Compilation of the How’s and Why’s of Being in the Funeral Industry

Nathan Miller – November 26, 2018

Working in the funeral industry, I hear all sorts of comments and questions. There are three questions that I have been asked more often than any other. The first is: “How did you get involved with this career?” The second is: “Why would you choose to do this?” And the third is: “What is wrong with you?” I asked the first two questions to several employees at Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes. I believe the third question was more directed towards me specifically and we don’t have enough time to read all about that one. Here is a compilation of what some of the wonderful staff members said regarding those questions:

“My decision to enter funeral service as a career centers around my family, of course. My full name is Thomas F. McAfee, IV, one of the fourth-generation McAfee family members to join the firm. Funeral service and the family business was often discussed around the dinner table when I was a child. I worked for our firm part-time in high school and college, earning a degree in Funeral Service. My decision was strongly influenced by watching my grandfather and father serve families with a determination to provide a caring and compassionate service. Many of these families called on them because the Thomas McAfee family had served them in the past, with excellent service. This tradition of excellent and compassionate service was handed down to me and my brothers, which makes us want to continue to earn the trust people have in our firm.”

-Tommy McAfee, Funeral Director and President

“I chose funeral service as a career, not only because my family has owned a funeral home for over 100 years, but to make a difference in the lives of those who have experienced the death of a loved one. To be able to care for the dead and walk alongside their families in helping them plan and carry out meaningful remembrances of their loved ones is truly an honor. It is important to take these first steps and allow ourselves to be surrounded by the support of family, friends, and colleagues, which contributes to a healthy start to the grief journey.”

-John McAfee, Funeral Director and Vice-President

“The path that brought me to funeral service was providential. Never did I ever think of a funeral home as a place to fulfill my call to ministry. It came to be by a school teacher from high school who knew my best friend from school, telling her about the position of Continuing Care Coordinator. She called me. Then a phone call to John McAfee to inquire about the position followed by a resume being emailed, phone interview with the McAfees and consultant, Bill Hoy, followed by a face to face interview…the rest is history. My prior ministry positions prepared me for my work at Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes. What a privilege to work with this firm who believes everything we do here is a ministry! And, I get to minister in my home town.”

-Brenda Atkinson, Continuing Care Coordinator

“I got started in 1993 when my grandfather passed away by talking with the man that drove the family car. I was looking for a part time job at that time. I thought it would be a great job where I could meet more people. So I started working part time in 1993. After I retired from Michelin, I thought it would be great to come on full time at the funeral home and do the kind of job that I enjoy doing. I now have been with Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes for 25 years and enjoy coming to work everyday. I enjoy taking care of families that I come in contact with. That’s why I do what I do.

-Rick Owings, Funeral Associate

“I did a career assessment online because after leaving the Army, I was working in a bunch of jobs that were giving me no personal satisfaction. The career website listed 900 possible jobs that I would be interested in based on my likes, personality, my work experience, and education. Funeral Directing was number 6 out of 900. I knew nothing of the funeral business and I knew no one that was in the field. I called Dallas Institute of Funeral Service the following day to ask some questions. The school president invited me to come down to talk to him and to get a tour of the school. I did and within a couple of days, I was enrolled and I never looked back. After all those years of working and not feeling like I was making a difference in people’s lives, I have finally found a career that I can feel good about myself in and hopefully bring a smile to someone’s face when they desperately need something to smile about or peace to someone’s heart when they desperately need some closure to the life of a loved one.”

-Jason Clouse, Funeral Director

“My ‘how’ was due to seeking an administrative position. I registered with an employment agency. When I was told they had a position at a funeral home, I was immediately interested due to my commitment to wanting to ‘make a difference.’ I knew that my position would allow me an opportunity to provide admirable customer service and additional assistance to families during their time of despair. Hearing a sense of relief in our families’ voices makes my position at the funeral home worthwhile. Knowing that I am part of an organization that prides themselves on exceptional customer service makes me proud.”

