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Christy Kessler

Man and wife receiving a doctor's care at home

What’s the Difference Between Palliative Care and Hospice Care?

By Hospice No Comments

If you or a loved one have recently entered hospice care, all of the jargon and terminology may feel daunting and foreign. For many people, two terms that often become confusing are palliative care and hospice care. Today, let’s break these two terms down so that you feel more comfortable and knowledgeable. After all, understanding what’s going on around you can help create a little bit of control in an uncertain situation. 

palliative care

What is Palliative Care?

First, let’s talk about palliative care and get a sense of what it provides.  

Definition

In short, palliative care refers to the day-to-day care and emotional support provided to someone with a life-threatening illness as doctors pursue a cure (age doesn’t matter). In other words, curative treatments and palliative care occur simultaneously.  

For example, a person dealing with a stage 4 cancer diagnosis will receive palliative care as they go through the treatments prescribed by their doctor. Palliative care begins with a diagnosis and only ends when 1) the person gets well or 2) it becomes clear that the person isn’t going to survive their illness.

Who provides palliative care?

The primary care physician oversees palliative care. When a person begins to receive care, a team is assigned to them. This team will work with the patient and their family to provide medical, emotional, physical, social, and practical support.  

The palliative care team is made up of doctors, nurses, social workers, nutritionists, and chaplains (based on the patient’s needs). Each member of the team focuses on different aspects of the patient’s overall well-being and care.   

Shows a male nurse providing palliative care

What is the purpose of palliative care?

Some illnesses and treatment plans take a harder toll on the body. Palliative care seeks to enhance a person’s life by focusing on quality of life – for both the patient and their family.  

Not only does palliative care focus on easing symptoms, the palliative care team also desires to help patients understand their treatment options so they can make the choices most appropriate for their specific needs.  

Where can a person receive palliative care and is it covered by insurance?

Thankfully, palliative care is available at many different types of facilities. You can receive it at hospitals, nursing homes, outpatient palliative care or specialized care clinics, or even at home.  

As for insurance, it’s best to check with your insurance provider, though many plans do include some form of coverage. If you are a veteran, check with the Department of Veterans Affairs to see if they might cover palliative care.  

How do I request palliative care? 

If you think palliative care is the best next step, your primary care physician can refer you to a palliative care specialist. However, if your doctor doesn’t mention it on their own, don’t be afraid to ask!  

Shows a woman with cancer requesting additional care

What is Hospice Care?

Now that you have a better understanding of palliative care, let’s compare it to hospice care. 

Definition

Hospice care refers to the care provided to those who have received a terminal diagnosis (often with a prognosis of six months or less). However, an illness’s timeline can change so it’s possible to receive hospice care for longer than six months, if needed. Hospice care focuses on pain and symptom management since patients in hospice care are no longer seeking a cure.  

Who provides hospice care?

Similar to palliative care, patients are provided with a hospice care team made up of doctors, nurses, social workers, nutritionists, volunteers, and chaplains (as needed) that provide a variety of services. However, hospice care is overseen by the hospice medical director rather than the person’s primary care physician. 

Regardless, everyone works together to ensure that both the patient and their family are receiving the holistic care they need. The team will visit regularly and is available by phone.  

Man and wife receiving a doctor's care at home

What is the purpose of hospice care?

Hospice care seeks to provide care, comfort, and quality of life to the person who is dying. At this point, the patient understands that their body is no longer responding to medical treatments. The hospice care team steps in to offer comprehensive care for medical, physical, practical, and spiritual needs.  

Additionally, the hospice care team provides much-needed assistance to family members and friends as they grapple with the day-to-day demands of caring for a loved one with a terminal illness.  

Where can a person receive hospice care and is it covered by insurance?

In most cases, hospice care is received at the home, but it is also available at assisted living and nursing home facilities, hospitals, and hospice centers.  

Both Medicaid and Medicare offer coverage for hospice care (as do most other insurance companies), but you will need to call to get the specifics of your particular plan. Again, if you are a veteran, don’t forget to check with the VA. 

How do I request hospice care?

If you confer with your doctor and decide not to pursue life-saving treatments, you can start talking about hospice care. Most often, the doctor will bring it up, but if not, ask. There are some minimal eligibility requirements you can read about here 

Shows patient receiving hug from caregiver

Let’s Recap

As you can see, hospice care and palliative care are quite similar. Both involve putting together a team of qualified professionals to assist a patient and their family medically, emotionally, physically, spiritually, and practically. Both involve easing pain and symptoms related to a life-threatening condition.  

The main difference between the two relates to ongoing curative treatment. With palliative care, the patient is still actively seeking a cure, while those in hospice care have exhausted all curative options and are focusing on quality of life. 

With these terms defined, hopefully you will feel empowered to ask for what you need when you need it. After all, both palliative care and hospice care options are available and will offer caring support during a difficult season of life.   

Show funeral director helping couple through the planning process

What Do Funeral Directors Do?

By Meaningful Funerals No Comments

With a loved one in hospice care, it’s possible that you may be planning a final tribute sometime in the near future. But what exactly do funeral directors do, and how can they help you? To most people, funeral service is a bit of a mystery. That’s because a vast majority of people have never had to plan a funeral. Let’s look at some of the main ways funeral directors serve grieving families during a time of loss.

Funeral directors are event planners, caregivers, and administrators. Often, they are also embalmers, caring for a loved one’s body. In many ways, funeral directors are guides to families during a very confusing and difficult time. For instance, funeral directors are there to offer comfort, advice, guidance, and insight to families during the entire funeral planning process. Here’s a look at what funeral directors do every day to serve families.

To show the faces of funeral directors

Creating a Healing and Meaningful Funeral or Memorial Service

Primarily, a funeral director’s role is to help the family create a personalized and meaningful funeral experience. A good funeral service brings healing to the grieving while honoring the final wishes of the person who has died. So, a funeral director’s main job is to help the family grieve the loss of a loved one while also ensuring that the deceased’s body is cared for with dignity and respect.

The following list covers the eight primary duties that funeral directors perform every day with great dedication and attention to detail.

1. Care for and prepare the body of the deceased for final disposition

Firstly, the funeral director will coordinate the transfer of the deceased into the care of the funeral home, day or night. Then, they will direct and supervise the work of embalmers, funeral attendants, death certificate clerks, cosmetologists, or other staff.

Preparation and care of the body may include all of the following:

    • Washing of the body
    • Embalming preparation
    • Restorative art
    • Dressing
    • Hairdressing
    • Cosmetology
    • Casketing

If cremation is chosen, the funeral director will oversee the cremation and return the cremated remains to the family. In cases where the body must be transferred out of state, the funeral director will coordinate the transfer of the body to the final place of rest, in accordance with the applicable laws and regulations.

Finally, the funeral director will offer the family options for caskets, urns, burial liner/vault, and cemetery space, as applicable.

To show a couple discussing plans with a funeral director

2. Plan the funeral with the family

Next, the funeral director will meet with the family for the arrangement conference. During this time, the funeral director can get to know the family and educate them on how to plan a healing and meaningful service.

To create a personalized service, funeral directors listen to the family and offer ideas, insights, and advice. During this time, the funeral director will share the elements of a meaningful funeral and offer suggestions for visitations, gatherings, readings, music, eulogies, symbols, and healing actions.

