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Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Ted dream come true

Officially a Talker of Ted!

So it finally happened, a dream come true, another bucket list item ticked off, a career milestone, a personal mountain conquered – I finally stood on a Ted stage and did a ‘Ted Talk’ and boy, did it not disappoint!

Anxious and stressed in the days leading up to it, I was frequently frustrated with people dismissing my worries with a typically Irish phrase for dealing with things “Sure you'll be grand, not a bother to ya” and an emphasis on my perceived confidence. I say perceived because apparently, I give off an impression that nothing fazes me and have an almost uber confident aura. Nothing could be further from the truth. Aside from the weeks of stressing that my speech wasn’t ever going to be good enough, my message not clear enough, 5 minutes wasn’t long enough, 5 minutes was too long, my attire too bright, my attire not bright enough, my topic too boring, my story not relevant or that ill probably fall on my ass while walking on stage, they were minor to the 24 hours leading up to the ‘talk’.

I was working from home, finalizing orders, new designs, writing and analyzing blogs, sending out press releases etc etc, all in a days work…, when I got a call asking me to come into Newstalk (Irish Radio Station) for a radio interview. ‘Brilliant’ I say and accept wholeheartedly, excited for the opportunity. I hang up and immediately think F@£K what did I do that for, that’s gonna raise the anxiety levels a few notches…NOT something I need the night before my talk. As I usually do, I think feck it, roll with it, go with the flow. Running out the door I decide I should use the bathroom really quick – nothing worse for your nerves than shaky legs! Stupidly forgetting my phone was in my back pocket, my lovely iPhone gets acquainted with the toilet bowl water and dies stone dead. JUST when I needed it most. No time to think, I run out the door to Newstalk, the interview goes well, I cry, Ivan(presenter) doesn’t and the show goes on – apparently, the Hard Shoulder should be called the Cold Shoulder (I love my fellow pet loving community!).

I arrive home to some seriously fabulous family news and I cry all over again, by now I am an emotional wreck! Sleep comes hard and fast that night thank god but I wake early next morning (D Day!) to messages from friends cancelling their spot in the Ted audience, which although understandable, sends me into another emotional downward spiral of feeling let down, not important enough, not good enough, all of which are untrue but still weighed me down. Then to add further woe, I slick on some facial moisturizer that I use every day and break out in huge red blotches all over my face. NOT a good look.

An antihistamine, a chat with mom and an old boss later and I'm standing in the dressing room doing final prep work for Ted. I slick on a bit of red lipstick, put on my grim reaper cloak and a quick blur later and I'm walking off stage to rapturous applause, a WOW from the compare and I'm buzzing with endorphins and YESSSSSS I did it vibe.

Like practically every bucket list item I have ticked off, part of the joy ride is the pre event tears, tantrums, and anxieties but after every single one – running a marathon, writing a published book, skydiving, moving countries the absolute buzz of having accomplished something I only dreamed possible and the wonderful feeling of having pushed myself to my (deemed) limits, I ALWAYS always feel so unbelieveably proud and can smile knowing that from this day forward, I did this and no one, not one person can ever take away the fact that I did it and as that old crooner would say, I certainly did it my way ;-)

ACTUAL footage of me talking Ted ;-)

Prepared transcript of speech->

My name is Jennifer and I am fascinated with funerals.


Not what you were expecting?

My nickname is the Glam Reaper, aptly named for my weird interest in the funeral business but unlike the idea of that grim reaper cloak I try to bring love and life to the death business.

Today I want to share with you a story that I have not typically shared when interviewed.

Rewind to 8 years ago. I had just come home from Cuba. Holiday of a lifetime.

To bad news.

She had had a stroke. Several actually.

Me and my family had a big decision to make.

A decision between life and death.

We brought her to the hospital clinging on for dear life.

She had a little bit of food stuck to her nose.

She was so innocent and vulnerable.