-Tammy Watkins, Preneed Administrative Coordinator

“My entire family has been in public service all of our lives. Ambulance, fire and funeral service have made up my life. I have always enjoyed helping people through hard times to which I have experienced myself. My friendship with the McAfee family goes back to my high school days and after my dad died in 1989, I was asked if I wanted to join the funeral service and be a part of the best family owned funeral home in this area. Since then, I have been able to serve families of this area and build friendships that will last a lifetime. I truly enjoy helping people and I don’t think I would change a thing.”

-Barry Norris, Funeral Associate

“A few years ago I came to Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes and applied for a job. After talking with my daughter, I changed my mind and decided not to take the job. In the meantime, my sister-in-law had a relative pass away. She had to come to the funeral home to identify the body. I came with her. I had a friend working for the company at that time and she told me that I needed to come to work here. I told her I didn’t think I would be comfortable working in a funeral home. She said these magic words: ‘Don’t think of it as working in a funeral home, think of it as you will be helping people.’ Those words got me hired. My compassion and love for all people is greater than my concern over where I work. My desire to help people has been with me my entire life. Working at Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes gives me the opportunity to help and try to comfort people when they need it most. I have enjoyed working here more than any place I have every worked.”

-Janet Wilson, Receptionist Media Coordinator

“Growing up in the home of a country Baptist pastor, my family often attended Receiving of Friends and Funerals.  It was as an eight year old child that I first thought I wanted to be a ‘mortician’ which was the colloquial term for the local funeral service professional. Since the local funeral home was a sideline business for the community general store, a death was an event that affected the entire community. The store would close so the owner and his wife could conduct the funeral. Truth be told, they didn’t really have a funeral home. Instead, they had an embalming room in the basement of the store where caskets were stored and if the body wasn’t taken home for viewing, the Washburns opened up their home for the viewing. They only had an old Oldsmobile hearse and Ford van, but they got the job done.

Everyone in the community knew one another and would always attend the visitation or funeral. The men of the community would often dig the grave or attend to various projects around the home of the deceased. The women would cook feasts making sure no one went hungry. When the body was taken home for viewing, neighbors would take turns ‘sitting up’ with the dead so the family could sleep at night. Everyone cleaned up, wore their best clothes to the funeral, and helped carry the many flower arrangements from the church to grave.

Looking back, it was that sense of community, with neighbor helping neighbor during a difficult time, that drew me to funeral service. I thought Edward and Katherine Washburn were the kindest people in the world as they took care of the bereaved families of the rural Rutherford County. After 30 years in funeral service, it is still helping a ‘neighbor’ during a difficult time that is my greatest joy. It is indeed a privilege to serve others.”

-Tim Gossett, Funeral Director and Southeast Location Manager

“I worked for the Greenville Hospital System for 25 years in the business office and during that time I always felt as if something was missing, that I wasn’t serving people to the best of my ability. I’ve always been interested in funeral services but never dreamed that one day I would be working here. When the opportunity presented itself for me to come aboard Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes, I jumped on it! It has been challenging (in a good way) and I don’t consider this a ‘job,’ it’s a calling in my heart. It’s an honor to serve our families and to help them in their darkest hour. After 25 years, I have finally found a home.”

-Tammy Franklin, At-Need Administrative Coordinator

“It was the ‘80s. I had returned from time spent as an exchange student during and after high school in Berlin, Germany and lived some in Alexandria, VA. I worked in the retail music business, back when you went to a store to purchase LPs or cassettes. Digital media had yet to arrive. Then I wound up working on the distribution side in a warehouse in Albany, NY. My father in law at the time had a family owned funeral home in Oneonta, NY. Funeral homes were a foreign thing to me. My only experience had been going to a visitation as a boy scout when the scout master’s child died of cancer at a young age.

It turned out that in nearby Troy, NY a program in Mortuary Science was offered at Hudson Valley Community College. At my father in law’s suggestion, I looked into it. He stated if it was something I might be interested in, at least I would have an Associate’s Degree under my belt. On the other hand, if it happened that I was not interested, no harm would be done and I could use that to build onto some other path. So it was at this light prodding I decided to give it a try. The curriculum was quite varied, which was to my liking. Sociology, psychology, business management, anatomy and microbiology were some of the courses. There were specialized labs too for embalming and restorative art (cosmetics and reconstruction). I continued working in the music warehouse while I attended college. Completion of that two year program led to a job at a local funeral home. In New York, that first year is called a residency and it is required by state law before one can take a test to obtain a license to practice funeral service.