In addition, funeral directors incorporate funeral customs based on the family’s preferences. Personalization may include traditions of faith groups and/or civic organizations, military honors, or cultural rites and rituals.

Most funeral directors are able to offer a variety of options to suit the family’s needs. Funeral directors are there to answer any questions the family may have and help them make choices that are right for them. That way, the funeral or memorial service brings comfort and peace to all who mourn the loss.

3. Coordinate all the details behind the scenes

In addition to helping the family plan the funeral experience, funeral directors perform various duties behind the scenes. For example, funeral directors usually:

  • Prepare and submit obituary information to media outlets as needed
  • Help the family coordinate with clergy or celebrants, a venue for the service, and musicians
  • Ensure that clergy or celebrant and musicians know where to be when and that they receive an honorarium for their time
  • Help order funeral sprays and other flower arrangements as the family wishes
  • Ensure that the funeral, memorial, and/or graveside service venues are properly prepared
  • Coordinate any cremation or burial processes
  • Make sure that the funeral service is streamed live or digitally recorded, if the family wishes
  • Provide additional memorialization products; for example, a register book, prayer cards, acknowledgment cards, and funeral folders
  • Coordinate a police escort for the funeral procession
  • Handle all memorial contributions presented to the family

To illustrate cemetery needs

4. Take care of permanent memorialization needs

Next, the funeral director helps the family consider permanent memorialization needs. For instance, they may discuss options such as a cemetery plot, columbarium niche, plaque, grave marker, deciding on where to scatter ashes, and more. As part of their role, the funeral director will help you review your options and choose what fits best for your family. Then, they will help with the details. A funeral director will:

  • Schedule the opening and closing of the grave with cemetery personnel
  • Help the family choose a casket, urn, burial vault, and cemetery plot
  • If scattering is chosen, they will offer location options and suggestions
  • For a graveside service, they will:
    • Provide transportation for the remains, primary mourners, and flowers between sites
    • Coordinate with the cemetery to prepare and decorate the site for the service
  • Make sure gravestones or grave markers are ordered and placed in the cemetery

5. Assist with legal documentation

After losing a loved one, there are a lot of legal documents to complete and file with the state or federal government. However, the funeral director will take the lead on some of this documentation, ensuring that everything is taken care of as needed. For instance, the funeral director will:

  • Submit documentation for an official death certificate
  • Help the family obtain certified copies of the death certificate
  • Request cremation or burial authorization documents and permits
  • Explain the benefits available through Social Security or the Veteran’s Administration
  • Assist with submitting claims for prepaid burial plans, insurance policies, or annuities on behalf of surviving family members
  • Stay informed on any policies, regulations, or laws to ensure that funeral service operations are in compliance

Show someone completing legal documentation

6. Share grief resources

After the funeral or memorial service, the funeral director may continue to check in with the grieving family to see how they are doing. As the funeral director listens to and assesses the family’s needs, they may:

  • Provide grief assistance and grief resources
  • Connect the families and friends with local grief counselors
  • Share support group activities in the area

7. Help families plan ahead

While most of a funeral director’s responsibilities occur after a loss, not all do. For instance, they do often help families record funeral wishes ahead of time. Planning ahead for funeral wishes can be extremely helpful to loved ones. The more your family knows about your final wishes, the easier the funeral planning process will be after you’re gone. At the time of loss, many families are plagued by the question, “Did we do the right thing?” It would be so much easier if they knew exactly what you wanted. This is why funeral directors actively work with families to create a written plan that will benefit surviving family members. The funeral director will:

  • Ask questions about your wishes
  • Determine whether you prefer cremation or burial
  • Review casket, urn, and grave liner/vault options
  • Go over permanent memorial options
  • Share the benefits of having a healing and meaningful service
  • Brainstorm ways to personalize the funeral or memorial service
  • Gather vital statistics information
  • Review veterans’ burial benefits, if applicable
  • Discuss payment options (if you would like to pay in advance to save your family from the expense in the future)
  • And more!

Show funeral director helping couple through the planning process

8. Run a small business

Lastly, a number of funeral homes are family-run businesses, and funeral directors may need to wear a few different hats. When they aren’t assisting families, the funeral director may need to:

  • Work with various vendors such as florists, caterers, and cemeteries to fulfill the family’s wishes
  • Submit death certificates to the state
  • File necessary documentation and permits
  • Complete billing, bookkeeping, and payroll duties
  • Keep accurate records of inventory
  • See to any last-minute details for the family
  • Other duties to keep a small business running

As you can see, funeral directors do quite a lot. While there may be some things you’d like to do yourself, the professionals are there to take care of you! They know exactly what is needed and can make everything a little easier.

*NOTE: This article seeks to list the vast majority of the responsibilities of a funeral director, but it’s not comprehensive.

Woman standing next to casket while holding white lilies

Simple Ways to Personalize the 7 Elements of a Funeral

By Meaningful Funerals No Comments

With a loved on in hospice care, you may feel a little overwhelmed with the idea of planning a funeral or memorial service. That’s okay. So many of us have never planned a funeral before and simply don’t know where to start. To help grieving families, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief author and educator, has identified 7 elements that create a meaningful and healing funeral or memorial service: music, readings, viewing/visitation, eulogy, symbols, gathering, and actions. When you personalize these elements, you can create a funeral experience that will touch hearts and meaningfully celebrate someone loved 

Grandmother hugging grandson, both smiling

The most important thing to remember is that personalization is key. The more personal a funeral or memorial service is, the more healing and meaningful it will be. Dr. Wolfelt says, “Focus on what is really important—what is essential—about the funeral you are planning.  What is essential is the life that was lived and the impact that life had on family and friends.  To honor that unique life, the funeral must also be unique. Over and over families tell me that the best funerals are those that are personalized.”  

Let’s review the 7 elements and discuss ideas for personalizing each one.

Man playing piano, focus on hands

Music 

First of all, music sets the tone of a funeral or memorial service and brings emotions to the forefront. In fact, one of the purposes of a funeral is to allow mourners to grieve together, and in many ways, music says what words cannot. We often shy away from our emotions, but don’t be afraid to invite people to express their grief. Consider using music as an avenue to bring out what people are thinking and feeling. 

How to Personalize: 

  • Choose songs that were significant to your loved one, no matter their musical genre 
  • Consider whether you want music performed live or if you prefer to use recordings 
  • If you have musical family members, you might ask them to play a tribute song 
  • For those who are religious, choose appropriate hymns or praise songs 

For a few more ideas, please read Top 10 Hymns for a Funeral CeremonyTop 10 Songs for a Funeral CeremonyTop 12 Country Songs for a Celebration of Life Service, and Why Include Special Music in a Funeral Ceremony?  

Person wearing dark shirt and holding open book

Readings

Second, readings add another facet to a meaningful service. They are another way to invite mourners to express their emotions while also honoring the unique spirit of your loved one. Have you ever heard a poem, lyrics, or movie quote that really spoke to you? These can easily be used as a reading and can add a deeper dimension to the service.  

