mayo Clinic in 2005 and it slowly gained traction in the US, reaching a height of...morbid curiosity 2011 and it continues to grow. As far as I am aware, however, it is not legal in every State in America but is gaining traction outside of the US, in the UK and Canada.

It has been described by those looking to promote it as a 'gentle reduction process', however, I have heard, on fairly good and accurate authority, that to begin the process and help it along, the skull which protects our most valuable accessory, the brain, must be cracked open so the brain can be dissolved in the liquid. Otherwise, there are times when some brain tissue is left because of the hard protective nature of the skull. There is an issue with fully dissolving the liver also. On the plus side, operators of the machine can open and see the machine running - although I'm not quite sure why this is a positive because you're hardly going to stick your arm into a solution that dissolves tissue to prod or move things around are you?

So the big question - What happens to the wastewater? Apparently, it can go down the drain but what about the pH balance? Surely the same solution that dissolved the body would corrode the infrastructure and the sewer plant and anything else it passes through?

Prices for resomation seem to average at similar, if slightly more expensive than regular cremation.

In summation, I'm not a fan of knowing granny or indeed puppy's head will be caved in before she gets dissolved and then flushed down the drain and I'm not entirely sold on the benefits to the environment but as always, I am open to suggestion and discussion so if anybody can inform me differently, please elaborate!

Friday, 20 April 2018

ICCFA Convention 2018 Las Vegas

The ICCFA 2018 Annual Convention took place in sunny Las Vegas!

I was happy for an excuse to take me to some sunshine after a pretty long winter in both Ireland and New York.

I flew in a day early to gather myself and get some Vitamin D because I know, from previous conventions in Vegas, that you can get so involved in work and networking that you may never leave the adjoining hotels or see daylight!
 I had hardly walked in the door of the convention and I met the infamous Funeral Commander, Jeff Harbeson. Always a laugh to catch up with him and his bright colourful suits!

I love coming to the ICCFA and the NFDA annual conventions because twice a year, every year, the funeral professionals gather to educate, innovate, network, eat, drink and rarely sleep!! Always a chance to catch up with old friends and make some new ones in the process! I even got to catch a few shows with friends while I was in town too which was great, considering Vegas is THE go-to spot for any show!

Sadly, Innovation at this year's show, along with attendance, was slow and seriously lacking. I was hard pushed trying to find something new to report on. There were SongPods of Solace which contain cremated remains, locks of hair/fur or feathers of a loved one. They are handmade and considered a musical memorial. Shake them and hold to your ear to hear a unique chime!

Then there is commemorative rosary beads which are made from flowers - from a wedding, a funeral, a birthday or anything. A good way to 'recycle' flowers and keep a memorial of the date.

A very girly innovative find this year, lastly we had Phyll The Love. A company set up, when she found herself limited according to Jewish customs to throw something onto her mother's coffin as it was being lowered into the ground. A series of hurried questions to the rabbi later and colorful sand was the chosen love token! She now provides beautiful little bottles of coloured sand that funeral directors or family members can hand out to graveside goers to toss onto the casket in lieu of flowers. Innovative and creative? Yes, however, when I asked a number of my followers on Instagram their thoughts on usage, the result was a resounding NOPE. Ah well.

Other interesting things to note from the show was innovation in marketing or lack thereof. According to big players Funeral One and their attendees, marketing remains to be a funeral homes biggest challenge.

People WERE trying though, with Virtual Reality games happening and a giant colouring board to name a few fun things I spotted.

My first time Insta Story-ing the convention and the reactions were priceless - people thinking things were creepy AF (see below) or fascinated with the fact that there was such a thing as a funeral convention and wait...what...they have fun at it??! Noooooo.

I think we need to look at marketing for the industry from these people's perspectives and stop hiding our heads in the, even colourful, sand!

Thursday, 12 April 2018

Wakes Ireland

According to Wikipedia, a wake is:
A ceremony associated with death. Traditionally, a wake takes place in the house of the deceased, with the body present; however, modern wakes are often performed at a funeral home.

The Oxford English Dictionary describes a wake as: A watch or vigil held beside the body of someone who has died, sometimes accompanied by ritual observances, or a party held after a funeral.

Historically, a wake was the process of laying out the body of a departed (deceased) relative in the family home and watching over them from the time of death until the body is taken into the care of the church. The body is usually laid out in the parlour (living room or bedroom). Family, friends, and neighbours attend. Typically, a large amount of food and drink was consumed over the period of mourning. In Ireland today, wakes are still thought of as part of an Irish funeral, although they have altered slightly and happen more frequently in country towns and villages than in Irish cities. So where did it all come from? The true origins of the wake are foggy but the custom appears to date back to an ancient Jewish custom of leaving the sepulchre (burial chamber, vault, tomb, or grave) of the deceased open for three days before finally closing it up. This time allows family
members to visit, which they typically did in the hope of seeing signs of a return to life.

A myth that might be a basis for the Irish wake suggests that, in medieval times, people who drank from pewter tankards would suffer from lead poisoning, a symptom of which would be a catatonic state causing the person to appear dead only for them to recover or awaken a few hours
or days later!