The work morphed into something I enjoyed. No two days were ever really the same. Some days were spent inside learning under the license of more experienced directors and embalmers. A lot of time was spent outdoors at funerals, cutting grass and performing building maintenance. Time was also spent in the middle of the night driving to a call: to meet another staff member to ride in the hearse to transfer someone’s loved one into our care. I also got to experience how grieving families were cared for and the demeanor necessary when serving members of the public during the most difficult times in their lives. By the time that year was over I discovered that a position for a licensed person was available at a funeral home in North Carolina. In 1993, I made the move and have been in the South, my ‘new home’ ever since. It was in 1998, I began working in Greenville, SC.

Education and learning never really ends. One has to have open ears to listen and to be willing to change. I have continued with my chosen field certainly for the variety of occupation it offers and the attention to detail it requires. Above all is the overriding theme of caring for people who are hurting regardless of background. No matter what options a family chooses for their loved one, there is only one chance to get it right. Over the years I feel I have been fortunate to have learned from the best. Hopefully, that translates to the families I am able to serve here at Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes.”

-Grant Berdan, Funeral Director

“I was looking for a part time job that would give me a new opportunity in life rather than just a job and extra income. Out of the blue, it was recommended for me to apply with Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes. Honestly, I had never even considered this type of work or if I could handle the emotional demands of the position. I have attended lots of funerals, but, as I have found out, there is more to a funeral than the actual service itself. I have been with the company for a little over six months and I can say that it has been a challenge, but also a great and emotional learning experience. I never knew how much was involved in planning a funeral or the emotion that went into that planning. The job has opened my eyes to whole new side of human nature that I never was in tune with before.

I have learned the value of pre-planning your own funeral and the reassurance it gives you and your loved ones that the funeral and details are taken care of. I have seen the value of insurance for paying for a funeral. I have learned it is truly important to have a reliable person be in charge of your funeral to carry out your wishes and how important it is to have your personal papers easily accessible for that individual. I have learned that the funeral directors at our company take great care with not only the families we serve, but with the deceased as well from the moment we receive the initial call to well after the funeral itself. I have seen human nature at its best and with some at its worst. I have learned to handle sensitive matters with respect and dignity. This job has truly made me a more sensitive person and has made me a better person to handle these delicate situations. I never realized how naïve I truly was. I look forward to serving more families and learning more about the business and myself.”

-Jill Luckenbaugh, At-Need Administrative Coordinator

“I got started in funeral service as a part time job to make some extra money. At least that was my intent going to the interview. Upon leaving the interview, however, I can honestly say that I really wanted (no just needed) that job. That’s the only interview I have ever left feeling that way! The longer I served, the more my heart was pulled in that direction. After nine years of working part time on the weekends, God opened the door for me to go full time. I feel that it is a ministry that God has called me to do and I am fulfilled by helping families in their darkest hours.”

-Amy Moseley, At-Need Administrative Coordinator

This has only been a few stories shared by the fantastic Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes employees regarding how and why they got involved in the funeral industry. Everybody’s story is different, but their goals are all the same: being there to help families in need.


Planning the Proper Disposition

Nathan Miller – August 27, 2018

Let’s say that you pre-planned everything for your service with the funeral home, but now you need to decide on what to do with your body afterwards. In other words, you need to decide on body disposition. Before you can make a decision on your disposition, you need to educate yourself to fully understand the options out there for disposition. Lucky for you, I am here to help.

The first and most traditional choice is burial. This simply refers to the ground placement of a body, generally in a casket. Some cemeteries require the casket to be placed in a vault as well. Monuments or markers are typically placed at the graves as a memorial to the deceased. This type of burial requires a cemetery plot and additional fees for opening and closing of the grave and any perpetual care, if applicable. There is also above ground burial, or more commonly referred to as, entombment. Entombment is placing the body in a casket in a mausoleum crypt rather than in the ground. This disposition requires all the same items as a ground burial, except for a vault.