How to Personalize: 

  • Use quotes from favorite books, plays, movies, or TV shows 
  • For a person of faith, read passages from an appropriate holy book 
  • Consider reading special poems or quotations 
  • Read a letter you have written to your loved one
  • You could use your loved one’s own writing or incorporate catchphrases they were known for 
  • If you are planning aheadconsider writing a message ahead of time to be read at the service 

For additional ideas, check out How Do Readings Enhance the Funeral Experience or Top 10 Poems for a Funeral Ceremony. 

Woman standing next to casket while holding white lilies

Viewing/Visitation 

Third, the viewing or visitation is a time for family, friends, coworkers, and neighbors to gather and express support and sympathy. If you choose, a viewing creates an opportunity for mourners to see this special person one last time and begin to acknowledge the reality of their death. For many, as part of the grieving process, it is important to physically see the body. The viewing offers this opportunity. However, a family can choose to simply have a visitation, which is a set aside time to gather and receive support from caring friends and family without the body present.  

The viewing and/or visitation offers a special time for personalization. Whether the body is present or not, this is a time to tell a story – the story of a lifetime. 

How to Personalize: 

  • Display photos, mementos, or items associated with a hobby or interest (books, artwork, ceramics, model planes, etc.)  
  • Invite guests to write down a memory on provided notecards (the family can enjoy them later) 
  • Provide a keepsake token to take home (a book, a favorite recipe, etc.) 
  • Create a memorial work of art, like a thumbprint tree 
  • Bring a photo book or your loved one’s favorite book and ask people to write notes inside 
  • Create a slideshow to play during the event 

Man in dark suit speaking into microphone

Eulogy 

Fourth, the eulogy may be the single most important aspect of a funeral service. It’s important to take care and spend concentrated time deciding what you want to say. After all, the eulogy is the time to acknowledge and affirm the significance of the life lived. The eulogy, sometimes called the “remembrance” or the “homily,” can be delivered by a clergy person, a family member, or even by a series of people. 

How to Personalize: 

  • Share memories, quotes, or even a loved one’s favorite jokes 
  • Tell a significant and meaningful story about the person who has died 
  • Bring visual aids (like an item the person carried or were known to cherish 
  • Share something the person taught you and how they impacted your life and the lives of others 

For more helpful ideas, please read What is a Eulogy and Crafting a Eulogy 

flower arrangement with purple and yellow flowers

Symbols 

Fifth, symbols are an important aspect of a funeral because they convey love and comfort, facilitate expression, and offer a focus point for the grieving. For instance, we send flowers or bake casseroles to convey the love we feel and the support we offer.   

For one grieving family, an appropriate symbol was the quilts their grandmother made. Before her death, she made a quilt for every child and grandchild, and at her final tribute, the quilts were displayed on the pews – a representation of her love and impact on her family. Common symbols are an appropriate religious symbol, flowers, dark clothing, and candles, but you can use whatever feels best to honor your loved one 

How to Personalize: 

  • If appropriate, ask everyone to wear your loved one’s favorite color to the funeral 
  • With traditional burial, the body and casket are the ultimate symbol or focal point 
  • With cremation, a symbol might be an urn, a portrait, or some other appropriate item 
  • If they were a person of faith, include religious symbols to offer comfort 
  • If they were known for something (like quilts), turn those items into a symbol 

Woman wiping away tears with a handkerchief

Gathering 

Sixth, the gathering is an opportunity for friends and family to come together after the funeral service to share stories and to support each other. This event may occur at the funeral home, an event center, someone’s home, or even a local restaurant. The point of a gathering is to bring people together directly following the service to share stories, remember a loved one, and connect (or reconnect) with people. 

In many ways, the gathering is another excellent place for personalization because you may have more time and a lot of space to work with.  

How to Personalize: 

  • Have the gathering at your loved one’s favorite restaurant 
  • Choose a venue that means something (for example, a church, local country club, beach, park, etc.) 
  • Serve your loved one’s favorite foods 
  • Display photos, cherished possessions, and mementos 
  • Decorate with your loved one’s favorite colors 
  • Include a set aside time when friends or family can publicly share special memories 
  • Create a memorial work of art together or plant a memorial tree 

Grieving woman laying flowers on a loved one's grave

Actions  

And finally, by inviting others into action at the funeral service, you engage mourners and invite them to put their grief into motion. Simply put, mourning is the outward expression of our inward grief. To move others toward healing, it is important to invite them to act. 

How to Personalize: 

  • Participate in a release ceremony (biodegradable balloons or lanterns, doves, etc.) 
  • Incorporate keepsake items 
  • Invite mourners to write down memories on note cards
  • Ask family and friends to bring photos they have of your loved one to add to a group collage 
  • Set a theme that invites attendees to wear your loved one’s favorite color or style of clothing (i.e. Hawaiian shirts, sports jerseys, etc.)
  • Light candles of remembrance 
  • Ask people to take part in the service as eulogists, readers, singers, musicians, or pallbearers 

Hopefully, these thoughts will spark ideas of your ownUltimately, planning a funeral or memorial service that accurately reflects your loved one’s life, passions, values, and beliefs creates an opportunity to specifically and meaningfully remember, honor, and celebrate their life.  

As you consider how you can incorporate these 7 elements into a funeral or memorial service, remember that you aren’t on your own in this. The funeral home has caring and experienced staff ready to help you with all your questions and concerns as you create a moment in time that can bring peace and comfort for years to come.

Man looking out window, friend places comforting hand on shoulder

Self-Care Recommendations When Someone You Love is Dying

By For Caregivers & Families No Comments

If you have a friend or loved one who is dying, you’re likely dealing with a lot of feelings right now: sadness, shock, disbelief, anger, anxiety. It’s normal to experience these emotions, and you have every right to feel the way you do. As you juggle your own grief with the need to be there, physically and emotionally, for your friend or loved one, you will need to care for yourself and realize that you can’t do it all on your own. Below, we will discuss 6 self-care recommendations that will help you tend to yourself and stay emotionally stable as you care for your friend or loved one in their final days.

1. Share Your Feelings

Someone you care deeply about is dying and will soon be gone. Odds are, you will also need support as you explore your own feelings about this illness and the changes you see in your friend or loved one. Find someone who will listen to you without judgment as you talk out your own feelings. To stay available to your loved one, you need to be able to work through your own feelings. Do this with someone you trust.

Grief support group with five people

Additionally, many hospices offer support groups for friends and family of the dying—both before and after the death itself. Take advantage of these compassionate resources.

2. Care for Your Body

Visiting or caring for a terminally ill person will zap a lot of your energy – both mental and physical. To make the most of the time you have left with your loved one, you need to make sure you aren’t running yourself ragged. Make sure to eat nutritious meals. Get plenty of rest. Continue to exercise. Spend time doing things that make you happy. Take a break from the sick room.

Nutritious meal with grilled chicken, tomatoes, and green salad

If you’re a primary caregiver, it may feel counter-intuitive or just plain wrong to take time away for self-care or to enjoy simple activities, but you will need these times to help you stay afloat. No one can sustain continuous stress, anxiety, and sadness without starting to crack. Adding a few self-care habits will help you keep it together and have the energy you need to be fully present with your loved one. Self-care has become more and more valued in our society, so make sure to take the time to do it.