Once so full of life. She just lay there. limp.

me and mom hugged each other as we watched as the light leave her eyes. She never took her eyes from ours.


Now let me tell you that this lil lady was my best friend, she was my confidente, I could have told her anything and she would have wagged her tail, licked my wounds and encouraged me to go for a walk!! Yes folks I have been talking about my dog

Does your perception of the story change?

Do you have any less sympathy for me?

Some of you probably even said “Oh for god sake its just a dog!!’

And I get it. But FOR ME. At that time. she was my whole world.

We'd been through childhood, the terrible teenage years when you feel the whole world is against you right through to adulthood.

Zero judgement, unconditional love every single day.

In interviews I have always been careful not to compare the loss of a dog to the loss of a human for fear of judgement.

So I buried my grief. And I'm not alone.

I've recently talked to a number of people who also experienced grief judgement.

People who lost uncles that were like dads.

Cousins who were like brothers.

All felt uncomfortable in their grief for fear of judgement.

Grief is uncomfortable enough without the added weight of protecting ourselves from judgment. From friends. From family. From colleagues. From strangers.

Loss is LOSS

Who are we to judge ANYONE who is grieving.

We all grieve differently. A set of twins who lose their mother will grieve completely differently.

Grief is as unique as our heart beat, our DNA, our fingerprint.

Who are you to judge?

If I lose my mother and you lose your mother, will we grieve the same?

No way my moms the best and because I love my mom more than you!!


I am not you, I don’t know what your grief is to you.

What it feels like every day.

To wake up with it in the morning. Fall asleep with it that night.

There should be no judgment, no men don’t cry, no time limit on it.

Its YOUR grief.


Do you like my necklace? You probably can't see it right now but

This beautiful necklace around my neck contains the ashes of that beloved dog Roxy.

I bet your judging me now! Crack pot!

I created this jewellery with that ‘lack of judgement’ in mind after my granny died.

She had given me a miraculous medal as most Irish grannies did to keep me whole and keep me pure ;-)

When she died I wore it as a way to remember her but of course I was young and trying to fit in.

Suddenly I was a ‘holy joe’ or the ‘virgin mary’.

So much so I took it off.

I specifically designed these pieces NOT to broadcast what they are, they don’t scream HEY I HAVE SOMEONES ASHES AROUND MY NECK!

Because grieving is personal and if I want to share I will and If I don’t I wont.

I don’t need your judgment.

There is no blue print for grief, I have yet to meet two people who have grieved the same.

So tonight, today, tomorrow, next week, lets go easy on each other, and lets simply STOP judging each other.

Friday, 3 November 2017

NFDA Boston 2017

The NFDA took place in beautiful Boston this year. It was a busy busy convention for me, a lot of media interest in learning about Ireland. The reason behind the sudden interest was more than likely due to the fact that I presented a workshop at the convention titled “Ireland is green and growing” covering the various components that makeup a typical Irish funeral, some old Irish myths and stories and some new Irish technology news.


Considering my workshop took place at 8am the morning AFTER Halloween night, I was pretty impressed with the attendance. Videos of short interviews with a rural Irish funeral director, a Dublin city one, and a fascinating Irish funeral ‘goer’ all featured and together we helped each other to add a touch of Irishness to funeral planning in America. Small additions can make a big difference to the Irish American community.

The Irish groundbreaking technology innovation of ecoLation was discussed and a great deal of questions asked after the workshop was complete. Massive interest in this technology from Americans and the Asian markets.

But my workshop aside, the convention itself was different this year, no one could quite put their finger on why, it could have been the convention center itself – it seemed bigger, bolder and more roomier than usual. The floor was littered with memorial jewellery. It seemed everyone and their mother was offering a variety of memorials jewellery and a lot of it looked the same sadly, with quality lacking in the majority.

