Reflections: A Journey Through Grief

Jennifer was inspired to write the following post in light of the upcoming first year anniversary of losing her father. She has worked for Williams Funeral Home for almost five years and currently serves as the Director of Finance and Legal Affairs. Jennifer has helped serve many families by writing obituaries, helping with insurance, answering end of life legal questions, and preparing simple estate documents. She shares her journey through grief in hopes it might help others in varying seasons of life and grief.



Today I stopped by to visit my Dad. My Dad now resides at Polk Memorial Gardens, well that is where we laid his body to rest. His soul is up in heaven praising Jesus. And while I was leaving the cemetery, I noticed a few others standing over and near the grave of their loved one. One stood in somber silence in The Arbors, and another was taking a photo in the garden of Good Shepard. As I pulled on out of the cemetery, it struck me, here we all are visiting our loved ones, taking photos, talking into the air with no one to audibly answer back, yet we do this because it is how we grieve.

I’ve worked in the funeral industry for nearly five years now. I never imagined I would be sitting on the other side of the table planning my Dad’s service at this point in my life. Sure, I figured I’d be planning a service at some point, but not when I was 32, and he was 56.

It’s been nearly a year since I suddenly lost my Dad. His illness, thankfully, was short lived. I didn’t have to spend years seeing him suffer. Granted, walking into the hospital and seeing my Dad hooked up to machines and knowing those machines were the only reason he still had breath in his lungs brought swells of tears to my eyes. Dad wasn’t responsive at the time, but there was a distinct moment I felt he knew we were all there with him – he was surrounded by his family that he loved so big. When my family had to tell the hospital staff we were ready for them to turn off the machines (but really how or when could we ever be ready) we knew it would only be a matter of minutes before my Dad would hear the words, “Well done my good and faithful servant.”

The moments right after my Dad passed, my mom looked up, and in a quite voice simply asked, “What do we do now?” It shook me. I knew what to do next because I’ve worked in the industry. I knew what would happen over the next few days. I knew my Dad would be taken back to TN and prepared for his service. I knew we’d need to bring clothes, send in an obituary, pick out a space at the cemetery. I knew we’d need to pick out a casket (it had to be pine as that was the only thing my Dad really ever requested about his own funeral), choose a vault, select a theme for the memorial folders. I knew we would arrive an hour prior to the public to have family time with my Dad. I knew we would sit on the front row for the service. I knew we would get in our car and follow the hearse to the cemetery. I knew we would get out and see his casket placed into the vault. These are all the things I knew would happen, merely because I work in the industry. My family did not know. They had no idea all the choices and decisions that had to be made, so I made many decisions for them because I could, and it kept me going.

What I didn’t know and what no one could fully explain to me would be just how much I would miss my Dad. I mean I knew I would miss him, but the gut-wrenching pain on some days just made it nearly impossible to get up. I didn’t realize just how important having his memorial folder with me would mean. I had no idea the peace that the cemetery would bring. Seeing his memorial and his face each time I visit where his body rests makes it all the more real and at the same time it brings a sense of peace.

I have always believed a funeral, and a memorial are not for the dead, they are for the living. I’ve heard this many times. We try our best to educate, but sometimes people are not ready to think of the inevitable. I just want to encourage you to start now. Begin the conversation. Think about your loved ones that you will leave behind. There are many who walk through the funeral doors having no idea where to begin, and they are flat out exhausted. Many people have just spent weeks, or months, or even years making health decisions for their loved one. Sometimes they walk in after losing someone suddenly, and they cannot decide what to eat much less how to plan a funeral. Let me encourage you to plan a service and give your loved ones a place to visit you. This isn’t coming from a person in the industry, this is coming from someone who has lost her daddy. This is coming from someone who sits one week shy of his one-year anniversary, thankful that she has the memory of his service and a place to go and talk to the air. This comes from someone who finds peace at the foot of her Dad.

Our four legged team member, Pete.

As you may have seen we welcomed our new team member this year our grief dog, Pete.  Per our facebook post last week.

See below as we reposted an article done by the today show about grief dogs at funeral homes and why they are such a wonderful team member to have! If you stop by for coffee ask to meet Pete.

When humans grieve, more funeral homes are offering therapy dogs to help

/ Source: TODAY
By A. Pawlowski

After a child was struck and killed by a train in Fairmount, Indiana, last month, an 11-year-old boy who came to the visitation sat by himself in the front row and just stared at the casket, trying to understand.

That’s when Judd, a specially-trained 2-year-old golden retriever, spotted him.

“He came all the way up to him, sat beside him, put his paw on his leg and buried his head in his lap, and that young boy just cried,” Shari Wallace, the grief therapy dog handler at Armes-Hunt Funeral Home in Fairmount, told TODAY.