3. Realize Your Own Limitations

It’s important to realize that not everyone can offer ongoing support to someone who is dying. If you feel you simply can’t cope with the situation, try to understand your reticence and learn from it. Ask yourself, “Why am I so uncomfortable with this?” and “What can I do to become more open and compassionate in times of need?”

Do not, however, avoid your friend or loved one altogether. Phone rather than visit. Write a letter or email if you can’t bring yourself to phone. Let them know that this situation is difficult for you while at the same time acknowledging that your friend or loved one’s fears and needs come first.

On the other end of the helping spectrum, don’t become obsessed with the illness or feel that you must be your loved one’s only means of support. Do not emotionally overburden yourself.

4. Establish a Routine

After a terminal diagnosis, everything may feel out of control. Your routine is upset. You are suddenly dealing with events, people, and emotions you didn’t expect. Your life has lost its normalcy and has been thrown into disarray. By establishing a routine, you can begin to gain back some of the normalcy and control you lost. When you feel comfortable in your routine, you can begin to process what’s happened and learn how to deal with and manage your feelings.

Man writing in day planner

Additionally, establishing a routine will help your dying friend or loved one. They also need structure to rely on, as their life has been thrown into just as much, if not more, disarray than yours. If you are a close caregiver, establish a routine together. If you are more on the periphery, make sure to communicate your wish to visit on a regular basis and find a time that works best for both of you.

5. Embrace Your Own Spirituality

If faith is part of your life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you during this difficult time. Pray with your friend or loved one and with their family. Allow yourself to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. Read spiritual verses or poems. Sing songs. Find the comfort that your faith can bring to the hard seasons of life.

Woman praying in a religious building

If you are angry at God because of your loved one’s illness, that’s okay. Find someone to talk with who won’t be critical of whatever thoughts and feelings you need to explore. It’s normal to have questions or doubts when faced with death, but as you embrace your own spirituality, you will find the answers you need.

6. Seek Hope and Healing

As much as you may not want to face it, in time, your friend or loved one will die. To love and live wholly again, you must find a way to mourn. In fact, you cannot heal unless you openly express your grief. Denying your grief, before and after the death, will only make it more confusing and overwhelming. As painful as it may be, you must embrace your grief in order to begin to heal.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally recognized grief counselor and author, puts it this way: “You might fall into the common thinking of our society that denying these feelings will make them go away. You might have the urge to ‘keep your chin up’ and stay busy and wait to ‘get over’ your grief. Yet, ironically, the only way to help these hard feelings pass is to wade in the muck of them. To get in and get dirty. Grief isn’t clean, tidy, or convenient. Yet feeling it and expressing it is the only way to feel whole, once again.”

Man looking out window, friend places comforting hand on shoulder

Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Remember, grief is a process, not an event. Be patient with yourself. Never forget that the death of someone loved changes your life forever.

With these 6 self-care tips in mind, start choosing the best ways to maintain your own self-health while supporting your dying friend or loved one. More than likely, you will still be tired and emotionally worn. However, these recommendations for self-care can help prevent you from reaching burnout as you journey alongside someone you love during their final days.

*Based heavily on a brochure by Dr. Alan Wolfelt. Dr. Alan Wolfelt is a respected author and educator on the topic of healing in grief. He serves as Director of the Center for Loss and Life Transition and is on the faculty at the University of Colorado Medical School’s Department of Family Medicine. Visit www.centerforloss.com to learn more about helping a friend in grief. Published with permission.

At home nurse helping female patient get out of bed, helping put on cardigan

What are the Eligibility Requirements for Hospice Care?

By Hospice No Comments

If you’re reading this, you or a loved one have either recently received a terminal diagnosis or have experienced a sudden decline in health. Most likely, your entire family is experiencing sadness, disbelief, extra levels of stress, and lots of emotional strain. To help you through this difficult season, hospice care may be just what your family needs. But what are the eligibility requirements? Who qualifies and how? Let’s take a deeper look.

Female nurse putting comforting hand on elderly man's shoulder

Two Basic Eligibility Requirements

1. Certification of Illness

A person is eligible for hospice if they have been diagnosed with a terminal illness and given a life expectancy of six months or less if the disease runs its expected course. The hospice medical director must agree with the doctor’s assessment.

When determining eligibility and certifying illness, the primary physician and hospice medical director often look for three indicators: 1) a patient’s lack of improvement despite treatment, 2) a patient’s goal becomes comfort rather than cure, and 3) acute health events, like heart attack or stroke.

Older man talking with doctor about health

Some common health symptoms that indicate a patient may qualify for hospice are:

  • Frequent hospitalizations in the past six months
  • Significant weight loss (10% or more) within the past 3-6 months
  • A change in mental, cognitive, and functional abilities
  • Increasing weakness and fatigue
  • Decreasing appetite or trouble swallowing
  • Inability to complete daily tasks, like eating, bathing, dressing, walking, etc.
  • Recurring infections or increasing pain
  • Insufficient hydration or nutrition
  • A desire to stop treatment or to not go to the hospital

With some illnesses, especially those that are long term, the primary physician and hospice medical director will look for specific symptoms to help them determine if an illness has reached an end stage. This includes illnesses like ALS, Alzheimer’s and dementia, lung, heart, or liver disease, HIV/AIDS, cancer, neurological conditions, sepsis, and renal failure.

Let’s move on to the second eligibility requirement.

2. Focus on Comfort Rather than Cure

After an illness has been certified, there is one more eligibility requirement. Before a hospice care team can step in and begin to help the family, the terminally ill person must state that it is their intention to seek palliative care instead of curative care. This means that all care will now focus on improving quality of life and relieving pain rather than on life-prolonging treatments.

For cases when the terminally ill person is unable to communicate or make decisions regarding their own treatment, the person holding a Medical Power of Attorney (often a close family member) can make medical decisions on their behalf and initiate the hospice request.

However, please note that you can stop hospice care at any time. If life expectancy improves or new treatments become available, you can stop hospice care and begin to focus on curative care.

At home nurse helping female patient get out of bed, helping put on cardigan

Alternatively, if hospice care isn’t working out for your family for whatever reason, you can stop it and do something else that may work better for your particular situation. If you need to re-enter hospice care at a later date, you can. Just have your doctor and the hospice medical director re-certify the illness.

Once your eligibility is confirmed, you can begin receiving services from your hospice care team. Care usually takes place at your home, but your insurance may cover other options so make sure to ask. To learn more about the basic services available to you through hospice, click here.

What if You Need Hospice Care for Longer than 6 Months?

Great question. Doctors don’t know exactly how an illness will affect each person individually. Because of this, a prognosis of six months may turn into a longer period of time. Hospice prepares for that.

Hospice care is broken up into benefit periods. You can receive hospice care for two 90-day periods, followed by an unlimited number of 60-day periods. However, at the end of every benefit period, doctors reassess and recertify that hospice care is still needed.

Nurse sitting at older mans' bedside, holding hand and smiling

If the end of a benefit period is approaching, start the reapplication process 30 days before the next period is set to begin. That will give you time to get everything approved, ensuring there is no lapse in care.

Now that you better understand how hospice eligibility works, please talk with your own or your loved one’s primary physician to determine next steps.