Another form of burial available today is called Green Burial. Green Burial is a way for disposition with minimal environmental impact. The body is neither cremated nor embalmed. It is simply placed in a biodegradable coffin or shroud and interred without a vault. The goal is complete decomposition of the body so that it returns to the soil naturally.

Cremation is another form of disposition. What exactly is cremation, you ask? Cremation is the process of reducing the body to bone fragments through the application of intense heat. The remains are then processed into a finer substance and placed in a container. It is greatly gaining in popularity due to cost and environmental concerns, such as the risk of embalming fluids leakage into the ground, land scarcity, and unsustainable material uses.  Many people think that when you have a cremation, you cannot have a service, but I am telling you now that you can have a full funeral ceremony with a visitation and a cremation. There are caskets available for cremation purposes. They can be just as nice and viewable as any wood burial casket. Just like burial, cremation can occur after a funeral where the casket is present. Likewise, cremation can occur before a memorial service where the urn is present. And, as with burials, a cremation funeral service may be preceded by an open casket visitation.

After the cremation has taken place, what will happen to the cremated remains? There are several options for this, too. Here is a list of several options available for cremated remains:

  1. Bury/entomb them. Burying  or entombing cremated remains is a good option for those who want to cremate, but also want to have a special place to visit their loved ones. In fact, this is the only option sanctioned by the Catholic Church.
  2. Scatter them. Another popular option is to scatter the cremated remains. You can scatter in your loved one’s favorite place; the ocean, the forest, their home, etc. However, if you choose this option, some places require a permit for scattering.
  3. Keep them. The next most popular option is to simply keep the cremated remains in an urn at home. There are thousands of urn options out there to fit your specific needs. The stereotypical option is a simple urn sitting on the mantle. However, you can now choose to separate the cremated remains into other smaller keepsake urns so that other loved ones can keep some, too. Also, you can choose to put a very small amount in jewelry pieces to be worn. The options for keeping the cremated remains are plentiful and is constantly increasing.
  4. Planting them. If none of the above options appeal to you, consider planting a tree with the cremated remains. There are urns that mix your loved one’s cremated remains with other nutrients that can be used to grow a plant or tree in your yard. These urns are called “living urns”.
  5. Replenish the reef with them. Let’s say that your loved one loved the ocean and you wanted to scatter their cremated remains in the water. There is actually another option. You can turn cremated remains into a concrete reef that will provide protection and habitat for ocean critters. The company that specializes in this is called Eternal Reef.
  6. Go out with a bang. If your loved one is a hunter, there is a company called Holy Smoke that will create loaded ammunition out of cremated remains. You can either keep the ammo or use it on the next hunting trip. Another banging option is going through a company called Angels Flight that will turn the cremated remains into fireworks.
  7. Blast them to the moon. There is a company called Celestis that offers families with the option to send their loved one’s cremated remains to space. There are one-way and round-trip tickets.
  8. Make them bling. A fairly new and pricey option out there now is to turn your loved one’s cremated remains into a certified diamond. There are several colors, cuts, and carat sizes.
  9. Paint them. There are companies out there that will mix the cremated remains with various paint colors. You can use these to paint anything you choose, but most people who go this route choose to paint a portrait of their loved one.
  10. Tattoo them. Probably one of the most controversial options is to have a tattoo artist mix your loved one’s cremated remains with some of their ink to create a memorial tattoo that you keep on your body for life. There currently is no evidence of any health risks, but always do your research before choosing such an extreme measure.

This list is just a small portion of what options are out there for cremated remains.

Both cremation and burial are defined as methods of caring for the body. It really is just one part of a funeral. You can tell after reading this blog that choosing the right option could be overwhelming. The best thing you could do for your family is to tell them what you want. And, do not be afraid to ask. Otherwise, how would you know that you are doing what they want?