“Judd displays that loving gentle nature: ‘Everything is good. Just focus on me and I’m going to make it OK.’”

Judd is a funeral home therapy dog.
Judd is a grief therapy dog at Armes-Hunt Funeral Home in Fairmount, Indiana.Courtesy Armes-Hunt Funeral Home

Judd is among the growing ranks of therapy dogs that work in funeral homes, becoming essential “staff members.” There’s Lulu in New York; Kermit in Texas; Dempsey in Ohio; Gracie in Missouri and many, many more.

The friendly, furry creatures can be in the room when grieving families make arrangements, and they can attend wakes and funerals, if the mourners wish. It’s always up to the family and Wallace watches closely to see whether everyone is comfortable with the idea.

The National Funeral Directors Association doesn’t keep track of how many funeral homes in the U.S. own therapy dogs, but the number has been on the rise in the last few years, said spokeswoman Jessica Koth.

“The families love it,” she noted. “An animal changes the mood of the room.”

In a survey commissioned by the association last month, more than half of respondents said they would be somewhat, very or extremely interested in having a therapy dog present at a funeral or memorial service.

A therapy dog can provide mourners with exactly what they need during this stressful time: comfort and the chance to relieve some of their tension and anxiety, said Marilyn Mendoza, a New Orleans-based psychologist who specializes in grief.

Stroking an animal has physiological effects. It increases a person’s serotonin and dopamine levels, which can boost mood, and it helps lower stress and blood pressure, she noted. Dogs can also immediately put people at ease.

“It has so many benefits — I just think it’s a wonderful thing,” Mendoza said. “It’s particularly good for kids. They’re more likely to talk to those animals than they are to the adults.”

Judd, the golden retriever, is such a big part of the staff at Armes-Hunt Funeral Home that he has his own profile page and Facebook page. He spent a year in obedience and therapy dog training before he began his mission comforting mourners.

When Nancy Hall’s husband passed away last June, she requested Judd’s presence during the visitation and the funeral.

“He sat right next to my feet, comforting me during the service,” Hall said. “It was a very hard time for me… I don’t know if I would have made it through those tough days without my furry friend.”

Judd does his best work off the leash, approaching people and leaning into them or laying on their feet, Wallace said. He’s different from just a pet hanging around and greeting visitors because he customizes how he interacts with each person.

“He’s like a sponge: He absorbs your stress, and your fear and your anger,” she noted. “People could be crying or hanging their head, but when he approaches… he becomes a distraction from their emotions.”

Judd is a funeral home therapy dog
Grief therapy dogs may be particularly helpful for children during funerals, psychologists say.Courtesy Armes-Hunt Funeral Home

In the last two and a half years of Judd working in the funeral home, there have only been one or two times when a family said, “This is no place for a dog,” Wallace noted.

She watches for signs of stress in the dog, who can become emotionally tired after so many interactions with grieving people. To mix things up, Judd visits nursing homes, schools and church events.

“He just blows me away,” Wallace said. “It’s made a huge difference in how things are done in the funeral home.”

Do kids belong at funerals?

We here at the Williams Funeral Home are asked many questions about what children should or should not be involved in when it comes to funerals. For many reasons we hesitate to give answers to those questions because there are many opinions about what may be right or wrong about the effects on children. What we can do however are share some ideas that we have read.

July 1, 2015 –Reblog from the Washington Post

imrs(Photo credit to Jamie Davis Smith)

The same feeling socks me in the gut every time I walk into a wake or make a shiva call:  “I don’t want to be here. This is sad and uncomfortable.” Then my heart and my head take over, and tell me, “You should be here. Take care of the mourners. Honor the deceased.” And that I know how to do, because I’ve been attending funerals since I was a small child.

My children’s great-grandfather passed away last week at age 90.  Just as surely as we took our 9, 7, and 4-year-olds to visit him (though not enough – it’s never enough), we took them in hand to Great-Grandpa’s wake and funeral.