Whatever the origins, there are specific steps that need to be followed in order to perform a historically accurate Irish wake:
• Family members and neighbours – typically women experienced in laying out the body – gather at the house of the deceased;
• The body is washed and dressed, usually in white;
• A bed is prepared for the body to rest on;
• If the deceased is a man, he is shaved;
• Sheets are hung over the bed and along two or three sides;
• A crucifix is placed at the throat of the deceased and rosary beads are entwined between the fingers;
• Candles are lit around the body;
• The clocks in the house are stopped and curtains closed as a mark of respect for the deceased;
• All mirrors in the house are turned toward the wall or covered.

A wake is most famously remembered for the keening (crying), as the women who prepared the body join the family in mourning. The preparations and the keening carry on until the arrival of any family members who may have been abroad. The deceased is never left unattended for the entire period of the wake. A person, generally a woman or a few women, sit nearby and watch over the body. When a mourner enters the room, they make their way to the side of the body, kneel down and silently recite prayers. Traditionally, the mourners then sympathise with the family before leaving. Visitations
last until midnight and food and drink are served throughout. Men typically congregate outside if it is not too cold or in the kitchen if it is winter, while the women care for the deceased or can be found in the kitchen making tea and sandwiches for visitors. The Rosary is recited at least once around the body and is led by a priest.

A wake can last a number of days, ending when the body is ‘removed’ from the home and brought to the church for a short service, known today as a removal.

There are two funeral services for the deceased, which is still relatively common in Ireland today. One is the removal, which occurs in the evening when the body is ‘removed’ from the home to the church; the second is held before the body is taken from the church to the graveyard or crematorium the next day.

Tuesday, 3 April 2018

Online Legacy Part 2/3 - Death on Twitter and LinkedIn

In a study, published in the journal Nature Human Behaviour, data from more than 15,000 social media networks of people who died were examined during a 4 year period. They examined how people interacted on those networks both before and after a death. The result was that people are indeed now grieving ONLINE and use online channels to stay connected to networks of the deceased. Online death needs to be addressed, both in terms of our legacies left online, how we grieve online and how people can be negatively affected by online trolling during times of grief.

Gmail (Google email) and Hotmail allow the email accounts of the deceased to be accessed by the next-of-kin, if certain documents are provided and requirements are met, however, they make no guarantees. Yahoo! Mail (and thus Flickr) will not provide access, citing the ‘No Right of Survivorship and Non-Transferability’ clause in their terms of service.

For a Gmail account, if you are preplanning, their Inactive Account Manager is the best way to manage who should have access to your information and whether you want your account to be deleted.  Inactive Account Manager is a way for users to share parts of their account data or notify someone if they’ve been inactive for a certain period of time. More info here

In the event of someone’s death, Twitter will work with the next-of-kin or executor of the deceased's estate to have an account deactivated. When requesting removal of a deceased user’s account you will be asked to provide the following:

Deceased’s Twitter account username and the account owner
Your relationship with the user (next-of-kin/executor of the deceased's estate)
Your full name and email address
a copy of your ID
copy of the deceased’s death certificate

They will NOT give account access to anyone regardless of their relationship to the user. Requests on the removal of images or video of deceased individuals can also be made and will be assessed on case by case basis. More info here

Unlike Facebook, LinkedIn does not have a thorough “death policy” but maintains a simple guide if you come across the profile of a deceased person and have:

Your relationship to the deceased
Their Name and URL to their LinkedIn profile
Their email address
The date they died and a link to their obituary
The company they were most recently working for

The only option on LinkedIn is account deletion. See more here

Saturday, 31 March 2018

Are you living or visiting San Fran in April??

Death—a truly universal topic—is the focus of more than 100 unique events happening in every corner of San Francisco this April (which is tomorrow!)

Reimagine, a nonprofit inspired by OpenIDEO's End of Life Challenge has partnered with the City of San Francisco via the Department of Aging and Adult Services and the
Palliative Care Work Group to present Reimagine End of Life, a full week of exploring
big questions about life and death through creativity and conversation. 

From April 16 to 22, more than 100 collaborators will produce experiences, workshops, and
performances designed to spark public discussion and connection. Details and tickets
are available at or by calling (415) 329-6911.

“Reimagine convenes public conversations that transform our approach to life.
Everyone, irrespective of culture and background, is encouraged to reflect on why we’re
here, prepare for a time when we won’t be, and design what it means for us to live fully
right up until the end,” said Brad Wolfe, founder and executive director of Reimagine.
“More than 2,500 people attended 30 events during our first Reimagine week in 2016,
so we are expecting 7,000 this year. We want to connect the entire community with
life’s universal truth.”

Drawing on the arts, spirituality, healthcare, and design, Reimagine End of Life is
intended to break down taboos and bring diverse communities together in wonder,
preparation and remembrance. Events will be hosted throughout the week by a wide
variety of local organizations and individuals, from physicians performing personal
stories of their own experiences with death to music and comedy shows about mortality,
to a remembrance ceremony for the environment on the eve of Earth Day.

During the weekend prior to Reimagine End of Life, spiritual leaders across San
Francisco will participate in a “Conversation Sabbath,” speaking to their congregations
about death and encouraging involvement in Reimagine week events, especially the
numerous Advance Care Planning Workshops. More than 25 churches, community
organizations and libraries will host these free workshops to help residents plan their
end-of-life care and complete healthcare directives.