Funeral Terminology

Nathan A. Miller – May 30, 2018

Have you ever attended a funeral service or visitation and overheard funeral home employees talking “shop?” Maybe one time you heard a funeral director talk to another about the “DC,” or perhaps they talk about getting a “beer for the casket.” Let me tell you that they are NOT talking about drinking next to the casket while reading comic books (for all you non-geeks – DC is a comic book company…they have Batman, so they are the best by default). To help understand what those crazy funeral home staff members are talking about, read this list of funeral terminology (in alphabetical order):

Arrangement Conference – When the family of the deceased meets with the funeral director to finalize funeral arrangements. This meeting usually takes place at the funeral home, but could be held at the residence if required. This is sometimes referred to as Funeral Arrangements.

Bereaved – The immediate family and friends of the deceased or anyone suffering from grief.

Bier – A movable frame on which a casket is placed. It is pronounced <’bir>, but mostly mis-prounouced <’beer>.

BRT – Abbreviation for Burial, Removal, Transit Permit. This permit is a legal paper authorizing burial or removal to a distant point.

Burial – Placing of a dead body in the ground.

Casket – A container made from wood, metal, or plastic into which the dead human body is placed for disposition.

Casket Spray – A floral arrangement specifically designed for casket adornment.

Cemetery – An area of land set aside for burial or entombment of the deceased.

Chapel – A large room in the funeral home where the funeral service can take place.

Coach – A vehicle designed and used to transport the dead human body from the funeral service to cemetery or from place of death to funeral home. It is also referred to as Casket Coach, Funeral Coach, or most commonly, Hearse.

Coffin – A long, narrow box, into which the dead human body is placed for disposition, usually made of wood.

Columbarium – A granite wall for placing an urn.

Committal – The final portion of the funeral service at which time the deceased is interred or entombed. This is usually held at a cemetery.

Cremated Remains – The ashes of a dead human body from the process of cremation. It is sometimes referred as cremains.

Cremation – The disposal of the human body to ashes by fire, typically after a funeral ceremony.

Cremation Permit – A certificate issued by local government authorizing cremation of the deceased.

Crematory – A furnace for cremating remains – a building housing such a furnace.

Crypt – A vault or room used for keeping remains.

DC – Abbreviation for Death Certificate.

Death Certificate – A legal paper signed by the certifying physician showing the cause of death and other vital statistical data pertaining to the deceased. It is needed for substantiating various claims by the family of the deceased, such as insurance and other death benefits.

Embalming – The process of temporarily preserving a dead body by means of circulating an embalming fluid through the veins and arteries.

Embalming Fluid – Liquid chemicals used in preserving a dead body.

Entomb – To place a casketed body in a mausoleum crypt.

Eulogy – A brief speech that celebrates the life of the person who has died.

Exhume – To remove the deceased from the place of burial. It is sometimes referred to as disinterment.

Family Car – A limousine in the funeral procession set aside for the immediate family. This vehicle immediately follows the hearse.

Flower Van – A vehicle used for transporting flower arrangements from the funeral home to the place of the funeral service and/or cemetery.

Final Rites – The funeral service.

Funeral Director – A person who prepares for the disposition of dead human bodies, supervises that disposition, and maintains a funeral establishment for such purposes. They are also referred to as morticians or undertakers.

Funeral Home – A building used for the purpose of embalming, arranging, and conducting funerals. It can also be referred to as a Mortuary.

Funeral Procession – The vehicular movement of the funeral from the place where the funeral service was conducted to the cemetery.

Funeral Service – The religious or other rites conducted immediately before final disposition of the deceased.

Grave – An excavation in the earth for the purpose of burying the deceased.

Grave Liner – A non-sealed container made of concrete into which the casket is placed. This item is typically less expensive than a vault.

Grief Counselor – A person trained to help an individual grieve and address personal loss in a healthy manner.

Honorary Pallbearers – Friends or members of a group who act as an escort or honor guard for the deceased. They do not carry the casket.

Inter – To bury a dead body in the earth.

Inurnment – Placing cremated remains into an urn.

Lead Car – The vehicle driven by the funeral director at the front of the funeral procession.

Marker – A headstone that identifies the occupant of a particular grave. Permanent markers are usually made from metal or stone. It can also be referred to as a grave marker, memorial marker, or tombstone.