I met with the guys from Memorial Reef who create artificial reefs with the cremated remains of a loved one in areas most affected by the global climate crisis. The remains are placed inside a compact urn which is placed inside a special reef ball and secured. This ball is then anchored into the ocean and secured to the ocean floor where ocean life can begin to form. They have locations in Bermuda, Cancun, Baja, Golet, Fiji, Tonga, Papua New Guinea and the Cook Islands. Prices start at 6000 dollars.

I met Colonel Saunders of KFC fame at the AIM Holographics booth (it was fancy dress day at the show!) where he spoke to me about his 3D hologram video technology. I got excited as I thought it was the type of hologram that has in previous years brought Tupac and Michael Jackson to life on stage but for me, this seemed like a very expensive but great looking video experience.

The SecuriGene DNA presentation was very cool - they preserve the DNA of loved ones in their DNA bank. A great option for families wishing to preserve the genetic legacy of their family for future testing which could be important to identify hereditary diseases and who knows what developments the future will produce so holding onto this information is very important.

Other booths that caught my attention included the Icons in Ash booth, where a mosaic is made out of the ashes of the deceased. Approx 6 teaspoons of ashes are used to create the artworks. Another ‘dirty’ booth had an Irish theme – Handfuls of Home creators Aifric and Dominika brought Ireland to the NFDA quite literally! Attendees were able to feel and massage the green, green grasses of home - well maybe not the grass but the soil beneath that grass. They sell pots of Irish soil to the funeral industry. A great idea for the funeral director working with Irish communities.

Lastly, I came across a very impressive booth called Life Celebrations that was a mini mock-up of a very comfortable funeral home. It was warm and inviting with gorgeous images adorning the walls via projectors. There were beautiful corners of personalised memorabilia honoring the deceased. I was very impressed with this level of personalisation until I heard the join up fee of 18,500 dollars! That was before you bought a projector or a personalised bookmark! A bit of an exclusive club if you ask me, I didn’t see much give back from such a high subscription fee.  Also while their show booth was impressive, their marketing collateral was poor and lacked visible descriptions.

In summary, once again the Irish did well and made themselves known, and memorialising or personalising seems to be key in the industry for 2018.


Wednesday, 18 October 2017

Halloween Do’s and Don’ts for Pets

DO ensure that pets always have identification.
DON'T keep pets outdoors during Halloween and the weeks running up to it as people start letting off fireworks earlier than Halloween night.
DO talk to your vet if your pet gets very scared from fireworks as there is a variety of treatments and medications that can help.
DON'T dress animals up in costumes as many pets find this uncomfortable and stressful.
DON'T take pets trick-or-treating.
DON'T let animals near bonfires, candles or other dangerous items.
DO make sure that rabbits and other caged animals are safely secured in a garage or outbuilding.
DO keep pets away from Halloween decorations and tell children not to share any sweets and chocolate with their pets.
DO take a pet suspected of ingesting a harmful item or substance immediately to a vet.
DON'T ignore animals in need. Report animal abuse and neglect immediately.

See also Rainbow Bridge Memorials

Wednesday, 11 October 2017

End of Life Forum 2017

The End of Life Forum 2017 was held in Dublin Castle yesterday October 10th and was a brilliant day, filled with like-minded professionals, Irish government officials, experts and the ever important 'Joe Publics'. All End of Life aspects where discussed, questions asked (not all answered!) and touching stories shared.

DID YOU KNOW? 88% of doctors said they would choose Do Not Attempt CPR (DNACPR or Do Not Attempt Resuscitation or Allow Natural Death decisions) and YET they deliver these orders to you the patient. Doesn't make a whole lot of sense now does it? Kind of terrifying too.

There was talk (obviously) of the budget and the fact that the Bereavement Grant was not reinstated for 2018's Budget plan. It was said that although this grant wasn't of massive financial significance in helping costs at end of life, it was significant because it represents the State acknowledging you had 'lost a heartbeat'. Considering by this time next year, there will be 3 million Irish people bereaved after a loss of 29, 000 lives, that is a lot of heartbeats ignored by the State.

DID YOU KNOW? 1 out of 3 of us will lose the ability to make our own decisions in the end.

If there is one thing I have been eager on encouraging my readers to do, it is to PREPLAN their funeral because that is what I am passionate about but preplanning your funeral is just ONE task on the 'to do list' of End of Life planning and while the appendices in my first book includes a fantastic (if I do say so myself!) plan to help you preplan your funeral, it does NOT include all of the other essential questions and answers you need to address to fully sort out your End of Life plan. And so, I nod to the Irish Hospice Foundation's fantastic The Think Ahead form which will guide you in recording your preferences regarding ALL aspects of end of life. It encourages you to ensure that those closest to you are aware of these preferences so that, should a time come when you are unable to express them yourself, your wishes will be clear to those caring for you or managing your affairs.

80 people die a day in Ireland, some suddenly and some slowly and some painfully and as Irish Hospice CEO Sharon Foley said "For every 1 death, someone's life changes for ever."

Bryan Nolan...we need to remember that "The person dying is the MOST bereaved person in the room".

It is NEVER 'just a dog'

Although Roxy was ‘just a dog’, and she died over 8 years ago, recalling her last day still feels heartbreaking for me. In fact, it was one of the worst days of my life and inspired my New York/Dublin based pet memorial business Rainbow Bridge Memorials and my upcoming Tedx Talk in Tallaght on October 12th.

She was 16, quite old for any dog,  and she’d had a series of strokes. I had just returned from the holiday of a lifetime in Cuba and when I arrived home Roxy came running out, as usual, to say hiiiieeee. Sadly everything wasn’t usual though - I knew something was wrong. Four hours and another stroke later we were taking her to her death. We had her for 16 years; she was part of the family. She was my best friend through childhood, teenage years and adulthood. I felt like I was betraying her.

I am not alone. My deep emotions regarding the day Roxy was euthanized strikes a familiar chord with just about anyone who has ever lost a beloved pet to euthanasia/putting a dog to sleep.

I often ask myself did we do the right thing, could she have gotten better or was she ok with going. Her eyes never left mine as she died. And then afterwards, people just don’t know what to do with me, there’s no funeral or blueprint to follow. I felt awkward calling into work asking for some time off. I felt my friends looked at you thinking “Just get over it's only a dog” especially if they had suffered had human loss. It seemed self indulgent to even think of mourning a pet when faced with human loss so feelings get hidden and grief gets buriedit'.

Ireland is changing when it comes to pet loss as we see recognition of the grief people experience when a beloved pet dies where we never saw it before. There are helplines offering support and a listening ear, discussions about pet bereavement days at work. You can buy pet condolence cards, memorial jewellery. Pet funeral businesses are flourishing - pet cemeteries and pet crematoriums with pet specific caskets, urns and keepsake jewellery.

One study by the Funeral Co-op in the UK found that more than a quarter of respondents had found their pet’s death as difficult as the death of a family member, and a third thought it was on a level with the loss of a friend. Nearly half of the bereaved owners were still mourning after two months, and 16 percent were struggling a year later.

While it might seem self-indulgent or the ‘world gone mad with millennials’ by older generations to mourn the loss of a pet or compare it to the loss of human life, to some it can be just as heartbreaking. All loss and grief is important and essential experiences of the human psyche but grief that is dismissed by others can be more painful still.

Pets are often with us 24/7, reliant on us for food, water, exercise, and survival. They become our confidantes and in some cases have been known to prevent suicidal thoughts and help with mental illnesses. Here is a living being who will not judge, reprimand, or dismiss your thoughts, actions or feelings and yet when they pass the loss can be dismissed as ‘just a dog’.