Please NOTE: These eligibility requirements are based on Medicare’s Hospice Benefit. Medicare pays for more than 85% of all hospice fees in the United States. If you have a different health insurance provider, check their eligibility requirements.

Nurse helping elderly woman move with walker

What Services Does Hospice Provide?

By Hospice No Comments

If you’ve never had to look into hospice care before, you may feel a little out of your element. One of the big questions on your mind may be, “What exactly does hospice do? What kind of services do they offer?” Today, we’ll take a look at the variety of standard offerings available through hospice and how they benefit your family.

Before we get started, it’s always helpful to have a definition of hospice care. At its core, hospice care is about taking care of patients and their families with kindness and compassion. It focuses on creating a comfortable, pain-free environment for the terminally ill, making each person feel confident that they know what to expect, and offering supportive care to family members.

Younger person holding older person's hands, focus on hands only

First Things First

Once a terminally ill person enrolls in hospice care, they will begin receiving visits from their hospice care team. This team can include a wide variety of people, depending on the hospice services your family pursues.

The team could include a nurse, hospice aide, social worker, chaplain, bereavement coordinator, physical, occupational, speech, or dietary therapists, spiritual and/or grief counselors, and volunteers – all overseen by the hospice medical director.

However, the services your family receives will depend on your specific needs. Adjustments are made to accommodate each individual patient and their family. So, if you don’t want or need a dietary therapist right now, you don’t have to have one. But if your needs change, you can always request a dietary therapist later. Hospice care is very personalized and can be tailored to fit a family’s specific needs over the duration of a person’s terminal illness.

Nurse helping elderly woman move with walker

7 Basic Hospice Services

The most common way to pay for hospice is with Medicare (85.4%), followed by private insurance (6.9%), Medicaid (5%), and other options, including self-pay (2.7%). Because Medicare is used most often to pay for hospice, its benefit rules are used by Medicaid and other insurance plans as a base line. In other words, other insurance companies base their hospice benefit plans on Medicare.

That’s not to say there aren’t differences, but by reviewing Medicare’s hospice benefit policy, we can get a good look at what services are most commonly available across the country. NOTE: Some hospice providers will include their own personalized services in addition to these basic services, so make sure to ask if there are any additional services available.

1. Personal & Medical Care

Of course, every hospice patient will receive medical care. However, it’s important to understand that this is not curative care. Instead, it’s focused on managing pain and symptoms so that a hospice patient’s final days are as comfortable as possible. This includes services from doctors and nurses as well as prescription medication.

The hospice care team will closely monitor the hospice patient’s needs and create a treatment plan that meets both your end-of-life care preferences and provides optimal comfort.

Female nurse taking elderly man's blood pressure at his home

2. Medical Supplies & Equipment

Secondly, hospice will provide medical supplies and equipment that may be necessary for pain relief and symptom management. This could include a walker, wheelchair, oxygen tank, hospital bed, bandages, catheter, bedpan, wound care supplies, and much more.

The hospice care team will arrange for both the delivery and removal of all such items. If there is something you need, communicate that to the care team, and they will work with you to ensure that the hospice patient’s needs are met.

3. Therapy & Nutrition

While it may not come to mind at first, hospice will coordinate physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and even dietary counseling. If these services are deemed medically necessary by the hospice medical director, then they will be provided to the hospice patient. For example, if a person has trouble swallowing, speech therapy can help.

As for nutritional care, as the hospice patient’s body begins the dying process, they may not be able to process as many calories, digest properly, or process food or drink at all. With dietary counseling, family members are given the information needed to know when and how to make adjustments to diet and ensure that a loved one’s food intake is correct.

Nurse holding patient's hand, who is lying in a hospital bed in their home

4. Assistance at Home

As the hospice patient’s illness progresses, it will become even harder to take care of daily tasks. That’s why the hospice team is also available to help with eating, toileting, bathing, dressing, changing bed sheets, and more. The team’s highly trained nurses or aides will perform these tasks with care, discretion, and dignity. Plus, by doing these things, the hospice care team allows the family caregiver to take a break.

Talk with your hospice care team to find out what kind of at-home assistance they offer and request what best fits your needs.

5. Social Work Services

Here’s one you may not have heard about – social work services. You will have a hospice social worker assigned to you who will provide support by connecting the family to additional financial support programs or psychosocial support available in the community.

Some common social work services include:

  • Providing information about grief counseling and coping skills
  • Planning for discharge
  • Coordinating care
  • Helping families navigate the hospice care system
  • Advocating on the family’s behalf
  • Assisting survivors with arrangements and paperwork

Basically, the hospice social worker is there to guide your family through the hospice care process from beginning to end. Think of them as an incredible resource for questions and solutions.

Group support group

6. Counseling

Another big part of hospice care revolves around counseling, both for the hospice patient and their family. This could include emotional and spiritual counseling, grief counseling, and psychosocial counseling.

Spiritual & emotional counseling – There are skilled counselors available to help each person in the family achieve peace in their heart and spirit prior to the death. For some, this may mean seeking to restore broken relationships, mend hurt feelings, or draw closer to loved ones.

Grief counseling – After a terminal diagnosis, everyone knows that death will come sometime in the near future, and with death, comes grief. To support families through the ups and downs of grief, hospice makes grief counselors available to provide comfort, both before and after the loss of a loved one.

Psychosocial counseling – Receiving a terminal diagnosis takes a heavy toll, often bringing out depression or severe anxiety. Psychosocial counselors seek to help the hospice patient understand the end-of-life process and work toward social and emotional restoration.

At home hospice nurse sitting with patient, giving a hug as they look out the window

7. Respite Care

One final service to review is respite care. Every family will have a primary caregiver, and it can be an exhausting role. To give family caregivers a much-needed, occasional break, the hospice care team will provide respite care.

Most often, this means that the hospice patient will be placed in an in-patient facility for a few days, giving both the caregiver and the hospice patient a break. If this is something your family caregiver needs, contact your social worker, who can arrange this for you. You can get respite care more than once, but only on an occasional basis.

These are the basic services you can expect to receive from a hospice provider. Of course, don’t forget to ask if your specific hospice provider includes additional benefits. As you walk down this road, remember that you aren’t alone, and there’s an entire team of people waiting to help you through it.

Husband talking to wife as she lies in hospital bed

8 Tips for Helping Your Family Through a Family Member’s Terminal Diagnosis

By For Caregivers & Families No Comments

Learning that a member of your family is dying is often the most devastating news a family can receive. Your family is starting a journey they didn’t ask for and don’t want – with hospital visits, hospice care, grief, sorrow, and tears. But it doesn’t have to only be rainy days! You can create beautiful memories to cherish and turn your love and concern into positive actions. Together, let’s discuss ways you can help your family process a loved one’s diagnosis and how you can grieve well together.

Father and son sitting on bench talking

1. Take Time to Accept What’s Happened

It’s going to take time to cope with your family’s new reality. Before the diagnosis, you may have thought this type of thing only happens to other families, and it’s hard to grasp that it’s now happening to yours. If the onset of the illness was sudden or unexpected, you and the rest of your family will likely feel shock and numbness at first. This is a natural and necessary response to painful news.

Don’t try to take it all in at once. Accept your new reality in doses or increments. First, try to understand the diagnosis in your head. Then, over the weeks and even months to come, you will come to understand it with your heart. Just take it one day at a time.

Mother and daughter hugging

2. Be Aware of Your Family’s Coping Style

How you and your family respond to this illness will have a lot to do with how you as a family have related in the past. If your family is used to openly talking about their feelings with each other, they will probably be able to communicate more easily about the illness and the changes it brings. Families where people don’t talk about feelings and tend to deal with problems individually will probably have difficulty acknowledging the illness and its impact.

As you have conversations, you will find that some family members want to discuss the illness, while others seem to want to deny the reality and refuse to discuss it. Right now, your family may feel like a pressure cooker: you all have a high need to feel understood, but little capacity to be understanding. Try not to force anything and give each family member room to come to grips with reality in their own way.

family of 5 discussing chores and routines

3. Adjust to Changing Family Roles

A family member’s illness is going to necessitate changes – in routine, in roles and responsibilities, activities, and more. Your family may have a hard time adjusting to the changing roles. For example, if the head of the household is dying, the other spouse may now have to find a job in addition to caring for the home and children. If grandma acted as the family’s binding force before she was ill, her family may now feel confused and disjointed where they once felt strong and cohesive.

These changes can cause upheaval and high emotions, affecting how your family interacts. Depending on temperament and age, some may act short-tempered, overly dependent, or stoic, to name a few options for altered behavior. Each person’s stress, anxiety, or fear will manifest in different ways, so be on the lookout for it. Try not to take any outbursts personally.

At home nurse helping a woman walk

4. Consider Getting Outside Help

One of the most compassionate things you can do for your family during this stressful time is to reach out for and accept help. If someone in your family is caring for the dying person at home, look into end-of-life care options. Have groceries delivered. Hire a housekeeper to come in twice a month. Talk to your church or other community organizations and ask for volunteers to help. And family counseling can be a healing, enriching experience that helps family members understand one another now and long after the illness.

Additionally, hospices are well-staffed and trained to help both the dying person and the dying person’s family. Their mission is two-fold: 1) to help the dying die with comfort, dignity, and love, and 2) to help survivors cope both before and after the death. Contact your local hospice early in the dying process. Too often families wait until the last few days of the sick person’s life to ask for hospice care. When contacted early, hospices can provide a great deal of compassionate support and care up to six months before the death.

Husband talking to wife as she lies in hospital bed

5. Understand What the Dying Person May be Feeling

Experiencing illness affects a person’s mind, heart, and spirit. While you don’t want to make assumptions about what another person may feel, do be aware that terminally ill people may experience a variety of emotions following a diagnosis. Fear, anxiety, anger, guilt, sadness, and loneliness are just a few of the emotions they may feel—one at a time or simultaneously.

These feelings are a natural response to terminal illness. Your role as caring family member should be to listen to the sick person’s thoughts and feelings without trying to change them. If they are sad, they’re sad. Don’t try to take that necessary emotion away. If they are angry or feeling guilty, that’s okay too. You may be tempted to soothe away or deny these painful feelings, but a more helpful response is to simply acknowledge them. Listen and understand.

Woman sleeping in her bed

6. Help Family Members Tend to their Own Needs

When a family member is dying, that person becomes the focal point for the entire family. Suddenly everyone is concerned about that one person and their coming death. This is normal, but family members should not lose sight of their own needs during this difficult time.

Encourage everyone to nurture themselves as well as the sick person. Get enough rest. Eat balanced meals. Lighten schedules as much as possible. And even though the family is experiencing a serious time, they should still give themselves permission to be happy. Plan fun events. Allow time to laugh, love, and enjoy life.

Mother, father, and teenage daughter praying together

7. Embrace Your Spirituality

If faith is part of your family’s life, express it in ways that seem appropriate to you. Singly or together, you may find comfort and hope in reading spiritual texts, attending religious services, or praying. Allow yourselves to be around people who understand and support your religious beliefs. If one or more family members are angry at God because of the illness, realize that this is a normal and natural response. Try not to be critical of whatever thoughts and feelings each family member needs to explore.

8. Seek Hope and Healing as a Family

When a family member dies, each surviving member of the family must find a way to mourn if they are to love and live wholly again. It’s impossible to heal if you aren’t willing to openly express grief. Denying your grief, before and after the death, will only make it more confusing and overwhelming.

Woman wearing black as she stands next to grave marker and holds white flowers

Remember, every family member will grieve in a different way. Leave room for different expressions of grief. Some will feel sad, others angry, guilty, or even relieved. Don’t judge the reactions of the other people in your family – simply realize that each of you will face the pain differently. Look for ways to honor and remember the person you’ve lost. These healing actions will help you find a way to move forward.

Reconciling your grief will not happen quickly. Grief is a process, not an event. Encourage your family to be patient with each other and kind to themselves. Your life as a family has changed forever, and it will take time, open sharing, and intentionality to discover the way forward.

Grandparents, parents, and two kids wallking outside together and enjoying time

What to Consider when Estate Planning for a Blended Family

By Estate Planning No Comments

As you look ahead and realize that you will be in hospice care for a while, it may be time to start getting things taken care of. Now, more than ever, it’s important to get your affairs in order, especially if you have a blended family. For many families, being blended creates a sense of belonging and harmony. For others, it may be a source of contention or strife. No matter which category your family falls into, blended families introduce some potential challenges you must consider when it comes to estate planning.

The Challenge

According to Pew Research Center, 42 percent of Americans are in a “step” relationship of some kind. This means divorce, remarriage, and widowhood are a part of many lives. But what’s the estate planning challenge here?

Young blended family of 4 having fun baking in the kitchen

With estate planning, the challenge revolves around whether the correct people are listed on your important documents or not. In general, we are a bit lax about updating our accounts, files, or beneficiaries as often as we should. For instance, you might have taken out an accidental death & dismemberment insurance policy with your employer five years ago, but since then, you’ve divorced and remarried. Do you know which spouse is listed as a beneficiary on your policy? Is it the correct spouse?

A Few Questions to Ask Yourself

If you have a blended estate plan, it’s helpful to think through some important questions as you put your affairs in order.

  1. Does your will explicitly say how to handle your assets after your death?
  2. If you are unable to make decisions for yourself, who should serve as your proxy?
  3. If you have children, who should take over their care?
  4. Regarding your assets, do you need to strike a balance between a current spouse and a former spouse? Or children from one marriage versus a second?
  5. Does a former spouse have a fair claim to any portion of your assets?
  6. Do you need to make a distinction between what children from one marriage are to receive versus children from a second marriage?

Blended family of 4 outside, mom carrying daughter on back and father carrying son on back

5 Important Estate Planning Documents

Here are 5 estate planning documents to consider as you prepare a plan that will protect your family and make your wishes known.

1. Financial Power of Attorney

If you are feeling very unwell, you may be unable to take care of everything on your own, or you may just want to have someone else who can help out with the details. With a financial power of attorney, you grant an agent – often a spouse, adult child, or trusted friend – the ability to conduct financial transactions on your behalf. This means that the agent can access bank accounts, pay bills, obtain loans, and perform other financial acts on your behalf. If you previously signed a financial power of attorney and would now like to change your agent, speak to your estate planning attorney to update your records.