·        My kids got to see their extended family at its best and closest: telling stories, crying and laughing together, holding hands. The family was a strong, united One over those days, and we were part of that One. My children belong to something bigger than our little family of five.
·        They have a chance to see their relatives as whole, complex people. They can learn to empathize, and to provide comfort, instead of seeing Nana only as the bearer of fun and gifts. She had a Daddy too. It was hard for my children to see her sad, but it was also inspiring to see her strength.
·        Children provide hope. Immediately before the funeral, we made our last prayers at the casket and gave Great-Grandma hugs.  As my wide-eyed 4-year-old tumbled towards her for an embrace, Great-Grandma exclaimed, “Precious girl!” and she meant it. Sometimes we need to see something whole and young and perfect when there is sadness all around us, and that’s what a (well-behaved) preschooler can offer at a funeral.           ·        They don’t need to be protected — usually. Kids know about crying. Many of them do it every day. Usually we want them to stop, because it’s uncomfortable for us, and we very badly want our children to be happy. But hard feelings are important too, and we can learn to guide kids through feeling sorrow and discomfort and coming out okay on the other side of those emotions. I would think carefully before bringing my children to an especially tragic funeral, perhaps one for a child or a young parent – something that could be truly frightening – but the funeral of an older relative? This sadness they can manage, and it will strengthen them.
·        They need practice with funerals. Nobody likes them, but they have to happen. Wakes and funerals can be foreign territory with their singular requirements for etiquette, dress, and behavior.  Better to get practice early, when it’s someone the child isn’t as close to, than to layer a sea of funeral-manners confusion on top of truly deep mourning. Just a few months ago, my kids stopped with us at the wake of a quiet, kind man our family knew from church, just to quickly pay our respects. The children didn’t really know Elmer, but they learned what to do and say, and because we’d gone to his viewing, Great-Grandpa’s body wasn’t the first one they’d seen in an open casket.                                                             ·        In learning about death, children learn to treasure human life. My kids’ normal experience with death is throwing a dead tree in a brush pile or squashing ants on our kitchen floor. Perhaps some families also have small goodbyes for beloved pets. But the elaborate ceremony and seriousness of human funerals says something else:  This is different, and this is big. We are not trees or ants. In respectful loss, we pass to children a reverence for the irreplaceable gift of each human life.
·        Funerals connect generations, past and future. Great-Grandpa was a World War II veteran, and uniformed Navy came to his graveside and performed a beautifully moving flag ceremony. It ended with a presentation of the flag to Great-Grandma, and the heart-stopping words: “On behalf of the President of the United States, the United States Navy, and a grateful nation, please accept this flag as a symbol of our appreciation for your loved one’s honorable and faithful service.” Afterwards, I reminded my 9-year-old that in 80 years, he will be able to tell his grandchildren the story of honoring his great-grandpa who served in that important, tragic war that will then be 150 years past.  He was just as awed as he should have been by this fact.

It’s not easy going to funerals, nor taking kids to them. But it is not our job to make our children’s lives easy, and it is our job to parent and guide through the hard things too. You can do it, and so can they.



Original Article can be seen here.




The Funeral Crowd. What should you say or not say?

grief pic.jpeg

Reblog from the Coffeelicious by Pratima Sutar

How do you console someone in the time of death? People always seem at a loss of words whenever confronted by these situations. A few of the responses I heard….

“Its okay. You will get over it. Life goes on.”

This is the tried and tested phrase used for all kinds of losses when you are trying to cheer someone up. Somehow, it is horribly inappropriate during a funeral and even imagining that as a way to console someone riles me up. Obviously, death is not okay. And yes, I will get over it in the future but that person is not going to be a part of my or anybody’s future. That’s what I am sad about.

“I’m sorry for your loss.”

A downpour of sympathy. This statement evokes only one feeling. Utter helplessness. Facing a sudden loss is like someone slapped you in the face and didn’t even bother to wait and watch how you took it. You are still reeling with the shock of it and simultaneously accepting condolences from everyone. You just nod along to such responses because they don’t really mean anything to you at that moment. But they do help you. They act as a balm for the shock and help the actuality to sink in.

“Be strong. What will happen to xyz if you are so disheartened?”


This is usually being said to the spouse/children of the deceased, in reference to each other. I can understand the whole intent behind this statement and the kind of self sacrifice it demands. In other words, they are asking you to fast-track your grief. A subtle reminder that your responsibilities are doubled now. Come through fast before this horrible reality catches up and starts mutilating other aspects of your life.

The harsh reality either pains the bereaved so much that they are howling for it to stop or has numbed them into silence with a vacant look in their eyes. Something about watching that entire scenario makes me tear up, which has nothing to do with the deceased. After all, it didn’t affect me so when the body was actually laid on the pyre and lit up. It is the state everybody is left in. Some are still in the primitive stage of denial. Some are left wondering, how will life ever go on again? And all this while, a few brave ones are already picking up the pieces of their shattered lives….

Why Do People Send Sympathy Flowers To Funerals?

Reblog from funeralone by Rilee Chastain



It’s a gesture so tried and true that we never even think to question it… When someone loses a loved one, their friends often show love and support by sending flowers. Flowers and funerals have gone hand-in-hand for ages, and the simplest explanation is that it’s tradition—sending sympathy flowers is just a nice thing to do. Flowers add something beautiful to a difficult situation when they decorate the service and casket.

