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10 Poems to Enhance a Meaningful Service

By Meaningful Funerals No Comments

Whether you’re in hospice care yourself or are with a loved one receiving care, it’s important to discuss how best to honor a person’s life and legacy through a personalized and meaningful service. By talking now, funeral wishes can be communicated, giving the family peace of mind and certainty that they are doing the right thing to honor a loved one’s life. One way to mark the significance of a life is through readings and poems.

Nationally recognized grief counselor Dr. Alan Wolfelt tells us that readings and poems are an valuable element of the service because they speak to “word people,” helping us search for meaning in the loss and activate support.

Poems are a particularly powerful type of reading that contribute to what Dr. Wolfelt refers to as the “sweet spot” of a meaningful funeral experience. For this reason, we have included ten great poems that can enhance a funeral service.

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10. “Dear Lovely Death by Langston Hughes

Famed Harlem Renaissance poet Langston Hughes was a master of economy, and his “less is more” approach is perfectly realized in “Dear Lovely Death.” Hughes packs an extraordinary amount of insight into a mere 10 lines. The result is a powerful and hopeful piece that speaks to mourners. Hughes suggests that death does not destroy or eradicate, but merely changes the nature of those it touches. The idea of death as change strikes an important balance for a funeral setting. Hopeful but not naïve, it allows us to see the situation in a more comforting light while never denying the reality of death.

9. “A Clear Midnight by Walt Whitman

This short piece by Whitman turns conventional poetic imagery on its head. While most poems use “midnight” to evoke negative, frightening emotions, Whitman sees the night as a time of calm and peace. When applied to a funeral setting, the flight of the soul “into the wordless” can be viewed as a metaphor for death. This vivid imagery touches mourners by depicting death as a place of rest.

Man sitting on couch with mug and book

8. “Death is a Door by Nancy Byrd Turner

Turner’s poem views death as a time of transition and change and emphasizes the calming nature of death. Through the use of nature imagery, Turner evokes a sense of rejuvenation and implies that death gives birth to new life, though we can’t yet see what this new life looks like. Turner’s assertion that the threshold of death is eagerly crossed by “willing and weary feet” implies that whatever lies on the other side of the doorway of death is more encouraging than frightening.

7. “Requiem by Robert Louis Stevenson

Few people know that Robert Louis Stevenson, author of the famous novels Treasure Island and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, also penned one of the greatest poems about death. “Requiem” is written from the perspective of the deceased, who is clearly satisfied with the life he lived. “Glad did I live and gladly die,” he proudly claims, and his contentment regarding the journey from life to death is comforting and encouraging. For those who lived a full and wonderful life, this poem reminds mourners that their loved one is at peace.

Book standing on end with white feather on top

6. “The Road Not Taken” by Robert Frost

One of the most famous poems of all time, Robert Frost’s masterpiece is not necessarily a “funeral poem.” It isn’t specifically about death, and it doesn’t attempt to encourage mourners to ponder the transience of life. But it’s a wonderful tribute to a life well lived. The closing lines, “I took the road less traveled by, and that has made all the difference,” are a testament to a person who broke the mold and embraced life to the fullest. If you are looking for a piece that celebrates the uniqueness of life, consider reading this ode to originality.

5. “Successby Bessie Anderson Stanley *

In this famous essay-turned-poem, Bessie Anderson Stanley analyzes the true meaning of success. Success is not embodied in a person who chased after shallow achievements. Instead, success is a person who “laughed often, and loved much,” and “left the world better than he found it.” A fitting tribute to the life of someone who understood the true value of life, this classic poem will bring encouragement to mourners and allow them to reflect on the meaningful life of the person who has died.

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4. “When Great Trees Fall by Maya Angelou

This extraordinary work by the late Maya Angelou emphasizes the ripple effect created by the death of a great person. Angelou suggests that the deep hurt we feel is a testament to the brilliance of that individual’s life. While grief may hurt, it indicates that someone made a difference in the lives of others. The poem suggests that grief is extremely difficult but “after a period, peace blooms.” As we move through the grief journey, we come to accept the reality of the death. Eventually, we are able to recall memories that motivate us to find meaning in our lives.

3. “Death, Be Not Proudby John Donne

Perhaps the most famous poem to address mortality, John Donne’s 17th century classic is a tightly structured and perfectly realized refutation of the permanence of death. In a mere 14 lines, Donne sets out to bruise Death’s ego, and his skill matches his ambition. He challenges death by comparing it to rest and sleep. While death marks a stronger transition than sleep, Donne views both states as temporary. The final line, “Death, thou shalt die,” indicates Donne’s strong belief in an afterlife. For this reason, “Death, Be Not Proud” is a great choice for religious ceremonies. It is important to realize that Donne’s poem shouldn’t keep us from acknowledging the reality of death in this world; death separates us from our loved ones, and it is okay to grieve. Rather, the poem should encourage those who are religious by reminding them that the soul of their loved one is at peace.

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2.”If I Can Stop One Heart from Breakingby Emily Dickinson

In this compact, seven-line poem, Dickinson doesn’t waste time on flowery language or indulgent imagery. Her approach to the material is clear, concise, and direct. The primary theme of the poem is the importance of love, which trumps all other human virtues. The speaker claims that by helping another being, she “shall not live in vain.” The size of the act is less important than the intention behind the act. A person need not have his or her good deeds recognized as grand accomplishments to live a great life. Rather, living a full and meaningful life is accomplished by spreading love wherever and however one can. Dickinson’s heartfelt poem is a great choice when honoring those who dedicated their life to helping others.

1. Psalm 23: A Psalm of David, The Book of Psalms (KJV)

This famous psalm speaks directly to our desire for peace, both for ourselves and for our loved ones. Psalm 23 is perfect for a service because it applies to both the mourners and the person who has died. When David claims, “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me,” he’s expressing a sentiment that not only encourages us when thinking about a lost loved one, but also gives mourners the strength to continue on the grief journey. The “valley of the shadow of death” can refer to those who are making the transition from life to death and to those who are trying to face life after losing a loved one. For religious ceremonies, this is a wonderful choice, a beautiful testament to God’s ability to bring comfort and peace to his children in dark times. A cry of faith amidst the storms of life, Psalm 23 is the perfect funeral reading.

*”Success” is often incorrectly attributed to Ralph Waldo Emerson.

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10 Grief Myths You May Believe

By Grief & Loss 3 Comments

As you reflect on the loss of someone you love and their journey through hospice, it may be helpful to understand what to expect from the coming weeks and months. So often, we get our understanding of grief from other people, television, or even society, and sometimes, it’s not entirely accurate. To help you in your grief journey, let’s remove the cobwebs from your understanding of grief and talk about common grief myths.

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Myth #1: Grief is a burden.

It’s hard to argue with your emotions, but in many cases, they don’t tell you the full story. While grief may feel like a burden when you’re going through it, the emotions you’re feeling are actually healthy and a good sign.

Dr. Alan Wolfelt, a nationally respected grief counselor, author, and educator, puts it this way: “Love and grief are two sides of the same precious coin. One does not – and cannot – exist without the other. People sometimes say that grief is the price we pay for the joy of having loved. This also means that grief is not a universal experience. Grief is predicated on our capacity to give and receive love. Some people choose not to love, and so, never grieve. If we allow ourselves the grace that comes with love, however, we must allow ourselves the grace that is required to mourn.”

So, grief is not a burden. It’s the natural result of having loved deeply and wholly – something we all seek and need to live full lives.

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Myth #2: Grief goes away. / Time heals all wounds.

As nice as it would be to say that time will heal your wounds and that your grief will one day go away, it’s simply not true. But take heart! At the beginning of the grief journey, your grief feelings are front and center. However, as you do the work of grief and incorporate the loss into the story of your life, your feelings of grief will decrease in intensity.

Grieving isn’t about “getting over” the loss; it’s about finding a way to move forward. There will be moments, even years down the road, when tears will come to your eyes, and that’s okay. Your feelings of love for that person will never go away, so there will always be a part of you that misses them and grieves their absence.

Older man sitting with hands under chin

Myth #3: Grief and mourning are the same thing.

Though both grief and mourning are associated with the death of a loved one, there’s a difference between them. Grief refers to your internal thoughts and feelings. Mourning, on the other hand, is a shared, social response to loss. In other words, we mourn by taking our internal grief and turning it into actions.

The funeral is an excellent example. At a funeral service, you come together with other mourners to offer support, share stories, mark the significance of a life, and find personalized ways to honor your loved one’s memory. As human beings, when we don’t find ways to outwardly express (mourn) what we feel on the inside (grief), complications can occur, often resulting in a longer period of intense grief. Finding a way to express what you feel is an important and necessary part of grieving well.

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Myth #4: There’s a set time frame for grief.

Sometimes, you may feel like well-meaning friends or family members are rushing your grieving process. Don’t listen to them. In truth, there’s no set time frame for grief. It takes the time it takes. Ultimately, the journey toward reconciliation – learning how to move forward – often depends on the type of loss and the depth of the relationship.

As long as you are actively doing the work of grief – engaging with your emotions, talking through your loss, and finding ways to honor your loved one’s memory – you will find your way to reconciliation.

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Myth #5: Grief is the same, regardless of the loss you experience.

In some ways, it’s easier to relate to someone who has gone through a similar loss, but to say that the grief is the same is untrue. Even if two women have each lost a husband, they are individual people with unique personalities and ways of coping. While both women lost a spouse, they will deal with the loss differently based on their unique personalities, their background, their support group, and even the type of relationship they shared with their spouse. When you take all of these factors into account, there is no way that the experience can be the same from person to person even if the type of loss falls into the same category.

People may experience similar emotions – sadness, anger, relief, regret, guilt – but even the expression of these emotions varies from person to person. Every journey is individualized and should be handled with kindness and compassion.

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Myth #6: Moving forward with your life means forgetting your loss.

While the ultimate goal of the grief journey is to find a way to move forward, this doesn’t mean you will forget about the person you love. They are forever a part of you, and you were shaped in some way by your relationship with them. Moving forward is about finding continued meaning and purpose in life following your loss.

Rest assured – learning to live again won’t make you forget your loved one. In fact, living through loss gives you an even greater appreciation for the time you shared and a desire to cherish the time you have left with living loved ones.

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Myth #7: There are five stages of grief.

More than likely, you’ve heard of Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’s theory about the five stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. This theory puts a nice tidy ribbon on a fairly complex human experience, but unfortunately, it’s often taken wildly out of context.

Kubler-Ross’s research was focused on the grief stages that patients go through following a terminal diagnosis. So, to a degree, you and your loved one in hospice care may have gone through the five stages of grief as you came to grips with a terminal diagnosis. However, the five stages don’t apply to the grief you will feel after your loved one has died.

Grief isn’t quite so simple. Your emotions may be all over the place and come in no particular order. While it would be nice to have a formula for grief, it simply doesn’t exist. You feel what you feel when you feel it, and all you can do is work through it when it comes.

Older man and woman sitting at table grieving, man's head on woman's shoulder

Myth #8: There’s a right way to grieve.

We’ve already established that every grief journey is different because every person and relationship is different. The same principle holds true for how you express your grief. For some, crying comes very naturally as a way to release their emotions. For others, it’s writing, walking, running, painting, or using a punching bag. There’s no “right” way to respond to loss. If you need to cry, cry. If you never cry, that’s okay, too. Simply find what helps you release the emotions you feel inside – whatever that looks like.

Also, though it may be a temptation, don’t try to “be strong” for those around you. There may be moments when you need to keep your emotions in check, but as soon as you can, find a safe place to release what you’re feeling and embrace it. Dr. Wolfelt tells us that, “You don’t get to go around or above your grief. You must go through it. And while you are going through it, you must express it if you are to reconcile yourself to it.” So, face what you feel and grieve in the way that is most beneficial for you.

Young woman in white sweater looking out the window

Myth #9: It’s wrong to feel certain emotions after a loss.

Perhaps it’s an innate response, but there are certain emotions that you may feel an aversion to following a loss. Mainly, anger, guilt, regret, or relief. However, if you’ve felt these emotions, rest assured that you’re not alone, and these are completely normal reactions to loss.

You may feel angry that your loved one didn’t take better care of themselves. You may feel guilty about the final words you spoke to them. Regret may fill you because you didn’t call or visit more often. You may feel relieved because their illness is finally over. These are all normal reactions to the loss of a loved one. Don’t beat yourself up over what you feel. Take time to work through it and give yourself some grace for the journey.

Female friends hug after a loss

Myth #10: Grief is reserved for the passing of a loved one.

While we most often associate grief with the death of a loved one, this is not always the case. You can feel grief about a loved one going into hospice, a terminal diagnosis, the loss of a life cut short, or the loss of what might have been. Each one of these situations – and so many more – can bring out feelings of grief and loss. And just as with the loss of a person, you must work through your emotions and find a way to move forward with meaning and purpose.

Middle-aged couple looking at documents

5 Estate Planning Documents You Should Consider

By Estate Planning 3 Comments

Receiving a diagnosis or entering hospice care can be a very emotional time. One way to cope is to focus not on what you can’t control, but on what you can control. An important area you can control is estate planning. Your estate plan can protect your loved ones and bring them comfort after you are gone. To make sure that all the bases are covered, work with an estate planning attorney to draft and sign the five documents that typically make up the estate planning lineup: Financial Power of Attorney, Medical Power of Attorney, Living Will, Will, and Living Trust.

Middle-aged couple looking at documents

According to a recent study, fewer than 42% of American adults have a will. In fact, we’ve seen high profile people like Prince and Aretha Franklin fail to leave a will, which left their families embroiled in court for years. This doesn’t have to be your family if you take a little bit of time now to put your wishes in writing. Now, let’s take a moment to review 5 estate planning documents, what they are, and why they are important.

Financial Power of Attorney

Definition

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.

Main Benefit

It is beneficial to have another person who can help you with financial needs, especially since you may not be up to the task right now. By giving a loved one the ability to access your financial accounts, you can focus on your own health and needs.

Cost of Inaction

If you become incapacitated, 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. This means time and money lost.

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Medical Power of Attorney

Definition

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.

Main Benefit

If you become incapacitated, a trusted individual can make decisions regarding your medical needs, and if you take time to share your medical or end-of-life care wishes, that person can ensure that your desires are followed.

Cost of Inaction

If you do become incapacitated, your family will be left with the burden of decision making, not knowing whether their choices align with your wishes or not. This lack of clarity can cause disagreements and strain among family members.

Before we move on…

Two final notes regarding powers of attorney

You can set up either document to be general or limited. With a general power of attorney, your appointed agent has full access. They can operate as if they are you. With a limited power of attorney, you restrict their access to certain functions.

Also, you can designate whether a power of attorney is durable. This means that it remains in effect even if you become incapacitated. In some states, “springing” is an option. This means that you can specify when the powers of attorney are in effect. Perhaps, they come into effect on a certain date or if you become incapacitated.

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Living Will

Definition

Whether you set up a medical power of attorney or not, it’s good practice to complete a living will. Despite what its name may imply, a living will pertains to your medical care. The document clearly outlines which medical treatments you would and would not like to be used to keep you alive. The list is extensive and addresses topics like resuscitation, dialysis, palliative care, and organ donation. As you make decisions regarding your medical care, discuss your wishes with your doctor and family members.

You can change your medical directives at any time, but make sure that you dispose of all copies of the old directives.

Main Benefit

Peace of mind for you and your family. If your desires are written down, you know that your wishes are known, and your family can be confident in any choices they (or your medical power of attorney agent) need to make regarding your care.

Cost of Inaction

Without a living will, your care preferences may not be known, especially in the event that you are unable to speak for yourself.

Man and woman sitting at table, working at computer

Legal Will

Definition

A will is a legal document that provides instruction for the distribution of your assets. After death, a will is considered public record once it has been registered with the probate court. 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. A will can be revised at any time.

Main Benefit

You ensure that your family knows your wishes regarding the distribution of your estate.

Cost of Inaction

Without a will, your assets may not be distributed as you would desire. Also, in many cases, family members must go to court to determine the fate of your estate.

Husband and wife talking to estate planning expert

Revocable Living Trust

Definition

Though most people need a will, not everyone needs a living trust. Living trusts are a bit more complicated than wills in that you transfer your property into the trust. Once the property is transferred, you become the trustee (naming a successor trustee to take over upon your death). The successor trustee then distributes your assets according to your wishes. A living trust is most beneficial to those who own a large amount of property and assets. A living trust can also be revised at any time.

Main Benefit

Most people choose a living trust because it avoids the possible complications of probate court. Additionally, a living trust is more difficult to attack in a court battle and is kept private (no public record).

Cost of Inaction

If you have a large estate, the lack of a living trust may make the distribution process lengthier and more complicated.  Again, not everyone will need a living trust. Speak to an estate planning attorney to determine if this route is best for you.

One more note: a living trust does not take the place of a will. There are a number of things you cannot do in a living trust, namely appointing guardians for minor children, designating an executor, and assigning a property manager (if property must be maintained until a minor child comes of age).

Estate planning while in hospice care is more complicated because your mental state comes into play. In other words, the attorney must ensure that you are of sound mind, so the sooner you can get things done, the better.

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.