Mausoleum – A building designed for holding casketed remains above ground.

Memorial Donation – A contribution to a particular charity or organization that is made in memory of a deceased loved one.

Memorial Folders – The printed document that is given out at funeral or memorial services that outlines the service. It can also be referred to as funeral programs or funeral bulletins.

Memorial Service – A service conducted in memory of the deceased without the body being present. Could also refer to a service where only the cremated remains are present.

Niche – A small opening in a wall that is used to contain an urn.

Obituary – A notice of the death of an individual placed in a newspaper or on the internet containing biographical information of the deceased, along with the funeral service information. It is sometimes referred to as a death notice.

Pallbearers – Individuals whose duty is to carry the casket when necessary during the funeral service, usually six people.

Personalization – The usage of specific items or services (i.e. music, photos, memorial programs, balloon release, etc.) in a funeral service to better reflect the deceased’s life.

Prayer Cards – A small, sturdy card used in the Catholic faith that offers a tribute to the deceased. They typically feature a picture of a biblical person or event on one side and a prayer, poem, or brief biography of the deceased person on the other side.

Prearrangements – Funeral arrangements completed by an individual prior to his/her death. This is also referred to as a preneed.

Register – A book made available by the funeral home for recording the names of people visiting the funeral home to pay their respects to the deceased.

Restoration – The process of restoring facial features by use of wax, creams, plaster, etc.

Selection Room – The room in the funeral home in which caskets, urns, and other funeral merchandise is displayed.

Urn – A container into which cremated remains are placed.

Vault – A container made of concrete or metal into which the casket is placed. The purpose of this item is to prevent the ground from sinking around the grave site.

Viewing – An opportunity for family and friends to view the deceased.

Vigil – A Roman Catholic religious service held on the eve of the funeral service.

Visitation – A gathering that provides others the opportunity to view the deceased and pay condolences to the family.

Now you have a better understanding of a few funeral terms. The next time you come to a funeral home for a visitation or service, feel free to “talk shop” with any one of us.

What Documentation is Needed for Planning a Funeral?

Nathan Miller – March 19, 2018

Let’s assume that your spouse has died. You know all of their personal and biographical information, right? Of course, you do. Now let’s assume that you have a crazy uncle living off the grid in the middle of the woods. He was out one day hunting for his lunch, when all of a sudden, he gets bit in the ankle by a rattlesnake. Because he is so far away from civilization, by the time he finds help, it is too late. He dies. And guess what?! You are his next-of-kin and the lucky one to arrange his funeral. Now, do you know all of his personal and biographical information? Probably not. Let’s talk a little about what information and documentation you may need to arrange a loved one’s funeral and finalize all the paperwork.

When you meet with the funeral home, there are so many questions being asked that your head is spinning. There are a few things you can bring with you to the arrangement conference to help answer all the questions.

Probably one of the most significant items is the Social Security card. If you know where your deceased loved one kept his/her card, make sure you get it and bring it with you. The funeral home might already have the deceased’s social security number, but it never hurts to reassure it by the card. Also, the death certificate has to have the decedent’s legal name, which is how the name reads on the card. You can put whatever name you choose to put on the obituary, but the death certificate has to match the social security card.

Other information items that will be needed for the death certificate are:

  • The deceased’s birthdate and birthplace (city and state or foreign country).
  • The deceased’s parents’ names prior to first marriage.
  • If the deceased was a married man and his wife is still living, the wife’s maiden name.
  • The deceased’s education status (i.e. 8th grade or less, high school graduate or GED, doctorate, etc.).
  • The deceased’s usual occupation (the nature of work done during most of his/her working life).
  • The deceased’s race. Race can be one sort or an amalgamation (i.e. Black or African American, American Indian or Alaska Native, Asian Indian, Chinese, Filipino, Japanese, Korean, Vietnamese, Native Hawaiian, Samoan, White, etc.).

If you are uncertain about some of these items, both the birth certificate and the marriage certificate are beneficial documents to bring. One thing to remember about the death certificate is that there will be an informant printed on it. The informant is someone who will be approving the information on the Death Certificate Worksheet, so that the Death Certificate itself will have the correct information. Usually, the next of kin is the individual signing.

Ok, let’s assume that the deceased was a veteran. You are going to want to make sure we can have military funeral honors at the service. In order for that to be a certainty, bring his/her military discharge papers. There is one form, in particular that would be perfect for all branches of the military; it is called the DD Form 214. If you are unable to locate that form, look for the DD Form 553, Discharge Certificates, VA Service Verification, or any other discharge paperwork you can locate. As long as we have the necessary paperwork, we will be able to get the military to perform their funeral honors for the service. Most of the time, the military will play TAPS and fold and present the flag to the indicated next of kin. If the veteran is retired after 20+ years, an officer, or killed in action, he or she may be entitled to additional honors (firing squad, pallbearers, etc.).

If your loved one was astute enough to take care of his/her prearrangements with the funeral home and/or the cemetery, it would be a good idea to bring in your copies of the manuscripts. The funeral home/cemetery should also have their copies of the paperwork. Sometimes, there are notes made on the families’ copies that may not have been made on the others. Also, most “paperwork” is done digitally now, so some annotations that were made on the papers may not have made it to the digital copy. Also, if the decedent has a Last Will and Testament with specific funeral instructions, you may want to bring that.

Lastly, let’s talk about the payment method. You will want to make sure that you know how the expenses will be funded. If there is a life insurance policy that will be used for payment, make sure you bring that policy with you. It can often take 48 – 72 hours to verify an insurance policy. That can halt your funeral plans if you do not have the policy in order.

Knowing where all these documents are located is tremendously important. Tim Cox, Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes Downtown Location Supervisor and Funeral Director, said: “One of the problems a family will face is the location of documents.” He stated that some families place these important papers in safety deposit boxes. The problem with that is sometimes that box cannot be opened until the probate court appoints the personal representative. This process could take several days, if not weeks. These documents need to be kept where the family can procure them.

Now, knowing the location of the paperwork is not enough. You will also need to make sure that all the documents are up to date. Tim Cox expressed that another problem we see at the funeral home is whenever the beneficiary listed on the life insurance policy has not been updated, and the beneficiary is deceased. This can add even more paperwork and slow down the entire arrangement process. Also, make sure that the personal representative listed in the will is up to date.

Whenever a loved one dies, it is not just an emotional matter for those left behind, but a legal matter as well. Unfortunately, there is a lot of paperwork that requires timely completion. The funeral director you meet with will be able to get you started in the right “direction” (thus the name “director”). If you are not certain which papers are significant enough to bring to the funeral home, bring it all. Molly Bishop, an At-Need Administrative Assistant with Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes, said it best: “It’s always better to have too much information, than not enough.”

Grieving During the Holidays


Brenda Atkinson – December 19, 2017

My holidays were always centered on family and the music of the season.  I so enjoy the music of the holidays. To me there is nothing sweeter than a child singing “Rudolph the Red Nose Reindeer”, “Jingle Bells”, “You Better Watch Out”, “Let It Snow” and “Away in a Manger”. My favorite carols are; “Silent Night”, “What Child is This”, “O Holy Night”…actually I like them all. However, when I was grieving the carols would, on most occasions, bring a tear. People often ask, “Why do I cry when I hear the Christmas songs?” and then they follow up with “I am not sure I can do the Christmas thing this year.”

From my experience as a griever, I understand. There are so many memories: caroling with friends, gathering around the piano with family singing those beautiful carols and the music of the church. It was always a busying time for my family.

But as a griever the things we think we have to do: decorating, shopping, wrapping, planning meals, and entertaining do not seem as important. It is exhausting even for those who are not experiencing grief. But when you are grieving, the list of things to do makes you feel as if there is a 500lb gorilla on your shoulders.

How does a griever get through the Holidays?  Do you push yourself to do the usual and make everything seem normal? One lady told me, “I wish everyone would stop telling me I need to get back to normal! Normal is a setting on a dryer and that is all!” She is so right! So how do you, as a griever, maneuver your way through the hustle and bustle of the season?

