Archive for Death

The Universal Language of Hospice

Lines at airport

I do not speak Japanese.

And yet, while waiting for a flight home in Seattle, I overheard and possibly understood a conversation between two Japanese tourists.

Our flight was hours away. My wife and I had settled into seats above the endless passengers winding through the TSA lines. Not far from Sea-Tac’s “meditation room” (who knew airports had places like that), she graded papers from her university students while I people-watched. Those passing by were slower in pace. Catching snippets of conversation was easy in the quieter hallway.

Mothers corrected children.

A married couple complained about a flight delay.

A plane’s crew shared stories as they entered a room designated for breaks between flights.

A solitary soldier chatting on his phone bee-lined for the USO location a few doors away.

Two well-dressed men, both Japanese, moved by me. Their hands gripped rolling suitcases, with one talking rapidly to his companion. Everything said was beyond my comprehension, until one word was clearly expressed:


The solitary word hung in the air.

The man beside him, his pace matching his companion’s steps, immediately sighed loudly.


Did I really need a translation? Read More →

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Dead Thoughts, Part 2

graveside service

Unless you follow a faith tradition that doesn’t permit the body to be present, should you include the remains of the deceased at the funeral?

I won’t mince words with my answer:  No.

Frankly I didn’t even consider this question until a few years ago. However, after attending a grief workshop led by Dr. Alan Wolfelt, I knew it was important for me to be more open-minded. Wolfelt has a well-earned national reputation for grief support and he advocated for the presence of the body at a funeral. Wolfelt’s viewpoint continue to challenge my long-held beliefs.

Why have a more “traditional” service with the body?

Today’s American culture continues to be youth oriented, even youth obsessed. Hollywood actors aren’t alone as they nip and tuck their ways to a youthful appearance. In order to be the “stars” of their own life, many engage in crash diets, demanding exercise regimes, and regular doses of Botox. We are a culture that battles the weakening and worsening of our bodies. And yet resistance is futile! Age inevitably, unavoidably reveals our mortality.

Death comes.

Grief follows. Read More →

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Dead Thoughts, Part 1

Bunhill Fields

Will you have a funeral for your loved one?

With the body present?

Those are questions I’ve pondered since attending a grief workshop led by Dr. Alan Wolfelt a few years ago. Wolfelt is national expert on bereavement, a prodigious writer, and an enthusiastic speaker. He wrote a piece entitled, “Ten Freedoms for Creating a Meaningful Funeral.”

His #4 was:

While viewing the body is not appropriate for all cultures and faiths, many people find it helps them acknowledge the reality of the death. It also provides a way to say goodbye to the person who died. There are many benefits to viewings and open casket ceremonies; don’t let others tell you this practice is morbid or wrong.

Thomas Lynch agrees with Wolfelt. Lynch is a poet, best-selling author, and—likely the profession he places on his IRS forms—an undertaker. In a 2013 edition of the digital magazine Aeon, Lynch wrote:

Thus, on my short list of the essential elements of the good funeral, the presence of the dead is the first and definitive element. Memorial services, celebrations of life, or variations on these commemorative events – whether held sooner or later or at intervals or anniversaries, in a variety of locales – while useful socially for commemorating the dead and paying tribute to their memories, lack an essential manifest and function: the disposition of the dead. The option to dispose of the dead privately, through the agency of hirelings, however professional they might be, and however moving the memorial that follows, is an abdication of an essential undertaking and fundamental humanity.

I admire Wolfelt and Lynch. I also disagree with them. Read More →

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