If you become incapacitated without a financial power of attorney and no one else has access to your accounts, it may be difficult for your loved ones to take care of your financial affairs. They will likely have to petition the courts for permission to conduct your affairs. For some, the process is arduous and inconvenient, so consider appointing a power of attorney.

Blended family sitting on couch, enjoying each other's company, mom, dad, teenage son, and teenage daughter present

2. Medical Power of Attorney

Similar to a financial power of attorney, the medical power of attorney grants your appointed agent the ability to make medical decisions on your behalf. Your agent’s powers will work in tandem with your living will (discussed below), if you have one. Also, make sure to sign a HIPAA release form. This document allows your appointed agent access to health, care, and treatment information.

A medical power of attorney allows you to appoint the best person to make decisions regarding your medical needs. By making your medical wishes known, you take the burden of decision making off your family. Any family can experience stress or strain when medical wishes are unclear. For blended families (especially those who don’t always see eye-to-eye), the medical power of attorney can help prevent disagreements and strain among family members.

Grandparents, parents, and two kids wallking outside together and enjoying time

3. Living Will

Whether you set up a medical power of attorney or not, it’s good practice to complete a living will, which is a document that clearly outlines what medical treatments you would and would not like to be used to keep you alive. This type of list provides peace of mind to family members, giving them confidence in any medical decisions they may need to make on your behalf.

Because the list is extensive, talk to your doctor and family members about your medical wishes. If you want to update your medical directives to include a new spouse, you can do so at any time. Just make sure that you dispose of all copies of the old directives.

Blended family of 5 sitting at breakfast table, eating a meal together

4. Legal Will

Following a death, the legal will gives clarity to family members by providing instruction for the distribution of your assets. In general, a will is a simple document that identifies beneficiaries, names guardians for minor children, appoints an executor to the will and/or a property manager, and leaves instructions on how to pay for debts and taxes.

If you are part of a blended family, a will may become especially necessary in case a former spouse, estranged children, or even step-children try to make a claim. If there are certain individuals whom you’d like to prevent from gaining access to your assets, a legal will is the best way to prevent it. Plus, you can revise a will at any time so you can make changes when needed.

Family outside running in a field, enjoying the sunset

5. Revocable Living Trust

Though most people need a will, not everyone needs a living trust. Living trusts are a bit more complicated than wills. You transfer your property into the trust, naming yourself the trustee, and then adding a successor trustee to take over upon your death. The successor trustee then distributes your assets according to your wishes.

If you have a large number of assets, a living trust is very helpful. Plus, you avoid the necessity of probate court and can keep everything private. Like a legal will, a living trust can be revised at any time.

One more note: a living trust does not take the place of a will. You must have a will to appoint guardians for minor children, designate an executor, and assign a property manager (if property must be maintained until a minor child comes of age).

Now that you are aware of some estate planning challenges, start talking with the people closest to you. Make an appointment with an estate planning attorney. Take time to set things in place now so that your family is taken care of tomorrow!

DISCLAIMER: Individual circumstances and state laws vary, so any estate planning should only be undertaken with the help and assistance of an attorney licensed in your state.

Cemetery images with beautifully manicured graves to illustrate other interment options

Understanding Your Interment Options

By Meaningful Funerals No Comments

Whether you’ve entered hospice care and want to put your final wishes in writing, or you’re planning a meaningful service for a loved one, the ins and outs of funeral planning can be unfamiliar and confusing. You don’t know where to start or even what all of your options are. As you do your research, you may come across unfamiliar terms, like interment, columbarium, mausoleum, crypt, vault, niche, and more. This article will explain what these terms mean and give you a better idea of what’s included with each.

Older husband and wife sitting on couch at home, looking at document and reviewing interment options

Definition

First of all, let’s define interment. Usually, the term refers to burial, typically with funeral rites. However, over time, the definition has changed and now means “final resting place,” whether for burial or cremation.

Interment Options for Burial of the Body

If you choose burial of the body as your preference, you have many options available for both in-ground or above-ground burial. However, not all options are available everywhere, so check with a local funeral professional to determine which ones are available in your area.

Traditional Burial

With traditional burial, the body remains intact and is usually embalmed to allow for a viewing or visitation prior to the funeral and committal services. Prior to burial, the grave is excavated at the cemetery and either a grave liner or burial vault is placed in the grave (the family decides which one). Later, after the committal service, the cemetery grounds crew will lower the casket and fill the grave with soil. Eventually, a grave marker with epitaph is added to the location as a memorial.

Light wood casket with white lilies and greenery to illustrate traditional burial

Lawn Crypt

Essentially, a lawn crypt is a type of underground mausoleum. It’s built deeper into the ground and can house multiple caskets. Often made of concrete, a lawn crypt possesses a drainage system, which protects the grave’s contents from the elements. In some cases, families are all buried together, but it’s not a requirement. Make sure to ask a cemetery representative if they use individual grave markers or just one for everyone buried in the lawn crypt.

Mausoleum

A mausoleum is an above-ground memorial building for housing casketed remains. They offer personal ways to commemorate your loved one, including name carvings, plaques, and vases for flowers. A mausoleum typically offers single or companion crypts and protects the remains from the elements. Both community and private mausoleums exist. In most cases, a private mausoleum is much more expensive. A mausoleum is a great option for families who want to be interred together.

Large stone structure to illustrate a mausoleum

Natural (or Green) Burial

Another option for full-body interment is natural or green burial. The main idea behind green and natural burials is to allow the decomposition process to occur naturally. The main differences are two-fold: 1) Green burial excludes any type of embalming, and the cemetery grounds are specifically sanctioned for green burial; 2) While green burials must occur on very specific plots of land, a natural burial can take place on private land (subject to regulations) or in any cemetery that allows it.

Interment Options for the Cremated Body

Columbarium

Moving into interment options for the cremated body, a columbarium is a popular option. Columbaria consist of many small compartments, called niches, that each hold an individual urn. Each niche typically includes a memorial plaque that acts as a grave marker, identifying the names, dates of life, and an epitaph (if the family wishes). All columbaria are communal, though a family can purchase a family-sized niche to allow multiple urns to be placed together.

Columbarium wall with plaques and flowers

Urn Burial

It is also possible to bury an urn rather than to place it in a columbarium niche. Some cemeteries have landscaped urn gardens while others offer burial plots similar to those for traditional burial. A traditional plot can hold the cremated bodies of multiple people or may even hold a casket and an urn, depending on the cemetery regulations. As with traditional burial, urn burial requires an outer burial container. A third option for urn burial is green burial. You can place a biodegradable urn in a green burial ground without an outer burial container.

Scattering

With scattering, take the cremated body to a special place (remember to check the laws and regulations for that place) or use a scattering garden, which is a designated, beautiful space often attached to a cemetery. With a scattering garden, the cemetery often provides a means of adding a permanent physical marker so that family and friends feel more connected to their lost loved one. If you decide to scatter all of the ashes, take time to prepare yourself emotionally. For some, it can come as a shock that all that was left of a loved one’s body is suddenly gone.