But why do we do this, really? Why flowers instead of, say, warm baked cookies or balloons or nothing at all? What purpose do flowers serve, and do they actually do any good at all when someone is grieving the loss of a loved one?

As it turns out, there’s more to this time-honored tradition than, well… tradition alone. Sharing sympathy and support in the form of flowers actually does go a long way.

The History of Funeral Flowers

It won’t be shocking to hear that gifts and gestures of support are helpful to people in their time of sadness and need. It’s an almost instinctual response to someone else’s grief. As it turns out, this compulsion to send flowers for a funeral dates back longer than the modern calendar. A 1951 cave excavation in Iraq revealed that people have been buried with flowers possibly as long as they’ve been buried at all.

This may very well be because flowers speak a language that the English language can’t always convey. Where words fail us—or we, as humans, fail to find acceptable words—a gesture of giving flowers fills in all the gaps. For example, lilies are most commonly associated with funerals, because of their elegant yet unobtrusive shape and aroma and the symbolism we have come to attach there. White blooms in particular remind us of purity and innocence which we hope for our loved ones after their life is lived.

The Healing Power of Flowers

In more contemporary research, a Rutgers University study found that gifted flowers have an immediate effect on a person’s mood, triggering happiness and feelings of satisfaction. Flowers reduce stress, and help to usher in a period of healing. It’s no wonder they go hand-in-hand with funerals, which are so crucial in the healing process after losing a loved one!

Flowers also represent support, compassion, sympathy and friendship. Sending flowers to a person navigating loss—whether an initial loss or the anniversary of a tragic day—helps them feel supported, know they are cared for by friends or family, and reminds them that their hardship is not theirs to bear alone. Flowers add beauty and elegance to moments of tragedy, and there is little quite as life-affirming as the scent of a fresh bouquet coming into bloom.

But the tradition of sending flowers extends beyond the decoration of the funeral home or memorial site, and beyond the day of the service. Sending flowers to say “I’m thinking of you,” “You’re in my thoughts,” “You are not alone in your grief,” and “I know you’re in need of some support right now” is a gesture that can be made any day of the year, long after burial and healing has begun. Because the truth is, losing a loved one is never forgotten, and support is always helpful in navigating life after loss.

And do you want to hear the most amazing thing? “People who live with flowers report fewer episodes of anxiety and depressed feelings,” according to psychologist Nancy Etcoff, Ph.D. of Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School. It really is a small, inexpensive gesture that goes so far in aiding the healing process after loss.



When Suffering Ceases To Be Suffering


When Suffering Ceases To Be Suffering

Tom Neal PhD – Jan 19, 2016


I was speaking the other day with man who was sharing with me his recent struggle with serious depression.  He said that the most difficult part of depression is the loss of a sense of meaning in life.  “It’s as if the whole world is suddenly drained of all its color and seems to be just grey, flat,” he said.  “And the future, well it just evaporates.  The word ‘tomorrow’ just seems like fog; like a fantasy that is not real.”  He said that when he finally got help, and found the support he needed, and things got better, he suddenly realized what he had been missing.  “Hope. That’s what I saw I’d lost.  When you don’t believe the next day, or any day, will ever be better, you just don’t have anything to hope in.  So you think, what’s the point?”In his once-popular book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Viktor Frankl said, “In some ways suffering ceases to be suffering at the moment it finds a meaning, such as the meaning of a sacrifice.”  One of the greatest gifts faith in God offers is a sense of meaning that transcends the ups and downs of life.  And that meaning gives birth to hope.  For those faith traditions that hold faith in an afterlife, hope can give a sense of trust and peace in knowing there is life beyond death.  But faith can also remind us that the greatest meaning of life is for the here and now, not just for later.  Faith in a provident God laboring to draw good from every evil opens the possibility of hoping against hope when all seems lost; of discovering redemption in the seemingly irredeemable.  Faith in such a just and merciful God defines a meaningful life as one lived for others, making a life of love to be the measure of all things.

Allowing for the welcoming of one’s faith into the dying process, Five Wishes opens up a sacred space for discovering hope-filled meaning at life’s end.  Instead of surrendering to the dark void of meaninglessness, the sufferer can surround herself with the networks of support and sacred symbols that sustain faith in a God who speaks light into the darkness and life into death.

The acquaintance I spoke with of his depression, referring to the role played by his faith, “Even at my darkest point, I had my faith.  I knew God was with me.  For all my Good Fridays, I’ve got just as many Easter Sundays.”

Tom Neal, PhD is Academic Dean and professor of Spiritual Theology at Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans, Louisiana and author of the popular blog Neal Obstat.

Re-blogged From 5 Wishes; by Tom Neal, PhD
%d bloggers like this: