We invite you to send us a story, a memory, or some advice that helped you get through the emotional upheaval of a loved one's death. It may be of something funny, something special, or something helpful.
Many say that laughter clears the tears away. While others may find it to be disrespectful. We all discover our individual solutions to move through the pain.
Share your story and pass along what you have learned, what you remember most, and what allowed you to move on.
Send us your story. If it touches just one person, you have made someone's life a little easier.
In retirement I am able to indulge in one of my life-long passions – needlework, having learned from both grandmothers and several aunts. This led me to join the local chapter of the Embroiderer’s Guild of America to enjoy the camaraderie of like-minded people, as well as to continue learning.
One of our members, Elizabeth, shared with us recently that she and her husband – at 80 years old – have been finalizing plans for their departure from this life. As part of the process, she spoke about the need for something to transport their ashes from the crematorium to the church for the memorial service, as well as from the church to the cemetery. In addition, she wanted a cloth to cover the vessel that held the ashes during the church ceremony. and had turned to embroidery for answers.
Wanting to know more, I reached out to Elizabeth to learn her story. She shared with me that her first experience with sudden death had been that of her father; he had been hit and killed by a car in England, while crossing the street. Her sister was able to be there with their mother, and the burden of dealing with the necessary transoceanic details had fallen primarily to her, but the unexpected death left many open questions for the family.
Later on in life, both her daughter and daughter-in-law were expecting babies, due within a week of each other. Both pregnancies progressed normally, and all were waiting to welcome both grandbabies into the world. As the due dates approached, the baby that was due second, came a week early to much joy. A week later, the second baby was born lifeless. Elizabeth and her husband transported their lost grandchild’s ashes from the crematorium to the funeral service, while the parents mourned the loss of their child.
Because of these experiences, Elizabeth and her husband determined to pre-plan for their passing to ease the burden on those they left behind. Having downsized their living quarters and possessions, they moved closer to one of their children. We spoke about the form “When I Leave You”, and she said that she and her husband had created a binder of documents covering much of this information. Complimenting the title of the document, she said that they were also rewriting their will, and in both their will and the notebook, they were laying out all of their instructions/requests. They have also put all of this on a USB stick.
They both have chosen cremation for their mortal remains. The request is that their ashes be given to water – a lake nearby, the Cumberland River, or Gulf of Mexico. As a result, they have both chosen vessels that dissolve in water.
When she had to deal with the loss of her grandchild, Elizabeth realized that the ashes and their vessel should be treated like a treasured object. This thinking was what inspired her to find a special way to transport this treasured object - an antique pillowcase, made by her grandmother, decorated with her crochet work. Having used this for her granddaughter’s ashes, she and her husband plan on using this as one option to transport their ashes. Alternatively, they have the family picnic basket that will serve to carry the urn, covered with an old family tablecloth.
What meaningful symbolism to connect the family’s generations.
Lastly, she embroidered a cloth to cover the vessel that held the ashes during the church ceremony.
I found Elizabeth’s story both heart-breaking and heart warming. Needless to say, we had a long conversation about the importance of making these arrangements in advance of our departure, to ease the grieving process for those we leave behind.
Carol Ann, a first cousin, was young - late 30's with four children (just under 2 years old to 14) when she died of breast cancer. She was married to a local policeman, and they lived in Long Island, NY. She was the nicest, most giving person you would ever meet. But she fought a losing battle.
Her funeral mass was typical for a large Catholic family, with more than 100 in the immediate family including parents, siblings, in-laws, cousins, and children. Then there were the additional attendants of friends, neighbors, work associates, and the Police Brotherhood.
Needless to say, I estimated more than 500 people at the Church, and most would proceed to the cemetery. All on a Saturday afternoon, driving in a procession on the Long Island Expressway (LIE)!
For those not familiar with the LIE - it is a perpetual parking lot!
And the most remarkable thing I have ever seen happened -
The police shut down entry to eight (8) exits, so that a procession of more than 200 cars could move from the church to Carol Ann's final resting place. It was her husband's colleagues' tribute to honor his wife.
An exceptional and touching drive in memory of someone who exuded happiness and believed everyone to be a friend. An ordinary but very special person - not a celebrity, not a politician, nor a military procession. Someone struck down in the middle of a young life, having already touched so many people.
This is a memorable and funny farewell that describes one Uncle's love of humor. He was always there with a funny line in the face of natural and man-made challenges.
I grew up in a very rural area in Northern New York, not far from the Canadian border. My mother was the youngest of 10 children. Despite the appearance of being Catholic, our family was Protestant. Most of her siblings had married and lived in the same area throughout my childhood. Needless to say, holidays were always noisy, chaotic, warm, and loving with 20+ grandchildren, their parents, and my maternal grandparents.
A sense of humor was shared by all and considered a necessity for coping with what life threw at you! But this Uncle, my mother's oldest sister's husband, was known for always bringing his unique perspective and amusing quips to every gathering.
Over time, I attended the funerals of many of my aunts and uncles. This Uncle passed one summer when I was in my thirties. Unfortunately, I was out of the country and unable to attend his funeral. But as soon as I arrived home, my mother called me with the story of my Uncle's last laugh and funny farewell.
There was a terrible thunder and lightning storm the night of visiting hours at the funeral home for my Uncle. While the family and many guests were able to forge their way to pay their respects, it was howling outside and getting worse. Some of the power lines in town were down, and as the lights flickered in the room, no one was sure how long they would last.
The funeral director, always a resourceful woman, quietly went into a close storage area. She and her colleagues quickly located and brought out large candelabras that were typically placed at the corners of the caskets for Catholic funerals. They had just placed and illuminated the last of the candles when the remaining lights went out.
The director went over to my mother, to ensure that all the guests and family were okay. In memory of the deceased, she turned to my mother and whispered:
"Fastest conversion EVER!"
Signs of comfort at a loved one's death.
Each story below comes from a different source, but the theme of unusual messengers and the signs from departed loved ones seem evident.
Some will believe, and others will try to find the logical explanation. Either way, these are simply everyday stories - unusual only in their timing and messenger.
Perhaps they will offer some comfort at an emotional time.
I heard this story from a friend about a mother who lost her son in a car accident.
While it is never easy for a mother to lose a child, it is particularly difficult when the young man barely reaches 21.
After the memorial service, both the mother and the sister needed to escape the well-wishers. Too many shared stories and memories of a very short life. Too many people crowded around to speak with them.
Finally, as they left the funeral home, they decided to take a walk along the nearby beach. It was always his favorite place to visit. They could remember him and mourn quietly as the sun moved lower on the horizon.
They didn't feel like talking. There was little to say. Consumed by their reveries, they ambled side by side. With silent tears running down their faces, they tried to adjust to their loss.
Suddenly the young girl halted mid-stride. The mother glanced sideways at her daughter. She noticed a dragonfly resting on her daughter's hair.
They were sure it was him - offering his support and letting them know he would be with them, always.
Dad took a huge downturn on my birthday even though the day before he had been out and about.
Entering his dark room at the rehab center that afternoon, my Mom and I feared the worst. He was lying down, not really moving nor seemingly aware of our presence. But Dad hung on for a few more days.
Each of the following days, I picked Mom up, and we went to the center to be with Dad. We would spend a few hours, and then I would head out to pick up lunch, take care of errands, and return to be with them through the evening hours.
Three days later, I decided to spend the night at Mom's house. When we woke up the next morning, we had breakfast and started to get ready to visit with Dad at the rehab center.
As we were finishing breakfast, I heard a sound I'd never heard before. I walked outside and looked up to see a large owl, standing on a branch, waving his wings and calling out. This was not a "hooo hooo" owl sound but something totally different. I called Mom, and we stood arm in arm, watching this owl high in the tree. Soon after, it turned around, swooped off its perch and departed.
Less than ten minutes later, we received the call that my Dad had passed. To this day, we are convinced the owl was Dad, saying goodbye. After searching online, I learned that the sound might have come from a screech owl. For this species, it translates as a mating call.
When the whole family gathered after Dad's memorial later that week, we stood in a circle in the woods, preparing to scatter his ashes. We had decided on this site as it was one of his favorite walks behind our house.
We paused to allow everyone to say a few words. At that moment, we heard multiple trees falling and slamming the ground. Again, we felt that Dad wanted to let us know that he was there as he said goodbye to each of us.
Once upon a time, a man and a woman, in their later years, met through friends. As they exchanged the usual pleasantries, they learned that both had lost their spouses. Both had married young and raised several children. Both were still active in the community and sorely missed the companionship of decades. They spoke about the little things that their spouses had done, and how they appreciated the time with their loved ones even more now.
Mostly, they discovered it was enjoyable to discuss the day-to-day events they shared - a love of walking in the woods, playing with their grandchildren, and revisiting a favorite foreign destination.
They agreed to meet again.
After a few weeks of a lunch here and a dinner there, they found themselves at a restaurant overlooking a large lake. After their meal, they walked along the shoreline.
They noticed a gaggle of geese on one side and a paddling of ducks on the other. As they watched, one goose and one duck separated from their respective teams and moved towards them, swimming directly in front of where they stood - almost staring up at them.
By this time, they realized that their friendship had deepened, but still, they were reluctant to move to the next level. Neither one was quite ready to give up memories of their beloved partners. They decided to continue exploring what it was like to date after so many years.
The holidays were approaching, and they wanted to revisit the restaurant and the pond, taking advantage of one of the last warm days before the weather turned colder.
As they walked along the water's edge again, one goose raised its head to look at them. It waddled over to the raft of ducks and squawked - and a duck separated from the others to join the goose.
They moved together towards the couple and accompanied them on their walk. The couple realized that perhaps the goose and the duck were a sign. Maybe, it was a message from their former spouses, nudging them to reconsider their actions.
Possibly, their former spouses were reassuring them that it was okay to move on. No one could replace that first love, but life was short and was meant to be lived to the fullest.
As we celebrated the holidays with friends and prepared to ring in a new year, our dinner conversation turned to an unexpected topic. One of the couples had set up their final plans that year, and the organization they contacted for their final resting place had sent a holiday card.
Inside the card were a series of questions to spur a meaningful conversation around the dinner table about life and love for the holiday season. These questions are soul-searching for anyone coming to the end of one year, about to start the next. So, we pass them along to you:
What life advice would you give a younger version of you?
What’s the best vacation you’ve ever taken?
What do you remember about the house you grew up in?
Where is your favorite place in the world to sit and think?
What song would you want played at your memorial ceremony?
Borrowed from Better Place Forests
Step-by-step guide on what to do first. Calls, paperwork, care arrengements, etc.
Detailed guide to prepare or fulfill final wishes
Where do you start? Physical remains, funeral options, death certificates, memorial services and more
Next hurdle - how to handle financial records and acounts
Key reminders on securing residences - owned and rented, apartments or houses - after a loved one's death
What you need to know to protect and eliminate the deceased's digital presences
Don't forget subscriptions, memberships, and more
Funny, helpful, and special stories that others have shared to help you through the process
For each section, download and personalize a pdf checklist