Dr. Harold Ivan Smith, in his book, A Decembered Grief…Living with Loss while others are Celebrating has good suggestions on how to “get through” the holidays:

  1. Alter – Rather than Abandon – Traditions: If your family gathers around the dining table for a Christmas Eve dinner choose to be less formal and have a buffet or go out to dinner. However, let the family know about the change so they will have time to warm up to the idea.
  2. Anticipate the Holidays: As stated earlier, the demands of the holiday can be exhausting for the griever. Grievers who have been down this the road will advise: “You will deal with it by making plans and by making backup plans.” Some would advise, “Plan tentatively.” A family conference where everyone can express both needs and wishes is one way to avoid disappointment and through compromise and negotiation everyone can get a little of what they really need.
  3. Appreciate the Grief Styles and Decisions of Others: Everyone grieves differently. One expression of hospitality you can give others this holiday season is the gift of recognizing that grief has many formats and forms of expression.
  4. Befriend your Grief: Grief – even during the holiday season – has important lessons to teach those who pay attention. You may want to reevaluate or alter your traditions. Or you may find that you appreciate the traditions even more.
  5. Let Others In on Your Grief: Have you placed a Do Not Disturb sign on your heart? Do you dismiss invitations with an “I’ll get back to you?” Are you focused on grief’s being personal, that any inquiry is viewed as an intrusion? Others have been down the grief path. What other grievers have learned firsthand may be insightful to you. Let people in on your grief.
  6. Cry If You Want To: It is true, some people cannot handle tears. But remember that it’s his or her problem. Tears are an eloquent expression of our loss. You may want to schedule some times alone so you can cry freely.
  7. Define your Boundaries: Grievers need boundaries. Early in the season take a long look at your calendar. You might even want to block out some dates by writing “booked,” followed by your initials. These blocked-out dates are for time alone, seasonal rest and relaxation.
  8. Don’t Fast Forward to January 5: You may be tempted to do a seasonal hibernation and mutter, “Wake me up when it’s all over.” Holidays can have serendipity moments – those wonderful emotional and spiritual ambushes, moments when joy sneaks up on you. In the midst of great grief, there are small moments that break through to our hearts. We need those to buffer our souls and spirits for the tough times.
  9. Give Your Grief Its Voice: It might be through notes to family members and friends; some of which you may mail, others you may not mail. Notes or letters can be read at the grave or scattering ground of your loved one. When you give your grief its voice, it makes it easier for others who are with you or around you to give their grief its voice. You might say, “It’s OK to talk about ______________.
  10. Journal Your Grief: One of the most helpful practices for many grievers has been to retreat to their journals. Do not worry about punctuation, spelling, or who might see your words and thoughts. Just get the thoughts, words and fears down on paper. Always date and time the writing. Down the emotional road, you’ll want to go back and reread what you wrote.
  11. Nurture Yourself:  Perhaps you’ve been so busy caring for other family members in their grief that you’ve ignored your own needs. List three ways you could nurture yourself this holiday season. Examples:  a long hot soak, a massage, a day at a health spa, or simply checking into a hotel for a day of quiet and reflection.
  12. Make Gratitude:  Take time this day to deliberately state or write for whom or what you are grateful.

(Smith, Harold Ivan, A Decembered Grief…Living with Loss while Others are Celebrating, Beacon Hill Press, Kansas City, Mo. 1999.)

One of the newer Christmas songs that I have come to love is “My Grown Up Christmas List.” It speaks of all those things in our world that most want: no more lives torn apart, that wars would never start, time would heal all hearts, everyone would have a friend, right would always win and love would never end. Those are beautiful wishes. As a griever we have to take one day at a time or even one hour at a time. I found myself, after hearing this song, thinking about those in grief during this holiday. So here are my wishes for you:

  • That your family takes time to remember your loved one.
  • That you experience grace from those around you and that you in turn bestow grace on others.
  • That you embrace your grief, remembering we grieve deeply because we love deeply.
  • That you find the peace of this Christmas season through the love that came to us through a babe in a manger.


Christmas Blessings!

Brenda F. Atkinson, M.Div.; C.T.

Continuing Care Coordinator

Thomas McAfee Funeral Homes