Cemetery images with beautifully manicured graves to illustrate other interment options

Other Interment Options

A few lesser-used interment options are:

As you can see, there are several interment options available to you. All you have to do is choose the one that best fits your wishes and your family’s needs. No matter which option you choose, remember that it’s important to designate a final resting place so that friends, family, and future generations have a place to visit, remember, and honor the life that has been lived.

Selecting the Right Funeral Home for Your Family’s Needs

By Meaningful Funerals No Comments

With a loved one entering hospice care, you will need a team of people to help you in the coming days, weeks, and months. One person you should consider including on your support team is a caring and compassionate funeral professional from a reputable funeral home. They will help you and your loved one create a final tribute that is meaningful, personalized, and perfectly tailored to mark the significance and beauty of your loved one’s life.

Right now, you may feel like avoiding the topic altogether. That’s completely understandable. However, while it will be difficult in the moment, there is a peace that comes from knowing exactly what your loved one wants and balancing their wants with your family’s need to grieve.

To help you select a funeral planning partner that will best meet your family’s needs and desires, consider these 10 characteristics as you review and compare your options.

Five star wooden pieces laid on a blue background to indicate a good reputation

1. Possesses a Good Reputation

We all know of a place (whether it be a restaurant, movie theater, retail store, or funeral home) that has a bad reputation. What do we instinctively do when we know a place has a bad reputation? We avoid it. We read the online reviews, we listen to other people’s stories, and we value our own experience.

Particularly when selecting a funeral home, find an establishment that possesses a good reputation so you can be confident in the care and service you will receive. Ask your friends for recommendations or read online reviews of the funeral homes in your area.

2. Employs Caring and Compassionate Staff

As with any business you frequent, you should expect to be treated with kindness. However, this attitude should be especially true of funeral home staff since families are facing an emotionally difficult time in their lives. Excellent customer service and authentic sincerity constitute a large part of a funeral home’s reputation, which is one reason these two qualities are very important to funeral directors and their staff. Make a short list of funeral homes you are considering and give them a call. You can learn a lot about the quality of a person from a simple phone call. The staff will treat you well and with consummate professionalism. If they don’t, move on.

Two people sitting together, one person holding the other person's hand in comfort

3. Communicates a Commitment to the Families It Serves

No matter where you go, you should have confidence in the funeral home’s commitment to you. If a funeral home has a good reputation and employs kind and caring staff, then they will likely show great commitment to the families they serve. However, it is still good practice to read a funeral home’s mission statement and history. These two pieces of information can give you a better understanding of a funeral home’s values and commitments. You should be a top priority.

4. Is Willing to Create a Unique and Meaningful Experience for You or Your Loved One

Renowned grief counselor, author, and educator, Dr. Alan Wolfelt, says, “What is essential [when planning a funeral] is the life that was lived and the impact that life had on family and friends. To honor that unique life, the funeral must also be unique. Over and over families tell me that the best funerals are those that are personalized.

As you consider a funeral home, ask yourself, “Will this funeral home help me create a service unique to my needs and values?” Personalized funerals and memorials are on the rise in the United States. Families and friends are looking for unique and personal ways to honor lost loved ones, and a good funeral home will work with you to create a meaningful and healing experience. Is the funeral director listening to you carefully and willing to educate you in areas where you lack knowledge? Is the funeral director offering helpful options and explaining the benefits and pitfalls of each option?

Pushpins tacked into a map, showing locations

5. Offers a Good Location, Facility, and Services

First, whenever possible, choose a convenient location. You will be in frequent contact with the funeral home as you plan a funeral, so a convenient location will be helpful for your preparations.

Second, consider the funeral home facility critically. Is it clean and well-kept? Do they have a chapel, space for a visitation, viewing, or reception (if your plans require such spaces)? Is the décor to your liking? Is the space flexible – can you adjust it to meet your specific needs? Consider the elements you want to be a part of the funeral service and choose a funeral home that meets those desires.

Finally, confirm that the funeral home offers the services you need. Do they offer transportation services, embalming, cremation, etc.? Some funeral homes now offer child-friendly spaces – is that something that’s important to you? No matter what your wishes, only commit to a funeral home that can accomplish them.

6. Accommodates Religious or Cultural Needs

In the United States, the population has always been a mix of religions and culture. As it becomes even more diverse, it’s important for funeral homes to meet the changing needs. With this in mind, no matter what your background, you should look for a funeral home that will help you honor your loved one in the way that you deem appropriate for your cultural background and religious beliefs. For some people, their origins and beliefs make up the fabric of who they are. It’s important that these core values are evident in the funeral or memorial service. No two people are the same, and because of our individual uniqueness, no two funerals should be the same either.

Older couple sitting at home with funeral director, looking at documents, options, and pricing

7. Values Transparency about Costs and Descriptions

Almost everyone values a transparent fee structure. With that in mind, partner with a funeral home that values openness and transparency with you. In case you aren’t aware, funeral homes are required to follow the Federal Trade Commission’s Funeral Rule. This law stipulates that, when asked, a funeral home:

  • Must provide any consumer with a general price list
  • Should inform the consumer that they have the right to choose the funeral goods and services they want (with some exceptions)
  • Must disclose, on the general price list, whether any particular item is required by state or local law
  • May not refuse or charge a fee to handle a casket bought elsewhere
  • Must offer alternative containers (if cremation is chosen, alternative containers must be offered)

Ask for an itemized list that includes all expenses with nothing left out. This will help you determine what’s best for your budget – no surprises! And remember, you get what you pay for. Cheapest isn’t always best in every case. By doing things ahead of time, without the stress of time constraints, a family can save hundreds of dollars.

In short, look for a funeral home that is considerate of your needs and your budget. Is the funeral home transparent about funeral service costs? Is the package pricing clear? Have they offered you a general price list and helped you plan a service within your budget?

8. Offers Grief Resources

An important question to ask yourself is, “Does this funeral home provide services beyond the funeral itself?” A good funeral home will be there for you even after the funeral is over. Look for an establishment that offers grief counseling services, post funeral newsletters and education, grief support groups or materials, in-home “check in” visits and phone calls, or hosts holiday commemoration services, to name a few options. Your grief journey is important, and the right funeral home can help you on the road toward healing.

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9. Utilizes Up-to-Date Technology

The funeral industry is often accused of being behind the times, but this is not entirely true. Yes, some funeral homes may be slow to change, but there are new, exciting technological advances available. More and more funeral homes are cultivating a social media presence, creating and updating their websites, helping families create memorial videos, or offering livestream services. Some are even providing online funeral planning services. If these services are important to you, look for a funeral home that uses up-to-date technology to enhance its services.

10. Engages the Community with Education Programs

Finally, a good funeral home and its staff engages the community before, during, and after the funeral. Does the funeral home host education programs about estate planning and the importance of getting your affairs together? Do they offer Lunch & Learns to share the importance of funeral preplanning or offer tours of the funeral home facilities? Do they offer hospice continuing education or engage in community events? The funeral home should be an advocate of information. Death inevitably comes to us all, and we cannot change that. But education and preparation can be our ally, but that only happens if a funeral home engages with its community.

Armed with these 10 characteristics to look for, may you find just the right funeral care partner to help you create meaningful moments that are special, beautiful, and just what your family needs to grieve well and honor your loved one.