Irish milliner Philip Treacy lost his Jack Russell, ‘Mr Pig’ in 2004; ‘I saw Mr Pig as my friend, not my dog. He was my everything; he was like my child. He was by my side, day and night, for 12 years. How many humans could you say that about?’ Treacy even went on to compose a book Dog Stories, which is an anthology of stories of well-known people (Lady Annabel Goldsmith, Sir Jackie Stewart, Lord Hattersley, Anna Pasternak, Petronella Wyatt, Edward du Cann and Tom Rubython) and their dogs. They recount the adventures of their pets, and the happiness and ultimate sadness they brought to the lives of their owners.

I used my grief to build a business helping others to grieve and started a company called Rainbow Bridge Memorials that has a base in Dublin and New York, offering condolence cards, pet conscious cards and memorial jewellery but it is more than just a business, It has become an online community. We have a Facebook page where people will often post about their pet or their grief and others chime in and offer support. We all know the sadness of pet loss and the difficulty in speaking about it to others who don’t have pets. The emails I receive from my clients about my jewellery often overwhelm me as they tell me how much it helps them in their grieving process and some of the emails were heartbreaking to read. It brought the loss of Roxy up all over again but I guess I started the business because when we lost Roxy, I still wanted her with me every day and wherever I go and with the jewellery I can do that and it helps. <3

Thursday, 5 October 2017

Funeral Times Expo 2017

First-time exhibitor!

Had a great time meeting colleagues of the Irish Funeral Industry over the last 2 days at the Funeral Times Exhibition in Citywest Dublin.

Our Irish Human Memorial Jewellery went down very well, we were out of leaflets after the first day!

Interestingly alot of funeral directors said that cremation is increasing every year and people are often asking for cremation jewellery. Another interesting note for us was the interest in our Pet Memorial Jewellery! We even took some orders for some pet lover Funeral Directors who had lost their beloved pet in the last year.
There was also a VERY interesting method by one company to market their coffins.....I shall let you decided Yay or Nay......

Thursday, 28 September 2017

Snapchat at funerals is now a thing!

The idea of using your phone to take ‘selfies’ with an app that has features like dog-faced filters and an obsession with watermelons and cat ears seems to go against the etiquette of a typical funeral in Ireland. But these times they are changing and funeral etiquette is evolving and revolving around social media as is the case with all celebrated life events. 

While customisable Snapchat Geo Filters have yet to come to Ireland, they are huge in the US where birthday, wedding and other life events are celebrated. “Happy 21st Birthday Mia xx” or “Congrats Steve and Jane” are the norm but a new trend that is closely following, and indeed enhancing, the ‘selfies at funerals’ craze is the Snapchat Geo Filter at funerals – “RIP Trae” or “See you in Heaven Tyrese” along with a cartoon depiction of Trae or Tyrese are finding their place on peoples’ Snapchat stories.

One family embraced the idea when their 37-year-old brother (to Stephenie) and son died.  The Buchanons celebrated their son's life and asked friends and family to ‘snap a photo’ and swipe until they saw the words "T's World" and "We love you, Tarrence, rest in Heaven", superimposed over the taken ‘selfie’. Rather than be offended, funeral goers began taking selfies and embraced the experience.  

A US company that specialises in custom Geo Filters, Buy Custom Geofilters, gets about 300 requests a month for Geo Filters and the majority of them are for birthdays and weddings. Andrew Lee, the company's founder said that over the last three months requests for Funeral Geo Filters have been on the rise. When he received his first funeral request in August 2016, he never expected that his Geo Filters would be used as tributes to the dead. "The whole, 'sad funeral' and 'everybody wearing black' isn't as common these days," he said. "People are using the funeral to celebrate the lives. Geofilters are just another step to doing that."

The millennials are a generation that grew up on social media, with a camera always in hand, it’s how they communicate and celebrate life’s milestones. Stephenie had even nicknamed her brother "the Snapchat King," before his death which is something his friends now remember fondly and the Funeral Geo Filter seemed appropriate to celebrate Tarrence’s life.